Spotted sea trout are one of the most popular sport fish in Florida. Along with snook and red drum, these feisty fighters are part of the coveted inshore grand slam.
During the winter months, I get a lot of calls about trout – some from people who think they're akin to the stream-swimming fish found up north and out west.
But these fish are actually members of the drum family and, despite years of study, are still pretty hard to figure out. For example, did you know that male trout grow slower than female trout and those in Indian River Lagoon and Apalachicola Bay grow quicker than those in southwest Florida?
Sea trout live to be 8 or 9 years old. A 5-year-old trout averages 18 inches long, but they can range from 11 to 24 inches. These fish never travel very far from the seagrass beds where they feed and reproduce.
Estuaries such as Tampa Bay, with its vast grass flats, are ideal sea trout habitat but this species does range in Western Atlantic from New York to the Gulf of Mexico.
While trout prefer shallow grass beds, they will move to deep holes and into canals when the water temperature plummets.
Adults feed mainly on shrimp or small fish. Sea trout like water temperatures between 58 and 81 degrees and may die if trapped in shallow water during cold periods.
Marine biologists determine the age of a fish by examining a bony plate called the otolith. Sometimes called “earstones,” otoliths are calcium carbonate structures located behind the brains of all species of bony fishes. Biologists count the rings of the otolith just like a forester would count the rings of a tree to determine its age.
Various members of the drum family, including spotted sea trout, red drum and black drum, produce a "drumming" sound by vibrating specialized muscles against their swim bladders, which are filled with gas. The noise can be quite loud and biologists can identify each species by its unique sound.
Spotted sea trout are a blast to catch. It is not uncommon to catch and release 20 or more if you are lucky enough to get on a good bit.
And even after 25 years on the outdoors beat, I still can’t learn enough about my favorite Florida sport fish.