Red drum are a species of gamefish that lives in the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico from Florida around to Texas and northern Mexico. They are closely related to the sheepshead drum fish that live in the Upper Mississippi and St. Croix rivers and in the Great Lakes. Around here at our winter home in Cedar Key, Florida, red drum, or redfish, are highly prized by anglers fishing inshore waters.
Red drum spawn in late summer into early fall at the mouth of estuaries and in passes between islands at night on incoming tides. Males form large schools, called drumming aggregations, because of the drumming sound that they make with their air bladders to attract females. Female red drum can produce 20 to 40 million eggs each season.
Young red drum live in estuary areas among tidal creeks, salt marsh and near-shore islands. They feed voraciously on shrimp, crabs, and small fish like mullet. Red drum grow quickly, reaching 3 to 6 pounds in three years. They are sexually mature in three to five years and can grow to over 60 pounds. Red drum are beautiful fish, golden-brown on the back and sides with a white belly, blue edges on their fins and tail and one or more characteristic black spots by the base of the tail.
We fish for red drum from our boat or standing on shore casting live shrimp on a jig under a popping cork. The sound of the popping cork attracts red drum, closely related black drum and sea trout. Redfish often hit hard so you can’t let your fishing rod lie in the boat unattended or it may go flying out into the water.
We also catch them in deeper water by using an egg sinker on a leader above the hook, allowing the fish to swim off with the bait. Using a circle hook enables the fish to hook themselves on the lip, so you can leave the rod in a rod holder with some slack line and light drag on the reel. When the rod bends over and the reel starts singing, you have a redfish fight on your hands.
The late chef Paul Prudhomme of New Orleans popularized Cajun cooking and "blackened" redfish. That dish became so popular that red drum nearly became extinct from commercial fishing and redfish migrating north in sport fishermen’s coolers. Gulf Coast states banned commercial fishing for red drum and greatly limited sport fishing catch. Red drum populations recovered and now support a popular sport fishery. We can only keep one red drum per person per day here in Florida, with slot-size of fish 18 to 27 inches long.
Carol is usually the lucky one with red drum when we are out fishing. She has caught beautiful red drum that are 26 ¾ inches long, just under the upper slot size. I fillet them and we cook them on the grill, or bake or broil them. Red drum are delicious topped with olive oil, lemon slices, capers and Cajun seasoning.