The Black Drum is a saltwater fish similar to its cousin, the Red Drum. It is the only species in the genus Pogonias. Black Drum larvae eat mostly zooplankton, and young Black Drum (less than 20 cm long) eat worms and small fish. Black Drum are mostly bottom feeders, with adults eating mostly mollusks and crabs. In shallow water, they have been reported to feed with their heads down so that their tails show above the water surface. Black Drum are edible, with a moderate flavor and are not oily. Some restaurants in the southern US serve smaller black drum. Big drum can be challenging to clean; removing the large scales is a challenge.
Though most specimens are generally found in the 5-30 lb (2–14 kg) range, the Black Drum is well known as the largest of all the drum family with some specimens reaching excesses of 90 lbs (40 kg). The world record Black Drum was just over 113 lbs (51 kg). They are often black and/or gray in color with juvenile fish having distinctive dark stripes over a gray body. Their teeth are rounded and they have powerful jaws capable of crushing oysters and other shellfish. Juvenile fish have 4 to 6 bold vertical black bars on a light background and can be mistaken for Sheepshead at first glance, but are distinguished on closer inspection because Sheepshead have teeth and Black Drum have chin barbells. These stripes usually fade to dull grey as the fish grow from 12" to 24" in length.
Black drum are bottom feeders, so they are most commonly caught with bait either on the bottom or suspended within a couple feet of the bottom. Bottom fishing methods are used both in surf fishing and inshore fishing. Shrimp is a typical bait that works well; squid can also be used and is less subject to bait stealing by hardhead catfish and Atlantic croakers which often frequent the same waters. There are times when the older, larger fish are more readily caught on a half or a quarter of a blue crab with the top shell removed and cut or broken to fit on a 4/0 to 9/0 hook. This type of fishing is often combined with chumming, a baiting practice that involves scattering bits of fish parts and blood into the water as an attractant. Sometimes Black Drum are caught on spoons and jigs.
Black Drum are reported to mouth a natural bait, so anglers need to wait a few seconds before setting the hook. Once a big adult drum grabs the bait, it takes off with gusto, and can put up quite a fight. An unsecured rod can easily be pulled into the water. Landing these big fish on light tackle can be challenging, and since drum are primarily scent-based feeders, there is little disadvantage in using heavier line and tackle. A 40-lb braided line with a comparable weight flurocarbon leader is a good compromise between castability and strength. However, big drum are frequently caught with everything from 8-lb monofiliment to 100-lb braided lines with heavy steel leaders.
An effective strategy for fishing from a boat is to select a spot with a sandy bottom or oyster bed where food is plentiful at a time of day with some tidal movement. Pier or bank fishing should target jetties, structure, or a boat channel near a rapid increase in depth and some tidal movement. With stout tackle, Black Drum above 10 lbs are relatively easy for children to catch because they are not particularly skittish and do not easily come off once they are hooked. Because bigger drum can make a long, strong run right after taking the bait, preventing broken line often requires a relatively light drag setting early in the fight. One researcher reported good success with trotline fishing techniques, which he used to catch a large sample of Black Drum for tagging and scientific study.
In the western Atlantic, Black Drum are found from Nova Scotia to Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, the Antilles, and the southern Caribbean coast; also from the Orinoco delta to Argentina. They are common between the Delaware Bay and Florida coasts, and most abundant along the Texas coast. After reaching maturity by the end of their second year, Black Drum spawn in and around estuarine waters.