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Sheepshead vs Black Drum: The Key Differences

Two of the most common fishes caught by sailors and fishermen are black drum and sheepshead and they are mostly found in marshes and near dock pilings. Both species of fish are excellent fighters and can be prepared as a meal. The public, however, often gets confused between the two due to their appearances.  So what are the differences between sheepshead vs black drum?

Although the sheepshead and black drum are not related and do not belong to the same family, juvenile black drums exhibit black bars similar to sheepsheads.

There are a few ways to tell them apart. Read on to find how you can differentiate a sheepshead from a black drum.

The Difference Between a Black Drum And a Sheepshead

Identification of a Sheepshead

The sheepshead can be distinguished from a young black drum by its teeth. Sheepshead can be identified with its stout, short head, raised back, and a small mouth. This is a key difference in sheepshead vs black drum.

The mouth is lined with sheep-sized teeth, including incisors, molars, and grinders that are highly defined. The front of the jaw has incisor-like teeth, whereas the back has molars.

On both sides of the fish, there are seven straight and highly pronounced black stripes. Apart from the black lines, the tone is usually grey or yellow.

Both the dorsal and anal fins have powerful, and sharply pointed spines.  The dorsal and anal fins of sheepshead are very sharp and have small spines, while the pectoral fins are quite big.

The tail is forked shallowly. The sheepshead’s large, powerful teeth help it to crush the shellfish that it eats. With its powerful and sharp teeth, this fish can chafe off barnacles from pillars and rocks. 

Author Note: Sheepshead is known to grow to be almost 30 inches long and weigh more than 20 pounds.

Identification of a Black Drum

Black Drum

The black drum can be recognized with its small, deep, and stocky body. It has a high, arched back, and a slightly concave tail.

The black drum can be identified from other species by its abnormally long spine in its anal fin and many barbels on the chin. This is another big difference between sheepshead vs black drum.

Look for barbells beneath the chin and a missing jaw in the area around the mouth. The purpose of these is to crush shellfish. On the body of juveniles, there are four or five broad, dark vertical bars.

With their sensitive chin barbels, they discover mollusks and crustaceans in the sand and eat them.

Vertical black stripes can be found on small black drums. The dorsal fins consist of about 11 spines, 20 to 22 dorsal rays, and 41 to 45 scales, which run all the way to the tail’s end.

For adolescents, the rest of the fish is white, but as they grow older, it darkens to black. Black drum fish typically weigh between one and ten pounds, although they can weigh up to seventy-five pounds.

After death, the coloring changes to a dark grey with a brassy shine and blackish fins.

Where Are These Types Of Fishes Found?

Black drum and sheepshead are both saltwater fish.

Coastal waters are also home to sheepshead and black drum. These two fish species can be found in marshy places and along dock pilings. Sheepshead wanders offshore into artificial reefs, which is one difference between the two.

Habitat of a Black Drum

Black drums can be found from southern New England to Mexico, but they’re more widespread south of New Jersey.

They like coastal waters with a range of salinities, such as bays, sounds, and inlets.

Habitat of a Sheepshead 

The sheepshead’s range in the western Atlantic Ocean extends from Nova Scotia also known as New Scotland, to the Gulf of Mexico, with the densest concentrations found off the coast of southwest Florida.

Author Note: Sheepshead can also be found off the Caribbean shores of Central and South America, south to Brazil, though in much smaller quantities.

Eating Habits of a Black Drum

Black drums feed on the bottom and look for food using their chin barbels. They can eat clams, mussels, oysters, and crabs since they have strong throat teeth. They also feed on worms and fish.

Eating Habits of a Sheepshead

The sheepshead is an omnivore fish that eats insects, small vertebrates, and plant material on occasion.

Crabs, shrimps, oysters, clams, mussels, and small fishes, such as immature Atlantic croakers, are eaten by large juveniles and adults.

The sheepshead’s amazing dentition is used to grind heavily armored and shelled prey, as well as scrape barnacles off rocks and pillars. Planktons, worms, and larvae are also part of the juveniles’ meal.

