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SPOTTED SEATROUT IN TEXAS

Spotted Seatrout

The spotted seatrout, (Cynoscion nebulosus), commonly called speckled trout, is one of the most popular sport fish along the Texas coast. It occurs in the western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, ranging from Massachusetts to the Yucatan peninsula. The fish is a member of the croaker family (Sciaenidae)and is a first cousin to the Atlantic croaker, red drum, black drum, and sand seatrout. Its abundance, willingness to hit natural and artificial baits, and fine eating qualities make the species extremely popular with rod and reel anglers.

 

Spawning

Sexual maturity is reached at two years of age and eggs number from 100,000 in small fish to more than one million in large females. Spawning occurs inside the bays near grass beds where the newly hatched young find food and shelter. Recent findings show that fish spawn sometime between dusk and dawn. Spotted seatrout have a protracted spring and summer spawning period which peaks during May-July. Two, three, and four-year-old fish make up the bulk of the spawning population.

 

Growth

The growth rate of spotted seatrout differs between males and females, with females growing faster. Approximate lengths at various years of age are given in the following table.

 

AGE  MALE  FEMALE
1     9"    8"
2    14"   17"
3    17"   20"
4    18"   23"
5    18"   24"
6    19"   25"
7    19"   26"

Most large spotted seatrout caught are females and commonly live to be nine or 10 years of age. Anglers long ago recognized that very large trout were usually female and appropriately called them "sow" trout. The record trout taken by rod and reel in Texas measured 33 3/4" and weighed 13 pounds 9 ounces. Before a fishing trip, anglers should be sure to check regulations on bag, possession and size limits. Regulations are based on current information about the fish population and may change often.

spotted seatrout with characteristic markings

Feeding

Spotted seatrout are opportunistic carnivores whose feeding habits vary with size. Small trout feed primarily on small crustaceans. Medium-size trout feed on shrimp and small fish. Large fish feed almost exclusively on other fish such as mullet, pinfish, pigfish and menhaden. This preference for large fish makes large trout difficult to catch. Large trout do not feed often and few anglers like to use 12-inch live mullet for bait.

 

Movements

Spotted seatrout are generally nonmigratory with little inter-bay movement, and most movement seems to be in response to water temperature and spawning. They are most common in the shallow bays during spring and summer. As water temperatures decline during fall, fish move into deeper bay waters and the Gulf of Mexico. The number of fish entering the Gulf varies from year to year depending on the severity of the winter. As water temperatures warm in the spring the fish move back into the shallows of the primary and secondary bays.

During periods of low rainfall and runoff, many trout often move into deeper rivers and bayous with the first cool weather of fall. Similar concentrations occur at dredged boat harbors and channels. Offats Bayou at Galveston, the Army Hole at Port O'Connor and the boat harbor at Aransas Pass are examples of the latter.

 

How to Catch

Experienced trout anglers have their own combination of bait, tackle, location, etc. for catching fish. The following is offered primarily for the novice with the expectation that use of the suggestions as a starting point will lead to the development of his or her own "magic" for catching trout.

Any light to medium action rod and reel combination is appropriate since most spotted seatrout caught are in the 2-3 pound range. Equipment designed for use in salt water is essential because of the corrosive nature of sea water.

The most popular terminal tackle for spotted seatrout is the popping cork rig. Best results are achieved by popping the cork periodically to simulate live action. By varying the retrieve, frequency of popping, and the depth of bait, the best action for the catching trout can be found. The best bait for catching trout is live shrimp. Live fish such as mullet or pinfish and dead shrimp can also be effective.

If the cork is removed and the sinker is replaced with a very small weight, it is called a "free shrimping" rig. The same types of bait can be used with this tackle. This method is effective when drift fishing from a boat or when fishing in areas with strong tidal flow. The bait is allowed to drift freely in water. Adjust the weight of sinker and amount of line out to move the bait up or down in the water until fish are found.

A conventional bottom rig may be used when trout are found to be feeding near the bottom. Artificial baits are effective for catching trout the year round. Although many types and styles of artificial baits exist, generally they can be classified in three ways; jigs, spoons and fishlike lures.

Jigs may be fished singly or in pairs either with or without the use of a cork. They are very effective fished under lights at night when trout congregate to feed. Worm jigs, fished under a small popping cork in grassy flats are effective. Try them without corks in deep guts or channels. Vary the action, depth fished and lure color. Hot pink, root beer, dark red and white are good colors.

Spoons are very effective, particularly during the warmer months. Silver is probably the best color. Vary the speed and depth of the retrieve, as well as the weight and size of the spoon. A bucktail fastened to the spoon with the hook or a bucktail and hook trailed to 12 to 18 inches behind the spoon is often successful.

Try the fishlike lures during the cooler months, although they can be effective anytime. They are especially good fished very slowly, during cold weather. When fishing shallow water during cold weather, some anglers move the point of line attachment from on top of the lure head to the snout tip to permit slower retrieval while keeping the lure off the bottom. Again, vary the retrieve, size, color, and weight. Floating lures have recently become popular with fishers stalking large trout in shallow water during the warm months. The movement of the lure at the surface may be especially enticing to trout.

 

Where to Fish.

Where to fish is just as important the proper bait and technique. During warm weather, fish shallow areas early in the morning and late in the evening. In the heat of the day, move to deeper areas such as the dropoffs around grass flats, channels or around oyster reefs. When the weather is moderate, the fish may remain in shallow water a greater portion of the day. However, during very cold weather, try fishing the deep rivers, harbors and channels. Generally these deep areas are best after a "norther" has subsided and clearing skies are associated with rising temperatures.

Boat fishers look for groups of feeding gulls during summer and fall. Schools of trout chase shrimp or small fish to the surface, which attracts the gulls. Action while fishing under birds can be fast and furious with the feeding trout taking almost any bait.

Many anglers watch and "sniff" for slicks when searching for trout. Yes, people can smell trout! Trout often regurgitate when excited (as during feeding) and the oils from partially digested food rise to the surface to make a slick. The odor has been described as similar to watermelon or newly mown grass. Other fish can also be "smelled," but a practiced nose can tell the difference.

Local information about what tackle to use, when to fish and where to go within the particular areas of the coast that you plan to fish, is usually found at local fishing camps, bait stands or tackle shops.

 

Parasites

Some trout caught may have worms embedded in the flesh along the backbone. These "spaghetti" worms are larval stages of a tapeworm that can only reach maturity in sharks. It cannot survive in man even if it is eaten raw. The worms can easily be removed during filleting to make the meat more appealing.

 

Cooking

The spotted seatrout has an excellent flavor and texture. Remember that care of the fish between landing and the skillet is important. Clean and place your fish on ice as rapidly as possible. The delicate meat of the trout loses quality rapidly if left unchilled, especially during warm weather. Recipes for preparation of trout and other Texas seafood are available from the Texas A & M Extension Service, Texas A & M University, College Station, Texas 77843.

Adapted from "The Spotted Seatrout in Texas"
By Jim Stevens, Revised by Joe Martin, TPWD.




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