Which Way Did They Go?
I was asked to assist in a benefit in waters a little further south than I normally fish (Corpus Christi bay area) and at the end of the day, as is normally the case on weekends, there was a line at the fish cleaning station. This is my candy store, so to speak, for I love to see what was caught, who caught it and the different types of fish cleaning techniques.
This particular day an angler was asking an unusual question, especially at a cleaning station. “Not sure what these are but I caught a lot of them,” he announced loudly.
“That’s a whiting” another angler said.
“No, it’s a sliver trout” another said.
A third commented, “You’ve caught a bunch of juvenile spotted trout.”
“No they are not,” the now defensive angler stated, “because I caught some smaller spotted trout and they look different than these.”
“Well, if you know what they are why are you asking the question?” came another comment.
“Well I don’t know what they are, but I know a little of what they are not.”
“Sounds like you have a whole lot of ‘I don’t know’ and very little ‘I do know,’” the replies continued.
“I tell you what you have in that box,” came another opinion, “a hefty fine and another hefty payment for damaging state resources. The game warden is right over there!”
“Mind if I take a look at your catch?” I asked the angler trying to defuse the moment.
The angler in question was now ready to take his ice chest and run, but agreed.
“You had a busy day fishing based on the number I saw in the box. Lucky for you you are not in violation, at least today” I said, trying to take the pressure off.
“He has too many and they are all undersized!” another glaring remark came.
“Yes they are undersized and he has too many IF they were spotted trout, but these are not; these are sand trout!”
“What’s a sand trout?” the weekend angler asked.
“It’s in the spotted sea trout family but a sub species, kinda sort of” I said, trying not to cloud the issue.
“He has too many!” came another comment.
“Yes I believe he does, but not per the fishing regulations. The sea sand trout has no regulation BUT” I told the now inquisitive angler, “most know that for this fish you keep only what you can eat fresh because they have a reputation of not freezing well. The meat can get very mushy after they are frozen and thawed. Regardless…” I now launched into my “how many do you really need” speech much to the agreement of the other anglers.
“Well, I thought about that, but I hardly ever catch fish down here and I wanted to take advantage of it” he sheepishly stated. “They were easy and fun to catch; I swear they would bite a bare hook almost.”
“Yes, they often are aggressive and voracious, but Sir, ‘turn it loose today and catch it tomorrow’ is a good rule of thumb, especially if you have enough fish in your ice chest!”
“Well” he said, “I do have too many for myself and my family. Would you like some?”
“No thank you, but I bet if you go over to the boat ramp and ask some incoming anglers they will be more than happy to take some home.
“Sir, if you don’t know what it is, don’t put it in your chest, that’s bad on all counts and as the other anglers stated can get very expensive.”
Veteran anglers of our Texas coastline know what a sand trout is and most, if not all, have caught and eaten them. But even these veterans often get them mixed up with the silver sea trout that are mostly caught offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Further, I have found a surprising number of people who are not at all informed about these much unheralded fish wonders. As for identification, few can mistake a spotted sea trout for any other species, as the much more sought-after fish’s spots are a dead giveaway.
The sea sand trout is smaller, usually ranging from 7 to 12 inches (yes larger ones have been caught but they are the exception). They are shiny with a slightly yellowish tint to their body color. The silver sea trout is often mistaken for the sand trout and can require close inspection to tell the difference.
A sand trout has 10 – 12 rays in its anal fin (the slender bony structure supporting the anal fin) whereas the silver sea trout has only 9. The sand trout is not regulated in Texas waters (I believe it should be) nor is it on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list.
The real facts on the fish are hard to find, for it is mostly overlooked and many just don’t have it on their radar. It is known as a prodigious spawner, but few facts support this. However, its spawning cycle seems to be longer than most in the SCIAENDAE family, being throughout the spring and summer. This factor might be why there is little concern about it. Its maturity rate is not too dissimilar from the spotted sea trout, with both reaching sexual maturity in about 1 to 2 years. The main difference between the two is the sand trout is just smaller overall.
