Texas Parks and Wildlife

Spotted Sea Trout

Spotted Sea Trout

Season 1 Episode 8

Spotted Sea Trout

Under the Texas Sky: S1:E8: Spotted Sea Trout

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

Additional support is provided by the Sport Fish Restoration program, which helps to fund saltwater hatchery operations and management in Texas.

1 [SFX: OCEAN WAVES | SEAGULLS]

I read a quote once that said something like: if people would simply focus on what’s really important in life, we’d end up with a shortage of fishing poles before too long. And in Texas a whole lotta those poles would be in the hands of anglers…

2 [SFX—WATER/ CASTING]

…casting for spotted sea trout.

This fish has many monikers: Spotted sea trout—of course—Spotted trout, Speckled Trout, Specs and trout—those all make sense to me—and then we have Spotted Weakfish; I really don’t get that one. There may be other terms out there, too—but who knows?

One thing we do know is that no matter what you call it, it’s one of the most sought-after sportfish along the Texas coast.

And, today’s podcast shines a light on this fish of many names: how its regulated…

3 [Charles O’Neal—06] More recreational anglers need to get involved, stand-up, participate in surveys.

…how its raised…

4 [Ashley Fincannon—07] …we put them through 150 daylight and temperature cycle to condense their year down to get them to spawn when we want them to.

…a recipe for preparing speckled trout at home…

5 [Cindy Haenel—09] I can almost tell by touch when the fish is done. It’s just a very firm texture when it’s raw, and very soft and flaky when it’s cooked.

…and A thought about fishing with family….

6 [Zack Thomas—Shout Out soundbite—09] And while it’s an awesome feeling to watch a red drum or spotted sea trout eat your fly, what I cherish the most is getting to spend time on the water with those that I love.

Stay with us.

7 [MUS—HOWDY]

From Texas Parks and Wildlife…this is Under the Texas Sky …a podcast about nature…and people… and the connection they share…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Their abundance…their willingness to hit natural and artificial baits…and their fine eating qualities make the spotted sea trout extremely popular with anglers.

And in our first segment of the podcast, Julie Hagen—who’s with Texas Parks and Wildlife’s coastal fisheries division—helps us to understand how this popular species is regulated and raised.

8 [MUS—CATTLE GUARD MARCH]

[BEGIN JULIE’S NARRATION]

9 [SFX—FOOTBALL X WITH SCHOOL CHILDREN]

For some people, September means football. For others, it means a new school year. But for avid anglers it means a new license year. Every September 1st, a new license year begins for hunters and anglers in Texas -- and with it new rules and regulations. This September, a new five fish bag limit on spotted seatrout begins on the upper Texas coast.

10 [SFX—OCEAN/SEAGULLS/CASTING]

Saltwater fishing on the Texas coast ranges from a pastime to a lifestyle for anglers that are lucky enough to live close to a body of water. Anglers like Charles O’Neal.

11 [01—Charles O’Neal—05] I am just a guy married to a good woman who allows me to fish 150 plus days a year.

That means O’Neal spends almost half the year out on the water fishing for sport.

12 [02—Charles O’Neal—08] I am a passionate spotted seatrout guy. I fish from Brownsville to Alabama.

In February, I caught up with O’Neal and some other anglers at a public meeting in Port Arthur, Texas to talk about their favorite fish -- the spotted seatrout. Texas Parks and Wildlife was proposing a new regulation to lower the bag limit in Galveston Bay and Sabine Lake on the upper coast.

But before we get into those details… let’s talk about why these anglers were at a meeting – and not out on the water -- in the first place.

13 [MUS—VIRTUAL FLIGHT]

First thing you need to know is that Texas Parks and Wildlife has the authority to create new fishing and hunting laws. But it’s not our biologists and game wardens deciding what laws to make. It’s the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

14 [SFX—COMMISSIONER’S MEETING]

The Commission is a board of governor appointed members and is separate from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The Commission decides what, if any changes, are needed to help protect our fish, wildlife, parks and other natural resources.

