Sand Seatrout

Spotted Seatrout illustration, copyrighted by Diane Rome Peebles

Copyright © Diane Rome Peebles

Similar Species

Spotted Seatrout, illustration by Diane Rome Peebles
Sand Seatrout or White Trout. Illustration by Diane Rome Peebles.
Spotted Seatrout or Speckled Trout, above. Sand Seatrout or White Trout, below.
Copyright © Diane Rome Peebles Click either image for larger version.

Sand Seatrout are similar to two other Gulf Coast species, but are easily distinguished. The Spotted Seatrout, Cynoscion nebulosus, or Speckled Trout, has dark spots on the body and fins. The smaller Silver Seatrout, Cynoscion nothus, is quite similar to the Sand Seatrout, but feels comparatively rough to the touch because of its ctenoid scales (with toothed rear edges). The Silver Seatrout is true to its name with a more silvery overall coloration. Most anglers refer to both Sand Seatrout and Silver Seatrout collectively as "white trout."

For precise differentiation, the anal fin of the Sand Seatrout 10 to 12 rays while that of the Silver Seatrout has only nine.

Description

Like Spotted Seatrout, Sand Seatrout have an elongated, streamlined body with a slightly elevated back, a long pointed head, and an oblique mouth with the lower jaw extending beyond the upper. Sand Seatrout have no spots on their bodies or fins. Sand Seatrout are silvery, with a slightly yellow or brownish gold coloration which is darker on fish found in estuarine waters. The lower part of the body is white or light silvery. The fins are yellowish. The backs of young fish are cloudy and may show faint bands of darker color. Fish larger than about one pound take on an iridescent lavender cast on their heads and the upper bodies.

Sand Seatrout typically have one or two distinctive fang-like teeth at the front of the upper jaw. The inside of the mouth is usually yellowish. It is interesting that Spotted Seatrout often develop these same characteristics as they grow older and larger.

Anglers usually encounter Sand Seatrout weighing one pound or less and a length of 8 to 14 inches, but fish weighing three to five pounds and 24" in length are sometimes caught offshore and in deep inshore waters.

Sand Seatrout or white trout. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs, Jimmy Jacobs Outdoor Adventures
Sand Seatrout. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs, Jimmy Jacobs Outdoor Adventures. Click for larger view.

Occurrence

Sand Seatrout are found throughout the Gulf of Mexico from southwest Florida to the Bay of Campeche. Within that range, they are least common in southern Florida. Some sources report they are present in the Atlantic waters of extreme southeastern Florida. They are one of the most common fishes along the coast of the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Sand Seatrout use both sand and mud bottoms and favor oyster shell and structure. They are found in bays and estuarine waters and in offshore waters to a depth of about 300 feet. In general, larger fish are found in deeper water offshore and in holes and channels inshore. Smaller fish are common in shallower waters. Larger Sand Seatrout often congregate in great numbers around oil and gas rigs and platforms. They spend the warmer months in shallower, inshore waters and move offshore as cool weather approaches in the fall.

Sand Seatrout are more common in inner bays, sounds, and shallower offshore waters, with Silver Seatrout becoming more common as depth increases in the Gulf.

Sand Seatrout, Cynoscion arenarius.  Photo by Jim Franks, GCRL
Sand Seatrout, Photo by Jim Franks, GCRL   Click for larger image


Life Cycle & Reproduction

Sand Seatrout reach sexual maturity at age one to two at a total length of five to seven inches (129 to 180 mm).

Sand Seatrout spawn during a prolonged period in spring and summer, with peaks of spawning activity in early spring and late summer. Spawning takes place in the lower estuaries, especially in channels, and in nearshore Gulf waters. In Mississippi, ripe fish have been collected at depths up to 300 feet. Males congregate together and produce a drumming or purring sound to attract and motivate females, beginning near dusk. Males fertilize the eggs as the females release them. Links to details and sound recordings are provided below.

The eggs hatch during the first day after spawning and the young fish are transported by wind, tide, and current into the upper portions of the estuaries. Research has shown that the major recruitment of juvenile fish (3/4" to 3" standard length, 20 to 80 mm) into nursery areas off Mississippi Sound occurred in September. By the following June, lengths had increased to about 4.3 to 7" standard length (110 to 160 mm). (Note: Standard length is measured from the tip of the snout to the beginning of the tail fin. The total length of a Sand Seatrout is approximately 10% greater.)

Young Sand Seatrout grow rapidly, especially during the warmer months. In one study of fish in Mississippi Sound, the estimated summer growth rate of was nearly 1/4" per week. The typical life span is one to two years, with a maximum of about three years. Annual mortality rates are very high.

