Saltwater Fishing Tips: Spotted Sea Trout (With Videos)
Saltwater Trout Fishing Tips
Saltwater fishing is awesome, especially when angling for seatrout. You'll catch more trout with a few tips!
Spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout, speckled seatrout, and specs, are beautiful saltwater fish that are fun to catch and are excellent on the table. The flesh is mild, white, and flaky and is wonderful fried, grilled, broiled, baked, or blackened, or in just about any other fish recipes. Our favorite way to eat trout is to fry them in a crunchy cracker coating or in a tangy beer batter.
Seatrout can be caught year-round in many areas of the South, but many saltwater anglers anxiously await the annual “spring trout run.” In the cold winter months, the trout seek deep water. As the water temperatures rise with the coming of spring, the fish return to shallow water to feed. And man, are they hungry! In the spring, the trout will be on the prowl for shrimp and other crustaceans, along with smaller fish, making for some great nearshore and inshore trout fishing.
During the summer, seatrout are often caught under fishing piers and docks equipped with lights. The trout are attracted to lights, and in fact, some trout anglers sometimes toss a glow stick into the water at night and cast near it.
Much of my trout fishing has been done on Amelia Island, Florida. Amelia Island fishing is great in the spring, fall, and summer for trout. Gulf coast fishing is also great for trout.
What Is a Seatrout?
The spotted seatrout actually isn’t a trout at all – at least, it’s not a member of the trout family. The spec is a member of the drum family and is related to the croaker, the black drum, and the redfish or red drum. It ranges from New York southward on the Atlantic coast and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
The seatrout is silver in color, with an opalescent sheen. Much of the body is covered with dark spots that extend through the tail and into the dorsal fin. The fish has one or two sharp teeth growing from the roof of the mouth. The fish is called a trout because it has a shape that’s similar to that of a brown trout or rainbow trout.
Even though the seatrout can grow to weights of 15-17 pounds, the average size is just over two pounds. Trout over five or six pounds are often referred to as “gator trout.”
Weakfish are often confused with seatrout. The difference lies in the spots. On the weakfish, the spots are much smaller and do not extend into the fins or the tail. Also, on average, the weakfish is usually a little smaller than the spotted seatrout. Some people claim that they distinguish between the taste of a weakfish and a trout, but I can't. I find both to be yummy!
Where to Go Trout Fishing
Seatrout can be found in a number of locations, including bays, inlets, tidal creeks and rivers, grass flats, around piers, and in the surf. To find a lot of seatrout, it’s best to understand a little about their feeding habits. These fish are ambush predators. They lie in wait for prey to swim nearby, then they attack. You’ll often find trout in shallow water near deeper water, and in calm water near swift water. If you’re surf fishing or trout fishing from a pier, study the beach at low tide. If you see a deeper trench along the shore, mark its location. Then at high tide, fish in the trench or slough. Another good trout fishing spot is right at the mouth of a tidal creek, where the trout can lurk in the calm water and see what’s swimming in and out of the creek with the swiftly moving tide.
Many trout fishermen who fish from small boats use a tracking tactic to follow the seatrout. Trout usually swim in schools. When one is caught, these anglers will often hook a balloon or large float to it so when it rejoins the school, the fishermen will be able to follow the fish. They can cast repeatedly through the school of sea trout.
When to Go Trout Fishing
When it comes to catching sea trout, I’ve had the most luck at sunrise. Sunset is also usually productive. The first of the outgoing tide is another good time to fish for trout. This said, I've caught seatrout at all different times of the day and night, but not in large numbers.
In most parts of the South, seatrout don’t migrate to other regions in the winter, so the fish can generally be caught all year. When the water temperature drops below 65 degrees, the trout usually head for deeper water or for deep holes.
If you're fishing in the hottest part of the summer, go trout fishing early and late. I've noticed that by midmorning, the trout have headed for deeper, cooler water. They'll come out to feed again once the heat of the day has largely dissipated.
Any light or medium saltwater tackle will work for trout fishing. Use 12-15 pound test line with a stronger leader. Seatrout feed at different zones in the water. Sometimes they’ll be near the bottom, and at other times, they’ll feed near the surface. With this in mind, you might use several different rigs for catching trout in a single day.
One popular method is to use a popping cork with a live shrimp or minnow underneath. Another method is to fish on the bottom. You can also freeline a natural bait so that it drifts with the tide.
Flyfishing for seatrout is also popular.
Best Natural Baits for Sea Trout
Most of the seatrout you catch will probably be in the 2-3 pound range. Fish this size can be targeted with live shrimp or live minnows. From my experience, the best minnows for trout are mullet. Live shrimp or finger mullet can be floated under a cork and floated over grass flats or oyster beds. They can also be fished on the bottom.
Trout will also hit menhaden fish. Hook the mendaden fish underneath a cork or freeline it.
Large trout are almost always caught on small fish or artificial baits. These voracious gator trout will attack a fish one-third its size, so this should be taken into account if you’re targeting large trout exclusively. If you are, use a ten-inch mullet or a fairly hefty menhaden fish.
Some trout fishermen will tell you that you can’t catch seatrout with dead shrimp, but I disagree. While it’s not the best choice of trout baits, as long as the shrimp is fresh and the trout are feeding, you can catch trout using dead shrimp.
The largest trout I’ve ever caught was actually on a big chunk of cut bait – mullet – fished right on the bottom. This was a real gator trout!
Best Artificial Baits for Seatrout and Retrieval Methods
Seatrout will hit a number of artificial baits. Some of the best are ledhead jigs fitted with white or pink plastic grubs. These can be trolled behind a boat or cast from shore or a pier.
When the fish are near the surface, top-water plugs can prove deadly. These lures should be “walked” back in a zigzag pattern.
Spoons will also produce trout strikes – with or without skirts. Seatrout seem to prefer silver spoons over other colors.
Diving top-water plugs should be retrieved with a quick jerking motion that forces the bait under the water. Between jerks, allow the bait to rest for a few seconds.
When flyfishing for seatrout, use white, red, or pink popping bugs or streamer flies with a slow retrieve.
If you’re not getting any strikes, vary your retrieval method. If you still don’t get any strikes, try a different bait or a different color of the same type of lure.
Landing a Spotted Seatrout
Once you’ve had a trout strike, give the fish time to hook itself. Trout have very soft mouths, and if you try to set the hook with a strong jerk, you’ll pull the hook right out of the fish’s mouth.
If you’re fishing from a pier, drop a pier net under the fish and guide it into the net. Let it stay under water until it’s safely in the net to avoid panicking your catch. If you’re fishing from a boat, gently slide a dip net under the fish while the trout is still submerged. The same goes for surf fishing.
Preparing and Handling Your Catch
The flesh of seatrout is delicate, so it needs to be placed on ice as soon as possible. When you’re cleaning your catch, you might discover worms near the trouts’ spine. These are the larval form of a species of tapeworm. They look gross, but they can’t mature in seatrout. These worms can’t survive in humans, even if you decide to eat your trout raw, in sushi. Of course, cooking the fish kills any worms. Still, the idea of consuming worms isn’t very appealing to most people, so it’s best to remove them while you’re cleaning the trout. Luckily, I've never encountered these worms while enjoying some Amelia Island fishing or Gulf coast fishing! I have seen them once or twice while cleaning fish caught in other locations, however.
Seatrout fillets don’t freeze well, so it’s best to cook them soon after catching. Below, you can find some fish recipes of mine. Seatrout are great with my buttermilk fried fish recipe, and thicker fillets are good with my blackened redfish recipe.