As the above angler can attest, they can be a lot of fun to catch when found and will bite on almost anything edible in our bays. They are affectionately called “sandies” for reasons mostly attributed to their fondness for sandy mud bottoms. They are known as a dominant predator of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico, second to man.
Most anglers don’t target sand trout; they are rather a byproduct of other styles of fishing. My experience has shown me they prefer deeper water—6 to 20 feet—and mud mixed with a lot of sand on the bottom. Another reason they are overlooked (from a conservation perspective) seems to be they have a very rapid growth cycle, especially from the fry stage to 1 year of age. Some studies show they can grow as much a 1/4-inch per week during this period. This and other factors make them appear to be indestructible from a fisheries perspective; the fact they have a very short life, 2 to 3 years, doesn’t help.
Unfortunately in most of the bay systems in the Rockport area they are all but nonexistent, attributed mostly to the lack of the water quality they prefer. In years gone by there were areas where good numbers of these tasty morsels could be boated. They require a good exchange of fresh saltwater from the gulf and a good egress to the Gulf of Mexico where they move off shore when cooler water prevails. Hopefully the opening of Cedar Bayou will assist in bringing the sand trout population back; only time will tell.
A few tips if you do happen get into a school of these little wonders: keep only what you will eat in one or two days and cook them fresh (don’t freeze them). If you must freeze them, many believe leaving the skin side of the filet attached to the filet helps prevent the meat from becoming too mushy. I personally have found it does indeed help but again, I try not to keep any unless I will be eating them fairly quickly.
Over the last eight to ten years or so, they have not been in the waters in the Rockport area in any numbers to enjoy catching, cleaning, or eating. If other anglers do catch them in our area, I would much like to hear from you (don’t want to know where, just that you are catching some). It would be great news indeed for others and I miss them!
• • •
The month of August can be brutally hot so cover up with long sleeves and pants and lather the sunscreen on. There still is no better way to stay hydrated than drinking good old water. Live bait early morning and late evening is still the best ticket in town. Mid-day might be best-spent drinking iced tea somewhere in the shade.
Copano Bay — Shell Bound Reef is good for trout using free lined croaker. Redfish Point is a good place for keeper reds early morning on a high or rising tide. Finger mullet free lined works well here. Copano Reef is holding some trout and some keeper reds using croaker and mud minnows on a light Carolina rig.
Aransas Bay — Some black drum are in Allnys Bight as are some keeper reds. Use finger mullet close to the grass in the back part of the bight and shrimp on a silent cork on both shorelines going into the bight. Find some keeper trout off of Deadpan’s Reef with free lined croaker the best bait. Jay Bird Reef is good for trout using Jerk Shad in root beer gold and camo colors.
St Charles Bay — Bird Point is a good wade for reds using super spooks in bone and white and blue and gold colors. On high tide the shoreline just off the old Turtle Pen Area is a good place for reds using cut mullet on a light Carolina rig. The mouth of Cavasso Creek is good for trout using free lined croaker.
Carlos Bay — The mouth of Spalding Bight is a good place for reds and some trout using croaker. The Carlos side of Cedar Point is a good place for reds and some flounder using free lined shrimp.
Mesquite Bay — The small reefs on the east shoreline are good for some sheep head using shrimp under a rattle cork. Bray Cove is a good place for trout using croaker on a free line. Target the north shoreline on high tide. Rattlesnake Reef is a good spot for reds using cut menhaden on a medium Carolina rig.
Ayers Bay — Ayers Reef is still holding some black drum with free line best or a very light fish finder rig. Second Chain is good for reds using mud minnows or finger mullet free lined. The shoreline of Matagorda Island is good for trout using croaker or shrimp free lined.
THE BANK BITE
Location: The area just off FM136 near Black Point is a good wade for reds and black drum using a popping cork and live shrimp. This area is best fished on high tide and can be boggy with some soft bottoms so go slow and be patient.
Email Capt. Mac Gable at firstname.lastname@example.org