Red Drum

Red Drum
Sciaenops ocellatas
(A.K.A. Redfish, Channel Bass)


Key Distinguishing Markings:

  • General coloration is iridescent silvery-gray overall, with a coppery cast that is usually darker on the back and upper sides.
  • One (or more) black ocellar spots on the upper sides near the base of the tail.
  • Chin without barbells.
  • Inferior horizontal mouth.
  • Body elongate and robust.
  • Dorsal fin continuous but deeply notched, with 10 spines in the anterior portion and with 1 spine and 23-25 soft rays in the posterior portion.

Size:

  • Maximum adult size is nearly 5 feet (1.5 meters) total length.
  • The largest recorded red drum was 59 inches and 98 pounds.
  • The Maryland state record was caught in 1977 in Tangier sound and weighed 74 pounds 6 ounces. (This record will stand for the foreseeable future, since red drum over 27 inches are not currently legal to keep).

Distribution:

  • Historic distribution of red drum on the Atlantic coast is from the Gulf of Main to northern Mexico.
  • This species has become uncommon north of New Jersey.
  • Red drum are more abundant in the Gulf of Mexico than along the Atlantic coast.

Habitat:

  • Adult red drum occur in Chesapeake Bay from May through November and are most abundant near the bay mouth in salinities above 15 parts per thousand.
  • Juveniles are most abundant in estuarine waters and inlets, while fish older than age-5 primarily inhabit coastal and offshore waters, often in large schools.

Food Preference:

  • Juveniles feed on zooplankton and invertebrates such as small crabs and shrimp.
  • Red drum expand their diet to include fish and larger invertebrates as they grow into adults.

Spawning:

  • Males first spawn between ages two and three (21 inches in length), while females mature at ages three to five (36 inches in length).
  • Spawning occurs at night in the summer and fall in nearshore waters.
  • Large females can produce up to several million eggs in a single season.
  • Following their first spawn, red drum spend less time in the estuaries and more time in ocean waters.

Fishing Tips:

  • The recreational season for catching red drum is open year round.
  • Currently, recreationally caught red drum must be at least 18 inches but no more than 27 inches to keep, and anglers are permitted 1 fish/person/day.
  • Commercially caught red drum must be 18 to 25 inches, with a 5 fish per day limit.
  • For current recreational and commercial size and creel limits, see Maryland's updated regulation page.
  • Surf casters along the 35 miles of Maryland's Atlantic coast catch large red drum in late fall and may occasionally catch smaller legal size fish.

Fun Fact:

  • Red drum derive their name from the croaking or drumming sound they produce by resonating their large swim bladder.
  • The oldest recorded red drum was 62 years old.
  • Due to their unusual growth pattern, a 36-inch red drum may be anywhere from 6 to 50 years old.

Family: Sciaenidae (drums and croakers)

Order: Perciformes (perch-likes)

Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

For more information on red drum and their management, please check the ASMFC website www.ASMFC.org  (look for red drum in the Managed Species section) or contact Harry Rickabaugh.

Illustration by Duane Raver, USFWS


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