The Trout Migrated Out for the Winter-Maybe Not!?

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Speckled trout on the Upper Coast of Texas migrate out of the bays for the winter. They leave after the first big cold front so this weekend will pretty much do it for fall trout fishing.


Up until a few years ago that was common belief but research has shown that not only is there only minimal outward migration of trout in winter but there is minimal migration of trout period. It usually stays within bay systems and the biggest movements are not in winter.

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.

trout-tactics“Fish moved toward the Gulf of Mexico in late spring and summer, perhaps to feed or as part of a spawning migration, then returned to the tagging site in fall. The possibility of one population and a spatial separation of fish into at least two estuarine groups can not 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. While 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, but 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 2600 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, 1367 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 that shows there could be more migration in that area.

“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 Dec. 2009 and Oct. 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.”


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