The spotted sea trout (Cynoscion nebulosos), also known as speckled trout, specs and yellow mouth are a mainstay of inshore fishing. These fish have saved many an angler from a day of being “skunked.” They are present all year and are relatively easy to catch. The sea trout is a game fish that is included as one of the “big three” for a slam in many regions.
The trout is a member of the drum fish family. With its green and grey primary coloration, it also has shades of blue, white and pink. The most distinguishable markings are the black circular spots located behind the head and small spots on the upper body and fins. Trout can also be identified by their prominent canine teeth that resemble fangs. The sea trout use these to impale their prey and then swallow them whole. Their bodies are elongated, and the lower jaw protrudes further than the upper jaw. They have no barbels but, just like their cousins, they make a croaking noise as a defense mechanism and a way to lure in the ladies.
Unlike many other inshore fish, the sea trout never ventures far from home, thriving in estuaries. The smaller trout travel in schools, preferring water from 60 to 80 degrees. Larger trout called “gators” can weigh as much as 17 pounds–these big guys prefer to be alone. Their seasonal patterns are fairly simple. In Summer, during the morning hours and later hours of the evening, they will cruise the grass flats seeking food. As it warms throughout the day, these fish will find deeper, cooler water. In the winter, the sea trout will reside in canals, rivers and deep holes where the water temperature remains warm. They are predatory hunters, hiding on the outskirts of potholes, waiting to ambush their prey. Sea trout can be found as far north as New England and as far south as Mexico.
Mud minnows, finger mullet, pinfish and shrimp are some of their favorite meals. Whether you use a float or freeline, use a circle hook or jig, these are relatively easy fish to catch. Fishing for sea trout is a great starting point, if you are a novice at using artificial soft baits and lures. Top water plugs, spoons and jigs can all be used successfully. If you find one fish, chances are you will find many in the school. Sea trout are a delicate fish; they have a protective coating of slime. When caught with the intent to release, it is best not to touch the fish. Unlike other inshore sport fish, they have a fragile mouth and jaw; in some regions they are actually referred to as “paper mouths.”
A lighter touch is required to catch these fish. When setting the hook, be gentle, it is very easy to damage the jaw of the fish. Crimping the barb on the hook will prevent damage. Smaller trout tend to surface when you retrieve and do an awkward “water ballet,” making it easy for them to throw the hook. A gator trout can feel just like having its cousin, the red fish, give a terrific shoulder to shoulder battle
Sea trout have a mild, white, flaky meat. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, skin on or skin off. They are delicious no matter how they are prepared. It is important to note that, when caught, these fish need to be put on ice immediately, and they are better to consume fresh versus frozen. In most regions these fish are abundant–this allows anglers very successful outings.