How to Catch a Black Drum

How to Catch a Black Drum

Striped Drum, Texas Drum, Tambor, Sea Drum, Drumfish, Saltwater Drum, and Gray Drum are some of the names of the largest member of the Sciaenidae family, the black drum. The black drum gets its name from the coloring, as well as the loud and extraordinary drumming noise that occurs when the fish thrums a muscle against the swim bladder. This is a voluntary noise that aids in the location and attraction of a mate.

The smaller black drums, less than five pounds, are quite a tasty rolled in cornmeal and fried to a delicious crisp. It is solid, white meat that is not oily or dry. Before you can cook the black drum, you have to identify it, locate it, and catch it. 

How to Identify Black Drum

The black drum is a chunky highbacked fish. The black drum has a short, deep, stocky body with a slightly concave tail and low mouth. Underneath the low mouths are numerous barbels/whiskers. These whiskers allow the fish to taste and smell the food. Younger black drums have four or five vertical bars that help identify the young black drums. Older black drums tend to go white with coloration on backs and sides. Black drums have 11 spines on the dorsal fins. There are 20-22 dorsal rays and 41-45 scales along the lateral line. A small black drum is 5-10 pounds, and a large black drum is 20-40 pounds. The world record black drum is 113 lbs. Black drums can live up to 35 years. 

Red Drum vs. Black Drum

Many anglers love to target red drums and often forget about the black drums. There are many similarities and differences between the cousins. The first difference is obviously the color. Red drums have a red tint, and black drums have a black shade. Next, red drums tend to be smaller. The world record red drum is 94 lbs. 2 oz (caught off the North Carolina coast), where the world record black drum is 113 lbs. Both drums have the same diet of smaller fish, such as anchovies and menhaden, crabs, and shrimp. However, the black drum tastes better because the meat is less dry and not oily. If you plan to eat either a black drum or red drum, we suggest cooking both the same way, and that is cajun style!

When and When to Find Black Drum

Fishing for black drums is possible all year and all waters. Black drums live off the eastern coast, beginning in Delaware and going all the way south to Texas. Finding them depends on your location and when black drums are in your area. You can catch black drums from the shore, in a boat, or even in a kayak.

In the spring and summer, black drums move through the Gulf of Mexico with grass flats, residential canals, deeper channels, and around big bridges being their favorite spots. During March and April, they move in large schools and follow the tendencies of redfish. During the summer months, black drums move to deeper waters against the structure where crustaceans make their homes.

Black drums move through the grass flats during September and October. Smaller black drums are found near residential canals, inland waters, underneath docks, in deeper channels, near water openings, and residential canals and docks in open water during the wintertime.

When precisely locating black drums, look for clouds of mud in otherwise clear water. Black drums find their food on the bottom, so they kick up mud while searching for food. Big, black drum eat the crustaceans found near big pilings. If you want to see them near these pilings, the water needs to be four feet to ten feet deep. Black drums like to feed with the tide, so be sure to fishing when the tide is going out.

If you are still having trouble finding black drums, try using a sonar. We like the Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP. We love this sonar because of its many features. It has a 5” widescreen with a LED-backlit display. The side imaging filters out noise and clutter for a more unobstructed view. With the digital sonar, you can reach greater depths and range. Finally, the sonar has dual beams that provide greater detail and courage area. Not only do we love the features of this finder, but we also love the ease of use and durability. This Humminbird includes a transducer and mounting hardware, power cable, and gimbal mounting bracket. With the help of this sonar, black drums can be located in any waters. Now that you know where and when to locate the black drums let’s examine how to catch them.

How to Catch Black Drum

Catching a black drum is quite an easy process. Black drums require basic tackle on a rod and reel. You can also catch black drums using a trotline, handline, and even a cane pole. Black drum fishing can be done from a boat, pier, or even the bank and is an enjoyable time for the whole family. Feeding through their barbels on the bottom makes it difficult to use artificial lures. Ideally, using a baited hook on the bottom with weight will catch you a black drum. Two types of rigs to use are a fish finder rig and a knocker rig.

Small Drums, Light Tackle

Fishing for black drums is basic. For small drums, try using light tackle. We like the Shimano SE Teramar Casting Rod for a lighter rod. It was built for the southeast and is perfect for spinning on the flats. This rod pairs nicely with the Daiwa BG Saltwater Spinning Reel. Using a 12-15 lbs. braid paired with a 6 in-8 in fluorocarbon leader will prevent you from losing the black drum. Much like using heavy tackle, use circle hooks. We like sizes 1/0 and 2/0 from Owner. If you are targeting small drum, be sure to use light tackle. However, if you focus on small drums near bridges, pilings, and other structures, you should use the heavy tackle to prevent being cut off around this structure. 

