All snook are born as males. Most of those that live long enough eventually change into females, but not all of them make the change. They don’t all change sex at the same age or length, but the larger the snook becomes the more likely it is to be a female. In Charlotte Harbor, the size at which there is a 50-50 chance that a snook could be a male or a female is approximately 26 inches. Snook can live indefinitely in completely fresh water, but they need very salty water to reproduce.
In a life cycle strategy that’s just about opposite that of snook, all gags are born as females. It’s believed that many gags live their entire lives as females, but some of the very largest transition to become males. Large, dominant male gags maintain a “harem” of females during spawning season. Biologists theorize that the largest females make the transition to males when there aren’t enough males in the population to service the available females, as might be the case if something happens to one of the males.
Some species of fish spawn once per year and are done with it until next spawning season, but other species are serial spawners, meaning that they will spawn over and over again over the course of weeks or months. Spotted seatrout are serial spawners. On Florida’s Gulf coast, they might spawn anytime between about March and September. By the way, spotted seatrout are not actually trout at all — they’re drum.
Speaking of trout, Southwest Florida anglers catch more than one kind of trout (though as mentioned above, they are really not trout). You might hear local fishermen talking about spotted trout, silver trout, sugar trout and weakfish.
Spotted trout are sometimes called speckled trout. Silver trout can be found in local waters, but they’re pretty uncommon. Most of the “silver trout” caught by local anglers are actually sand seatrout, which are way more common than silver trout but which are very difficult to distinguish from silver trout. Some anglers will refer to sand seatrout as “sugar trout,” but when most anglers speak of sugar trout they are actually referring to a species of hand-sized croaker that lives mostly around the river mouths, more properly called a silver perch.
There are weakfish in Northeast Florida around Jacksonville and a bit further south, but there are none on the Gulf side of the state. Most of the anglers who talk about catching weakfish here are transplanted fishermen from the northeastern U.S., where all seatrout are weakfish. Are you confused?
Have you ever caught a flounder? Which one? Yes, there is more than one species of flounder in Southwest Florida waters. Some of the flounder-looking fish that live here are pretty small and consequently are rarely (if ever) caught on hook and line, but there are at least three different species of flounder that a local angler might catch.
By far the most common is the Gulf flounder. They can grow to 3 or 4 pounds and are pretty easily identified by three dark spots on their back which form a triangle pattern. There are also a few southern flounder caught in Charlotte Harbor. Southern flounder are much more common on Florida’s east coast and they can get much larger than Gulf flounder — up to 20 pounds.
The third species we see in local waters is the two-spot flounder (Bothus robinsi), sometimes called a peacock flounder. Two-spot flounder are most often caught offshore but they are rarely, if ever, large enough to be keepers. Two-spot flounder can be identified by their pectoral fin, which tapers to a long, thin tip, and by the widely separated eyes.
(Editor’s note: You can keep a two-spot if you want, since they are not regulated as a flounder species. Under FAC 68B-48.002, there are four flounder: Gulf (Paralichthys albigutta; southern (P. lethostigma), summer (P. dentatus; and fringed (Etropus crossotus).)
It seems like there are more freshwater fish that create nests than there are saltwater fish that reproduce this way. Bass make beds, bluegill make beds, Mayan cichlids make beds, and we’ve all seen those huge moon crater-looking beds made by tilapia. Tilapia are definitely over-achievers when it comes to nesting.
Some saltwater fish make beds too, but not many. And none of our popular sportfish are bedders. Snook, tarpon, redfish, trout, groupers, snappers and others are all broadcast spawners. They squirt out eggs and milt, which mix in the water. The fertilized eggs disperse on the tides and currents, with no rearing assistance from the parent fish. I can only think of one commonly caught saltwater fish in our area which makes beds: The gray triggerfish.
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.