Seatrout: The Every Fish
By Alyssa Lexvold
Seatrout, rightfully so, have been called Florida's Inshore Everyfish.
When I go fishing with live shrimp in areas with sea grass, I have come to expect to find a spotted seatrout at the end of my line. Seatrout love live shrimp and suck them right up when they see them. That’s not to say they won’t eat anything else – when they get hungry, a wide variety of baits and lures will work. Even that rusty old lure kicking around the bottom of your tackle box could do the trick.
I have a rattling top water pink lure that I bought at a flea market when I was a little girl just because I had a couple of dollars burning a hole in my pocket. I came across the lure recently and added it to my tackle box, thinking specifically of specks since I know that they often feed on the surface, especially around sunrise and sunset.
During the last few weeks of Summer I was in a 9 day fishing tournament that used the iAngler Tournament mobile app. I went pre-fishing on a seawall and wasn’t having any luck. I was using artificial lures and I kept shaking my head thinking to myself I should have gone to the bait shop and picked up some live shrimp. I decided to trade out my lure and I held up the noisy, bright neon pink diamond shaped top water lure from the flea market and rigged it up. I casted and reeled in about four times and then GULP! Something was finally on the end of my line! I reeled it in and there she was - a beautiful spotted sea trout.
I quickly brought her to the sea wall where I could take a picture of her next to my ruler to post onto the iAngler Tournament Application. The great thing about this application is that after I’ve snapped the photo I can place her right back into the water in the blink of an eye, improving the chances of a safe release. Said another way, the Application not only pulls scientific data from catches, it is also increasing the fish's chances of survival after it’s released. This will help to provide sustainable fishing for future generations.
Catch-photo-release tournaments are the best format of competitive fishing that also allows for the safest release. Some tournaments release fish at a weigh-in site, which requires the angler to “cull” their fish. A cull-fish tournament is when anglers place their tournament catch into their oversized live-well so they can bring the fish to a live weigh-in location, often miles (and hours) away from the original catch. Once they are weighed they are then released, but these fish have a higher mortality rate than those released after a quick photo as they are caught.
My spotted sea trout ended up measuring out to be just over 15 inches, which is a legal keeper in Florida.
As tasty as she would have been for dinner I wasn’t looking for a meal. I’m all about catch and release and sea trout are very delicate fish; I wanted to be sure to get her back into the water where she belongs. In the summer, sea trout need to be handled with even more care than usual.
I always try to avoid fishing in the extreme heat of the day and use heavier tackle to reduce the fight when reeling them in. This really improves the survival after release.
Their scales are tiny and soft, so when releasing them back into the water the less touching from dry human hands the better. While removing the hook from the sea trout, hopefully they have just hooked their lip and didn’t inhale the bait which often leads to hooking their gut. Gut hooking can be reduced by paying attention to your line and setting the hook before the fish has the chance to completely swallow the bait. Using artificial lures helps reduce gut hooking too.
Their mouths have very soft flesh which causes them to bleed very easily (which is way they are also referred to as ‘weak fish’). When removing the hook, instead of a quick yank and a flop into the water, I always work the hook with careful precision using my needle nose pliers. If you crimp the barbs on your hooks and apply your hook-removing skills while the fish is in the water, you are really improving their survival chances!
Overall, because of their delicate scales, soft mouths, and a high chance of gut hooking, seatrout are very vulnerable to fishing mortality so it is very important that we consider best practices for the ones we don’t put in the cooler.
They say spring time is when to go out in search for that trophy sized spotted seatrout, which is typically when the spawning season starts, but jumbo fish can be caught throughout the summer, especially if the angler is willing to hit the waters before the sun comes up and heats things up. I’ll be after them for sure. If we all consider these best-release practices and only keep legal fish which we intend to eat, we can continue to enjoy this magical fishery throughout the year, for years to come.
Editor's note: You can contribute to the conservation of this great species by registering for the Seatrout Troublemaker, a month-long nationwide tournament that will collect valuable data on spotted seatrout. Entry fee is only $15, and each angler will get a three month premium membership to the Snook and Gamefish Foundation. You can also log every single fishing trip at www.angleraction.org - a private logbook that also contributes to a conservation database.