Fishing to the Beat of the Drum
Whether you call the fish a drum, sheepshead, white perch, or silver perch they are abundant in Illinois waters. Many anglers do not purposely fish for these “rough” fish, but there are many reasons to do so.
They are often caught by anglers fishing for other species and once landed are thrown back to the water because fishermen believe they are not worth the effort of keeping. But what about the anglers who go after these fish with the intentions of catching a big drum?
Sure, drums are not a pretty fish to look at. They have big, rough scales, a mouth that resembles that of a carp’s mouth and lack the beauty of a largemouth bass or a big musky, so why fish for them.
Many lakes and rivers hold these fish. The Mississippi and Illinois’ rivers are two of the most thought of fisheries when thinking of drum, but many of Illinois’ lakes and rivers offer exceptional drum fishing. It is not uncommon to have a fifty to one-hundred fish day.
Like any other fish you might hook and land a small one, but it is very possible to land a huge one that will put up one heck of a fight. Ten-to-30-pound fish are not unheard of in Illinois.
An angler can fish his entire life and never catch a ten-pound largemouth bass. The same angler has a good chance to land several ten-pound drum in a single day of fishing. This is one reason why I enjoy the sport of drum fishing so much. Catching a big drum on light tackle is a story in its own.
Some of the best fishing for many species is had starting in the spring and running through the fall. That is not the case when fishing for drum. Drums are willing to bite your bait from the hottest dog days of summer to the cold days of winter when Jack Frost is nipping at your heels.
When I first began fishing for drum. I made the mistake of only pursuing them during the warm summer months, but I now realize they offer twelve months out of the year fishing action if you can locate them.
During the spring and fall drum can be found in shallow water and tend to move to deeper water in the summer and winter. Drum school up on hot and cold days and prefer to hang out in deep holes, near the edges of bottom channels and steep ledges.
During the spring drum can be found spawning making them easy to catch, but during the fall they are on the move which makes them a little harder to find.
Drums are not too particular as to what they eat. Worms, shrimp, and minnows are the top three choices in my arsenal when targeting big drum. I have caught big drum when fishing for walleye using crankbaits and spoons.
When using artificial lures do not use a lure with too big of a hook. Drums have small mouths and cannot inhale a big hook. Stick with a 1-ounce jig and let it fall to where the fish are. After a few upward twitches any drum in the area will be biting.
For many anglers, including myself, the night crawler is the go to choice for drum fishing. Fish the worm on or near the bottom on a small No. 1 or 2 hooks.
When I first started catching drum by accident I would either release them back to the water or keep them and use them as fertilizer in my garden thinking that they were not worth the time or trouble of cleaning them for table fare.
Drums can be prepared in many ways. They can be canned, fried, grilled, broiled, smoked, or made into fish chowder. When filleting your fish if you remove all the red meat near the lateral line you will end up with a nearly boneless fish that when cooked will provide you a firm, not flaky meat with a delicious flavor. Keep your catch on ice soon as it is caught. Putting drum on a stringer or in a wire basket will cause the fish to quickly die and will cause the meat to spoil.
Pan Fried Drum
• 4 drum fillets
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 1 cup milk
• 1 egg, beaten
• Seafood seasoning rub
• Vegetable oil
• Pour the flour into a flat bottom bowl or zip-lock bag with a few dashes of your favorite seafood seasoning. In another container, add the milk and egg, and mix until well blended. Season the fillets with seafood seasoning.
• Heat up about ¼-inch of oil in a frying over medium heat.
• Coat each fillet in the flour, then dip into the milk mixture, dip them back into the flour once more, and then to the frying pan.
• Fry the fillets for about 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown. Remove the fillets from the pan and set them on paper towels to drain. Serve immediately with tartar sauce.
The next time you have the opportunity to fish for drum do not let it slip away. These fish provide a lot of action, are easy to catch and good to eat. You might just join the exclusive league of drum fisherman that is rapidly growing.