Make no mistake about it, the speckled trout is the most important saltwater fish on the Texas coast.
Catching trout is what drives most Texas anglers to spend their spare time braving brutal heat, dangerous thunderstorms and wading in stingray and shark-inhabited waters.
In the Texas Outdoor Nation we are proud of all things Texas and thought it would be interesting to see what science has to say about Texas’s speckled trout population.
Check out these facts….
A study conducted by Gary Matlock and William Baker found that trout tagged in northwest Trinity Bay did not frequent East or West Galveston Bay.
“Fish moved toward the Gulf of Mexico in late spring and summer, perhaps to feed or as part of a spawning migration. Then they returned to the tagging site in the fall. The possibility of one population and a spatial separation of fish into at least two estuarine groups cannot be eliminated.”
This fits with other evidence uncovered by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).
They found that trout spend most of their lives within five miles of where they were born. Nearly 90 percent of all fish recovered in a tagging program came from the same bay in which they were tagged.
Although many trout move into deeper water during cold weather, there is no scientific evidence of a winter migration to the Gulf. Research shows that some fish may move to the Gulf to escape blowing northers. However, this is temporary, and the fish return once weather abates.
A study by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC) report shows that one researcher tagged more than 2,600 trout and received 50 returns. Of these, 20 came from the release point. Similar findings were reported by researcher Rogillio with 98 percent of the returns coming within 1.5 kilometers of the release point.
Their report details that in Texas, of 20,912 tagged trout released in Texas marine waters, 1,367 were recaptured. About 84 percent were caught in the same bay where released; eight percent were caught in another bay; and five were recaptured in the Gulf. Of 588 spotted seatrout tagged in the Gulf surf, 14 were recaptured, 12 in the Gulf and two in Texas bays.
Researcher Laura Payne wrote a thesis on trout migration within the Laguna Madre system.
“Anecdotal information suggests that spotted seatrout migrate from near-shore waters into bays to spawn and that these migratory fish may sustain populations of spotted seatrout within the Laguna Madre system. To further explore spotted seatrout movement patterns both laboratory tagging trials and acoustic tracking technology was employed to investigate movement patterns on a large scale.”
In the study a total of 81 spotted seatrout were captured via hook and line between December 2009 and October 2010 and implanted with acoustic tags: 31 within bay waters, 30 fish from surf zones, and 20 live-release tournament fish.
“We found an overall minimal survival rate of 70 percent between angler recaptures and receiver detections. Many long distance travels were recorded and movement patterns varied greatly.
“Seventy-five percent of fish tagged in surf waters were detected on our receivers in tidal inlets, and two fish from the Upper Laguna Madre were detected leaving the Laguna into CC Bay.
“These data suggest Gulf-bay and inter-bay mixing of spotted seatrout populations. The high percentage of angler recaptures validates previous studies that determined catch-and-release practices are viable to help maintain healthy fish stocks.”
TPWD officials have found Texas trout feed primarily on small crustaceans. Medium-size trout feed on shrimp and small fish. Large fish feed almost exclusively on other fish.
“Predators of the spotted seatrout include alligator gar, striped bass, Atlantic croaker, tarpon and barracuda. Spotted seatrout swim near seagrass beds of shallow bays and estuaries during spring and summer, looking for prey. As water temperatures decline during fall, they move into deeper bay waters and the Gulf of Mexico. As water temperatures warm in the spring, the fish return to the shallows of the primary and secondary bays.
“Spotted seatrout reaches sexual maturity at one to two years. Most large spotted seatrout caught are females and commonly live to be nine or 10 years of age. Anglers long ago recognized that very large trout were usually female and appropriately called them “sow” trout. A female spotted seatrout may spawn several times during the season. Younger females may release 100,000 eggs and older, larger females may release a million eggs. Recent studies indicate that spotted seatrout spawn between dusk and dawn and usually within coastal bays, estuaries and lagoons. They prefer shallow grassy areas where eggs and larvae have some cover from predators.”
When it comes to catching trophy-sized trout, research shows salinity can be a factor. Researchers with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have found that big trout tend to prefer water close in salinity to seawater over more brackish water.
In a Texas study, researchers found optimum salinity for trout was 20 parts per thousand (ppt). They found trout actually had difficulty maintaining swimming speed at salinities below 10 ppt, or above 45 ppt.
Salinity is an important factor as the closer an area is to the Gulf, the higher the salinity. However there are some other factors that come into play with trout here.
Big, incoming tides bring warmer Gulf waters onto trout-friendly areas such as shallow flats along channels. With them, come baitfish. Add to this, the combination of water that is more saline, a few degrees warmer than that in the upper reaches of the system. On top of that, add high presence of mullet and other baitfish, and you have serious trophy trout potential.
As autumn arrives, anglers will catch hundreds of thousands of trout along the Texas coast. There are few things more exciting than finding diving gulls over feeding specks.
The next time you catch one, think about these fascinating facts about our Texas trout population. They are worthy of respect and appreciation.
—story by TF&G STAF