Red drum are found in coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean from southern New England to Key West, Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Tuxpan, Mexico. They live on a variety of bottom habitats, from soft mud and submerged vegetation to oyster reefs and other hard bottoms, in both shallow estuaries and offshore waters at least 50 feet deep. They often gather near structures such as artificial reefs and oil and gas platforms.
Red drum grow fast, up to five feet long and 100 pounds. However, they’re most common at about three feet. Red drum are able to reproduce by three to four years of age. In the Gulf, they spawn from mid-August through mid-October. Mature males gather near the mouths of passes and shorelines and attract females with their drumming sounds. Red drum are very productive—females spawn every two to seven days and produce 20 million to 40 million eggs per season. Red drum can live up to 50 years.
Red drum are aggressive opportunistic feeders, eating a variety of bottom-dwelling animals such as crabs, shrimp, marine worms, and small fish. You can often see red drum "tailing" in shallow water, feeding with their head down in the grass and tail exposed to the air. Large fish, turtles, and birds prey on red drum. Scientists think that the black spot near the red drum’s tail fools predators into attacking their tail instead of their head, allowing them to escape.
A member of the croaker family, red drum is a cousin of black drum, Atlantic croaker, 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.
Red drum are reddish-bronze or nearly silver in color and have a distinctive large black spot near the base of their tail fin. Sometimes they have multiple spots. They have no barbels (whiskers) on their chin, unlike other drums.