Drum Talk

By: Terry Gibson


My friend Capt. Jimmy Nelson, of Extreme Fishing Adventures television fame, sent me this photo the other day, and that fish is a real specimen. This fish a black drum and it was caught near Yankeetown. Species diversity on top of generally paradisiacal weather is one reason why so many fishing television episodes are filmed in Florida, why the best shows are often made by Floridians, and why Florida is renowned as the Fishing Capital of the World. But folks don't talk about this fish much.

While the species gets nowhere near the fanfare that its cousins the red drum (redfish) and spotted seatrout (speckled trout) enjoy, it's the largest and in a lot of ways the most interesting of the family known as Sciaenidae. For one thing, it's one of the only members of that large family where both the males and females make sounds using extrinsic muscles to squeeze their swim bladders. Only male redfish and trout – and the list goes on and on – do the talking, calling adult females to them. Not so with the black drum.

A few years ago, I was helping the renowned marine biologist Dr. Grant Gilmore study fish sounds. We were putting an under-water microphone down in the Indian River Lagoon, here in Stuart. It was a few days before the full moon in March, and we were listening in on quite the conversation. A bunch of small males were pestering a large female about spawning, and quite literally she was telling them she wasn't in the mood. Rather, the tides ahead of the moon weren't strong enough to warrant the effort. The full moon triggers the spawn, in part because the strong tides associated with that lunar phase broadcast fertilized eggs widely, for maximum dispersal and chance of maturation.

Black drum are a very fertile and abundant fish. For professionals like Jimmy, they're both a source of fascination and a day-saver species. The small ones are excellent eating. The big ones will rarely refuse a chunk of crab or shrimp. And, if you want to make a sport out of it, try catching one of these things on a fly or lure. They feed almost entirely by scent and feel – hence the barbels on their chin. Catch one on an artifiical lure and you have something to brag about.

Black drum are available in just about every estuary in Florida waters. Ask your guide about catching them. They're a great one to add to your life list.

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