What's as big around as an oil drum, so ugly it could frighten its own mother, and vibrates more than a vintage outboard? Black drum, of course, one of the largest inshore gamefish that's found from Nova Scotia to Mexico. Despite its hideous appearance and the ubiquitous worms in its flesh, the sheer size of black drum (50-pounders are common, and the IGFA all-tackle record is 113 pounds) makes them a highly sought after species all along the East and Gulf Coasts.
But the question of the day is: Why does a black drum make its signature noise? Scientists agree that the fish's drumming is a form of communication, but the message it delivers is in dispute. Some experts claim that drum, with their relatively poor eyesight, use their vibrations to keep tabs on each other and maintain a cohesive school, also using their drumming as a distress signal. Others argue it's a mating call, noting that males drum significantly louder than females. In fact, a fish's drumming can be so loud it's heard by anglers standing in a boat 30 feet above.
Why should anglers care about the noisemaking ability of these fish? Because knowing about this unusual form of communication will help increase your catch rate. First, because their drumming may be helping to offset poor eyesight, you should forget about top-water lures, plugs, and jigs-black drum can't see them. These fish are best chased with such potent-smelling baits as soft crab, shrimp, and clams. Second, these noises indicate a closely schooled group, so when you have one hooked up, there's a good chance more are right below the boat.
So the next time you're on the hunt for black drum, forget about your eyes-keep your ears peeled.