But the Commission can’t do its job alone. So, it works with the Department – our biologists, game wardens, and policy experts -- to decide what should and shouldn’t become law.

Subject matter experts working for the Department research and present possible regulation changes to the Commission every January. But it doesn’t stop there. Texas Parks and Wildlife also gathers input from people like you who could be impacted by these new laws.

TPWD holds statewide public meetings out in the community to hear directly from our constituents. Whether you are for or against a proposal, we want the public’s input before presenting our final recommendations for changes to the Commission. Once the recommendations are presented to the Commission in March, the board can make the final decision on what will become law in September.

15 [MUS—ACOUSTIC LICK]

Now let’s go back to our public meeting in Port Arthur…

16 [SFX—AMBIENCE QUIET MEETING]

As part of the process just described, several meetings were held in February to get the public’s opinion about changing the bag limit on spotted seatrout from 10 fish a day to 5 fish a day on the upper Texas coast. The bag limit is already 5 fish a day in every other bay system on the coast.

As you can imagine most public meetings sound a bit like this…

17 [SFX—MEETING/YAWNING]

And less like this…

18 [SFX—MEETING AGITATED]

But when you talk about taking away a man’s fish, things get a little more complicated.

19 [03—Charles O’Neal—37] I think after many, many hours of research that this data does not support the reduction. The ideology of conservation is great when it's used correctly but when we use conservation to take an individual right away, in the name of conservation, when conservation is not needed we cause great damage to the name conservation. And we cause it to lose value.

O’Neal and many other anglers at the meeting do not want to see the bag limit reduced for spotted seatrout. Populations are stable in the area and a bag limit reduction will not significantly help or hurt the species. But it will further separate our bag limit from that of Louisiana’s.

20 [MUS—CLIFTONITE]

This is a major concern for anglers out of the Sabine Lake region in southeast Texas since the brackish bay system is shared with Louisiana. The lake is split down the middle with half it on the Texas side and the other half on the Louisiana side. Louisiana has a bag limit of 15 spotted seatrout per angler per day.

While a valid concern, TPWD conducted a survey in 2018 to assess anglers and fishing guides behaviors when targeting spotted seatrout. Data from this survey and our routine creel surveys showed us that most anglers in the region are not keeping 10 fish a day. And that over half either agree with changing the regulation or are neutral. The results of the survey and public comments from online, in person and over email helped push the Commission to approve the regulation change for spotted seatrout to a 5 fish coastwide bag limit. This helps avoid angler confusion and enforcement issues when regulations are streamlined by species.

While the Commission’s final decision didn’t go O’Neal’s way, there is one thing we can all agree on. And that’s the process.

21 [04—Charles O’Neal—19] I think the major thing is, is more recreational Anglers need to get involved. More recreational anglers need to come to meetings, stand-up, participate in surveys. And go to the public meeting and get involved with TPWD. They’re not bad people. They give me every piece of information I ask for.

22 [ MUS—ACOUSTIC LICK]

Regulation changes like bag and size limits are just one important tool in our tool box for managing saltwater fish species. The other tool is robust a hatchery program. Coastal Fisheries’ hatchery -- or enhancement -- program, has to date successfully raised and released about 124 million spotted seatrout into our bays.

23 [01—Ashley Fincannon—18] Spotted seatrout in Texas is one of the most sought-after game fish when you look at redfish, flounder and spotted sea trout. And that holds true for along the entire Gulf of Mexico. Spotted seatrout is this most popular recreational sportsfish out there. So, there’s a lot of pressure on these fish.

24 [SFX—RUNNING WATER]

That was Hatchery Manager, Ashley Fincannon, from the Marine Development Center in Corpus Christi. The hatchery process for saltwater fish is different than for freshwater fish. The process also varies by species. Our saltwater fish hatcheries produce spotted seatrout, redfish and flounder.

