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Ohio’s ‘Redfish’

By Dave Votaw




Many years ago I was wading my favorite southern Indiana limestone creek in high summer, happily catching the variety of pretty little fish that inhabit these flows, including the occasional smallmouth.  Stepping into the next pool, a somewhat deeper, slow flowing section, I made a long cast with the Rebel Wee Craw and cranked it down to bottom, scuttling the bait along the gravel and rocks.  The strike that came was one of those atomic hits that almost knocks the rod from your hands; my brain registered “big smallmouth.”  Quickly it became apparent that this wasn’t a smallmouth, not for want of impressive fight but the lack of acrobatics.  That day I was disappointed to discover I’d hooked about a 2-3 lb. freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens).


First cousin to the renowned Gulf Coast red fish, also know as red drum, the freshwater drum is the only member of this large family of fish, Sciaenidae, that lives in freshwater.  Over 200 additional species of this family are known and all are salt water inhabitants.  Freshwater drum – sheepshead, croakers, grunts - are distributed extensively throughout North and Central America, primarily east of the Rocky Mountains and south to Guatemala.


Inexperienced fishermen sometimes confuse drum with carp, probably due to the subterminal location of the mouth in both species.  Drum can be recognized by the steep slope of the head from the nose to the dorsal fin, which produces a pronounced hump-backed appearance.  An additional distinctive feature is the complete lateral line that extends through the caudal fin.  The ‘drumming’ sound these fish are known for is made by movement of a tendon over the swim bladder in adult males and is thought to be related to reproductive behavior.  As befits the drum’s unique freshwater status within the family Sciaenidae, drum are also the only North American freshwater species that spawns pelagically, producing floating, planktonic eggs.  Spawning begins in June when water temperatures reach 65 – 700 F with each female producing up to 50,000 eggs.  In the laboratory eggs hatched in 27 hours, with free-swimming larva (fry) developing in 45 hours.  Drum spawning has not been observed in the wild.


Drum are primarily bottom dwellers and feeders that root in substrate materials and rocks for almost any forage that lives there – crayfish, insects, small fish, and mollusks including zebra mussels, that are crushed by the drum’s impressive pharyngeal teeth.  If you fish mid-west streams and rivers for smallmouth bass your approach will be on the bottom, at times imitating much of the same forage drum look for.  Eventually you are going to experience the excitement of hooking a drum!  While drum are said to prefer larger bodies of water with less current, their adaptability has extended their range to even very small flows.  The bigger the body of water, the bigger the drum, of course (the world record is a 54 pound specimen from a lake in Tennessee), but the smaller fish of local rivers are incredibly entertaining in their own right.


Since entertainment, meaning catching fish, is our ultimate goal here, this is the somewhat ‘conventional wisdom’ on targeting drum.  Riprap banks and tailwaters are known to attract drum, particularly at night, due to the available forage found in those habitats.  In smaller flows, search the same habitat you would for smallmouth, concentrating on current edges with adjacent slack water.  Last year I took a beautiful two-pounder from a small creek, again on a Rebel Wee Craw.  On this occasion, however, there was no disappointment with the outstanding fight in current from this worthy quarry!  Crankbaits that run near bottom are effective drum applications, as are jigs with a plastic trailer and wobbling spoons.  For bait fishermen, crayfish tails are number one, although night crawlers can be a fair substitute.


Considering that drum are freshwater red fish, your next one should be regarded as table fare.  When properly prepared, they are tasty!  If you’re a catch and release fisherman that has a hankering for a fresh fish dinner, here are two suggestions for preparing drum:


Blackened drum  http://www.fish4fun.com/seafoodrecipes.htm#Blackened%20Redfish


Drum etouffee  http://www.realcajunrecipes.com/recipes/cajun/gaspergou-etouffee/627.rcr



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