All About Freshwater Drum Fish

Facts About This Popular North American Fish

Freshwater drum caught on a jig and pig
This big freshwater drum hit a jig and pig. 2011 Ronnie Garrison, licensed to About.com

Freshwater drum fish, Aplodinotus grunniens, are a native, freshwater fish with the greatest range of any fish in North America. They are the only North American fish that inhabits freshwater its entire life. They are tough fighters on the line, and according to most, are not great for eating, although some disagree

Description of the Fish

Its genus name, Aplodinotus, comes from Greek meaning "single back," and grunniens comes from a Latin word meaning "grunting." Mature males make a grunting noise that comes from a special set of muscles within the body cavity that vibrate against the swim bladder.

It is not known for sure what the grunting is about, but it can be assumed since it is a mature male feature, that it may be linked to spawning.

The fish has a deep body with a humpback and blunt snout. The mouth is downturned. The freshwater drum can range from gray to brown colored. The fish typically weighs 5 to 15 pounds. The world record catch is 54 pounds, 8 ounces caught by Benny Hull in 1972 on Nickajack Lake in Tennessee. 

Habitat

Freshwater drum can be found from Guatemala to Canada and from the Rockies to the Appalachian Mountains. The freshwater drum prefers clear water, but it is tolerant of turbid and murky water.

Eat or Be Eaten

Drum are bottom feeders that eat mollusks, insects and fish. Favorite foods include bivalve mussels and insect larvae. Drum are attracted to light and may come to a light source thinking it has found an insect or minnow. Its main competitors for food, for example in Lake Erie, include yellow perch, trout perch, silver chub, emerald shiner and black bass.

Main predators on freshwater drum are humans and larger fish, such as the smallmouth bass and walleye. The market price tends to be quite low for freshwater drum. Usually, when it is found on the market, it is sold as bycatch from targeted higher-value species.

Life Cycle

Males generally reach sexual maturity at four years, whereas females reach maturity at five or six years.

Females from six to nine years old have a clutch size of 34,000 to 66,500 eggs.

During the summer, freshwater drum move into warm, shallow water that is less than 33 feet deep. The freshwater drum then spawn during a six to seven-week period from June through July when the water reaches a temperature of about 65 F. During the spawn, females release their eggs into the water column and males release their sperm. Fertilization is random. There is no parental aftercare. The eggs then float to the top of the water column and hatch between two and four days. After hatching, the fry stay near the bottom and feed there the rest of their lives.

Freshwater drum are long-lived. There are specimens that have reached 72 years in Red Lakes, Minnesota, and 32 years in the Cahaba River in Alabama. Although these are extreme examples, the average lifespan is 6 to 13 years.