The Future Of Gator Trout – Introducing Release Over 20″ Initiative


Did you know that almost every speckled trout over 20 inches is a female?

And did you know that only 0.8% of trout will live to 4 years old and grow 20″ long?

Here’s the real kicker…

The larger the trout, the more eggs she can reproduce… and the larger she is, the more likely her offspring will grow to become large gator trout as well (just like two super-tall humans have a much more likely chance of having tall kids).

Catching big trout is rare, and if we’re not careful, it will become even rarer…

The truth is, fish habitat is declining, water quality is declining, and fishing pressure is increasing.

We hear all these stories about fishing back in the day… how many fish there were, and how big they were.

Well, if we don’t make a change, things are just going to get worse.

So what can we do?

We can take conservation into our own hands.

We don’t have to rely on our state laws to tell us what we can’t keep because, in some states, the limits aren’t strict enough.

For example, in South Carolina, there is no upper limit for speckled trout.

But a trout over 20″ releases 20 million eggs per season, so for every trout over 20″ that’s kept, that’s 20 million fewer eggs released into the estuaries in the next year alone.

Compare that to an 11″ trout that only releases three million eggs, and you can see how valuable these big trout are.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that eggs from a big trout are more valuable because these fish are proven to live long and grow large.

This is why Dave Fladd, cofounder of Eye Strike, started the Release Over 20 Initiative.

He set his own limits for himself and now releases every trout over 20″.

This Release Over 20 Initiative has been catching a lot of momentum, as other anglers who also want to see a better future of fishing are coming onboard.

Now he’s not saying you should never keep trout, but if we all take a stand, keep fewer trout, and release the big ones, the future of fishing is much brighter.

Check out this podcast interview with Dave below to learn more about the Release Over 20 Initiative and how you can make an impact today.

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below, or on iTunes, Stitcher, or Spotify.

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The Future Of Gator Trout [PODCAST]

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release over 20 trout

I love that Dave is getting the Release Over 20 Initiative going and that he’s getting so much support.

If we can all stand behind this, release the bigger fish, and only keep what we need, the future of fishing can be great again.

I would love to get back to the times where fishing is so bountiful, people these days won’t believe the stories.

But if we don’t make a change, our fisheries will only get worse.

What do you think about the Release Over 20 Initiative?

Let me know in the comments below!

You can learn more about the Initiative by following them on Instagram @releaseover20 and be sure to check out

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Phillip McCoy
6 months ago

I finally got around to listening to this podcast. Glad to see this initiative. I adopted my personal “release over 20” a couple of years ago. The largest trout caught on my boat was 27 1/2 inches, by my brother in law. He was definitely surprised when I insisted we release it. Dave’s approach is good one. I think the Salt Strong family can really help if we get on board.

Skip Bayless
7 months ago

If you think a 20″ trout is a gator you have a different problem on your hands.

Travis Taylor
7 months ago

If I’m fishing I always have 1 of my kids if not all 3. Almost all of the fish we eat, which is quite a bit, is fish we catch. I’ve enjoyed teaching them all aspects from catching, cleaning, cooking, and conservation. This is a great initiative to help teach them the conversation aspect. I just purchased 10 decals from that just might end up in some various locations around the boat ramps that I frequent. Help spread the word!

David Fladd
7 months ago
Reply to  Travis Taylor

Thank you Travis, we have noticed several people who have purchased a stack of stickers and we were curious how they were being used. Appreciate it!

Kenneth Johnston
7 months ago

I am loving your recent posts regarding trout and the need to take on the responsibility of the conservation of the resource ourselves. I have made numerous posts, especially early in our group’s beginnings, regarding killing limits of various species. Like many, I enjoy eating fish. But I enjoy catching them more. I usually eat offshore species and release all flats catches because of the damage that has been done to its habitat. .8 % of trout reach 20”, that’s incredible. Think what it takes to replace each limit of trout harvested?

It is great to see you begin to stress the importance of catch and release again. I am hopeful Salt Strong members will heed the guys advise. Keep a few for dinner, release the rest. You will be doing our share to keep the sport going for future generations. Thanks again for the great information.

7 months ago

Great idea! I always release over 20 &. I rarely keep smaller fish (16 – 18”). I can also say I release 98% of all the fish I catch.

C. Lance Weaver
7 months ago

Another great Pod Cast with some great info, I am there with the idea.

Michael Lehr
7 months ago

I really love this idea. I’ve seen my trout catches slowly decreasing over the past 25 years. While we do catch trout I’ve been releasing 95% of the trout we catch. Other members have mentioned that they don’t freeze their fresh catch, I’m a believer as well. Great podcast!

Calvin G. Payne
7 months ago

To:   Salt Strong

From: Calvin Payne

Re:    Biology Behind Conservation (Or Lack Thereof!)

Hopefully, someone will listen to what I am sharing as a scientist. I have a BS degree in Biology/Biochemistry and MS Degree in Molecular Biology. For my BS degree, I also did my capstone research in Ecology and was my first time realizing how much damage humans are doing to the environment. That was mid 1976 when fish were 20 times more abundant than now!

