It grows larger than many popular game-fish species, puts up a respectable fight, is easy to catch, and tastes good, yet few anglers pay much attention to the freshwater drum fish.
Most anglers who have spent any amount of time fishing larger river systems in the central U.S. have probably encountered the freshwater drum, which is also known as the sheepshead. But most anglers catch freshwater drum while fishing for other species like panfish, walleye, bass, or catfish. Very few anglers go out specifically in search of sheepshead.
With its steeply sloped forehead, gray to silvery color, and a strange croaking sound it makes when handled, the freshwater drum is not likely to win any beauty contests. However, fishing for freshwater drum does have some arguable benefits.
Sheepshead are often found in shallow water during the spring and summer months, so they are fairly easy to locate. Freshwater drum spend most of their time on the bottom of river or lake, feeding on a wide variety of creatures, including crayfish, snails, insect larvae, and small fish. They commonly concentrate in areas with low current and cloudy water, over mud or sand. Anglers can catch them in high numbers, even from shore, using nightcrawlers, minnows, or other live bait fished below a bobber or on the bottom.
Like largemouth or smallmouth bass, an average freshwater drum weighs less than five pounds, but the drum has the potential of growing much larger than either bass species. In some cases, sheepshead can exceed 30 or 40 pounds.
Pound-for-pound, freshwater drum can match most game-fish species in fighting ability. They can provide hours of fun on light to medium tackle, especially for children, who tend to loose interest quickly during long periods of angling inactivity.
Sheepshead are commonly found in larger river systems, but they do inhabit smaller lakes and rivers.
Freshwater drum spawn in late spring, when water temperatures range between 65-72 degrees. Spawning activity occurs on the surface and it is one of the few times the fish can be found off the bottom.
Following the spawn, consistent freshwater drum fishing continues throughout the summer, and even into the early fall. However, sheepshead become increasingly inactive as water temperatures cool in September and October.
Another benefit to fishing for the freshwater drum is its tasty meat, which is white and flaky with a low oil content. It is best prepared by pan frying, deep frying, or smoking.
Sheepshead are typically classified as a rough fish or unprotected species in most states, so there commonly there are no regulations, or very loose regulation in place regarding limits or closed seasons.
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