Are Freshwater Drum Fish Good To Eat?

The freshwater drum, one of the most wide-ranging species in North America, can be good to eat if prepared properly. Don't expect a light, flaky texture, though— drum has a firm, meaty texture.

Even so, drum is underrated when it comes to its reputation as a table fish. Freshwater drum has a reputation for tasting bad, but that could be the result of its diet in some waters. More likely, though, it is the drum's reputation as a "trash fish"—arguably it is not— and its resemblance to such "rough fish" as carp and suckers with their down-turned mouths and large, rough scales.

Where to Find Freshwater Drum

Found in waters from the Appalachians in the east to Texas and Oklahoma in the west, and from Hudson Bay in the north to Central America in the south, this freshwater fish prefers river and lake bottoms of clean sand or gravel. It likes clear water but also tolerates murky water. Its main diet consists of insect larvae, mussels, and, in some waters, small fish.

Freshwater drum (plodinotus grunniens), also called sheepshead and gaspergous, is often found in the same waters and locations that harbor walleye. Though not a common target for sport fishing, there is a notable commercial demand for the drum.

What to Expect

Unlike trash fish like carp and suckers, the drum does not have numerous small Y-bones. Like most game fish, drum fillets have just a few pin bones that you can eat or remove. The fillets are relatively thin for the size of the fish. Small to medium size drum are 10 to 17 inches and have a better texture than larger drum, which have have a tough texture.

For the best flavor, put the fish on ice as soon as you catch it. This fish dies and its body fat begins to break down quickly if you put it on a stringer or in a basket. The result is a strong fishy taste.

How to Prepare

You can enjoy freshwater drum any number of ways, including breaded or blackened. It can be broiled, baked, fried, smoked, or grilled. It can also be made into a bouillabaise or chowder and works well in fish tacos or as fish kebabs. If attempting to prepare the tougher large drum, cut it into smaller bite-size pieces, then broil or grill it and serve it as a shrimp substitute.

When filleting the fish, trim the dark red flesh near the skin (mud line) to improve remove contaminants and improve the flavor.

Additional Information

Ohio State's Sea Grant Program printed the Guide to Utilizing the Freshwater Drum, which includes more information about freshwater drum and detailed instructions for preparation.

Recent research has been done on the freshwater drum as a possible means of controlling the invasive Zebra mussel in northern lakes and rivers. It has been found that freshwater drum larger 10 inches will eat zebra mussels in rivers and lakes. Although they they may not entirely rid a lake or river of zebra mussels, drum do help reduce populations of this damaging mussel.