Are Freshwater Drum Fish Good To Eat?

  • Editor's note: The freshwater drum is one of the most wide-ranging species in North America, found in waters from the Appalachians in the east to Texas and Oklahoma in the west, and from Hudson Bay in the north to Central America in the south. The fish prefers river and lake bottoms of clean sand or gravel, and likes clear water but also tolerates murky water. Its main diet consists of insect larvae, mussels, and, in some waters, small fish. They are often found in the same waters and locations that harbor walleye. Though not a common target for sport fishing, there is a notable commercial demand for the drum. 

    The following story gives one sportswoman's experience with the freshwater drum as a table fish. 


    I caught my first freshwater drum (plodinotus grunniens) yesterday, and after a bit of online research, we had it for dinner--breaded and fried, with eggs and hash browns on the side.

    I found that this is a seriously underrated fish when it comes to its reputation as a table fish. Drum fish from some waters have a reputation for tasting bad--most such opinions are based on fish taken from  Lake Erie and other great lakes, which apparently can impart a bad flavor to the fish, perhaps because of their diet. But not all waters have that problem, and in my opinion it is a serious mistake to disregard all freshwater drum as table fish. 

    Drum isn't a rough fish at all, no matter what it looks like. It's much tastier than panfish, and I would rate the quality somewhere in between bass and walleye (better than bass!). We caught our drum from Standing Bear Lake, in Omaha, NE. The fillets were large, thick, and boneless.

    They cooked up to a tender, flaky consistency reminiscent of cod. The flavor, too, reminded me more of cod than anything else--very very mild, without the muddy flavor a lot of freshwater fish can take on.

    Not only are drum fun to catch, they're also absolutely phenomenal on the table--at least when they come from lakes other than the Great Lakes.

    The poor reputation may also come because the fish appearance is vaguely reminiscent of carp, but for those who have discovered the truth, we will eat drum with gladly. 

    Trimming the fish is easy--just remove the lateral line and any dark bits, just as you would with walleye. I understand that this fish doesn't freeze well, but should be eaten fresh soon after it's caught, instead. Eating the drum fresh is certainly no problem for me. I hope that next time, we can bring home a bunch of them, and try the fish batter fried, just like cod.

    • Editor's note: Recently, research has been done on the freshwater drum as a possible means of controlling the invasive Zebra mussel in northern lakes and rivers. It has been found that larger freshwater drum--10 inches or more--will eat zebra mussels in rivers and lakes. Although they are now believed incapable of entirely ridding a lake or river of zebra mussels, drum do help reduce populations of this damaging mussel.