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#1 Bird Man

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 08:57 AM

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I have a question for anybody willing to chime in.

What is the life history/natural history of the Spotted Sea Trout that anglers catch in the Elizabeth River?

Do these fish ever go into the ocean? Do you think they are fooled by the warm water discharge at the power plant?

The reason I wonder is that I live and fish mainly in the Outer Banks and am trying to figure out the same things about the trout population down here. It seems that a big number of fish leave the local sounds and go into the ocean every fall. However, it seems that not all of the fish leave the sounds. They are still catching them in the brackish rivers around Columbia and Edenton, NC. That is way up in the Albemarle Sound - a real good distance from the ocean. Thanks for your responses.

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#2 fish on

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 11:52 AM

I would estimate that 60-70% of these fish do migrate, however once they have reached spawning age at around 3-4 years, they travel from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, back and forth to the Elizabeth River. The spawning season for the fish extends from May-September normally, so you never know which part of the River or Bay they may be in during those periods. Once the weather changes in the river system though if the fish were in the Bay at the time of colder water setting in, then they most likely would travel south to find suitable climate, or travel up a different river system to find warmer water. The water temps play a really big part as to where the Trout will be at any time of the year.

(Male trout grow slower and don't live as long as females. Males don't reach 14 inches long until 3 or 4 years old. Few males live over 5, so virtually all spotted seatrout 5 pounds and larger are females.)

Hope this helps you out a little bit.

#3 Fishman

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Posted 20 January 2013 - 05:08 PM

(Male trout grow slower and don't live as long as females. Males don't reach 14 inches long until 3 or 4 years old. Few males live over 5, so virtually all spotted seatrout 5 pounds and larger are females.)


Intresting piece of information where did you find this?

#4 Patrick

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 09:05 AM

Lenny,

These fish are absolutely migratory between the marsh/rivers and ocean.

I've been fishing for speckled trout, or spotted sea trout, for almost 20 years, from the Gulf of Mexico to New Jersey, which is a bit north of their normal range. I've read a ton of books, and fished with some great charter captains from Corpus Christi, TX, all the way around the coast of Florida, and up to New Jersey. I've tried to get as much information as I can about the species so that I can track patterns that make them easier to predict.

On the Eastern Seaboard, north of Florida (the ocean water stays warm there all year a lot like in the Gulf of Mexico), trout migrate into shallow estuary areas to spawn in the fall. Nobody is sure as to what triggers it, but my guess would be a change in water temperature, current patterns, or fall weather systems (and their pressure drops) cause this migration.

Trout grow roughly an inch a month in their first year, and become sexually mature between 8 and 12 inches. Almost all males are sexually mature at 12 inches, and more than 75% of females are sexually mature at 12 inches, which is around one year after they are born. Something happens at 12 months that causes trout to slow in growth. Scientists haven't yet figured out why this happens; it could be related to the fact that the fish are changing their diet. Reality is that trout usually take 2-3 years to reach 14-16 inches long, and males live much shorter lives. Based on the fact that few males live much past 5 years, most of the trout that are 5 lbs are breeding females. This is why it's critical to release fish larger than that as soon as they are caught, because they are breeding females. There are a ton of websites that you can go to to get information about how old a fish of a certain length is, but a trout that is big enough for a citation in Virginia's Saltwater Fishing tournament is usually at least 5 years old. A 30" speckled trout can be between 8 and 10 years old!

These fish go into the same estuary where they were born to spawn. They will spawn within a very short distance from where they were born, so the offspring know exactly where to go each spawning season. That's another reason why it's important to release bigger speckled trout, because they are actually creating the "stock" that an angler enjoys in a specific area.

There are a number of reasons why the Elizabeth River is such a good place to catch them, but the most important are the salinity levels of the river, access to shallow water adjacent to deep water, and current. If salinity levels are too low, eggs will drop to the bottom and will become covered in silt before they hatch, and they will die. Contrary, if the salinity is too high, the eggs will float away from the shallow areas with natural cover, and the fry that hatch will be unprotected and likely eaten by other trout or another predator. Places like tidal rivers provide both the cover, current, and salinity levels this species need to successfully reproduce. Once the eggs are released and fertilized, current carries them to areas of underwater structure (grasses, rocks, oyster reefs, etc.) where they hatch. The fry will live and feed in the river until they get big enough to join the migration out to the open ocean each winter/spring. In the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the Louisiana area, this pattern is relatively the same, although the Gulf's temperatures stay warmer, so the season is shorter (usually late October inbound).

There are trout in the Elizabeth River all year. I've caught keeper trout in every month of the year, but I will say that the numbers drastically go down from the March-August time frame. The fish are usually smaller in the late spring and summer because a majority of the fish are resident males and females that haven't yet gone out to sea. Trout are an ocean-living species, but they return inshore to spawn.

