Freshwater Drum – Did You Know?

Our good friend and Adipose Boatworks GM Justin Waayenberg recently posted a picture on Social Media showing off a Montana Freshwater Drum he caught somewhere in Eastern Montana, and I asked him to put together a few words and images for us.

Most Montana fly-flickers don’t even know this species exists in the bigger waters in the eastern half of the state. If you live in the Great Falls area you’ll hear a story or two about them downstream of the falls. “Hard pulling’ fish” is always part of that story. I’ve fished where they live but have never seen or cast to one. I’ve always wanted to. But I don’t put in the time that Justin does…

I found out about freshwater drum (or Sheepshead) 3 years ago while on a trip to Michigan. I was immediately intrigued as the guy who told me about them said that you can sight fish for them. To me sight fishing is the pinnacle of the sport, and is my favorite way to fish. I began to do some research and found out that we have some in Montana. There was a place that I had been fishing for a little while that was said to hold some, and I began to keep an eye out when I was there. While I had no luck for a long time, a friend of mine caught one blind casting last year and it got me even more excited to know for sure that they were there.

Earlier this summer I was fishing in one of my favorite carp spots and was spotting fish for a friend while he was casting. I saw a smaller fish in a group of carp and immediately knew it had be a drum. He cast at it and it spooked off to never be seen again. We went back to the same area this past weekend and were catching some monster carp when my buddy spotted what he thought was a smallmouth bass following a couple of carp. I looked and said “No way man that’s a drum”. He took a couple of shots and it spooked off. We walked a bit farther and I spotted another one, I got down in position and made a cast. I stripped my fly in front of him and let it drop to the bottom. He followed it down and my buddy who was spotting for me started to holler he ate it, I stripped set and he was there. For the size of the fish it put up a great fight. They are a really cool looking fish and are a blast on fly rod. We took a couple of photos and let him swim off to be fished for another day.

-Justin

Awesome fish. Looks a whole lot like Black Drum I’ve caught on the Gulf Coast. At a time of the year when anglers statewide are talking about laying off the trout due to warm and low flows, Justin and his buddy are doing it and making the most of it. Looks like a few nice Carp as well. I like knowing there are guys like this out there doing this…

Follow Justin on Facebook to see if he catches more…

click on the images to enlarge.

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9 Comments.

  • The state record suggests that they get pretty big (21.59 lbs). That fish was recorded in 03, I’d bet there are much larger ones to be caught if you were to target them.

  • Great, like I needed another bucket list item/event. Thanks John.

  • Very neat to see them up in Montana. Here in Louisiana we call them gaspergou. A sheepshead is a different fish down here, but one of the more difficult to catch on a fly!

  • Some biological information on drum in case any of your blog viewers are interested:

    Space limits listing the amazing traits of this remarkable fish. Ranging from mid-Canada to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, the freshwater drum boasts the largest north-south range of any North American freshwater fish. It is also the only freshwater member of the drum family, which includes the ocean fish served as “blackened redfish” popularized in New Orleans restaurants.

    Freshwater drumThis silver, bass-shaped fish is known to scientists as Aplodinotus grunniens. Anglers call it sheepshead, croaker, and thunder-pumper. The name in Louisiana is gaspergou (from the French casburgot—literally, “to break a clam,” referring to its ability to crush mollusks in the heavy molars that line its throat).

    Among the drum’s other extraordinary features:

    The ability to grunt. By vibrating a unique set of muscles and tendons against its balloonlike swim bladder, a male drum creates a grunting sound in spring during breeding season.
    The sound is thought to attract females from a distance.
    A lateral line extending to the end of the tail, rather than just to the base, as on other fish. This allows the drum to pick up extra vibrations and better locate food and enemies.
    An oversized otolith. This white half-sphere of rock-hard calcium, found in the inner ear of all vertebrates, is especially large in freshwater drum. Smooth on one side, rough on the other, the otolith floats on cilia and helps the fish stay balanced and oriented in murky water.
    Eggs that float on the water surface until they hatch, sometimes traveling for miles on rivers or wind-swept lakes before the tiny fry emerge. The uniquely buoyant eggs may help account for the drum’s continent-wide range.

    In Montana, drum are found only in the lower Missouri and Yellowstone rivers and in a few tributaries. Excellent table fare, drum can be filleted and prepared like a walleye or bass.

  • Carp Diem, or seize the Drum:)

  • here in NW Ohio, drum (sheepshead) are considered rough fish. Lake Erie & tributaries are full of them my biggest is 10-12 lbs. /, 25 ” long guessing at the weight but I measured it and released it. they are good eating keep the medium small ones. Up almost nobody will admit eating drum.

    • They’re rarity makes them a special catch in these parts, but I’ve heard they are considered trash in other areas. Thanks for the intel!

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