Growth rates vary with location and conditions, but typical total lengths for the northern Gulf of Mexico are 9.8 inches at age 1, 16.7 inches at age two, and 22.5 inches at age three. Few Sand Seatrout grow beyond about 12 inches total length, though fish nearly 20 inches long have been collected.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Sand Seatrout are quick and aggressive predators. Juvenile Sand Seatrout consume microscopic invertebrates, especially crab and shrimp larvae. The diet shifts toward shrimp and fish as the seatrout matures. The diet of adults consists primarily of fishes, with shrimp also forming an important part of their diet. In Mississippi Sound, the Sand Seatrout's predominant prey fishes are Bay Anchovies and Gulf Menhaden.

Predators and Parasites

Larger fishes are the primary predators on Sand Seatrout. Bottle nosed dolphins, sharks, and predatory birds such as ospreys, cormorants, pelicans, and other predatory birds also take seatrout. Sand Seatrout are a large component of the bycatch in shrimp trawls.

Sand seatrout sometimes harbor internal parasites popularly known as "spaghetti worms." They are more common in larger fish and appear to do no significant harm to adult fish. While visually unappealing to many people, the worms are not harmful to humans. The can be readily removed manually or simply ignored.

Drumming or Purring

The name "drum" comes from the ability of the male seatrout and the males of other members of the drum family including the Red Drum, Black Drum and Spotted Seatrout) to produce a deep drumming sound by contracting muscles on either side of the swim bladder. As the sound recordings demonstrate, the sound produced by male Sand Seatrout is probably better described as purring rather than drumming.

The sound is used during courtship and sometimes when a fish is distressed. During the spawning season, males congregate together and produce sounds to attract females, beginning near dusk and continuing throughout the night.

Fishing for Sand Seatrout

Angler with Sand Seatrout. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs, Jimmy Jacobs Outdoor Adventures.
Angler with Sand Seatrout. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs, Jimmy Jacobs Outdoor Adventures. Click for larger view.

Sand Seatrout are one of the most common and available saltwater fish for Mississippi anglers. They have four characteristics that make them a popular fish among anglers: plentiful, catchable, sporty, and tasty. Furthermore, Sand Seatrout are readily available to almost all saltwater anglers because they can be caught from the shore, piers, and smaller boats on protected waters.

Sand Seatrout are found in all waters from the bayous and bays out to the deep Gulf. The best methods of catching Sand Seatrout are very similar to those used for Spotted Seatrout, with a little more emphasis on fishing near the bottom. Successful techniques include dead bait, live bait, artificial lures, and flies. Equipment varies from cane poles to sophisticated spinning and fly rods and reels. Artificial lures range from spinners and spoons to jigs to soft plastics on jig heads to sinking and topwater plugs.

Sand Seatrout often congregate in large numbers around piers, artificial reefs, and other structure, especially in the fall when they begin to congregate and move offshore. Sand Seatrout are attracted to lights at night and pier fishing under lights can be particularly successful. Larger Sand Seatrout are often caught incidentally by anglers targeting Spotted Seatrout.

Sand Seatrout are not regulated sport fish in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, or Florida. Anglers are encouraged to self-regulate their catch and use good judgment and discretion when deciding how many Sand Seatrout to keep. Retain only what you can use and remember that freshly caught fish are best enjoyed fresh rather than frozen.

Trout amandine, photo by Don Abrams
Trout Amandine. Although this particular dish was prepared with Spotted Seatrout, it would be equally good with Sand Seatrout. Click for larger image.

Sand Seatrout on the Table

Sand Seatrout are very similar to Spotted Seatrout as a table fish. Some people even prefer Sand Seatrout, saying that the flavor is more delicate and a bit sweeter. Sand Seatrout offer the wonderful advantage of being readily available as freshly caught fish across the entire Mississippi coast.

Any recipe used for Spotted Seatrout will also be good with Sand Seatrout. Like Spotted Seatrout, Sand Seatrout is typically enjoyed fried, broiled, or baked. Fresh Sand Seatrout filets lightly dusted with cornmeal and fried are one of the delights of the Gulf Coast.

The flesh of Sand Seatrout is not as firm as that of Spotted Seatrout and requires more careful handling to ensure good taste and texture. When caught, fish should be immediately placed on ice and thoroughly chilled, otherwise the flesh can become soft and may tear easily when cleaning the fish.

Most people agree that Sand Seatrout do not freeze as well as some fish species. However, anglers who freeze the filets in water report excellent results.

After filets are removed, the carcasses of Sand Seatrout can be used to make delicious fish stocks to add flavor to soups, gumbos, etouffees, and other seafood dishes. Sand Seatrout stock is more delicately flavored than stock from most other species.

Conservation Status and Management History

The Sand Seatrout has not been evaluated by the IUCN Red List.

Degradation and destruction of the estuarine habitat and fishing pressure are the primary stresses to Sand Seatrout populations.

Resources and References

 

Sand Seatrout Videos

Videos of Sand Seatrout were not found on the Web. Please let us know if you find something interesting.

Alternatively, enjoy this good fishing story with some sound advice on from a teenager angler: Keeper white trout biting every cast off Grand Isle fishing pier - Todd Masson, nola.com, August 16, 2014