What’s a “puppy” drum?

Juvenile red drum, often referred to as ‘puppy drum’ are most often found in coastal rivers, sounds and marshes; the majority of reds found in the ocean are larger fish of spawning age.

Along the North Carolina coast, extending north to Virginia Beach, Va. and south to Myrtle Beach, S.C., red drum that measure roughly between 16 and 32 inches are affectionately called “puppy drum.”

Smaller red drum are often called “rat reds,” but Capt. George Beckwith and many of his Down East Guide Service guides call them “pup-pups.” Adult red drum of citation size (40 inches and longer) are generally called “old drum” — except on the Outer Banks, where many old-timers still call them “channel bass.”

All are the same species but in different stages of their lives. If not caught and kept, red drum live a long time and can grow very large. The state and world record is the 94-pound, 2-ounce behemoth caught in the surf at Avon by David Deuel in 1984. Beckwith knows puppy drum can grow very large, and a significant part of his business is catching old drum when they spawn in Pamlico Sound and the lower Neuse.

Ray Massengill, one of Beckwith’s guides, is fond of catching puppy drum, which he classifies as fish up to 30 or 31 inches and 10 pounds.

“I really like catching puppies,” Massengill said. “Once we find them, they seem to always be hungry, and they give you such a battle on lighter tackle. They are healthy fish, too, and swim away quickly to bite again later. Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t so hardy and hungry (that) we occasionally catch the same fish again on the same day. Our clients really like them, too, as they will give you all they’ve got in a fight and make you work for every inch getting them in.”

Lee Paramore heads up the red drum panel for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and is a delegate to several regional and national fisheries councils. Paramore took an informal poll, and found that his cohorts considered puppy drum to be from around 16 inches to an upper limit of 27 to 32 inches. Paramore said he sometimes raises eyebrows when he uses the term in regional meetings, but most North Carolina fishermen know exactly what he means.

Paramore said he considers puppy drum to be a term loosely used to refer to sub-adult red drum. The one common trait attributed to them is that they haven’t reached sexual maturity. Most are still living in the coastal rivers, sounds and marshes, but they occasionally follow food or otherwise venture into the surf zone. Paramore said most males mature around 28 to 29 inches and females around 30 to 32 inches, which helps explain the overlap of over slot-size fish in the marshes and surf.

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Jerry Dilsaver
About Jerry Dilsaver 1193 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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