They’re around other times, but August is when I encounter them most. They wander the plains of the great lakes in herds, like buffalo, grazing along the bottom. They’ve got special gear for grinding up hard stuff; Zebra Mussels, Crayfish and the like.
Freshwater Drum are beautiful fish – with refined features and wonderful fins. Their eyes sometimes look almost like they have vertical pupils, and their scales and gill plates shine and change color in sunlight.
Getting close to them is an interesting challenge. If you are lucky enough to spot them from above, (they appear gray from above, and have very bright ventral fins) a good strategy is to dive straight to the bottom – not toward them, but like an object falling or a Carp gliding in to a feeding spot (As a general rule, if you want to know how to appear non-threatening to fish; look no further than carp).
If they are in the area and you successfully drop to the bottom without weirding them out (I’ve had drum spook because I moved my eyes to quickly!) they will come right over to see if you stirred up something to eat.
Some of the big ones are pretty macho. I’ve had them spook off, turn and get right back in my face.
Now and again I encounter one that doesn’t seem to mind and lets me swim right along next to it. The one in the picture below came up to about 20 feet or so, in 60 feet of water, and waited while I reeled in my float, got my camera, and dove down to swim with it. Unusual, but it happens.
Until a few years ago I’d never even heard of Freshwater Drum, let alone seen them. Then, one day, I saw a strange fish with bright ventral fins in the distance. I began to explore some of the flat, open areas out away from break walls, weed beds, drop-offs and the other usual haunts. I found that Drum are extremely common during the summer months – more so even than Carp; which are easier to see from the surface.
I’ve often wondered why, with all the talk of invasive species, they don’t get more press. I’ve watched them grazing on Zebra Mussels and running down Gobies. I suspect these invasive edibles are why I see more and more Drums every year.
Freshwater Drum are among the under-appreciated beauties of the Great Lakes.
They’re big, they’ve got a cool shape, awesome fins and they eat Zebra Mussels.
What’s not to like?