Size, Age, and Growth of a Sheepshead

Sheepshead under water

Adult sheepshead grows to be around 1-8 pounds (.5-3.6 kg) and 14-18 inches long, with a maximum size of about 29.5 inches (76 cm) and 22 pounds (9.6 kg) (35 cm). The sheepshead has a maximum known lifespan of at least 20 years, with maturity normally occurring at 2 years of age.

Size, Age, and Growth of a Black Drum

Though most of them are between 5 and 30 pounds (2 and 14 kilograms), the black drum is the largest of the drum family, with some specimens weighing more than 90 pounds (40 kg). The world’s heaviest black drum weighed slightly over 113 pounds (51 kg).

Is Black Drum Good To Eat?

Yes, you can eat a black drum. When these fish grow to be more than eight pounds, the quality of the fillets begins to deteriorate. The flesh looks a lot like that of a red drum. Small fish fillets will be white and firm, making them appropriate for a variety of cooking methods. The meat of large black drums is gritty and dark.

Is Sheepshead Good To Eat?

Sheepshead is a tasty dish. The fillets have a sweet flavor due to their sole diet of shellfish. The flesh will be firm and white when filleted. Expect little flakes once the fish has been fried. Sheepshead is another meat that may be cooked in a variety of ways.

Methods Used to Catch Black Drum and Sheepshead

Fortunately, both the black drum and the sheepshead can be fished in the same manner. A mixture of the two species is not unusual.

What Rod and Reel Sizes Are Required?

Light to medium-weight rods and reels spooled with a 25-pound braid would suffice. Tie a thirty-pound fluorocarbon leader to the braid’s end.

What Bait and Rigs are Effective for Catching Black Drum and Sheepshead?

Crabs are effective to catch both species. Convict fish and black drums will be attracted to sections of huge blue crabs or full fiddler crabs on a hook under a popping cork.

Since the large teeth of the sheepshead can eat through the fishing line, be ready as soon as the fish strikes.

Black Drum Fishing Tips

Since black drums feed by feel and smell, artificial lures are rarely used to catch them.

Author Note: Traditional bottom rigs with sinkers or one or several drops with single hooks and no sinker are more widely used by anglers. Cut mullet, menhaden, shrimp, and blood worms are used by fishermen to catch black drums from banks, in the surf, and from anchored boats.

Larger fish are frequently caught on clams or crab fragments.

Sheepshead Fishing Tips

Sheepshead Feeding

Anglers that use artificial lures to catch sheepshead catch very few sheepshead.

Anglers catch the great majority of sheepshead using live bait, recently dead bait, and frozen bait. Sheephead is rarely seen too far away from a structure or cover.

They are rarely seen in open water or on grassy flats. Bridges are well-known for breeding a large number of fish.

Docks may be quite fruitful as well.

Oyster bars, underwater rocks and ledges, jetties, and artificial reefs are examples of other productive structures where you can find sheepshead.

Are Sheepshead And Black Drum The Same?

No, they are not the same, however, distinguishing between the two varieties of fish can be difficult. Sheepshead and black drum bear a striking resemblance in appearance.


Juvenile Black Drum might be mistaken for the less appetizing and more difficult to catch Sheepshead at first appearance. They both feature dark stripes on a grey background.

In comparison to the more streamlined Redfish, they both have comparable, hefty body forms.

Furthermore, because they frequently inhabit the same environment, a Sheepshead may be caught while fishing for Black Drum.

The similarity of sheepshead vs black drum, however, ends there. While Sheepshead only reaches a weight of roughly 15 pounds, Black Drum continues to grow much larger and heavier.

The dark stripes fade to a dull grey tone as the juvenile Black Drum grows from 12 to 24 inches in length, and the fish takes on a dull grey, brownish, or blackish appearance.

The Black Drum, on the other hand, will always have a split dorsal fin, as opposed to the Sheepshead’s continuous dorsal fin.

And, of course, not to forget about those spooky human-like teeth!

Happy Hunting!


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