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What Bait to Use for Black Drum

Black drum offers a challenging, exciting opportunity for anglers. Not only do they become quite sizable—black drum can reach lengths over 46” and 120 pounds—but they also tout buttery, white flesh that’s perfect for just about any culinary application (though it’s hard to beat fried black drum). 

black drum caught on a rod and reel in a canoe

Black drum swim in shallow waters along the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, where they love the brackish waters at the mouths of rivers.

Shallow waters near oyster beds or grassy shores provide excellent feeding opportunities, and watching black drum—and their redfish cousins—tailing in low tide is a sight to behold. 

man holding massive black drum

While black drum are tasty, beware of worms in larger fish. While they’re harmless to humans after cooking, some anglers cut out the wormy parts while filleting.

Lastly, like with their redfish cousins, don’t forget to harvest one of the best parts of the fish before cooking—the throat.

Crabs

Crabs make excellent bait for black drum, and they’re easy to hook if you have the right kind—just hook through the head and carapace on the underside of the crab, and watch out for their claws if you’re using live bait.

a blue crab in the sand

Live crabs are sometimes available at bait shops, but they carry a high price tag. Some anglers will set crab traps, eat the larger crabs, and freeze smaller specimens for future bait use. 

For the most realistic presentation, use popping corks and a jig hook. 

Shrimp

Black drum and their redfish cousins simply love live shrimp. Gulf anglers, in particular, can pick up live or frozen shrimp most times of the year in bait shops, but some choose to cast-net their own shrimp over oyster beds on their way out. 

person holding a shrimp for fishing bait

Live shrimp are ideal, but frozen shrimp will work in a pinch. Popping corks, jig hooks, and topwater rigs are all perfectly paired with a shrimp. 

Gulp!

Black drum generally like live bait, but the scent of a Gulp! is irresistible to just about any fish.

person holding package of Gulp! bait

Gulp! baits are available at nearly every bait shop, but keep an eye out for shrimp-shaped baits since they’ll be visually familiar to black drum. Any shape of Gulp! bait is bound to work, though. 

While hooking a Gulp! like a live shrimp is usually the best course for effective hooksets, you can also halve or quarter your bait to extend your supply and encourage setting.

Like shrimp, Gulp! baits can work on just about any black drum rig. 

Clams

Black drum often feed in oyster and clam beds, so clam baits are excellent bait—if you can find them. They’re not always available at bait shops, and they’re usually frozen when they are. 

fresh shucked live clams

Motivated anglers might choose to hunt for their own clams and use the ones they’re not going to eat for future bait.

But, if you’re using frozen clams, make sure to thaw them out completely, or even let them sit in the sun to work up a good scent before rigging on a jig head, topwater, or popping cork rig. 

Cut Bait

If you reel up a few not-so-tasty unregulated species—like saltwater catfish—while trying to hook a big black drum, consider using them as cut bait. 

saltwater catfish on a fishing line

Cut bait from your fishing setting often bears a familiar odor, attracting other fish. Just make sure to hook the bait securely and use weights to encourage the bait to reach the bottom quickly. 

Bloodworms

Since they’re also common in black drum habitats, bloodworms make excellent bait for these shallow-water fish.

a single bloodworm on the ground

But, if you can’t find live bloodworms near you, consider picking up some artificial ones. 

Using bloodworms over an oyster or clam bed (with a popping cork or jig head) is the perfect way to lure in a black drum. But, make sure to wrap the worm around the hook for the best bite and hookset. 

Squid

Brackish water fish are no stranger to squid, and their salty, pungent aroma is sure to attract black drum.

squid for fishing bait

Squid is available year-round at most bait shops, so they’re an accessible, inexpensive bait for first-timers. 

Remember to cut the squid into appropriate sizes and let them thaw completely before hooking for optimal aroma spreading.

Presenting squid pieces on the bottom—where black drum usually feed—with a jig head or popping cork is a surefire way to reel in a big one.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a first-timer or a lifelong black drum angler, the baits above are perfect for reeling up your next prize catch.

Depending on your budget, your local bait shop’s inventory, the time of year, and the rig you’re using, some bait choices may serve you better than others. 

But, even if you come home empty-handed, remember that watching black drum tailing in shallow waters is a sight that only a few people are privileged to see.

If you’re more interested in catching the black drum’s beautiful cousin, the redfish, then you’ll want to use these baits instead!

Rocco Smith

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