It is not just environmental damage that is threatening popular sport fishing but the wildlife laws and regulations themselves in parts of the country. What I have noticed all across the southern United States (unlike some northern states) is that fish conservation regulations are completely backwards, archaic, not based upon science or even common sense, and are actually a big part of the problem. This is the one major reason many popular game fish are becoming more scarce, and it is obvious that the conservation regulations are not working in the entire southern United States.

Here is some evidence. When I was working and living in Bowie, Maryland near DC, I noticed that State of Maryland Fish and Wildlife fishing regulations were just the opposite of what is being done in the southern United States. In Maryland you can keep the smaller and mid-sized fish of trout bass, and other game fish, but you had to throw back the larger, full adult fish of a certain size. Guess what? The fish are on the comeback in Maryland. There were no shortages of rainbow trout and other game fish where I fished and all over Maryland. On the contrary, fish were plentiful!

As I deeply thought about this, the regulations in Maryland made perfect sense and were apparently based upon science, not just someone’s emotions. They compliment what happens naturally. In nature, to assure the survival of any species, especially with fish, amphibians, and reptiles, breeding adults lay dozens if not hundreds of eggs that hatch. There is always a huge abundance of juveniles that survive to adulthood. On the other hand, older and larger adults naturally die off but are only slowly replaced by the more abundant mid-aged individuals. Add to that more pressure from fisherman being encouraged to keep the larger, more mature (and breeding) adults, you have a formula for wiping out the species and disaster. That is exactly what is happening in the South.

Changing to allowing sport fisherman (and commercial) to keep the small to mid-sized fish but release the larger breeding ones follows and compliments the natural plan of nature. In nature, many of the juveniles get eaten by larger predators, yet, for thousands of years, fish flourished and grew to abundance because the larger fish escaped those same predators and continued to breed. WE ARE LARGER PREDATORS to fish. We should follow the same rules already established by nature, and fish would flourish again!

By allowing people to keep the smaller to mid-sized fish would also be more enjoyable to sport fisherman. I can count the number of times I caught a very nice Black Drum or Speckled Trout that was only 11 or 12 inches long and had to throw it back, totally ruining my day with sadness that I had caught a nice, dinner sized fish but had to release it. What we should be doing with Black Drum, Trout, and many other game fish is saying that if they are over 14 inches long, they must be released! That would make sure there are plenty of active, healthy, larger mid-sized to very large fish breeders replacing the smaller and mid-sized fish that we would get to keep and enjoy under my suggested new rules (or old rules of nature).

Therefore, I ask you as the owners and heads of Salt Strong to join me and push this idea with state legislators, boat captains, and environmentalists nationwide. These current regulations in the South are senseless and doing just the opposite of what was intended, and I am sure that I can prove it. Please advocate what I am proposing.

My actual proposed plan would be to allow anglers to keep Red Drum, Black Drum, and all Trout species not over 14.5 inches and not less than 9.0 inches, and track data for the next 5 years to determine any improvement. The future of fishing everywhere is at stake. Thank you.

Best Regards,


Calvin G. Payne  BS, MS, MBA

Salt Strong Insider Member

Last edited 7 months ago by Calvin Payne
Bill Zimmer
7 months ago

You make a lot of sense, I hope you made all of us start thinking differently.

Robbie Johnson
7 months ago

I think that is awesome I have seen the bass decline over the last 40 years if you want eat a fish not a limit of fish

7 months ago

I fish in both fresh and salt water and I’ve always wondered why the use of barbless hooks has never caught on in salt water. Barbed hooks are illegal in many catch and release freshwater trout streams and I think it’s made a positive difference.

Bob Hoeffner
7 months ago

Question: when I fished great South Bay as a teen I caught hundreds of weakfish (released most of them) that were 10 + lbs. I thought they were pretty much the same species. Am I wrong?
And, yes let’s release the gator trout.

Jonathan Getz
7 months ago
Reply to  Bob Hoeffner

Weakfish/Silver Trout are closely related to Speckled/Spotted Sea Trout, but not the same species. In Texas, silver trout are very rare to non-existent.

7 months ago

I grew up fishing in Florida on the west coast and the 60’s & 70’s were the good ole days, I have seen more regulation to protect species and spawning seasons with margin results. Why? We protect the species to lay eggs and allow the eggs to hatch and then kill off the offspring before they can mature. I will explain- The biggest difference from 1970 to today is bait pods, in the 70’s you could get up in the morning and walk the beach and see multiple bait pods that were 50 yards long 20 yards wide and 3 feet deep. When I fished the Naples pier the bait fish pod was 750 feet by 100 feet wide, I could fill a 50 gallon trash can with mackerel if I wanted (I was taught at age 11 to keep only what you intend to eat). I could catch snook every day from the pier, along with jack, blue runner, sheepshead, redfish and black drum. In the summer my brother and myself practically lived at the pier. Back then we could use rings to catch bait fish (wire leader rings linked together with red ribbon weaved in between) and I caught baby mackerel, snook, cobia, jack, blue runner and many other predator fish in the rings (and released them). in the 80’s I found out that commercial fisherman are netting tons of bait fish (it is shipped up north to make cat food, and other foods) young predator fish hide and feed in these bait pods, it allows them to hide, feed and grow, today I do not see the bait pods that I saw in the 70’s and early 80’s. The other factor that has had a long term effect on the fishing industry was government intervention- The Army corp of engineers water management project in south Florida has destroyed a rich breeding habitat for aquatic species that relied on the protection in the everglades and because of the project we have lost acres of mangrove trees that cannot survive in the fresh water that was once brackish or saltwater.

