Cynoscion nebulosus, The spotted sea trout is actually a member of the drum family and is close cousins to the redfish, croaker, and black drum. The spotted sea trout is easily identifiable by the distinct round black spots on their back, dorsal fins and tail. They also have one or two large canine teeth at the tip of the upper jaw. That jaw in large adults usually glows a bright gold/yellow color. Their small scales, dark gray/green back, white belly, and silver, yellow and purple body hues make the trout a beautiful inshore game fish.
Spotted sea trout spawn multiple times during the spring, summer and fall. The arrival of 70 degree water temperatures signals the beginning of the spawn season. Generally, spotted sea trout generally become sexually mature at 1-2 years of age (12-16 inches long). Males are sexually matured younger in life and smaller in size. Large “sow” females spawn more frequently and release millions more eggs than their younger counterparts, making catch-and-release all the more important to sustaining healthy populations. Because sea trout generally stay in one area their entire life, much of their population numbers are dictated by angling pressure and spawning success. Don't be fooled into thinking the gill-net ban in Florida has dramatically increased population numbers, research has shown that recreational harvests have more than made up for commercial harvests.
Spotted sea trout can live up to 15 years, if they are lucky, most don't make it more than 5. Here along Florida's east coast, large sow females, known as “gator trout” can reach lengths upwards of 40 inches and weigh as much as 17-18lbs. There is much debate among locals as to what constitutes a true “gator trout.” Capt Lemmon and his clients have caught hundreds of trout in the 5-10 pound range. If you are lucky enough to catch and get your photo taken of trophy speckled trout of 7 plus pounds, you're entering "gator trout" classification in his mind. Regardless, the Florida spotted sea trout record, as well as the world record spotted sea trout, was caught in along the Florida east coast ( Ft. Pierce ) and weighed over 17lbs.
Spotted sea trout cover a wide range. They are found from New England all the way down the Atlantic, around the Gulf, and down into Mexico. They prefer water temperatures that range from the low 60s to the low 80s. Spotted sea trout are found inshore and nearshore, however, they prefer shallow coastal waters (estuaries) and will most of the time be found on grass flats, sand bar edges, around sandy spots, oyster bars, mangroves, shell points, docks and other man-made structure. Along the Gulf Coast they are often referred to as “specks,” around East-Central Florida they are generally just referred to as “trout.”
Sea trout do not migrate, and generally will stay in one area their entire life. Much of their movements are generally dictated by water temperature. As temperatures drop during the cold months, trout move into deep adjacent waters. As temperatures increase, trout will move back up into the shallows. One exception to this general rule of thumb is that during cooler months, trout seek out shallow sandy spots that allow their dark bodies to warm up fast under the sunlight. Large adults are also intolerant of low salinity. Heavy rains and/or freshwater discharge will push them into deep water.
Spotted Sea Trout can be caught fishing in Florida on a variety of gear. They can be caught fishing with spinning gear using soft-plastics, jigs, top-water plugs, suspending lures, etc. They can also be caught fishing fly tackle using shrimp and baitfish patterns. Another option is live bait, using free-lined or suspended mullet, pinfish, pigfish, etc. Regardless of the methods used, early mornings, late evenings, and overcast skies are generally prime speckled trout fishing conditions. Anyone can catch a small trout, but one thing is for certain when fishing big old “gator” trout...they are extremely hard to catch. Their keen sense of sight and sound make them one of the toughest, if not the toughest, inshore game fish to sightfish. It's often said that a trout has seen you, well before you ever see them. They will just lay and wait to see what you do, and the slightest hint of movement towards them will send a “gator” trout scurrying for cover. This fact alone makes sightfishing a trophy speckled trout on fly or spin, one of the most rewarding accomplishments on the flats.
If a potential world record trout is at the top of your to-do-list, one should look no further than the Indian River Lagoon. As mentioned the world record speckled trout came from the Indian River Lagoon. Research indicates that, like our redfish, our spotted sea trout are genetically different than other sea trout found throughout the world. Spotted sea trout in this region grow more quickly and bigger than anywhere else. Over 75% of the IGFA line-class records for spotted sea trout came from Florida , 95% of which came from the east coast. An average trout in the Indian River Lagoon system is 1-3 pounds, with occasional “gators” weighing in over 10 pounds.
Capt. Nathaniel Lemmon is a full-time speckled trout guide who specializes in sight fishing charters for speckled trout on the Mosquito Lagoon and the, Indian River Lagoon. These inshore flats are famous for trout fishing because of the opportunities to see and sight cast spotted sea trout over 10lbs on light tackle or fly. Trophy Speckled Trout fishing charters run daily from any one of several launch locations within easy driving distance of Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater and Oak Hill Florida.