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.
Identification. The 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
sheepshead, croaker, grunt, drum, silver bass, thunder pumper; French: malachigan.
Distribution. The freshwater drum occurs over much of the United States, between the Rockies and the Appalachians southward throughout eastern Mexico to Guatemala's Río Usumacinta system and northward through Manitoba, Canada, all the way to Hudson Bay. It also occurs in some areas of Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.
Habitat. Although it prefers clear waters, the freshwater drum is adaptable and can withstand turbid water better than can many other species. It is commonly found in large lakes and in the deep pools of rivers. It favors deep water, staying at the bottom but moving shoreward at dusk. The drum is rarely found in small streams or small lakes.
Drum, Freshwater (continued)
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.
Size/Age. The average size of a freshwater drum is 15 inches and 3 pounds, although they can grow to 50 pounds. The average commercial catch usually weighs 1 to 5 pounds. The all-tackle record is 54 pounds, 8 ounces. Freshwater drum can live up to 20 years.
Spawning. The freshwater drum spawns in the spring when the water temperature reaches 65° to 70°F. The eggs are released over shallow gravel and sandy stretches near shore. They stick to pebbles or stones on the bottom and hatch within 2 weeks. Neither the eggs nor the young receive parental care.
Food and feeding habits. Young drum feed on minute crustaceans. Adults consume mollusks, insects, and fish. Using their snouts, they slowly move small rocks and other bottom materials to find food. Their pharyngeal teeth crush snail or clam shells, and they spit out the shells and swallow the soft bodies.
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