Common Family: The Drum Family
Common Name: Freshwater Drum
Scientific Name: Aplodinotus grunniens
Freshwater drum have a rather oblong body with the back somewhat humped or elevated especially in larger individuals. The tail is rounded, the snout blunt and the long dorsal fin extends from the peak of the humped back almost to the tail. The mouth is subterminal or turned down partially indicating its preference to feed close to the bottom. The upper portion of the body is pearl gray and somewhat gives off bronze, blue and silvery reflections. The sides are lighter and more silvery; the belly is milky white.
Ripe individuals spawn in April and May over shallow gravel and sandy stretches of shore when water temperature is between 65-70 F. Sound production intensifies during spawning and presumably serves to gather ripe males and females in spawning areas. Freshwater drum are unique among freshwater North American fishes in producing an egg and larvae that floats at the water’s surface. No parental care is given with eggs hatching in two weeks. Young feed in the shallows on small crustaceans and other aquatic life. As adults they possess strong pharyngeal teeth in their throat, enabling them to consume small clams and mussels. This species is marketed commercially in many locations across its range but not in West Virginia.
Freshwater drum can be found anywhere throughout West Virginia medium to large rivers, streams and reservoirs with greater abundance and size of individuals in larger rivers. Although this species prefers clear waters, it can withstand turbid waters better than many species.
There are no conservation issues related to freshwater drum.
Freshwater drum are not a preferred species by most anglers but put up a good fight when hooked and are excellent to eat. They can often be seen feeding for minnows, crustaceans and mollusks. A crawdad pitched above them will usually draw a strike resulting in a powerful tussle.
Many recipes exist on the internet or can be obtained from friends or family. A popular recipe is to season strips or fish fingers with Old Bay or other seafood seasoning, boil quickly, drain and serve chilled with cocktail sauce. Their meal is very tasty and is often referred to as poor man’s lobster.
Their otoliths or inner ear stones are made of calcium carbonate and have a distinct “L” shape carved into them. Many refer to them as “lucky stones” when found occasionally around streams and rivers.
The state record for freshwater drum is 27.88 pounds (John Gibson, 2021) and the length record is 37 inches (Bill Dawkins, 1954).
If seen feeding in the shallows, freshwater drum can be confused with carp, buffalo or other fish. Unique features include its slightly downs turned mouth and small barbels on each side of the mouth. In larger individuals as noted a distinct humpback develops which is a key identification feature to distinguish it from other fishes. Smaller individuals are sometimes confused with shad of similar size.