Red Drum Vs. Black Drum


Image of human, person, accessories, sunglasses, fish, animal, clothing, bird, trout, sea life, halibut, coat There are several species of fish that belong to the croaker/drum family, but none as recognizable or targeted as the black drum and red drum. Other drum species include white seabass, freshwater drum, whiting, and weakfish, among others. These fish are noisy, and known to make grunting (some may say “croaking” or “drumming”) sounds, hence the name. Many consider the red drum and black drum to be like cousins: they are generally found in the same area and feed on the same things. But that’s where the similarities end. They look different and act different, probably just like you and your own cousins.

Red Drum

Woman holding Redfish

Red drum are also known as redfish, channel bass, or simply “reds”. They are a bronze and golden color with a distinct black dot or dots near the start of the tail. Rarely, anglers will also encounter a “spotless” red. Anglers can fish for red drum from the Texas Gulf Coast to the shores of the Atlantic, as far north as Massachusetts. Fall months are typically the season for spawning, anywhere from mid-August to mid-October depending on your location. As red drum migrate to the Gulf from Texas estuaries, the water takes on a reddish hue because of the large schools of fish; this usually takes place the last weeks of September into October.

While redfish are on the move, anglers will present their bait offering on the surface of the water, allowing the bait to drift along the tide as the fish are eating. When the anglers feel a strike, the hook is set and the fight begins. Redfish can be strong, stubborn fighters, with multiple runs during the battle. It is important to keep pressure on the fish, especially if fishing near a dock or other structure.

Although drifting bait can lead to a nice red, many anglers prefer to sight fish them as well. This is a technique used during cooler months when the reds are closer to shallow waters, sometimes less than 2 to 3 feet. As redfish feed on crustaceans, their tail often breaks the water’s surface. This sight is known as a “tailing” red, and is exactly what inshore and backwater anglers are looking for.

Tide currents and time of day highly influence success rates for this type of fishing, so make sure you’re watching the weather and water movement as you watch the fish. North Carolina is one of the places where red drum grow very large. In fact, the largest red drum on record was a 94lb beast caught in Avon, NC in 1984. So depending on where you’re fishing determines the average weight of the local redfish population. North Carolina anglers can look forward to 30-50 pound catches; while Gulf of Mexico reds (from Florida to Texas) are typically around the ten pound average.

Black Drum

Man holding Black Drum

If there is one distinct difference between red drum and black drum it would be the size and shape; adult black drums are typically wider, longer, and heavier. Juvenile black drum typically weigh between 5 to 10 pounds and are often confused with sheepshead because of their black and white vertical stripes.

As they grow older, the stripes fade and the two are easier to tell apart. If you do happen to catch a white and black striped fish and you’re not sure if it’s a sheepshead or black drum, check the mouth: Sheepshead have human-like teeth, while black drum do not. Black drum also typically have small whiskers under their chin, while sheepshead do not.

Adult black drum grow larger in the Atlantic than they do in the Gulf. They are seen along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Nova Scotia and can grow to as much as 100 pounds. In the Gulf of Mexico they are highly sought after, especially in the brackish waters of Texas. Although black drum don’t grow quite as large here, anglers can still bring in a 40 pound fish!

While redfish are spawning in the fall, black drum favor the spring months. And they prefer the bays and inlet waters rather than the Gulf or deeper waters that the redfish migrate to. Schedule your trip from February, March, or April and fish the shallow waters to start your black drum fishing adventure.

Fishing for Black Drum or Red Drum

Anglers often use the same bait and lures for both black drum and red drum, however black drum need a different presentation. Red drum are known as active feeders, following the current and the food source. Black drum take a much more passive approach: They simply face the opposite way the current is moving, and let the food come to them. If your bait or lure isn’t in the right place at the right time, you won’t be catching that black drum.

Once on the hook, both red drum and black drum are fantastic fighters, but again - in completely different ways. Redfish are known to make a few runs, especially on lighter tackle, and may thrash to toss the hook. Black drum are more stubborn fighters, simply use their weight to fight. It’s a little like the differences between lightweight and heavyweight boxing.

If you’re harvesting your catch, both drum species make fantastic fillets. Most places practice catch-and-release throughout the year to protect the fishery, but there are seasons that you can keep your catch if they meet size and bag limit regulations. Make sure you know your area’s rules before heading out.

No matter if you have a black drum or red drum at the end of your line, it’s a great day fishing. You can fish from the shore, a pier, a kayak or boat to get in on the action. Or hire a professional captain to get you hooked up. They’ll have all the gear you need, and know whether you can keep or release your catch!

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