How to Catch Black Drum

24 inch fish
Juvenile Fish

How to Catch Black Drum


How to Catch Black Drum:  One of the largest fish that can be caught from the shore!  Learn how what gear to use, where to find them and how to catch them!

The Black Drum is a member of the Croaker family and is VERY closely related to the Redfish (aka Red Drum).  They can be quite large with the world record being over 100 pounds, but the normal range for fish caught is around 2-15 pounds.  When they are young they have black vertical bars that dissipate with age (they start to fade around 24″ long) and are easily distinguishable from Redfish by their barbels (whiskers under their chin used to feel and smell).

Equipment for Black Drum

The equipment used when fishing for black drum can vary just as much as the size of the fish being targeted.  Because Black Drum range in size from 1 pound to well over 50 pounds the range of gear that can be used is quite wide.


When targeting fish between 14-24 inches the best options are saltwater rated spinning or baitcasting reels that are able to handle 10-20lb line.  The reels for these smaller, but better tasting fish, should have a good drag and a fair amount of torque to move fish away from cover that they are often found near.

If targeting the larger fish a spinning reel or conventional reel that is rated for 20-40lb line is recommended.   The bigger fish put on a “bulldog” type fight and use their massive size and weight to great advantage.  These reels have to have a very strong drag system as well as robust gearing to handle the largest of black drum.


The most important factor when choosing a rod to use when fishing for black drum is balance.  Whether you are fishing for the more common 2-15lb fish or the giants, if a rod and reel combo is not balance it will lead to fatigue and also not function quite as well as a balanced option. If fishing from the surf for black drum, casting distance is the most important attribute.  A long rod of over 8 feet will help increase casting distance greatly which is often required when fishing for black drum in the surf.

Black drum do not require a very sensitive rod.  When they take a bait they normally start to swim away and their size and weight make them easy to detect, so a rod with a strong backbone and medium action is best.


Braid is always a good choice when fishing for black drum.  It has a small diameter and is quite abrasion resistant and resists breaking when fishing near cover.  Match the weight of the line to the size of the fish you are targeting.  10-15lb line for the smaller fish and 20-40lb line for the bigger fish.

Fluorocarbon leaders of about 12-24″ should be used.  12-14lb for the smaller fish and 20-30lb for the larger fish.  Fluorocarbon is more expensive then monofiliment but it is also more abrasion resistant and less visible making it worth the investment.

Terminal Tackle

Since black drum are almost always caught on live bait (but it is possible to catch them on lures) a circle hook is the best bet.  Circle hooks are great at stopping fish from getting gut hooked, and will set themselves when a fish starts to run with a bait.  These hooks will most frequently hook the fish in the corner of the mouth which increases the catch ratio and allows for an easier releases if desired.

The best rig for catching black drum is a Carolina Rig.  Start with a circle hook of appropriate size for the bait being used, attach it to the leader.  Tie the leader to a barrel swivel, on the main line add enough weight to hold bottom and a bead between the weight and the swivel,  This rig will allow the bait to be on the bottom, where black drum feed, and allow the bait to move fairly naturally.

Where to Find Black Drum

Black Drum are found in the surf, estuaries, passes and channels.  They are most frequently found around bridges and piers but are also frequently found roaming the surf, around shell bars, shore lines and shallow flats.  Black drum are most frequent found in areas near deeper water that has a current flowing through it and plenty of structure in the area.  A channel running under a bridge, a sand bar near a pier or a oyster bed in shallow water near deeper water are some of the favorite holding places for these fish.


Black Drum primarily live on a crustacean based diet.  They eat mostly shrimp, crabs and bi-valves (oysters/clams).  The best baits for catching Black Drum are live or fresh froze shrimp (with its tail cut off to release scent), cut blue crab, live smaller crabs or fresh cut clams.  When targeting the smaller fish use large shrimp, a small blue crab cut into 1/4 sizes, or half dollar size pieces of clam.  If the large fish are the target use jumbo shrimp, half a blue crab, and half a large clam or a full small clam.


The most effective technique for catching black drum is the famed “set it and forget it” technique.  Cast the bait into an area that should hold fish and allow the bait to sit in that area for a while.  Only pull the bait up if there has been activity (small fish hitting the bait, or a large fish moving it and missing it) or it has been in the water long enough to have lost its sent.

When fishing near around piers and bridges look for areas of deeper water near structure.  Fish will often hold down current from a piling or a rock pile.  Place the bait just up-current of the structure and allow it to slowly move into position by gently lifting the weight off the bottom every few seconds.  Once it reaches the target zone allow it to stay there for a while. The best place to find Black Drum in the surf is between 2 sandbars or just behind the breaking waves if only 1 sand bar exists.  Cast the bait to the preferred area and allow it to soak.

Black Drum rely heavily on their sense of small and touch when feeding.  They are active feeders and will follow a scent trail to a rigged bait.  When they take the bait they will most frequently continue swimming on a hunt for more food.  This action will embed the circle hook in the corner of their mouth and the fight will begin.  When using a circle hook, never set the hook with a rapid motion as that will only pull the hook out of the fishes mouth.  Simply allow the fish to pull and put pressure on it.

Black Drum are clever fish and will often attempt to swim around pilling or rock piles in an attempt to free themselves.  Once the fish is hooked it is important to get them away from cover as fast as possible to avoid having the line cut.  Once free from cover, a typical fight will include the fish pulling hard and steady.  Having the drag set properly will help ensure that a strong fish does not snap the line too easily.

Quick Tips

  • Circle Hooks are best for Black Drum
  • DO NOT SET THE HOOK in a traditional manner.  Allow the pressure of the fish swimming away to set the hook on its own.
  • Black Drum rely heavily on scent when feeding, make sure the bait is putting ample amounts of sent in the water.
  • Smaller fish taste better and have firm meat.
  • Fish over 24″ begin to lose their flavor, the meat gets mushy and very large fish tend to have many worms.
  • It is best to release large fish to allow them to continue breeding.

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