FRANK SARGEANT

Published: Dec 5, 2001

Silver trout aren’t exactly big game, or even game-fish at all, since the average size of adults is around 12 inches long. But what they lack in size they make up for in numbers during the winter, when thousands of them move into deep holes in area rivers, shipping channels and turning basins.

Silvers are a sort of saltwater equivalent of bluegills or crappies, sought because they are abundant, easy to catch and tasty, rather than because they deliver a memorable battle. They look much like a spotted sea trout from which the spots have been removed, and in fact they’re closely related. And a third look-alike, often caught in the same places as the silver, is the sand sea trout – all three are members of the

“Cynoscion” clan, and the sand and the silver are so similar that only a biologist can tell them apart. The sand trout get quite a bit larger, however; if you catch a silvery, unspotted trout over 14 inches long, it’s probably a sand trout. Both species prefer deep water rather than the grass flats favored by spotted sea trout, and both appear to spend their summers in the gulf rather than in coastal bays and flats. But at present, anglers are reporting plenty of them in holes in the Bradenton River, in the Alafia ship channel and turning basin and in the Port Manatee Channel, among other locations.

Finding silver and sand trout is mostly a matter of watching the depthfinder in water 20 to 40 feet deep. Since they school tightly, they show up as a sizeable cloud on the screen. Pieces of fresh-cut shrimp are the can’t-miss bait for both species; use a size-1 hook to fit their relatively small mouths, and at least an ounce of weight to get to bottom quickly. Just as effective, and more interesting, is to “spoon jig” for these fish. Using a 1-ounce Hopkins or other short but heavy spoon, anglers position directly over the school, drop the spoon all the way to bottom, and then yo-yo it up and down with flips of the rod, letting the spoon flutter down through the fish. The angler holds slight back-pressure on the spoon as it drops, allowing him to feel the twitch of the line when a trout grabs it.

Best tackle is spinning gear with 10-pound-test microfiber line, which gives a much better feel of what’s happening 40 feet down than stretchy monofilament. This type of fishing takes a close eye on the depthfinder to keep the lure in the fish, but those who learn the tactic catch a trout on nearly every drop. There’s no bag or size limit on either species, and few anglers target them regularly, so bringing home a few dozen isn’t likely to harm the populations. Though they’re small, each fish fillets out into two delicious fingers of white meat, some of the most tender and light seafood you’ll find anywhere when dusted with flour and fried briefly. When the silver trout turns gold, it’s time to eat. Sand and silver trout remain inside Tampa Bay until March in most years, with a stop on the way back toward the gulf to spawn, usually on the shoulder of the flats over hard bottom, in water 8 to 12 feet deep.

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