How salty should a body of water be to yield limits of speckled trout? The answer flies in the face of conventional knowledge.
When we look for speckled trout we think of saltwater, probably why some refer to it as "saltwater" fishing.
But that's a misnomer, as it's really inshore fishing, the "inbetween" of freshwater and offshore fishing.
However, this doesn't change the fact that, when targeting speckled trout, we think of the Big Three, and part of that equation is the presence of salty water.
I've always assumed -- not incorrectly, but not accurately, either -- that a body of water must have a high salt content to yield speckled trout, though I never really got around to measuring exactly how much salt is present in the bodies of water they were caught in.
At best, we'd taste the water (at the surface, where it's the least salty) and give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.
But that's no longer the case and in the last 10 years our fishery has changed dramatically.
It's freshened a lot, and some haunts just don't have speckled trout anymore.
Yet we still see specks pushing deep inside the marsh during winter.
And, if you take a minute to look, you'd be surprised how unsalty these areas are.
There's a group of special maps you may find insightful, and those are the Hydrocoast Maps for southeast Louisiana.
They're produced by the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, covering the Lake Pontchartrain and Barataria Bay Basins, detailing these specific items:
We're interested in the salinity map. In fact, here's one for January 2019.
Download the PDF (by clicking the above picture) and take a minute to familiarize yourself with the legend.
Okay, up to speed?
Now look closely at the area around The Wall in Chalmette and note the ridiculously low salinity.
How low? Three parts per thousand.
To put that into perspective, speckled trout need at least 17ppt to spawn and full strength saltwater is 35ppt.
That's right, the majority of the marsh we fish is barely a quarter salty as ocean water, and The Wall is where I caught limits upon limits of speckled trout all winter long.
Still not sure? Here's a Hydrocoast map for November 2016, when we saw some of the best speckled trout fishing in Lake Pontchartrain in years.
That's right, that's 4ppt.
Now, these maps are just models, and not exact measurements in every location, but I doubt they're off by a huge margin, like ~10ppt.
It's my humble opinion that, outside of their spawn, salinity is not a driving factor for speckled trout.
For a seasoned angler, this is no surprise, because he knows fish just want to be comfortable and have something to eat.
If this means changing their behavior, then that's what they will do.
Consider bass lakes where blueback herring are the primary forage: they stop acting like bass and roam the lake after schools of bluebacks, as if they were stripers.
Would the location and behavior of bait not equally affect the behavior of speckled trout?
I think speckled trout aren't focused on salinity, but where there is shelter from bad weather, and nearby food to eat.
Take a hard look at the MRGO near Chalmette, and it's obvious it has everything wintering trout could possibly want:
I haven't seen nearly as many big schools of juvenile pogies anywhere else I've fished, and have had the most success this winter in the MRGO.
I feel as long as there is some amount of salt (2-4ppt qualifies) we can catch speckled trout provided their other needs are met in that location.
Obviously things like river water would put a hamper on that in a hurry, but this doesn't change the fact that speckled trout are an estuarine species.
And they're an estuarine species with needs that could outweigh environmental factors.
Like any animal, they will make the necessary adjustments in order to thrive.
The question is, will you?
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