Living Sanibel: Spotted seatrout and gulf flounder found in waters of Southwest Florida
Perhaps the most frequently caught sport fish in Lee County, the spotted seatrout is ubiquitous once you start drifting over three-to five-foot-deep grass flats. It is easiest to catch using a popping cork with light leader and a small No. 2 or No. 3 hook and a fresh, live shrimp. Once you discover a school, you can catch 50 of these fish in an afternoon.
The seatrout is not a strong fighting fish, but the larger specimens – those longer than 20 inches – will put up quite a fight. It is a popular eating fish, although the flesh is fairly soft and does not freeze well.
The seatrout lives out its entire life in the estuaries. It feeds on shrimp, crabs, small fish, sea worms, and other crustaceans. It is eaten by snook, redfish, cobia, sharks, bottlenose dolphins, and grouper, as well as ospreys, herons, and cormorants. It can often be seen swimming along the beaches in the summer months and is easily recognized by its trout-like colors and numerous black dots across the back half of its body. The seatrout is a close relative of both redfish and black drum, although it does not really look like either of these other species.
The gulf flounder, or flounder as it is more often called, is not a common catch on Sanibel or Captiva. It prefers the cooler waters of the northern gulf. The world record was taken in Nassau Sound in northeast Florida, in 1975. When caught locally, the flounder seldom exceeds 16 inches in length and tends to weigh little more than a pound.
The flounder can also be found offshore in depths of up to 400 feet. It is in the deeper water where anglers find larger specimens. This fish is unusual looking in that both eyes are on one side of its body. Perhaps even more unusual, when it is born the flounder resembles any other small fish larva, but shortly after it matures enough to take up its life along the bottom, one eye migrates to the upper side of the body, and the bottom side, which rests on the sand, is left sightless.
A delicious eating fish, the flounder is more often than not an accidental fish caught when fishing for sheepshead, seatrout, and other species. It is a bottom dweller and is most often hooked with minnows, or shrimp sitting on the bottom. The flounder will sometimes take jigs and on very rare occasions strikes a slowly retrieved lure. It is preyed upon by stingrays, nurse sharks, snook, and grouper. It ranges from New England to the upper Caribbean.
This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.