Since I was a very young boy catching speckled and gray trout has always been an important part of my yearly inshore fishing routine. In years past it was always about catching as many as possible and hoping for some big ones in the mix before we had our limit in the cooler. As I’ve grown older I still enjoy fishing under that same philosophy with the exception of keeping the larger trout, I now gain far more pleasure out of releasing those 24”,25”,26”,27” and even a few 28-31” trout from time to time. My father and grandfather always said the smaller trout (14-20”) were better table fare and for me it still stands true.
With our daily catch limits much smaller now, the increased recreational pressure and who knows what kind of unseen environmental pressures it is more important that ever to release the larger breeding stock of fish when possible. Sure, if I have a client that has never caught a 24” speckled trout, it’s their decision whether we release it or not but, I’ll offer them the opportunity to release if they desire. If they choose to keep it, I willingly allow them to, if it’s legal, typically I’ll clean for them too. If they decide to release the fish, we try to keep the stress of the fish at a minimum and get it back in the water as fast as possible, quick picture or measurement and back in the water it goes. Releasing a fish is much more than dumping it overboard, if it doesn’t survive what’s the point. Remind yourself next time you opt to release a speckled trout, they have a high release mortality, especially in warmer water. Pass on the perfect picture, exact measurement or weight… get the fish back in the water or just put it on ice.