February 17, 2020
By Florida Sportsman Editor
The age has sort of drifted by when fishermen ached to see their names in the record books. But there's one mark I dearly want yet:
Spotted seatrout, all-tackle.
On some days, mainly in spring and early summer, my mind's eye conjures out of the Indian River Lagoon a silver monster with fantastic canines. The big ones (you've seen 'em, yes?) seem
to shake off their spots as they age. Maybe they don't need the camo to hide any longer. They are predators eating predators, to me resembling not alligators but vampire salmon. I've weighed fish like this—including a near-13-pounder caught by my friend Ed Zyak, a Jensen Beach guide. I've caught a few yardsticks myself, too.
The elusive all-tackle record? Swimming in my imagination, an obsession.
I was a junior editor at this magazine when Craig Carson, in May of '95, caught a 17-pound, 7-ounce trout on a Zara Spook in Fort Pierce. I remember marveling over that catch. I marvel still today. In the annals of the International Game Fish Association, Carson's trout remains untouched.
The tides of life eventually drew me to settle near Fort Pierce. I began studying those unusual trout of the southern Indian River. I learned that May-June-July is prime time, and that truly big trout here are astonishingly bold—they lay up like barracuda on the grassbeds. Or what remains of the beds.
A seagrass dieoff in the Stuart-Fort Pierce-Vero Beach area, beginning in 2010, squelched the daydreams of giant trout fans like me. Veteran anglers and scientists have expressed concern for trout recruitment in this region, and landings data reflect declines. Still, some big fish persist. Last spring, a friend released a 33-incher in the nearby St. Lucie River. So there's hope.
Other reasons for optimism:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has shown mostly favorable commitment to seatrout stewardship (see page 76 for the new regs). We'd like to see simpler rules, and no-sale status, but we're happy to see action.
We're also pleased to see our state making at least baby steps toward fixing coastal water woes. Restoring nature's southbound outlets for the juggernaut dumper, Lake Okeechobee, should be priority number one.
Gulf side, efforts around Tampa Bay to reduce nutrient loading have yielded great success in seagrass recovery, as Mike Conner writes in this issue (page 26). The subject also will be highlighted in an upcoming episode of Florida Sportsman Watermen with local guide Alissa Vinoski.
Of course, areas of the coastline which rarely experience mass algae blooms have continued to yield excellent trout catches. For a taste, take a tour of Florida's great Big Bend with veteran captain and writer, Joe Richard, on page 34.
In the end, I doubt I'll ever keep a trout over the new 19-inch upper slot limit. But if I do, I'll tell you this: It won't be 20 inches, it'll be over 40. And—hate me all want—you can bet I'll be hunting for a certified scale.
A fisherman's gotta dream. FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine February 2020