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Red Drum

Red drum ( Sciaenops ocellatus ) is a member of the family Sciaenidae. Also known as channel bass, redfish, bull redfish, drum, puppy drum and spottail, red drum is one of 13 species of sciaenids that occur in the Chesapeake Bay region. The family includes the commercially and recreationally important seatrouts, spot, croaker, kingfishes, silver perch and black drum. Red drum are not often confused with other sciaenids, however, since they grow to a much larger size than all the other species except for the black drum. They also have a distinctive silvery coloration tinged with a coppery reddish-brown, and a large black spot at the base of the tail. The largest recorded red drum was 59 inches and 98 pounds, and the fish can live as long as 35 years.

Red drum are found from the Gulf of Maine to the northern coast of Mexico, but are most commonly found south of the Chesapeake Bay. Adult red drum occur in the Chesapeake Bay from May through November and are abundant in the spring and fall near the Bay mouth. Adults travel in large schools often in near-shore marine waters, but a red drum population extends as far north in the Bay as the Patuxent River. During mild winters, red drum may overwinter in the Bay, but they usually migrate seasonally, moving in schools offshore and southward in the winter and inshore to the north in the spring. Juvenile red drum also move from bays and estuaries to deeper waters of the ocean in response to dropping water temperatures in the fall and winter.

Life Cycle

Male red drum begin maturing at age 1, while females mature at ages 4 to 5 in North Carolina and 2 to 3 farther south.
Red drum are prolific spawners; large females are capable of producing nearly 2 million eggs in a single season.
Spawning occurs in near-shore coastal waters–along beaches and near inlets and passes–from late summer and into the fall. Eggs spawned in the ocean are carried by currents into estuaries where they hatch.
Young-of-the-year appear in the estuary from August through September and newly hatched larval red drum are carried further by water currents toward fresher, shallower water. Juvenile drum in these areas feed on zooplankton and invertebrates such as small crabs and shrimp. Adults primarily feed on fish, crabs and shrimp.
The Fishery

The commercial red drum fishery is not an important one in the Chesapeake Bay area. Virginia's commercial catch, once as high as 180,000 pounds per year, has been insignificant since 1965. Maryland's annual catch has not exceeded 2,000 pounds since 1954. Commercial landings of red drum Baywide have been reported since the 1880s. The landings have varied widely, ranging from 4,400 pounds in 1973 to 1.7 million pounds in 1945. Landings in the mid-Atlantic have declined since the 1930s. The fishery is generally nondirected, using pound-nets, shrimp trawls, hand lines, haul seines and gill nets. Runaround gill nets were a dominant gear in Florida, taking 65 percent to 84 percent of the total catch, but that fishery has been closed due to concern that overfishing could cause stock collapse.

A modest recreational fishery exists. Most fish are taken by surf casting from seaside beaches and some by bait fishing along the Bay side of the lower Eastern Shore. The recreational fishery for red drum is a near-shore fishery, targeting small, "puppy drum" and large trophy fish. Trophy-size fish are caught along the mid- and south Atlantic barrier islands, while smaller red drum are taken in shallow estuarine waters. The Chesapeake Bay size record is unknown, but the Virginia record is a fish weighing 85.3 pounds, which was taken from the seaside of Wreck Island in 1981. Since the 1980s the amount of fish caught for a given unit of effort has declined. Recreational catch peaked in 1984 at 9.96 million pounds.

Red drum on the Atlantic coast are managed jointly by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAMFC). The commission wrote its Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) for Red Drum in 1984 and the council completed its own FMP in 1990. The Chesapeake Bay Program's FMP was completed in 1993. A serious problem in the fishery concerns intense fishing pressure on juvenile red drum in state waters, which results in significantly reduced recruitment to the spawning stock. Additionally, managers are concerned about the potential for a directed fishery outside state waters, which could directly reduce the spawning stock.

The goal for both the ASMFC and the SAMFC is to manage for sustained harvest by US fishermen, while maintaining the spawning stock biomass at 30 percent of the level that would occur with no fishing (30 percent SSBR). The objective of the plans include: managing for 30 percent SSBR, providing flexible management system that retains commission, council and public input in the management process, and promoting cooperative research that will increase management decision making in the future.

Research priorities for red drum are directed toward collecting the necessary data to perform an up-to-date stock assessment. This includes improved catch, effort and length/frequency statistics, increased data from night anglers, tagging of 3 to 5 year-old fish, standardized sampling of sub-adult fish and developing an improved estimate of natural mortality.


To book your trip aboard Light Tackle Charters call Captain Walt at (410) 957-1664 or email him from this site! Remember, your date is not "booked" until a deposit has been recieved.

Light Tackle Charters
2630 Cambrook Drive
Pocomoke City, MD 21851

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You may bring your own fly, spinning, casting or trolling outfits. I recommend different outfits of different size & weights dependent upon the time of year and the species we'll be stalking. Just talk with me (via phone or e-mail) prior to the trip and I'll be happy to make recommendations...