25 [02—Ashley Fincannon—35] Well, this facility primarily focuses on trout from the Lower Laguna Madre. The Lower Laguna Madre was the first bay system to go under the five-fish limit and that was when we really ramped up our contribution down there. Um, anecdotally I know I've heard from the fishermen when you go stock that they are catching larger trout now and that the trout fishing is better than ever. So, the combination of the increase management or the changed management of them and then the hatchery production Works hand-in-hand to help increase these populations and to give people more fishing opportunities.

Ashley is going to explain more about the process for spotted seatrout production and take us through the Marine Development Center’s indoor and outdoor facilities.

26 [SFX—HATCHERY]

First, we enter a big room with huge tanks filled with adult sized spotted seatrout caught in South Texas. Some the fish used for reproduction – which are called broodstock -- grow up to 40 pounds in captivity!

27 [03—Ashley Fincannon—24] Alright, so this is a tank of newly acquired trout from the Lower Laguna Madre. We actually got these trout via a fishing tournament, The Legend Series fishing tournament out of Port Mansfield. It was a live weigh-in and people were able to donate their fish back to the hatchery. So, that is one way that we acquire broodstock is from these live-weigh-in fishing tournaments.

Next, we get into how the actual process of reproduction works in a hatchery setting…

28 [04—Ashley Fincannon—28] The hatchery holds wild brood stock on hand and we keep these adult fish in indoor tanks and we take care of them daily then we put them through 150 daylight and temperature cycle to condense their year down to the 150-day cycle to get them to spawn when we want them to. And so they're going through the cycle and we start them at different times to get them to spawn at different times throughout the year so that we have fish.

So, thanks to a combination of light and temperature cycles, broodstock are tricked into reproducing on a controlled schedule. Once they have spawned and released their eggs into their tanks, hatchery staff comes in and takes the fertilized eggs to an incubator where the eggs rapidly grow and form into tiny fish.

29 [05—Ashley Fincannon—24] They will be feeding on their yolk sac, their eyes aren't quite form yet but then by three days they have consumed their yolk sac, their eyes are formed, their mouth is formed, their gut is formed, and they're ready to go out and eat. So, on third day we stock them into our outdoor rearing pond. Where we grow them out for about 35 to 40 days where they reach that targeted 35- and 40-mm mark for size at release…

The outdoor rearing ponds are filled with seawater and prompted to create zooplankton and phytoplankton as food sources for the growing fish. Once the fish reach their target size in the ponds, they are harvested for release into the wild.

30 [06—Ashley Fincannon—25] We come in in the middle of the night and we harvest through the night; it's a manual process where we actually just netting the fish out and putting them into buckets that have a known amount of water in them and then going back and weighing those buckets and the excess weight is the fish. So, we keep track of that. We load those fish into our trailers and the trailers are ready to go usually by 5 a.m. in the morning when the driver comes in, and that driver hits the road.

31 [SFX—VEHICLE STARTING ENGINE IDLING]

These transport trailers are filled with water and checked constantly by staff for oxygen and temperature levels during the drive to make sure the fish have a smooth ride to their new home.

32 [07—Ashley Fincannon—32] When they reach their stocking site, we don’t just get there and dump our fish in the water. We check the parameters; we make sure that salinities are matching, temperatures are close, and then we do acclimation where we drain water out, bring new water in from the stocking site and let them acclimate to the new conditions until the parameters match each other and then we release the fish. They go out in to really nice habitat, like seagrass beds, oyster reefs, somewhere where there is structure and a place for them to hide and to hunt for food.

33 [SFX—STOCKING SOUNDS]

The TPWD enhancement program runs year around at three separate facilities on the coast.

34 [MUS—THIS IS YOUR DAY]

Healthy fish populations depend on you. Remember to always follow size and bag limits when fishing on the coast. To find out what’s new in fishing and hunting regulations for the new license year, pick a copy of the Outdoor Annual available beginning August 15 or download the app. I’m Julie Hagen.

