One of the more sought after Florida game fish are sea trout. These fish are located on both coasts, are easy to target in inshore waters, and are great table fare.
Over the years I have uncovered a few things about the Spotted/Speckled Sea Trout. Take for instance how long their lifespan is. On average a typical Sea Trout will have a very short lifespan. Male Sea Trout live to about three years old and will grow to approximately 18-inches. Females live a little longer and survive to five years of age and grow into the mid 20-inch range. The Florida record for a Sea Trout is 17.7 pounds which by my estimate would make that fish about 34-inches long and within the 5-year old age slot.
Sea Trout are part of the drum family which may explain their propensity to make grunting sounds when caught. Their range is from Delaware, through-out Florida’s coast and out to Texas. So they have a wide range and are a favorite target for thousands of fishermen.
Here in south Florida, November and December are the two best months for Trout fishing though they are active all the way through March. But December is one of the best. Trout spawn for at least five months a year making them hard to find when they are spawning. Being temperature sensitive there is usually a one or two month difference from the Pan Handle to parts of south Florida.
If you find yourself landing a large trout and troubled over whether to keep the trout or to release it, well from what I learned about their average lifespan and things, I would say keep that big trout. However, if that big ole 28-inch female trout is full of eggs I would release it gently to help maintain the stock. But truth be told, it will soon die of old age so don’t feel that bad if you take her home for dinner.
As for eating Sea Trout, well they’re quite edible though the flavor is somewhat unique. You either like them or you don’t unless you’re one of those cooks that can make anything taste good. So as the saying goes, “Try it Mikey, and see if you like the flavor”. Though I am not a fan of trout my dad was so I learned to eat what was placed in front of me. A very good friend of mine likes to prepare trout Ceviche style, which is cooking it in lime juice. Bathe the fish in lime juice with cucumber, chopped onions, cilantro, and black pepper and let the acids do their thing. They love it. As for my family, our history is of troglodyte, which means a long family tradition of cooking over fire. So, I will continue to use my grill or deep fryer. If you’re going to deep fry your trout, buy a box of instant pancake or waffle mix. Replace the water in the recipe with a good strong beer from one of the small breweries with an alcohol content of at least 5% or more for a real beer flavor. Mix as directed and dredge towel dried chunked trout fillets in the batter and then deep fry to golden brown. Hey I just made myself hungry.
The bad news about Sea Trout the Spotted Sea Trout is they share the same problem as Red Grouper, Sail-cats and Black Drum, they get parasites. These parasites look a lot like a super-giant sperm with a large white head and a long thin squiggly tail. If you eat fish on a regular basis you probably have eaten one at one time or another without knowing it so they won’t kill you. They are thought to be the young larvae of the shark parasites. These worms live in the trout’s flesh and then emerge through the scales near the tail to seek out a passing shark to use as a host. You’re more likely to see these pests during the summer or early part of the fall when the water is still warm. If you run across one or two of them, just cut them out as you would a small worm in an apple. If your fish holds a large number of them, just toss it in the garbage, for even a troglodyte like me won’t eat these fish.
Large trout will hit lures on the surface or jigs hopped across the flats. Now this is weird, if you are using a lure with two treble hooks, the catch and release ratio could be as high as 97%. With a single hook jig, it drops to 91%. This kind of freaked me out until I thought about it. The single hook jig is much more likely to be swallowed farther down in the mouth of a fish than a lure with two treble hooks. A good compromise is the new Rapala lures with two single hooks. These lures are sized properly so the trout can’t inhale them deep into their mouth and the single point hook minimizes the damage from the extra points of the treble hook. I believe Rapala got this one dead on. Great job Rapala!
If fishing trout as catch and release, the proper handling of a trout can reduce its mortality by 20% or more. The first point is to set the hook when the fish strikes to keep it from going down into the fish too far. The second point is to always use a wet rag, hand or towel when handling the fish. Handling a trout with dry hands, a dry rag, or placing it on a hot dry boat surface harms the fish’s slime layer. The slime layer is a thin film on the surface of the skin which serves as the fish’s first layer of protection against bacteria, parasites and infection. It functions similar to a human’s epidermal skin layer. When you cut your finger, the cut provides an easy pathway into your body for germs to enter. So by protecting the slim coat of a fish greatly increases the odds of that fish surviving, so make it a habit to keep your hands and gear wet when handling fish destined for release.
I will leave you with one last thought. A Sea Trout grows up with shrimp as its primary diet, not until they reach about 16 inches do they even think about eating baitfish. Shrimp is the number one bait for trout. However, if you are looking for only the big-giant ones, switch to baitfish and fish it near schools of mullet. For the largest trout, those over 25-inches, mullet schools are where the big trout will be found. Whether the trout are feeding on the mullet or the mullet are scaring up the other food sources that trout like to feed on, looking the schools of mullet are where you’ll find trophy sized Sea Trout.
Anyways, the next time you’re in North Fort Myers, stop by your new store and say hi. I would like to meet you and you can tell me if a am right, wrong, full of it, or doing ok.