Best Ways to Catch Puppy Drum

Avid saltwater angler, Lewis Emery, with a freshly tagged puppy drum.
Avid saltwater angler, Lewis Emery, with a freshly tagged puppy drum.

Catching a trophy grade red drum is a dream that some saltwater anglers never achieve. A big, bull redfish can be difficult to find, hook, and land, but they all begin their lives as the same thing; a puppy drum. But don’t let their nickname fool you, no matter what their size, redfish offer anglers an aggressive battle, which has made them one of the most popular saltwater gamefish from Massachusetts down through the Gulf of Mexico.

Puppies

Since full grown bulls can tip the scales at over 50 pounds, it is no surprise that juvenile red drum are often referred to as ‘puppies.’ Puppy drum tend to inhabit the shallows closer to shore, particularly near inlets and passes where moving currents intersect. They love hanging out around structure, whether it be a sand bar, oyster shoal, or the pilings around a dock, pier, or wharf. They can also be found in the surf along ocean facing beaches.

Tackle

All drum are adept scavengers that comb the bottom for small crabs, shrimp, sandworms, and baitfish, which make up a majority of their normal diet. Bait fishing for drum of any size requires tackle heavy enough to accommodate a sinker of several ounces, along with the baited rig. A medium action rod with sufficient backbone, matched with a quality spinning reel spooled with 10- to 20-pound test-braided line and a 15” to 20” fluorocarbon leader is a near perfect tackle combination to get the job done.

Bait

While fresh, natural baits will usually be the best offerings to grab the attention of a puppy drum, they are often a sucker for well-presented soft plastic baits that mimic the appearance of their favorite prey. The shrimp lures made by manufacturers like Vudu and DOA can be particularly effective, as can some of the newer GULP!

bio-baits like their Shrimp or Peeler Crab. In addition to soft artificial baits, puppy drum will also readily attack top water plugs and diving stick baits like Rapala’s and YoZuri lures.

Deeper Water

A majority of anglers end up fishing for puppy drum onshore, but if you happen to be fortunate enough to have a boat always anchor in deeper water adjacent to a shallow sandbar or oyster shoal. Make your casts over the structure and immediately retrieve the bait back over deeper water all the way to the boat. Always be aware that the tide changes quickly in the flats, so always monitor the water level as you fish.

The most productive time to target puppy drum is from the beginning of spring through fall. Fishing for them in the surf from an ocean facing beach is a lot more straight forward than the finesse style of approach that is necessary when going after them in shallow flats or estuaries. Look for areas on the beach where the water comes up highest after a breaking wave; this usually indicates a hole or depression where puppy drum may congregate.

Drum of all sizes like to feed in the choppy water just inside the breakers and when in a feeding frenzy, puppy drum are particularly carefree during the melee and are likely to bite on just about anything that passes under their nose.

On Your Plate

When it comes to good eating, puppy drum have the advantage over the big bulls, hands down; the larger a red drum gets, the more that its flesh tends to get tough and grainy. The fillets of fresh puppy drum between 5 and 7 pounds are the best candidates for your favorite ‘blackened redfish’ recipe, but never keep more than you can honestly use in order to keep the resource intact for future generations.