Only two species in this large family of fish are exclusively freshwater and one of these species occurs in New York. The rest are marine fishes that inhabit coastal waters along all continents except Antarctica. Drums have a short spiny dorsal and a long rayed dorsal fin and their lateral line extends onto their caudal fins. They have rough scales and two anal spines. They can also make drumming sounds with their swim bladders and surrounding muscles, hence the common name. The freshwater drum is primarily Mississippian but extends into the Saint Lawrence drainage, which include New York's native populations, and recently has gained access to the Hudson River. Several species of marine drums move into the lower Hudson River where they can become residents for lengthy periods.
Freshwater Drum occurs in large lowland streams and lakes. It favors nearshore areas and is tolerant of high turbidity. It is native in eight watersheds of the Great Lakes and is also found in all three watersheds of the Hudson River drainage. It has become more widespread in the Mohawk Barge Canal and Saint Lawrence River with the invasion of zebra mussels, a favored food.