The power plant that created the "Hot Ditch" action that the river is famous for has attracted the trout to a more localized area in the past, because the river gets cold in the winter. Once they bred there, the instincts to come back to that same area are ingrained in the offspring, and the cycle repeats itself. The discharge from the power plant used to make the water very warm, in some cases in the 70s, and that would keep the trout much more active and congregated in a smaller area. I don't think it has "fooled" the fish, I just think it created a better spawning area in the past, and instinct has kept the fish coming back. I've caught fish in all parts of the river, from the Great Bridge Locks to points many miles north of the "Hot Ditch" area, during all times of the winter, so they aren't just localized to the "Hot Ditch" area.

That power plant has only discharged a handful of times in the last 2 years, and only once in the winter time, to my knowledge. It is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2016 (?), but I've heard a rumor that it was actually shut down for good last month. Earlier this month, I saw a dry-bulk vessel berthed at the pier where coal is offloaded at the plant, but I'm not sure if it was delivering or taking coal away.

As to why the fish "leave" the local sounds in your area of North Carolina and head into the ocean, I can't speak for that. I'm willing to bet that they don't leave for open water; they probably go back to wherever it was that they were born to spawn, like further inshore, closer to marshy areas. If the water gets colder, that could trigger them to move; below certain temperatures, trout become very sluggish and will feed very infrequently, so unless you hit them on the head with a lure and make them mad (jokingly said) they really don't bite.

I must say that the Elizabeth River is an absolute gem with this trout fishery. I just ask that everyone who fishes this area practice good judgement. Quick releases of fish that aren't kept will allow this fishery to flourish for the future, giving our children and grandchildren a chance to enjoy something that can only be found in a handful of places in our great nation. I keep fish every year from this river, and eat fish every year from this river, so I'm not advocating changes to quantity or size limits. I'm only advocating that we all do what we can to protect this fishery so that it can be enjoyed by all. Besides, if the striper fishing continues to be so tough in December through January, this fishery gives inshore and nearshore anglers a place to ply their trade.

I've probably given enough information to make some people on this site mad and don't want to give out any more specifics. Send me an email and I'll give you some books and resources that you can read/visit to get some more information on this species. They have helped me for the last 20 years successfully target this species all over the Gulf and Eastern Seaboard. I fish the Elizabeth River every weekend that I can in the fall and winter in my 14' Monark with my buddy, who's been fishing there for 23 years. He and this river have taught me many things, including expanding my knowledge of how to catch these fish and how wonderful this fishery actually is.

Tight lines and stay safe on the water,


Patrick

#5 Bird Man

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 11:44 AM

Thank you guys. These responses prove once again how spcial this forum board is. I feel it is the most freindly and informative one out there.

Fish On and Patrick - I really appreciate the info. Patrick, I don't think you burned anyone's secret spot or gave away secrets. Any time either of you want some local intel, just ask. I'd love to return the favor. Thanks again.

Lenny Leta
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#6 gus

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 01:04 PM

Most of the trout that I have tagged in lynhaven inlet leave in the fall and head to rudee inlet where they hang for a bit before heading south towards the banks and beyond. That is the pattern that I have seen for your nc fish from years of tagging info.
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#7 fishtank

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 06:20 PM

Thanks for all of the interesting info. I don't think anyone could be mad at patrick.. Your info is good and can be applied all over the river(s). I for one really appreciate others knowledge! I am , by no means an expert at anything but trying! So I appreciate all of the helping hands! Responsible creels are the key. Keep enough for table fare and try and release the rest as gently as possible. Thanks again to all of you who lend a helping hand!, David. :usaflag: .

#8 fish on

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 11:41 PM

Yeah, I watched a guy one day 6 years ago or so walking out of the Hot Ditch with a stringer of 24 Specks. HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM wonder where the fish are disappearing to for our grandchildren. I made a comment to the fellow and all he did was shrug his shoulders and keep walking. WTF!!!!!!! makes you want to just knock some sense into people.

#9 Patrick

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 03:20 PM

The problem with management in this neck of the woods is that there are too many good places to fish.

The trout bite in the Elizabeth River is rolling around the same times that everybody is trying to catch striper in the bay, along the bridge tunnel, and off the Eastern Shore in the Atlantic. With all of those spots in action, and the striper being federally regulated with the FEE, federal assets are sent to the bay and oceanfront to patrol those areas. The state has very limited resources and so in the last 2 years, patrols within the Elizabeth River have been limited. They've been stepped up this year, but the USCG Auxiliary tends to get stuck on the bar just east of the Steel Bridge, so.....

I agree with being responsible. If somebody wants fish, I usually take them fishing on my boat. We'll catch fish, and they can decide what to keep. If they don't want to fish, I'm not so inclined to keep extra so that I can give it to them. Most of my trips after the early part of the fall are all release.


Tight lines and stay safe on the water,


Patrick

#10 fish on

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Posted 23 January 2013 - 12:25 PM

Responsible fishing is 3-4 fish per angler for food, 24 divided by 3 is 7 imes that persons reasonable take. Really pisses me off to see this crap not only there but at Rudee, Lynhaven, and the ocean front. People are greedy in generaal, I just wish they knew better,




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