Despite its name the Spotted Seatrout is a member of the drum family, and unrelated to trout. Range is limited to western Atlantic coastal waters – especially estuaries – from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to southern Florida; and throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico. Larger specimens are usually found along Florida’s eastern coast. Brackish to marine water areas, including salt marshes and tidal pools, are where this fish is most comfortable; and virtually any inshore waters with temperatures between 58 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit may host a good population. Once established, Spotted Seatrout usually stick around, as they are known to rarely migrate far from the estuaries where they are spawned. The majority of catches occur on inshore shallow, grassy flats and/or in the near-shore surf of outside islands.
Bodies are dark gray or green on top with tinges of sky blue shading to silvery and white below. This fish is distinguished by numerous round black spots on a slightly elevated back, extending to the continuous dorsal fin and tail; two large canine teeth are usually prominent on the upper jaw. The lateral line extends onto the tail, and the wide tail fin has a black margin. Some specimens particular to more stained waters may exhibit a golden hue. A pair of large canine teeth is featured in the upper jaw of a rather large mouth. The average size for Spotted Seatrout is between one and two pounds, but examples up to five pounds in weight are common. The world record for Spotted Seatrout is 17 pounds, seven ounces.
Spawning occurs in shallow bays and lagoons in near proximity to grass flats, mostly during nighttime. Males will produce a drumming sound to attract females during the preceding sunset, which encourages pre-spawning behaviors, such as jumping and side-to-side body contact. Young Spotted Seatrout spend their first stages in schools of up to 50 individuals, then move later to sandy and muddy bottoms, seagrass beds, oil platforms and shell reefs where they continue to live as adults. These fish are also known to move into deeper pockets of water during warm summer months. They are most active during prime feeding times of dawn and dusk. When young, Spotted Seatrout feed primarily on shrimp and plankton, but food items grow larger in conjunction with the size of the juveniles. Adults travel in small schools with incoming tides, moving into shallow areas and tidal creeks to feed on shrimp, crustaceans, and small fish such as striped mullet, pinfish, and anchovies.
Spotted Seatrout are attracted to light, so tossing out glow sticks when fishing at night is a proven casting technique. They are curious and, if any are in proximity, will show up eventually. Their firm white meat makes for an excellent meal at the end of the day. For best temporary preservation they should be put on ice as quickly as possible after being landed. Most of these fish are taken in state waters; thus they are much more convenient for part-time or impulsive anglers.