The Spotted Seatrout
By Buck Davidson
Gin-clear water covers the huge expanse of dark green turtle grass, with not a ripple to disturb the slick-calm surface. The flat looks devoid of life, but you know better as you toss a small plug toward the thickest section of the grass. The tiny Minnow imitation sinks toward the bottom, then begins to dance in response to your rhythmic twitching of the rod. Your bait slinks along, barely flicking the tops of the grass, then suddenly vanishes amid a bright flash and heavy swirling of water. You manage to turn the fish, and soon are staring down at what is in my opinion the most beautiful of Suncoast sportsfish: the Spotted Seatrout.
Ask any long-term Suncoast fisherman what the most reliable gamefish catch is in this area and 9 times out of 10, the answer will be trout. Spotted Seatrout are the most abundant of the inshore big three: Snook, Redfish and Trout, and are consistently taken by pros and beginners alike. They are so easy to catch at times that they are taken for granted by anglers seeking more glamorous species. The Spotted Seatrout, though, is a splendid sportfish in its own right and deserves to be given its due.
The Spotted Seatrout's favorite haunts are the many grass flats dotting the Suncoast waters. The large areas of grass attract small animals, which in turn attract small predators - which are preyed upon by the Trout. Grass flats are easy enough to find - just look for the areas of darker water in the shallow areas. Better still, wait for a major low tide and head out lookin' around. The abnormally low water exposes areas normally submerged, and allows you to take a peek at the bottom contour. Trout will not distribute evenly over the entire flat, preferring instead to lie along the edges of "potholes"- sandy areas of slightly deeper water. Trout will also lie buried amid the thick grass, looking upward and waiting to ambush passing prey. The dark green coloration on their backs matches the color of the grass and makes them almost impossible to spot from above.
Seatrout are the smallest of the big three, rarely reaching 10 pounds around here. The east coast produces some huge "gator" Trout, especially in the area of the Indian and Banana Rivers. Twelve to fourteen pounders are not uncommon in these areas. The suncoast has started to produce some big 'uns again, though, and a return of the real monsters may not be far off . The commercial netting ban will certainly increase the stocks, whether this will also mean more heavyweights remains to be seen.
Trout will hit a variety of baits, but prefer sardines and pinfish in the warm-water months of May through October. As the water cools, more shrimp begin appearing on the Suncoast, and the Trout adjust their diet accordingly. Live baits are best fished with as little weight as possible -remember, treble hooks are illegal - or under a cork. Relevant native tip -use a chartreuse colored cork. I can't explain why, but trout seem intent on trying to strike at the cork when this color is used. The extra attraction this provides certainly doesn't hurt your chances of hooking up a big 'un. Artificial lure fishermen love Spotted Seatrout, because spotted seatrout love artificial lures. Plugs, plastic jigs and flies are all taken eagerly by the ever-hungry trout. I've had success with jigs made by Cotee, 12 Fathom and Love's Lures. Hard plastic baits are led by Mirrolure, especially the 7m in purple demon finish. The Rat-L-trap is another effective plug during the summer months when fished just above the grass tops.
Don't overdo it when selecting tackle for Seatrout. Six pound test line is perfectly fine - be sure to tie on about 18 inches of 20 lb. test leader - trout have sizable teeth. A 7 foot medium action rod will handle any seatrout in the Gulf and allows you enough flexibility to tackle a Snook or small Redfish that might happen to swim by. Seatrout sometimes get a bum rap when it comes to edibility - they are delicious but have very delicate flesh. Do not let your seatrout get warm - this softens the meat and invites spoilage. If I'm fishing for dinner I keep a small cooler filled with ice and water nearby. When I catch a trout, he immediately goes into the cooler - the difference in flavor and texture is noticeable. A well-treated Seatrout has a delicate and distinctive flavor - almost sweet, and well worth the little extra trouble.
That's the Spotted Seatrout, a very common and popular gamefish here on the Suncoast - a fish you're likely to catch if you decide to wet a hook here. As always though, conservation is important - know the limits and if you land a "gator" - have a release mount made of that monster fish for your den wall. Future generations of trout and trout fishermen will appreciate it.
The bag and size limit changes occasionally, so be sure to check them before you go fishing (click here)