The freshwater drum is the only North American freshwater representative of the Sciaenidae family, which includes the croaker, the drum, the corbina, and the seatrout, among others. It also has the greatest range of any North American freshwater ﬁsh, is highly adaptable, and is an excellent battler on light tackle, although it is extremely underrated and underutilized as a sportﬁsh.
A unique feature of the freshwater drum is its oversize otolith—a ﬂat, egg-shaped “ear bone” used for hearing and balance. It is surrounded by ﬂuid and has a white, enameled surface with alternating light and dark bands that can be used to determine the age of the ﬁsh. These are often kept as good luck charms or made into jewelry. Excavated from Indian village sites, huge otoliths from freshwater drum indicate that at one time the ﬁsh grew as large as 200 pounds.
Although a strong ﬁghter with some commercial value, the freshwater drum is not generally highly sought as either a sport or a food ﬁsh. It is deliberately sought by some anglers in the southern and midwestern regions of the United States, although it is mostly caught accidentally by anglers.
The freshwater drum is often confused with a carp in both appearance and taste, although on close examination it does not look like a carp. The drum’s ﬂesh is white with large, coarse ﬂakes. It has been described by some as being of low quality, but this determination is inaccurate.
Often found in clear waters, it is a relative of the saltwater drum and the croaker, which are highly valued as food. The freshwater drum, too, is ﬁne table fare. Perhaps 5 to 10 million pounds are taken annually for commercial purposes, mostly from Lake Erie, and mostly for animal feed.
IdentificationThe body is deep with a humped back, a blunt snout, and a subterminal mouth adapted for bottom feeding. A set of powerful teeth is in the pharynx. It has two dorsal ﬁns, the ﬁrst having eight to nine spines. The anal ﬁn has two spines, the second of which is long and extremely stout. The caudal ﬁn is bluntly pointed. Its coloring is green to gray on its back, with silvery overtones and a white belly. The large, silvery scales are rough to the touch.
The freshwater drum’s two dorsal ﬁns and rounded tail distinguish it from the carp and the buffalo. Also, the ﬁrst dorsal ﬁn of the freshwater drum is composed of eight to nine spines, whereas the carp has only one spine at the beginning of its single soft-rayed dorsal ﬁn, and the buffalo has no spines at all. The freshwater drum can be distinguished from all other freshwater ﬁsh by the lateral line, which extends to the tip of the tail and is characteristic of sciaenids.