By Captain Mel Berman
The silver trout is one species that shows up where and when it darn well pleases. About four years ago, these feisty fish appeared in great numbers at one of my preferred west coast fishing venues, St. Joseph Sound, along the north Pinellas coast. Then, for reasons only known to the silvers, they just vanished — never to be seen again until this year. Now they have shown up in good numbers in the deeper flats of the Sound. Most of the time, silvers can be caught from early spring through mid summer. They rarely get much larger than 12 inches, and are often confused with its closest cousin – the sand trout.
As a matter of fact, about 6000 tons of silver and sand trout are commercially landed annually. Then at the retail level, both species are lumped together and sold as “white trout.”
The silvers can be distinguished between sand trout by the fins and lateral line, which is slightly more pronounced on the sands. Silver trout have about 9 soft anal rays, while the sand trout usually have about 11. And from my own observations, sand trout appear to have more pronounced scales. Of course, both species are related to the popular spotted sea trout – and all three are part of the drum family.
One of the main reason most anglers enjoy hooking silvers is that pound-for-pound; they are quite frisky fighters when hooked. Most of the time silver trout will be found in somewhat deeper flats — along drop-offs and along sand holes. They will generally congregate in passes and any area that might offer a feeding opportunity.
Oftentimes, silver trout set up shop around lines of crab traps — which are usually located along a grassy drop-off and emit food particles to ostensibly attract crabs. Those are ideal, attractive and hospitable conditions for silvers.
You can successfully deploy live shrimp or white bait to catch them, but frankly I believe that you can do just as well using plastics. As a matter of fact, they are really easy to catch on most any kind of jig. But remember, silver trout love hanging right down on the bottom – so you’ll need to use a somewhat heavier jig head. I personally prefer using a specific jig head designed for the Old Bayside Shrimp. It has a flat skid on the bottom that keeps the hook positioned upward and enables me to work it right across grassy bottoms without getting snagged. However, any of the numerous available jig heads should work fine. But remember, you will need a bit more weight to get down where the silver trout hang. If you generally fish with 1/8th ounce jig heads, switch to ¼ ounce.
I have had excellent results catching silvers using the Old Bayside 4-inch Shadlyn – a small, shad shaped bait that seems to be very productive with many of our local species. Now I should hasten to add that any small shad shaped popular plastic tail should accomplish the same results. One interesting aspect of fishing for silver trout is that they are very attracted to tails with lots of sparkly stuff in them. Most of the time, slowly reeling and twitching along the bottom will get their attention.
Instead of anchoring over a given spot, our preference is to drift a likely area of deeper grass flats. The best places to drift for them are along a good series of sand holes, transitions or other attractants like the aforementioned crab traps. The action will be off and on as you move from school to school.
Some of the more interesting aspects of silver trout fishing that I’ve noticed is that when they attack your bait and don’t get hooked, they will often take several more shots at it. I have on many an occasion had a silver strike just as I reel my jig to the boat.
Once hooked, you will swear that you caught a much larger fish. Silver trout fight with such enthusiasm that they have become favorite target for many of our local flats fishers. Yet, when finally reeled in, the silvers appear surprisingly small for all that gusto that they exhibit.
Now remember, as with many other species, silver trout don’t always follow an annual pattern. Unlike its more predictable cousin the spotted sea trout,, they often will show up some years in certain locations – then take three of four years off. So you just have to be on the lookout for them.
Though there are no regulations or bag limits on both silver and sand trout, most conservation-minded anglers generally keep only the larger ones – and only what they need for dinner. Now the filets are not very large and, even with the larger ones, you will need to figure on at least one fish per person. As with most local species, you should put them in the cooler immediately, covering them completely with a good layer of ice.
As for table fare, they seem to have more firmer textured fillets and are quite good cooked a number of ways. When preparing silver trout for the table, I treat them pretty much the same way as the spotted sea trout, skinning and filleting, cutting out the rib cage and trimming the bloodlines. One of my fishing partners, Dr. Mike Tien (pictured above) say that because they are a smaller species, he scales and guts the fish, then fries them whole, covering them with a sweet and sour sauce.
The silver trout have a lot to offer the angler. They are excellent table fare — and a great deal of fun to catch. If you’re like me and take pleasure in drifting the flats while catching some enthusiastic fish, you should enjoy hooking up with the silvers.