Return of the Croaker and Sand Trout Runs?
I RECENTLY RECEIVED an email from a reader who said they caught what they thought at first was a decent speckled trout but when they took it out of the net they realized it was a huge sand trout.
I caught some that size recently under the birds in the East Pass area of Sabine Lake fishing a Gulp! Swimming Mullet under a popping cork.
Sand trout are back in big numbers and size thanks to nearly two decades of bycatch reduction in the shrimping fleet. Sand trout were caught to the tune of hundreds of millions in shrimp trawls Gulf-wide according to federal research. Now with low shrimping effort and the remaining fleet much more bycatch conscious, we are seeing tons of sandies.
Ditto for large croakers.
Growing up I heard about “bull croakers” but never saw one until two years ago when I caught one that weighed 2.5 pounds, once again under the birds in Sabine Lake. One study showed nearly a billion croakers caught in trawls Gulf-wide annually in the ’90s. With bycatch reduction efforts, we are seeing more and bigger croakers as well.
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials, Atlantic croakers “croak” by vibrating their swim bladders with special muscles as part of their spawning ritual.
“A swim bladder is a pocket full of air inside the fish that helps keep it afloat and facing upright,” the officials said. “This behavior attracts females. Along the Gulf Coast, they reach sexual maturity at about one year old. This varies in other areas. Spawning season is in the fall, with a peak between August and October. During spawning season, females will release between 100,000 and two million eggs, each about 0.35 mm in diameter. After hatching, the larvae (immature stage) drift toward land. They are abundant on soft bottoms, such as mud, where there are large amounts of detritus for them to feed on. The Atlantic croaker’s diet includes shrimp, crabs, and detritus (dead and decomposing plant and animal matter).”
This spawn period is often called the “croaker run,” and it is used to be a popular event at areas like San Luis and Rollover Pass where anglers could catch hundreds a day.
Not many anglers seek out croakers on purpose anymore, but the run still exists. Although it is not as great as it used to be, there are more croakers than a decade ago. That’s a good thing for anglers who like to catch and eat these overlooked saltwater panfish.
The Croaker ‘Croak’
Courtesy Mountain2Sea Fishing
—story by CHESTER MOORE