Sheepshead vs Freshwater Drum: Differences Explained!

Anglers are famous for inventing nicknames for different species of fish…and although it is entertaining, it can sometimes lead to confusion.

Take for example the sheepshead vs freshwater drum.

Don’t worry…in this article ill clear things up and explain the differences!

Table of Contents

Are Sheepshead And Freshwater Drum The Same?

Sheepshead, (Archosargus probatocephalus) is a distinct and unique species of saltwater marine fish found in coastal areas. The Freshwater Drum, (Aplodinotus grunniens) is a freshwater species of drum from the Sciaenidae family, that is nicknamed “sheepshead” which can sometimes lead to confusion.

What Is a Sheepshead?

Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus) are a saltwater fish that live in warm, coastal waters. They are found in the waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, ranging from as far north as Canada and as far south as Brazil. 

Sheepshead have a back that is raised above its head and features a sloping profile.

It has sharp spines that run down its back, with a greenish-yellow or gray color with five to seven black vertical bars along its sides. 

Sheepshead Vs Freshwater Drum- Differences Explained!

One of the most unique features of the sheepshead fish is its teeth.

One look inside of their small mouths will reveal a set of teeth that have an uncanny resemblance to those of humans.

These teeth help the fish eat its diet of clams, oysters, barnacles, crabs, and other crustaceans.

Because of their diet, the meat of sheepshead tastes remarkably good.

Not only do sheepshead put up a great fight when caught on a reel and line, but they make for excellent meals when prepared properly. This makes them a very popular sport fishing species!

What Is a Freshwater Drum?

Sheepshead are often confused with another fish, the freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens). These fish have the nickname “sheepshead” in the areas where they live.

Freshwater drum are very different, however, despite the confusion. 

Freshwater drum are native to both Central and North America. They are the only member of their family in North America to live in freshwater. Found along the bottoms of lakes and rivers at depths of 40 to 60 feet, these fish prefer clearer water but will not hesitate to live in murky waters as well. 

Perhaps the only thing that the freshwater drum has in common with the saltwater sheepshead is the large hump on its back.

Aside from that, freshwater drum look very different. They feature a silvery to green coloration and look very similar to their cousin, the red drum. 

Freshwater drum are very popular as a sport fish due to their widespread distribution. They are also known to be great fighters when on the end of a line.

It is not, however, considered to be the best table fare. 

Despite their remarkably similar diet to that of a saltwater sheepshead, their flesh is not considered to be the highest quality. Because of this, freshwater drum are mostly considered a “trash” fish such as carp. 

Do Freshwater Drum and Sheepshead Live in the Same Areas?

Because sheepshead can live in brackish waters and sometimes even freshwater areas, it is not uncommon to see both species living in the same general areas. This can lead to even more confusion when it comes to both fish having the same name and living in the same place. 

This leads to a few areas throughout the country where both freshwater drum and sheepshead can be found in the same waters (such as Louisiana).

Freshwater Drum distribution map

While not common, it is possible to find both fish species coexisting and feeding upon the same prey. 

What Are Other Nicknames For Freshwater Drum

Depending on the location and region, freshwater drum are also called:

  • Russell fish
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • Gray bass
  • Gasper goo
  • Gaspergou
  • Grunter

Sometimes they are even called croakers (due to the drum sound they often make)…but croaker is another saltwater fish!

Sheesh, confused yet?!


So there you have it: Although freshwater drum are sometimes nicknamed “sheepshead“, they should not be confused with the actual sheepshead, which is a coastal saltwater fish.

And- dont even get my started on black drum…which look like sheepshead and freshwater drum!

You May Also Like: Can Sheepshead Live In Freshwater? You May Be Surprised!

Growing up in Florida, I’ve been surrounded by saltwater my entire life…and I love sharing my passion with others.

To learn more about why I started Saltwater Mecca, visit the ABOUT page.

Thank you for reading this article. Browse around & have some fun!