If Rodney Dangerfield’s afterlife were as a fish, I think he’d come back as a freshwater drum.
Unlike its saltwater relatives, the freshwater drum just doesn’t get any respect.
No respect? Most experienced bass anglers I’ve fished with curse them, and I’ll confess disappointment when a heavy head-shaking fight produces the flash of a silver- or gold-sided drum rather than a green or brown bass.
I commonly see dead drum floating on Tennessee River impoundments. As freshwater drum are a hearty fish with a very broad temperature tolerance, I surmise that sometimes anglers’ lack of respect turns to violence at the drum’s fatal expense.
On a recent trip to Pickwick, my fishing partner and I caught several on hard jerkbaits. I spent more than five minutes subduing one about 10 pounds that thumped a shaky head.
I’ve caught them on spinnerbaits, swimming a grub and on crankbaits. Drum will eat a lizard on a Carolina rig or a bass jig.
Basically, they will strike everything you throw at a bass with the exception of a topwater — maybe that’s just a matter of time because topwaters frequently entice two of their close relatives.
Winter through early summer seems to be when I catch the most drum.
Freshwater drum — often called gaspergou down in bayou country and sheephead in northern waters — are the only exclusively freshwater member of the drum family (Sciaenidae, pronounced sci-an-i-day), the same family as red drum (redfish), speckled sea trout and weakfish (sand trout).
Also in the drum family are croakers, spots and many larger carnivorous fish like black drum.
All share the common ability to produce drumming sounds that, at least for some species, are thought to facilitate getting the boys and girls together to spawn.
Freshwater drum have the widest distribution of any freshwater fish in North America. Their native range is from Hudson Bay and central Canada in the north to the southern tip of Mexico.
In the United States, drum are common in the Great Lakes and lakes, rivers and reservoirs of the Mississippi River basin (which includes the Ohio and Missouri River basins, as well as the Mississippi River and totals about 41 percent of the continental United States).
Freshwater drum produce a large number of eggs, about 10,000 to 20,000 per pound of female. Drum spawn at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and eggs are released and fertilized in open water. The fertilized eggs are buoyant and drift near the surface for 24 to 36 hours until they hatch.
As would be expected of a fish with a subterminal mouth (meaning the upper jaw extends forward of the lower jaw, just like a redfish), drum feed on a variety of bottom-dwelling invertebrates when young and as adults.
Freshwater drum seem especially fond of freshwater mussels. Crushing plates in their throats operated by powerful muscles enable freshwater drum to feed on zebra mussels and the thick-shelled Asiatic clam (Corbicula). Although often suggested as a control for zebra mussels, drum densities are insufficient to suppress these problematic invaders.
As evidenced by the horizontal lures that attract them, freshwater drum add fish to their diet as they grow. The feeding behavior and food habits of freshwater drum are essentially identical to redfish, even consuming blue crab when available.
In Mississippi waters, freshwater drum grow to 12 inches in four years and 18 inches in about 10 years.
Are they good to eat? I can’t give a testimony or share my favorite recipe.
But the flesh is white, flaky and free of bones. Many claim freshwater drum are among the best-eating freshwater fish, and they have always fetched a moderate price at wild-harvest fish markets.
Hey, most people passed on red drum until Chef Paul Prudhomme blackened them in a concoction of spices that will burn a hole in your stomach.