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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
Phone: (239) 394-0608
In business since 1992 !!

The season reopens on one great fish By Bill Walsh

Thursday, January 4, 2007 (Marco News)

For an untold number of anglers 'round these parts, the spotted sea trout is really a special fish!

These folks have just endured a two-month closure on their favorite fishing target, but all that changes, as we speak, with the January 1st species reopening date.

Quite understandably, trout generate strong emotion from their fishing enthusiasts.

This week's article, then, is not the usual fishing story per se, but rather a treatise on the characteristics of this species, its current stocking health and things we can do to help.

A few weeks back, I was privileged to attend a session of the Florida Fish and Game Commission where the current stock analysis of the spotted sea trout was a primary topic. The biologists, presenting the information, did an outstanding job delivering both current and most interesting information about the species.

Trout are one of the most popular fish to catch throughout Florida. They are considered a delicacy on the table; are relatively easy to catch; require no special fishing equipment and can be caught close to shore.

They also are available to the angler year-round, but seem to be more popular in the cold of winter maybe because of the absence of many other species during those two or three months.

As any angler worth their salt knows, spotted sea trout can be found just about anywhere. They are nonmigratory fish and many reside in their home estuary throughout their life.

Juvenile spotted sea trout are usually found in shallow water grass flats and non-tidal areas such as lagoons and shallow flats. As they mature, they range out to oyster bars, above sea grass beds of any depth, in deeper holes usually with sand bottom and almost any area where structure is present.

Trout are also very sensitive to salinity and water temperature. Rapid drops in either can quickly drive them away to deeper channels or even to Gulf beaches and nearshore reefs.

How often have you been surprised with the absence of normal trout action on your favorite grass flat after a heavy winter frontal rain or a chilling cold front? Now you know where to look on a nearby area of deeper water or even on a nearshore reef and surrounding beaches.

Anyone who has fished our waters through the implementation of the historic net ban referendum, in 1996, has experienced the tremendous improvement in spotted sea trout availability ever since.

Know why? Pre-net ban, the commercial fishery using gill nets, trammel nets, beach seines, haul seines and trot lines would land in excess of 3 million trout from Florida waters annually.

The net ban outlawed that murderous gear and the commercial fishery is now limited to cast nets and hook and line. As a result, the total commercial catch was 37,000 fish that's from over 3 million trout to less than 50,000! If you ever had any doubt about the effectiveness of the net ban, this fact alone should dispel it.

Species in the Spotlight

  • Name: Spotted (speckled) sea trout
  • In season: All months except November and December
  • Florida regulations: Not less than 15 inches or more than 20 inches. Keep one over 20 inches. Take 4 per person per day
  • Habitat: Inshore and nearshore over grass, sand and sandy, muddy bottoms. Will move to deep water in cold temperatures. Prefers water temp. between 58 and 81 degrees.

The current recreational slot limit for spotted sea trout is 15 to 20 inches overall length with an individual bag limit of four fish per person. One of those fish taken may be in excess of 20 inches.

Obviously, with the stock resurgence there has been a huge buildup of smaller fish. And for some reason, that is more the case here in Southwest Florida than in any other Florida geographic area.

That presents us here with a special problem. Statistics show that in our area since 2002, the recreational catch of spotted sea trout has amounted to over 27 million fish. But because of the size differential, only 12 percent of those have been slot limit fish.

But, we release the rest and they live on. Right?

Unfortunately, not exactly so! Because spotted sea trout have a tendency to take the hook deep and aggressively, it is estimated that over 50 percent of those released fish will perish due to gut hooking or other trauma associated with the catch.

That's way too many!

One of the very best methods of improving that release mortality is to always use circle hooks when targeting spotted sea trout. Circle hooks are engineered to be self-setting, but more importantly, will almost always penetrate only the lip of the fish. Deep hooking and resultant damage to the digestive tract is definitely minimized.

Additionally, a little special care in handling the released trout, i.e., saltwater-soaked cloth to handle the fish and/or trying to release the undersize fish at the water's edge would enhance the probability of survival.

As of now, the resurgence of the species post-net ban has the stock pegged at an acceptable level for proceeding without additional closures or limit changes. However, with the astronomical increase in fishing pressure in our waters by new residents, the ability to reduce the release mortality would make a difference in offsetting the additional pressure on the species.

Spotted sea trout are a great fish to have in our realm of "catchability." If we know and better understand their habits, and take just a bit more care in releasing, we could have a stocking level just as hale and healthy as today's, to thrill your grandkids kids down the road.

I think it would be well worth the extra effort. Don't you?

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to

Fishing Marco Island, Everglades, Naples, the 10,000 Islands, Florida