Large Drums, Heavy Tackle

For large drums, use a medium to a medium-heavy rod with a stiff backbone. We like the St. Croix Mojo Salt Graphite Rod paired with the Penn Battle II 2500 Spinning Reel for large drums. This combination is a little pricey but extremely durable for the mighty fight the black drum will give. Although they don’t jump, run or spin, we suggest using a heavy fishing braid like Power Pro’s Spectra Fiber Braided Fishing Line. Attached to the heavy braid, we like a fluorocarbon leader with a robust and heavy-duty circle hook.

When fishing for black drums, it is essential not to skim out on the hooks. We prefer Gamakatsu hooks as they are sharp and durable. Try adding a split shot or an egg weight to keep your line in place. If you don’t want to put weight on your line, you don’t have to. It will increase the fight as you reel your fish in. Much like catfish, the black drum will taste the food before they swallow it, so wait a minute, then set the hook. It’s as easy as that. If you are where the black drums are, you will catch a fish using basic, bottom fishing.

Carolina Rigs

A rig commonly used in black drum fishing is the Carolina rig. The Carolina rig is similar to the Texas rig, except that the weight is fixed above the swivel. Designed with many uses in mind, the Carolina rig works very well for bottom-feeding fishing. From the mainline, you will slide on an egg sinker or bullet sinker, then a bead. After the bead, tie on a swivel. Attach the leader to the swivel with the hook at the end. Add your bait, and you are ready to fish! 

If you don’t want to tie your own Carolina rig, there are many available for purchase. We like the TST 3pk. Designed for massive black drum and redfish fishing, these rigs consist of an 80-lb, Hi-Seas Fluorocarbon leader, 8/0 VMC heavy-duty snelled circle hooks, 3 oz egg sinker, and 150-lb crane swivel. No black drum will shake or cut your loose with these. 

Best Bait for Catching Black Drum

As mentioned, black drums are bottom feeders who like crustaceans, so using bait is more effective than artificial lures. Some fo the best bait to use are blue crabs, shrimp, clams, and mussels. Any bait that has a pleasant odor and taste should catch a black drum. If you are in an area that you know has a black drum, but none are biting, try pinching or breaking open the bait to let the scent out.

When using blue crabs, cut them in half and then hook through the shell. When hooking a blue crab this way, you will allow the scent and oils into the water to attract more black drums. When using shrimp, be sure to peel the shrimp and the smellier the shrimp, the better. Another effective bait is cut bait and squid. In a nut-shell, anything that smelly is effective in catching black drums. 

Best Lures for Catching Black Drum

Artificial lures are not as effective as using bait. The best time to use lures is when you are sight fishing or when they are in schools on the grass flats. When you see black drum “finning,” you should try using your artificial lure. This generally means they are feeding and feeding rather aggressively. Finning is when their tail is above the water because their mouth is on the bottom.

If you want to use artificial lures, use soft plastics on a jighead or hook. You want your lure to look like the food they usually eat, so a plastic that looks like a crab, shrimp or shad would be best. You can also try adding a scent to other plastic lures to make them more useful. Our top three lures are 5” Gulp! Jerk Shad, Chasebaits USA Crusty Crab, and 3” Gulp! Shrimp.

Gulp! Jerk Shad

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These 5” soft plastic shaped fish imitates struggling baitfish. The Jerk shad has an erratic darting motion that is perfect for working weed lines, wood, docks, or dams. They disperse a scent that will attract the black drum. The ideal colors are watermelon and camo. We would pair these shad with an ⅛ oz jighead.

Chasebaits USA Crusty Crab

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Not only does this lure look lifelike, but it also moves lifelike. Perfectly balanced to flip on its belly when cast, the crusty crab is versatile and comes in 9 colors/patterns. Being 2” long, the lure is small enough to fit in the black drum’s mouth. It is best to use this lure in clear water and casts right in front of the black drum. 

Gulp Shrimp

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Shrimp is a natural food for black drums, making sense that an artificial shrimp will work to catch them. 3” long and available in multiple colors, these shrimp are perfect when paired with ⅛ oz jighead. 

Pro-Cure Crab and Shrimp Attractant Bait Oil

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Made from 100% real bait, the Pro-Cure Attractant is excellent for artificial lures. It has enhanced UV flash and amino acids that attract black drums. To use it, shake well and marinate your bait or squirt onto your plastic, artificial lures. 


As you catch your black drum, be sure to follow local regulations. Keep in mind, the smaller black drums are the better tasting fish. If they are between 12” and 24” they are good eaters. If they get much bigger than 24”, they tend to have spaghetti worms. These worms are not harmful to humans but may not be appetizing. Black drums can also be challenging to clean because they have many scales that are hard to remove.

When it comes to black drum fishing, patience is key as you wait for the black drum to come across your bait. A good motto to have while black drum fishing is “set it and forget it”. 

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