This fish is the enigma of the fishing world. Little is known about it and it is considered a trash fish by most fishermen, not worth keeping and not worth eating it is usually thrown up on the shoreline to die. There is something wrong with this picture. Any fish that swims is worth catching and then releasing to fight another day and the Freshwater Drum is a worthy fly rod opponent. With this being said let’s delve into some of the secrets of this species and the logistics of fly fishing Drum.
Aplodinotus grunniens is the scientific name for the Freshwater Drum and is the only member of the family Aplodinotus to live its entire life in fresh water. It can be found from Hudson’s Bay in the north to Guatemala, Central America, in the south and from the east side of the Rockies to the west side of the Appalachians. It is without a doubt the furthest ranging fish in North America.
The Freshwater Drum is a deep bodied fish which is compressed laterally and is usually recognized by its humped back and its long dorsal fin which is separated into two parts by a deep notch. The first part of the dorsal fin has 10 spines while the second part has 29 to 32 soft rays. The anal fin also has two spines on it with the first being approximately twice as long as the second. The mouth is located underneath the blunt rounded snout of the fish.
The Freshwater Drum does have two other distinct differences from other fish. First the lateral line extends to the tip of the tail giving this fish one of the best hearing capabilities of any species. Second it has pharyngeal teeth which allow it to eat crawfish, snails, and mussels with no problems. These two traits are a unique aspect to this species of fish and have helped it carve out its own special niche in the marine world.
What more could a fly fisherman ask for, a fish that will eat almost anything. Mayflies, Caddis Flies, Stoneflies, Dragon and Damsel fly nymphs, Freshwater Shrimp, Baitfish, Leeches, Crawfish, and Snails. Along with these food items they will also ingest freshwater mussels (although I don’t have an imitation for those maybe someone will come up with one). As for the previous mentioned food items there are hundreds of thousands of imitations tied and they will work for Drum. So now I have to ask “Why don’t more people fly fish for Drum”? True they don’t jump like Rainbows, they aren’t as finicky as Browns, and they don’t have the colors of a Brook Trout but MAN do they hit flies with reckless abandon. Don’t get me wrong I do love fly fishing trout especially dry fly fishing but why not do it for a fish that is exponentially larger than a ten inch trout and one that comes to the top of the water column and suck dries off the surface like a vacuum. Yes, believe it or not they will take dry flies off the surface during the hatch and if in the right place at the right time you could tap into a fish that is up to 32 inches. I don’t know about you but a fish that is just about three feet long gets my blood going.
Freshwater Drum lives in lakes as well as rivers and requires certain water conditions and substrates in order to maintain a healthy population. Although they prefer clear water they do tolerate murky or muddy types of water and they do prefer sand or gravel substrate. In lakes these fish can be found at varying depths, to 30 feet, while in rivers they can be found along the shoreline back eddies or even in mid river current seams. They feed from the top of the water column to the bottom and can be caught at any depth.
Spawning occurs when water temperatures reach 65 degrees F and may take as long as 6-7 weeks for the fish to accomplish this task. The Freshwater Drum is an open water spawner which means the females will release their eggs through the water column and the males will release their sperm. Fertilization is completely random and because the adults do not protect their young there is a high mortality rate. There have been times when I have witnessed Channel Cats slashing the surface of the water gorging themselves on Freshwater Drum fry and these Cats are not the only fish that feed on them.
Most of my fishing for this species is done in river locations as opposed to Stillwater applications. What I have found is that Drum will usually sit along the current seams. Most fly fisherman will look at a river and figure the current seam sits along some slack water and they would be correct but what I have also found out, from my own personnel observations, is they will sit in a current seam that is located along swift flowing current to a slow moving current. A spot where most anglers would not fish, this seam has yielded surprising results when fishing Drum and is one of my favorite places to cast a fly. It also helps when and if the water gets low enough to see the substrate along the bottom. With this information at hand it is quite easy to go back out in the spring and really concentrate on the high producing holding water where these fish will congregate.
Most times when fishing the rivers in my home province of Manitoba I am also fishing for alternate species as well as Drum, as a result my cast is quartered upstream and I do absolutely nothing. I don’t mend, I don’t strip the fly, and I don’t jiggle my rod tip to add any extra action to the fly. I let the current just drag the fly along. There are times when Drum will hit the fly somewhere along the drift but more often than not they will hit the fly at the end of the drift when the fly line is situated along the current seam. If I don’t get a hit during the drift I will do a strip, strip, pause retrieve along the seam which will bring a resounding strike from Drum. I also take the same approach when fishing in-between a fast current flow and a slower current flow.
Flies to use:
This usually depends on the time of year and what these fish are feeding on but here are a few patterns that work extremely well.
DDH Leech in size 8 – 4 colors Olive or Brown
DDH Minnow in size 8 – 4 colors White, red, black or tan, red, olive bronze
Clouser’s Minnow in size 6 – 2 colors Black and white and Chartreuse and white
Beige Montana in size 10 – 4
Prince Nymph in size 10 – 6
Woolley Buggers in size 10-4 colors Olive, Black, and White
Dark Cahill in size 10
Light Cahill in size 10
Sparkle Caddis Pupa in size 10
Goddard Caddis in size 10