Scientific Name: Sciaenops ocellatus
Ideal Temp: 70-82°F (21-28°C)
Environment: Inshore, Surf
Technique: Bottom Fishing, Casting, Jigging, Trolling
Lure Type: Bottom Rig, Jigs, Plugs, Spoons
World Record: 42.69 kg (94 lb 2 oz) Avon, North Carolina , USA
The Red Drum, also known as Channel Bass, Redfish, Spottail Bass or simply Reds, is a game fish that is found in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Northern Mexico. It is the only species in the genus Sciaenops. The red drum is a cousin to the Black Drum (Pogonias cromis), and the two species are often found in close proximity to each other, they can interbreed and form a robust hybrid, and younger fish are often indistinguishable in flavor.
Red Drum are a dark red color on the back, which fades into white on the belly. The red drum have a characteristic eyespot near the tail and are somewhat streamlined. Three year-old red drum typically weigh six to eight pounds. When they are near or over twenty-seven inches, they are called “bull reds”. The largest red drum on record weighed just over 94 pounds and was caught in 1984 on Hatteras Island. Red drum are relatives of the black drum and both make a croaking or drumming sound when distressed.
The most distinguishing mark on the red drum is one large black spot on the upper part of the tail base. Having multiple spots is not uncommon for this fish but having no spots is extremely rare. As the fish with multiple spots grow older they seem to lose their excess spots. Scientists believe that the black spot near their tail helps fool predators into attacking the red drum's tail instead of their head, allowing the red drum to escape. The red drum uses its senses of sight and touch and its down turned mouth, to locate forage on the bottom through vacuuming or biting the bottom. On the top and middle of the water column, it uses changes in the light that might look like food. In the summer and fall, adult red drum feed on crabs, shrimp, and sand dollars, in the spring and winter, adults primarily feed on menhaden, mullet, pinfish, sea robin, lizardfish, spot, Atlantic croaker, and flounder.
Immature red drum prefer grass marsh areas of bays and estuaries when available. Both younger mature red drum (3-6 years of age) and bull red drum prefer rocky outcroppings including jetties and manmade structures, such as oil rigs and bridge posts. Around this type of structure, they are found throughout the water column.
Red drum are often found over sand and sandy mud bottoms in coastal waters and estuaries. They feed mainly on crustaceans, mollusks and fishes. They will readily accept any bait, but adults prefer menhaden (a small bait fish), shrimp, mud minnows and crabs. Since they are bottom feeders, they are commonly caught with bait either on the bottom or suspended within a couple feet of the bottom. 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. Baitfish such as pinfish can also be effective, along with a variety of other techniques.
Large, adult red drum grab the bait with a high amount of speed, keep going with a good amount of speed, and can put up a fight. An unsecured rod may 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, especially in stained or deeper water. A 40-lb braided line with a comparable weight fluorocarbon leader is a good compromise between castability and strength. However, big drum are frequently caught with everything from 8-lb monofilament to 100-lb braided lines with heavy steel leaders. The bigger red drum of the Atlantic surf usually like to mouth their food a little, and some fishermen prefer to wait 5 or 6 seconds before reeling in because they want the fish to fully swallow the bait.
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. 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.
Fishing methods include drifting or still fishing on the bottom, jigging or casting from boats or from the shore, and slow trolling. In some areas red drum may be stalked on the flats like bonefish. Baits and lures include crabs, shrimp, clams, jigs, plugs, spoons, strip bait, and streamer flies. Large red drum can be taken from just above the breaker line on an incoming tide or near channels, inlets and shell beds.