Are Freshwater Drum Good To Eat? You May Be Surprised!

Although freshwater drum are relatively common in various parts of North America, many anglers despise them, much less bring them home for a meal.

But why is that? Are freshwater Drum good to eat and if not, why does this consensus exist?

The truth is, freshwater drum are good to eat and underserving of the poor reputation they have. Choosing the right size fish to keep, and preparing it properly is very important to how it tastes.

Note: In this article, I am discussing Freshwater Drum, Aplodinotus grunniens. This species is sometimes nicknamed “Sheepshead‘ but should not be confused with the actual Sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus.

Are Freshwater Drum Good To Eat? You May Be Surprised!
Photo courtesy of @Theokayangler on Instagram

So, Can You Eat Freshwater Drum?

Freshwater drum is a species of fish that’s often thrown back and even cursed by some anglers. However, some anglers enjoy catching and even eating them…and they may be onto something.

Often cursed by largemouth and smallmouth bass anglers (especially tournament fishermen), they’ve gained a reputation of tricking you into thinking you caught a new personal best bass…but really it’s just a big 8 lb drum!

I fully admit and understand how this can be frustrating when you are targeting a particular species.

But what if you want to catch some fish from dinner?

Freshwater drum is a great alternative to other species of fish such as carp, catfish, and even big bass. These fish are very plentiful, offer mild and firm-textured meat, and can be cooked in a wide variety of ways.

Am I telling you that a cooler full of drum is going to taste the same as Crappie, Walleye, or Yellow Perch?


But, I am telling you they are not as bad as their reputation, and that you might be surprised at how tasty and plentiful these fish are.

Not to mention they can be a lot of fun to catch on light tackle! (They fight like linebackers!)

Why the Bad Reputation?

Freshwater drum have a poor reputation amongst anglers when it comes to eating them. There are a few reasons why freshwater they have undeservedly earned notoriety as a bad-tasting, inedible fish species:

  • They’re bottom feeders
  • They are somewhat bony
  • People erroneously think they’re an invasive species

They’re Bottom Feeders

Freshwater drum are bottom feeders, but they’re also predators of smaller fish and organisms. As a result of their diet, some people believe that the species tastes unpleasant. You are what you eat, after all. Although, this is not always the case when it comes to fish. 

This especially does not apply to freshwater drum, as when they’re adequately prepared, they have a delightful meaty taste. Yet, in some areas, poor water quality may lead to poor quality fish, (but this applies to all fish, including freshwater drum.) 

They Are Somewhat Bony

Freshwater drum have a reputation for being too bony to enjoy. This is untrue, though, as freshwater drum are about as bony as any other freshwater game species.

Fillets from freshwater drum contain pin bones that are safe to eat but are often removed before cooking or serving. 

Just like Carp, Northern Pike, and even Yellow Perch you have to navigate your fillet knife around the bony areas, and either remove the pin bones or cook them out (some folks just eat them!)

People Erroneously Think They’re An Invasive Species

Some believe freshwater drum to be a dangerous invasive species that cause harm to natural ecosystems. Therefore freshwater drum are often treated as pests by fishing enthusiasts. However, the freshwater drum is not an invasive species

Freshwater Drum native range
Freshwater Drum native range

In fact, the Freshwater drum is a native species to North America with an extensive range of habitats, stretching from the deep south well into Canada!

However, they can sometimes be mistaken for the common carp, which is an invasive species. This is another reason that contributes to freshwater drum’s undeserved bad reputation. 

See Also: Are Carp Good To Eat? Why The Poor Reputation?

Are Freshwater Drum Safe To Eat? 

Freshwater drum are safe to eat for humans. However, they do contain small pin bones, which may need to be removed before cooking. Nevertheless, eating freshwater drum is safe, as long as the water it was caught does not have any fish consumption advisories.

Some species of fish and shellfish can become harmful to humans if the environment they live in has been contaminated.

Contaminants can be absorbed into fish which can cause harm to humans if eaten. Species of bottom-feeders like a freshwater drum are particularly vulnerable to absorbing harmful chemicals.

In the United States, Canada, and most other countries with a recreational angling community, wildlife, and fisheries biologists monitor lakes, rivers, and streams and issue consumption advisories if needed.

Always check to see if any warnings or advisories are issued in your area. And if you are ever in doubt, make a call to your local Fish and Wildlife agency regional office to speak with a fisheries professional.

However, conditions like these are rare. Unless waterways are severely polluted in your area, the freshwater drum you catch should be perfectly safe to eat as long as the water you catch them in is clean and free from harmful contaminants. 

As always, when cooking, proper food safety needs to be exercised to ensure you eat healthy and delicious fish.

What Does Freshwater Drum Taste Like? 

The freshwater drum has a semi-sweet, mild taste. The meat has a firm texture, not a flaky one like Crappie or Walleye. As a result, many people include them in chowders and fish stews.

But the real answer is…freshwater drum taste is somewhat subjective. I mean, after all isn’t that the whole idea behind taste?

I love a ribeye steak…some people can’t stand them. I personally despise Brussel sprouts, but my girlfriend eats them by the bucket load.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the taste or fillet of a freshwater drum…but if you don’t like the flavor or how it was prepared, well that is perfectly ok!

How Do You Prepare Freshwater Drum?

As with all fish you plan on eating, put them on ice as soon as possible. This will keep the meat fresh and the fillets nice and firm.

Next, you can clean them in a number of ways. The most common way is to simply use an electric or regular fillet knife.

Make an incision behind the gills, and move laterally down the body of the fish on one side. Flip over and repeat, without cutting through the backbone.

Next, work around the rib cage and belly meat, and remove the skin. Fine-tune your fillets by removing any bloodlines and pin bones.

There isn’t much to it! This isn’t rocket science people!

Best Ways To Cook Freshwater Drum

Deciding how to prepare freshwater drum is one of the hardest parts of cooking them. Freshwater drum can be cooked in numerous ways for various recipes. So whatever way you like to enjoy a fillet of fish, freshwater drum fillets can be prepared to suit your desires. 

Here are a few of the best ways to cook freshwater drum: 

  • Bake it in the oven
  • Broil it in the oven
  • Fry it on the stove
  • Smoke it in a smoker
  • Sear it on the grill
  • Add it to chowders and stews

Cooking freshwater drum is not dissimilar to cooking any other species of fish. Once the fillets have been removed along with the pin bones, cooking a freshwater drum is a relatively straightforward process.

Cooking times for drums vary depending on your appliances and which method you choose. However, freshwater drum takes about 15-20 minutes to bake

Freshwater drum are delicious with lemon or lime freshly squeezed over them before serving. You can also add drum to fish stew and chowders alongside an assortment of other fish and shellfish.

To do this simply find a chowder recipe online and replace freshwater drum for another species in the recipe. 

The freshwater drum can even be cooked over the grill and served with a side salad for any health-conscious anglers out there.

You May Also Like: 3 Simple & Easy Panfish Recipes (Not Fried!)

Final Thoughts

Freshwater Drum deserves more credit than they get from the angling community. Sure, they are not as prized as a largemouth bass or walleye

But, these fish often bite when nothing else will…and they are quite brutes on light tackle! (Just ask any smallmouth bass angler, ha!)

Like most fish, selection and preparation play a big role in the taste and quality of the meals. I hope the tips and information in this article helped you out.

Good luck and thanks for reading!

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