seatrout have a streamlined body that is dark silvery gray
on the back, shading to white below. The upper parts of
the fish have an iridescent sheen and have a few to many
black spots. The dorsal and tail fin are always spotted.
Occasionally, a spotted seatrout is captured with spots
only on the fins and not the body. Their mouth is often,
but not always, splashed with yellow pigment on the edges
and interiors, and 1 or 2 large sharp canine teeth are located
at the front of the upper jaw.
That speckled trout move within an estuary on a yearly basis
is well known. Typically, they spend their summers in the
high-salinity areas in the lower part of an estuary and
their winters in the lower salinity waters of the upper
estuary. But how far speckled trout move from estuary to
estuary or bay to bay is not well known by most fishermen.
Speckled trout tend to live in or near the same bay system
all their lives. In 1979, Louisiana researchers tagged over
2,600 specks. Of the 30 returns that they got, 20 came from
the tag and release site. Similar Louisiana research published
in 1980 and 1982 showed that 90% of tag returns came from
within one mile of where the trout were tagged, although
another researcher in 1982 noted that two speckled trout
tagged in Calcasieu Lake were recovered 96 miles to the
east in Atchafalaya Bay.
Texas research results were similar. Results of 20,912 trout
tagged in bays between 1975 and 1993 showed 84% of the returns
came from the same bay as release. The longest distance
traveled by any tagged speckled trout before recovery was
131 miles. Of 588 trout tagged in the Texas Gulf surf, 12
were recovered in the Gulf and 2 in Texas bays.
Other states show similar research results. In Mississippi,
7,423 specks were tagged, with 221 recovered, and 90% of
these were recaptured within 5 miles of their release location.
In Alabama, 53% of tagged speckled trout showed no movement
and the longest distance traveled was under 20 miles. Multiple
studies in Florida showed that speckled trout seldom move
over 30 miles and that most fish never left the estuary,
although one fish tagged in the Apalachicola, Florida area
was recovered 315 miles away near Grand Isle, Louisiana.
Spotted seatrout do move seasonally within a bay system,
however. During the pre-spawning period of February to early
April, speckled trout are scattered throughout the system.
By spawning season, May to September, almost all the fish
large enough to spawn are concentrated in the higher salinity
waters of the lower bays. In October, with the onset of
cool fronts, spotted seatrout retreat inland into lower
salinity estuaries, where they typically remain well into
January or February.
During spawning season, males form drumming aggregations
which can number in the hundreds or even thousands of fish.
Within these aggregations, each male vibrates his air bladder,
producing a croaking sound. When combined with the many
other males' sounds, the result sounds like drumming or
roaring. The sound attracts females ready to spawn. Both
drumming aggregations and spawning take place in areas 6-165
deep with good tidal flow, such as passes and channels.
Spawning begins at sunset and is usually over by midnight.
Speckled trout spawning activity depends on environmental
factors such as currents, salinity and temperature. Most
spawning activity seems to take place in salinities of 17-35
parts per thousand (ppt). Full strength seawater is 35 ppt.
The two most important factors that determine when speckled
trout spawn are water temperature and day length. Egg development
begins to take place as days become longer in spring. Water
temperatures of 68ºF seem to trigger spawning, which
continues as water temperature increases. Peak spawning
takes place between 77ºF and 86ºF. The cycle of
the moon also seems to affect spawning, with spawning peaks
occurring on or near the full moons of the spring and summer
months. Females may spawn every 7 to 14 days during the
April to September spawning period.
spotted seatrout grow rapidly, reaching 8 inches by their
first birthday and over 12 inches by age 2. Spotted seatrout
can live to over 12 years of age. Male trout grow slower
and don't live as long as females. Males don't reach 14
inches long until 3 or 4 years old. Few males live over
5, so virtually all spotted seatrout 5 pounds and larger
Spotted seatrout are voracious predators, especially in
the summer when high spawning activity creates tremendous
metabolic demands. Fish under 12-14 inches eat a variety
of foods, but more shrimp and other crustaceans than anything
else. As they grow, they shift their food preference to
fish, first to smaller fish such as silversides and anchovies,
then later to larger prey fishes such as mullets, croakers