Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus)

The spotted seatrout is a member of the Sciaenidae family of drum and croaker. It belongs to the genus Cynoscion (weakfish and seatrout), which is named for its members' tender mouths, from which hooks tear easily. Considered an exceptionally valuable commercial fish and an even more valuable sportfish to anglers, it is intensely pursued throughout its range, especially in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most Gulf and Atlantic coast states have experienced a decline in spotted seatrout populations due to overfishing and exploitation, and fishing is strictly controlled; in some areas, the cessation of gillnetting is leading to stock recoveries and is providing optimism for the future.

The spotted seatrout is also known as an excellent table fish. Its flesh is fine and delicately flavored, but it spoils quickly and should be cleaned or stored on ice when possible after being caught. It usually appears on the menus of southern restaurants as “trout” and can be substituted in recipes for sea bass or redfish.


The spotted seatrout has an elongated body, with a slightly more regular and even tail fin, with a black margin, than that of a sand or a silver seatrout. Its coloring is dark gray or green on the back, with sky-blue tinges shading to silvery and white below; the dorsal fins are gray-green, and many round black spots speckle the back, the tail, and the dorsal fins. The lower jaw protrudes beyond the upper, which has one or two prominent canine teeth.

The first dorsal fin has one spine and 24 to 27 soft rays, and the anal fin has two spines and 10 to 11 soft rays. There are eight or nine short, stubby gill rakers on the lower limb of the first gill arch. There are no barbels, and the interior of the mouth is orange. A very young fish will have a broad, dark lateral band. The presence of spots on the fins can distinguish the spotted seatrout from other seatrout.


Mature spotted seatrout commonly range from 12 to 24 inches and average 4 pounds, although they can reach 48 inches and weigh as much as 16 pounds. The alltackle record is 17 pounds, 7 ounces, caught at Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1995. They can live up to 10 years; 3-year-old fish in Alabama are generally 12 to 13 inches long, and 4-year-old fish are 14 to 15 inches long. Anglers commonly catch spotted seatrout weighing between 1 and 3 pounds; fish exceeding 7 pounds are considered large, and 10-pounders are definitely trophies.

Life history/Behavior

It is believed that water temperature and salinity levels are more important to spawning than a specific location, because newly hatched spotted seatrout will not survive low salinity and low temperature conditions.

Optimum spawning conditions for spotted seatrout exist when salinity is 20 to 34 parts per thousand and temperatures reach 70° to 90°F. Spawning occurs at night in coastal bays, sounds, and lagoons; near passes; and around barrier islands from March through November. A female may lay up to 10 million eggs. The eggs hatch within 20 hours and are transported to estuaries by winds and currents.

Spotted seatrout are schooling fish and are not considered migratory, as they rarely move more than 30 miles, although they do move into deeper waters or deep holes to avoid cold temperatures. Juveniles spend 2 to 4 years in shallow, grassy areas and then tend to move into the nearshore passes and along beaches.

Food and feeding habits

Spotted seatrout are predatory, feeding primarily on shrimp and small fish. When shrimp are scarce, they often consume mullet, menhaden, and silversides. The larger specimens feed more heavily on fish. Juveniles feed on grass shrimp and copepods.

Other Names

trout, speckled trout, speck, spotted weakfish, spotted squeteague, gator trout, salmon trout, winter trout, black trout; Spanish: corvinata pintada.


Spotted seatrout occur along the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico coasts. They are most abundant along the coasts of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, eastern Louisiana, and Texas but range as far westward as Tampico, Mexico. In the late spring, they can range as far north as Long Island, New York, but are more prominent in the mid-Atlantic in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Maryland.


An inshore bottom-dwelling species, the spotted seatrout inhabits shallow bays, estuaries, bayous, canals, and Gulf Coast beaches. It prefers nearshore sandy and grassy bottoms and may even frequent salt marshes and tidal pools with high salinity. It also lives around oil rigs, usually within 10 miles of shore. Ideal water temperatures are between 58° and 81°F.

Cold water is lethal to the spotted seatrout, and although some move into slow moving or still, deep waters in cold weather, the majority remaining in its normal habitat may be killed by the low temperatures.