[RESUME CECILIA’S NARRATION]

That’s how we make the sausage here at Texas Parks and Wildlife…or more accurately…how we make and regulate spotted sea trout. If you’d like to listen again—or hear our other podcasts—go to UnderTheTexasSky.org or to wherever you get your podcasts.

35 [MUS—FOLK HAVEN]

If you already know the joys of fishing for speckled sea trout and have fillets of the fish in your freezer…how will you prepare them? Avid saltwater angler and chef, Cindy Haenel, shares a simple, yet mouthwatering recipe for cooking up your prize catch in just a bit. But first….

Support from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation allows us to bring you stories from Under the Texas Sky. In fact, since 1991, the Foundation has raised more than $190 million to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife of our state. You can help by becoming a member. Find out how at WeWillNotBeTamed.org

36 [MUS—BOX OF TRICKS]

As much as I appreciate the intent of catch and release when it comes to fishing—to be perfectly honest—I don’t see the point. I mean, I don’t see the point when the fish you reel in is: 1) legal to possess, 2) from a sustainable, well-managed population, and 3) absolutely delicious when cooked.

If you like to eat fish, then for the cost of a fishing license, some inexpensive gear, bait and the fuel it takes to get you where you’ve gotta go…you can fill your freezer with nearly free food.

That’s what Chef Cindy Haenel does on a regular basis. I met her years ago when she was a chef instructor at Central Market. She and her husband Ken—whom she refers to as a GIS dude—are passionate saltwater anglers who keep and eat what they catch.

37 [01—Cindy Haenel—12] We don’t let them go unless they’re undersized… um…we just have so much in the freezer, so we do limit ourselves on how much we keep. But, um…but yeah, we just love them. They’re so tasty. So, we don’t want to throw them back. (laughs).

38 [MUS—HAT AND JACKET]

I visited Cindy and Ken at their home in Austin this past spring right around lunchtime. I recommend visiting chefs at their homes at meal time. Trust me.

Their vintage ranch-style house is nestled on a leafy cul-de-sac. It’s a warm and inviting place filled it with an eclectic assortment of mementos, art, furnishings and photos. With your first step inside, the pressures of the outside world will seem to disappear. And when their big, furry four-legged family member named Red comes sniffing ‘round to greet you, you’ll feel right at home.

Go through the house and meander out a sliding door to find a large new deck out back—made for entertaining. It overlooks their yard and garden, lush from recent rains; Cindy’s clay studio is off to one side; it’s where she hand-builds beautiful, functional art. Everything about this place says, come on in, and stay a spell.

Cindy says she grew up in Houston and credits her father for her love of fishing.

39 [02—Cindy Haenel—36] As a kid, my dad took us fishing; there was a canal right across the street from us—and old rice canal. And so, he took us fishing over there and got me hooked on it…no pun intended. But then I sort of got away from it in my twenties; and then I met Ken in my thirties, and he had never really fished a lot growing up in Westlake. And so, he got the bug worse than I did. And then he got a boat, of course. Uh…’cause if you’re going to fish a lot you really need your own boat. Fishing from land is fine. You can still catch a lot. But you can get in more places that no one else can in the boat. (laughs)

39-A [SFX—MISC KITCHEN SOUNDS]

Cindy’s been cooking most of her life, too, and we soon find ourselves in her efficient and well-stocked kitchen, where spotted sea trout is on the menu.

40 [03—Cindy and Cecilia—35]

[Cindy] And we caught these…I believe it was December. So, they’re just a few months old. And when we vac-pack ‘em, we get all the air out so no freezer burn. And everything, of course, is dated—labeled and dated—in our freezer and our fridge. [laughs]

[Cecilia] So, how are we preparing it today?

