Fishing & Boating News

The Scent of a Watermelon

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

Schooly trout feeding on shad.
Photo by Ed Snyder
Surf wader fighting an 8 lb speck.
Photo by Ed Snyder
(Feb. 26, 2013 - Gilchrist on Bolivar, TX.)

The odor was almost tangible, stirring the adrenalin and alerting the reflexes. The smell of watermelon was strong followed by the splashing sounds of feeding specks. The first cast went out and its retrieve hooked up with the first speck of the morning.

Ask any saltwater angler what their favorite fish to catch is, and the majority will respond "Speckled Trout." And for good reason! They are feisty fighters, fairly easy to catch, and excellent table fare.

Speckled Sea-Trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) Alias- Speckled Trout, Speck, Gator Trout, or Spotted Sea-Trout, Adult males will average 19-to-20 inches in length with adult females averaging 25 -to- 26inches long. Schooly trout will weigh from 2 to 3 pounds but females will often separate from the school growing much larger from 6 to 8lbs or more.

Typical fish markings include dark gray or green backs and silvery-white bellies, with distinct dark spots on their backs, fins with a black edged tail; soft dorsal (back) fin with no scales; and two prominent canine teeth at the tip of their upper jaws.

Smaller 8 -to- 10 inch yearling trout mainly feed on small crustaceans. Second year trout of 14 -to- 19inches feed on shrimp and small fish, with the larger females feeding almost entirely on other fish such as shad, mullet, or croaker.

Speckled sea-trout spend their warmer months in or around the oyster reefs or salt-grass of shallow bays and estuaries looking for prey. As the water temps start to drop during fall, they move into deeper bay waters or the Gulf of Mexico. As water temps begin warming in the spring, the fish start showing back up in the passes, migrating back to the grassy shallows and reefs of the primary and secondary bays.

Sea-trout reach sexual maturity at two years and spawn several times during the season from March thru August. Younger females may release up to 100,000 eggs with older, larger females releasing a million eggs or more. Specks will spawn several times in several different areas. Recent studies indicate that specks spawn between dusk and dawn and usually within coastal bays, estuaries and sloughs, preferring shallow grassy areas where their eggs and larvae have protective cover from the predators, which include the specks themselves.

Specks prefer shallow bays and estuaries with oyster beds and salt-grass that attract baitfish and shrimp during the spring and summer months. During periods of low rainfall or massive freshwater runoffs, many trout often move into the deeper rivers, bayous, passes, and jetty areas to avoid high salinity and low salinity levels.

Specks are aggressive carnivores with voracious feeding habits that vary according to their size. Small trout will feed on small baitfish and shrimp but larger fish feed almost exclusively on other fish such as croaker, mullet, pinfish, piggy perch, or menhaden.

Avid trout anglers have their own techs for catching specks, but basic methods include light to medium action rod and reel combinations such as spinning, spin casting, or bait casting gear. Since most specks are caught within the 2-3 pound range, light to medium light equipment is recommended, with larger specks requiring advanced fishing skills or heavier fishing tackle for the 6 to 8lbers. (Note: be sure to rinse off your fishing tackle after each trip to help flush the corrosive nature of salt water.)

A popping cork and shrimp rig was, and still is the most popular method for specks, with best results accomplished by popping the cork at regular intervals to generate live action by varying the retrieve, frequency of popping, and depth of bait providing the best trout catches. Best baits for catching trout is live shrimp, finger mullet, or croaker. With plastic baits, such as Mirror Lures, Touts, Saltwater Assassins, also deadly on feeding specks.

"Free lining" rigs are effective when drift fishing from a boat or when fishing in areas with strong tidal flows. Rigged with light sinkers, the bait is allowed to drift freely with the tide. This is also a good method for catching specks when night-fishing under lights.

A typical bottom bait-rig may be used when trout are feeding near the bottom. But most experienced anglers will swim-drift jigs along the bottom structure. Artificial lures are effective for catching trout the year round, the rule is slow retrieves when cold and medium to fast during warm water conditions. Although many types and styles of artificial baits exist, generally they can be classified in three ways; jigs, spoons and fishlike lures such as soft plastics, Johnson silver minnows, and Sassy Shads. My largest, a 10 1/4 lb speck, was landed on a Sassy Shad. Jigs are fished singly or in tandem either with or without a cork. My advice is to fish a single jig when massaging the bottom and a double rig when fishing near the surface. When adding a cork to your line keep it only 2ft above your bait/s and "pop" it to imitate the sound of feeding specks.

Fly fishing anglers who've angled with fly gear can enjoy catching specks on fly rods as well. Two inch streamers with Mylar on a 6ft-6lb tippet and #8 weight fly rods with spooled weight forward fly line will do the job. I've done this while on trout fishing trips to San Luis Pass, TX, and had the proverbial ball . Ultra-Lite tackle will also provide those extreme delights when fishing for speckled trout..

At certain times of the year anglers follow the birds (Sea Gulls) to fish feeding sprees when specks school up on bait-fish or shrimp. This happens both in the Spring as well as the Fall, with the Autumn months providing the best action. The birds will spot these pods of trout feeding on the surface and start dipping and diving on the crippled or fleeing prey. This attracts the anglers who then move their craft in to get in on the action. Often the anglers will limit out during these aggressive feeding sprees.

Fishing trout slicks is also a very productive method for catching specks. Anglers will spot or smell these slicks as they first appear, then cast to them. Trout regurgitate during feeding sprees, causing oily, partially digested food to rise to the surface forming "slicks" on the surface. The odor emitted from these slicks is similar to a fishy, watermelon smell. I've caught many limits from these slicks that often provide larger trout to your creel. When spotting these surface slicks be sure to cast "up-current" from the slick where the trout first started to feed. Lures and popping cork shrimp are deadly here. As is the smell of the proverbial watermelon.

Speckled trout are one of the most popular sport fish along the Texas coast. It's a schooling fish that willingly hit natural and artificial baits. And its fine eating qualities make it extremely popular with anglers. Texas has a 10speck limit per day with a 15inch minimum with one speck allowed over 25inches when added as part of your daily limit. TP&W has issued this protective 25inch limit for the purpose of conservation. The Texas record speckled sea-trout is 37.25 inches weighing 15.6 lbs.

I've tasted several different trout recipe's and have enjoyed all, but the simplest way to enjoy specks is to deep-fry them. Filet boneless and skinless- soak in a mixture of egg and milk for 1 hour- coat with Cajun Style fish fry mix- deep fry in peanut oil- when floating golden brown to the top, remove- drain on paper towels- plate with fries- baked beans- hush puppies- and serve with your favorite fish sauce and chilled brew.

Article sponsored by- Miss Nancy's Bait Camp- Sting-A-Ree Marina Bait Camp- The Beach Triton-

Info Guide- Wikipedia, Encyclopedia & Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.
This bay wader lands a nice trout.
Photo by Ed Snyder
Trout in the surf draws wade anglers like flies to sugar.
Photo by Ed Snyder