Black drum are found in coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from southern New England through the Gulf to Argentina. Black drum tolerate a range of environmental conditions. They live on mud, sand and shell bottoms Gulf-wide, from brackish estuaries out to nearshore Gulf waters. They’re often found around oyster reefs, which are a primary food source.
Black drum can grow very large, to over 90 pounds in weight, but fish from the Gulf typically max out at 50 pounds. Small black drum from one to 10 pounds are called puppy drum; larger drum are called bull drum. Black drum are able to reproduce when they reach two to six years of age. From January through April, mature black drum gather in nearshore waters of the Gulf to spawn. These groups of spawning drum can include up to 60,000 pounds of fish. Black drum are highly productive—they spawn 20 to 30 times during spawning season, and each female can produce 11 million to 60 million eggs over these few months. Black drum can live a long time, often up to 40 years.
Black drum feed on the bottom and eat a variety of bottom-dwelling organisms. Larvae feed on zooplankton. Young black drum feed on marine worms and small fish. Larger drum feed on mollusks such as oysters, clams, and mussels. Black drum feed with their heads slightly lowered, using their barbels (whiskers) to sense food. When a barbel touches prey, the drum stops swimming, inhales it, then swims forward, using its teeth to crush their prey. They often feed around oyster beds, docks, bridge pilings, and other structures where their favorite foods are present and dig or root out buried mollusks and worms. Larger fish such as seatrout and jacks feed on smaller drum; sharks prey on larger drum.
A member of the croaker family, black drum is a cousin of Atlantic croaker, red drum, and spotted seatrout. This family of fish can produce croaking or drumming sounds with their air bladders when they spawn, which is why they’re called croaker and drum.
Depending on their habitat black drum are silvery to blackish with black or dusky colored fins—in Gulf waters, they’re silvery; in muddy waters they’re dark gray, bronze, or jet black. Young black drum usually have four to six vertical black bars on their sides which fade as they grow older. Black drum have heavy bodies with a hump shaped back. They have large heads with a blunt snout and 12 to 13 pairs of whisker-like barbels along their lower jaw. Black drum have large teeth in the back of their throat that they use to crush their prey.