John Noble
7 months ago

The average fisherman is a rookie who buys a license and fishing equipment, but does not have a boat, so he either wades or fishes off the bank and is usually fishes in one location. He does not catch many keeper size speckled trout (15” here in Texas), so he has to throw the undersized ones back, many of which are deep-hooked, or is not released properly, and don’t survive. Go by a public pier or jetty on a weekend and count the dead undersized specks that have washed up on the beach. The laws need to be changed to allow folks to keep the smaller trout, especially those that cannot survive, up to 5 per day. Release those that are over 20”, but allow the weekend amateur fishermen to keep what they catch, up to 20”. That same concept should be applied to other species as well. The everyday amateur is no threat to any species of fish. The czars who make the rules should be wise enough to understand that. The redfish population here in Texas, and in Louisiana was restored when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) got serious about putting some restrictions on the commercial fishing industry, for example when they stopped the purse seiners from eradicating the large schools of spawning redfish using helicopters as spotters. The TPWD also started building hatcheries and now routinely release millions of fingerling trout and reds. They are involved in building artificial reefs, fish habitat structures, and restoring sea grasses. Today, the inland bays in Texas are full of Redfish and the same thing could occur with other species. One last thing, and it is a sore spot with me…. true sportsmen don’t use gill nets, flounder boats, trot lines and such means to take fish. That crowd seems to have no respect for the outdoors and are usually the ones I see throwing trash in the water and on the shore. Of course a lot of bank fishermen do the same. Sad to see.

Rob S
7 months ago

Not sure about some of the “facts”. Another set of “facts” can be found in the work done by UofF IFAS . . .

“The larger the trout, the more eggs she can reproduce… and the larger she is, the more likely her offspring will grow to become large gator trout as well (just like two super-tall humans have a much more likely chance of having tall kids).” The size of the female is only part of the equation since male genetics is the other part. It’s only through cloning do you achieve exact characteristics.

While I release nearly all fish caught, I don’t think recreational anglers are depleting the stock. Habitat destruction, some commercial fishing practices and water quality make the big difference. To me, I’m not convinced angler pressure is increasing given how many anglers release their fish, substantial more regs over the past 20 or so years, and poor water quality makes many anglers throw their fish back due to concerns about eating them. Think about tarpon that are rarely kept, and do you think there are far less of them than some years ago?

Michael Connelly
7 months ago

I can tell you that if you fish on my boat you know we rarely keep any fish and when we do want to get some dinner it is 1 per person of Trout Redfish or Flounder. Fresh Fish is awesome but frozen fish can be gotten at the Publix or Fish Market. My point take 1 for dinner for 2…..
I am now also officially in the Release Over 20” Club as after listening to this and frankly seeing the lack of quality fish in my area it just makes sense!
Carpe Diem All!!

Guy Mendoza
7 months ago

I pretty much concur with the posters herein. We the sports fishing crowd here in Fl can make the difference in the fishery. I recall back in the 80’s the red fishing was close to decimation due to over fishing and commercial haul. In about 10 years the reds made a noticeable rebound, but not til commercials were shut down and regs put in place. 20+ And release is sensible and good stewardship of the fishery. I’m just thinking about the angler that catches the 24” i released the previous day. Ouch! BTW… the state set new bag limits this year in January did they not? 3pp per day?
Tight lines to all,

Dale King
7 months ago

So true!! A few weeks ago i caught a 29″ spec in the pamlico sound. A real monster. Beautiful fish. Measured her, took pictures and back in the water she went. Now I’m waiting on my replica from new wave down in fla. Caught her on a slam shady minnow z by the way.

Michael Connelly
7 months ago
Reply to  Dale King

Great Job Dale!! Enjoy that mount!!

George Layton
7 months ago

I believe ALL Trout over 20″ should be released.Taking a picture & getting a replica made helps make conservation work for everyone. Sure hope folks join the 20″ initiative.

Gary Rankel
7 months ago

I believe a much better option is to raise the size limit to 17 or 18 inches and lower the daily bag limit to 3. There’s easily as much or more meat on 3 17 or 18 inch trout as on 5 15 inchers. Allowing someone to keep a 15 incher with just a bite or two of meat is ridiculous. Releasing 15 and 16 inchers should greatly improve stock abundance.

Michael Connelly
7 months ago
Reply to  Gary Rankel

Great Point!

Jerry Craft
7 months ago

I like your idea 20+ and release.
I also like the state of Florida law that has an upper slot limit, but also allows you to keep one over slot. so that way if you catch that fish of a lifetime you can keep It, but only one.
Do you speckled truth podcast also had interesting information on trout breeding larger ones did release more Eggs, but less often. Where as the smaller trout release less eggs, but bred more often.
Thanks for the podcast


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