[Cindy] Um…meunière style, which is basically lemon and butter with some parsley at the end. I have changed it up on occasion and thrown capers in and other things that I just really like. But, I’ll just do the basic, lemon juice, lemon zest, butter [and] a little shallot and parsley to end it. That’s it.

Spotted sea trout is a firm fleshed fish with a mild flavor. Cindy thawed the fillets overnight in her fridge; gradually thawing frozen fish is the safest method to use and also preserves flavor. She turned on her oven on low to preheat it for later in the process, and then started prepping ingredients for the dish.

41 [04—Cindy Haenel—28] Okay, so, I already have the parsley out, but it’s really important to wash all of your vegetables. Um…I know running water over it seems like it would be a good idea, but you’re not getting [out] all the sand and dirt, so you really have to submerge those vegetables. Especially the green leafy ones like parsley. And…uh…and then dry it very well before you start chopping it.

Otherwise, you’re spending all your time scraping it off the blade instead of chopping it.

She left the washed parsley on a paper towel to drain, and then turned her attention to a large lemon.

42 [SFX—ZESTING LEMON]

43 [04—Cindy Haenel—28] So, I have a micro plane to zest the lemons with; and you just want to go very, very light. Most people try and go…really…pushing hard to go faster. It just flattens out your blades on your micro plane. It doesn’t do anything else.

She says a light touch while zesting will remove the yellow part of the peel only…ensuring you do not end up with bitter white pith in your dish.

44 [SFX—JUICING LEMON / CHOPPING PARSLEY AND SHALLOT]

Cindy juices the lemon, adding it to the zest, and finishes her prep work by chopping the parsley and finely dicing a shallot. Next, she turns her attention to the star of our show: spotted sea trout fillets.

Using a paper towel, she gently pats moisture from the surface of the four 10-inch trout fillets in preparation for dusting each with a light coating of flour.

45 [06—Cindy Haenel—17] Okay. Before I do the dusting, I almost forgot a very important step, and that’s [to] salt and pepper the fish. Uh, we want to seal in the flavor of salt and pepper. So, if you just put it on the breading, yes, it’s on the outside. But, if you put it on before you bread it, it has an opportunity to sort of seep down into the flesh if there are any little crevices.

46 [SFX—TURNING ON BURNER]

Cindy heats a large skillet over medium-high heat. She prefers nonstick.

47 [07—Cindy Haenel—11] Nonstick pan for fish, You don’t have to, but… um… I just think its easier when you go to make the sauce after you cook the fish to get every bit out of the pan into your mouth (laughs)

And, believe me, you’ll want to get every bit of the meunière sauce out of the pan.

48 [08—Cindy Haenel—15] Okay. So, I’m just going to put some butter in the pan; enough to cover the bottom. If I don’t think all four fillets will fit in at once, then...uh…then I’ve got the rest of the butter already cut into pats.

All ingredients for the sauce—the diced parsley, shallots, lemon juice, zest and white wine are stove-side with the pats of butter for easy access. This is called mise en place—a French culinary term which means “putting in place.”

49 [SFX—SIZZLING]

While the butter melts, Cindy lays the fillets on a bed of flour that she spread on a baking sheet, and then she sprinkles more flour over the top of each piece of fish before placing them into the hot skillet.

50 [09—Cecilia and Cindy—33]

[Cecilia] And so you will cook it on each side for about how long?

[Cindy] About three minutes on each side is all it’s gonna take. Uh…maybe four…um…for these two middle ones that are thicker, but the thinner ones—three minutes on each side is plenty. Plus, you’re keeping it warm in the oven so it’s continuing that cooking. The worst thing you can do with a piece of beautiful fish is overcook it. I can almost tell by touch when the fish is done. It’s just a very firm texture when it’s raw, and very soft and flaky when it’s cooked.

After three minutes, Cindy flips the fillets, which have picked up nice color. Once they’ve cooked another three or so minutes, she places the fish onto a heat proof dish and into the warm oven while she makes the sauce.

51 [09—Cindy and Cecilia—2:23]

[Cindy] So, I’ve got the flavored butter in here. The fish is going to go into the oven. Um, that is an okay amount of butter for sauce.

[Cecilia] About how much is there?

[Cindy] Um…there’s probably about two tablespoons left there. I’m going to go ahead and put in another three tablespoons. Now, you need just a... one tablespoon at the end to whisk in to thicken the sauce. Shallots have water, so if I dump it in before most of the bubbles [from the butter] are gone it’s gonna to take longer to cook ‘em, because the water can’t leave it if there’s a bunch of water still in the pan. I don’t want crunchy shallots in the sauce. I want ‘em to pretty much soften up which means they’re going to have to release some of their water. Turn it down just a smidge. Okay, so the shallots are…um… starting to get clear. I’m getting the Sauvignon Blanc wine now; I’m gonna go ahead and pour in the wine. Turn it back up a bit. There it goes. So, you pretty much want the wine to evaporate. So, the wine, the lemon juice, the lemon zest—I’m gonna put in three-fourths of it. I can always add more, but once it’s in you can’t take it out. So, you can see already that the acid and the fat are trying to become one.

[Cecilia] How can you tell? What are you looking at that tells you that that’s what’s happening?

[Cindy] The thickness as I stir. Okay. So, now I’m going to taste. Mm…a good amount of lemon. A good amount of tang there. Put in that last pat of butter now. Turn the heat off. Slide it on off of the fire, and then whisk in that last pat of butter just to thicken up the sauce. Now, see how it really thickened up when I put in that butter? It’s not even really…almost covering the whole pan now. Okay. Dump in the parsley. Sometimes I sprinkle the parsley on the plate on top instead of dumping it in. So, taste again—just use a different finger each time for tasting. Oh yeah. Okay that’s it. We’re ready to plate and serve.

52 [MUS—FLY FISHING]

The spotted trout meunière tastes like everything wonderful about fishing in the Texas Gulf. We have the recipe at undertehtexassky.org.

Keep in mind that with a saltwater fishing license, gear and a little patience, you can go from sea to supper just like Chef Cindy Haenel.

As usual, we close out the podcast with a Shout out to the Wild. A colleague of mine takes a moment to remind us that while fishing for sea trout—or any species—is fun, it’s who you’re with that makes it truly special.

53 [MUS/SFX—SIZZLING HEAT / OCEAN WAVES AND SEAGULLS]

54 [Zack Thomas—26] Hi. I’m Zach Thomas; I’m a coastal fisheries biologist. I live in Austin, Texas. And this is my Shout Out to the Wild. For more than 20 years, my dad, my brother and I have been fly-fishing the Lower Laguna Madre. And while it’s an awesome feeling to watch a red drum or spotted sea trout eat your fly, what I cherish the most is getting to spend time on the water with those that I love.

A short shout, but it packed a punch. As Zack reminds us, spending time outdoors, especially with those we love, enhances both experiences. What do you love about the Texas outdoors and who do you love to share it with? Let us know with your own Shout Out to the Wild. And you can give us a shout at underthetexassky.org; we’ll be in touch.

55 [MUS—ORBIT YOUR SOUL]

And so, we come to the end of another podcast. Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife and is available at UndertheTexasSky.org or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks to Julie Hagen for shedding light on the regulations and rearing of spotted sea trout.

We record the podcast at The Block House in Austin, Texas. Joel Block does our sound design.

I’m your producer and host, Cecilia Nasti, reminding you that life’s better outside when you’re Under the Texas Sky.

Major support for this podcast comes from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation: Conserving Our Wild Things and Wild Places for Over 25 Years.

Additional support is provided by the Sport Fish Restoration program, which helps to fund saltwater hatchery operations and management in Texas.

Join us again next time for Under the Texas Sky.

56 [Charles O’Neal] I am just a guy married to a good woman who allows me to fish 150 plus days a year.