Speckled Trout Fishing Tips and Techniques
Understanding Speckled Trout Habitat and Feeding Habits
Spotted seatrout, or speckled trout, are silver in color with many dark spots running along it's back. They are also slightly humpbacked in appearance. Similar in appearance to weakfish or 'silver' trout, the two species are easily differentiated by the row of dark spots along the back, which is absent from the silver trout.
The speckled trout is found in coastal water throughout the Gulf of Mexico to Cape Cod.
Most trout caught are 2 lbs or less, though there are plenty of fish caught in the 4-8 lb range. Fish larger than 8 lbs considered 'gators' and the world record is 17 lbs 7oz.
Speckled trout live in coastal waters, bays, bayous, and estuary environments. They can tolerate both low- and highsalinity waters. During warmer months, speckled trout congregate near sea grass beds, dock pilings, bridge pilings, and sand bars. Younger, smaller fish are more likely to be found in marshes and other protected areas, while larger fish seem to prefer open sea grass beds and docks. In winter months trout migrate to deeper waters, and will make occasional forays onto grass flats on warmer days.
Speckled Trout Fishing Tips
Where to look for speckled trout
Speckled trout are primarily an ambush predator, and thus like to hang out in and around structure. Downstream of a bridge, points, grassbeds, and docks are favorite spots. When fishing a grass flat look for cuts and channels that lead out to deeper water and you will find the trout.
Nighttime fishing for speckled trout is fairly simple-lighted docks are key. If the dock doesn't hold bait, it likely won't hold trout either. Conversely just because a dock has a lot of bait doesn't mean it will have trout. As mentioned earlier, trout seem to prefer blue/green lights over white lights and the larger fish tend to hang out right on the edge of the shadow line.
If a popping cork isn't getting the job done, consider freelining your baits. Sometimes the popping cork works wonders but at other times the fish simply won't take a bait with a cork on it.
Only pop the cork once or twice then let it sit for a few minutes, then pop it once, repeat. If you constantly pop the cork you are likely going to scare off any fish that was thinking about eating your bait.
Prime time for topwaters is the first hour and half or so after the sun comes up to the last 2 hours before the sun sets. Topwaters are not often taken at night. During the middle of the day you are better off using suspended baits, jigs or live bait. You will get an occasional bite on the topwater, but near as much as you will on these other baits.
A landing net is critical if you don't want to lose a bunch of fish. Speckled trout have very thin mouths and it is almost a forgone conclusion that you will lose that trophy gator trout if you don't have a net ready.
Tackle and Gear
Speckled trout can be caught on a variety of light to medium tackle. A good all-around setup is a medium-light rod with a reel spooled with 200yds of 10lb test. This will allow the trout to give a good account of itself, while still giving you a fair chance if an oversized redfish decides to interrupt your trout fishing, which happens fairly often since the two species inhabit the same waters. Depending on what type of bait is used, you can also expect to catch the odd flounder, sheepshead, black seabass, spot, croaker, stingray-the list goes on.
Circle hooks are recommended for trout fishing-both because they are good for the fish (less swallowed hooks, easier to get the hook out) and because the toughest part of the trouts mouth is near the corner. Trout have notoriously soft mouths, and many times the hook simply pulls free after gouging a large whole in the fish's mouth. Hooks should be scaled to match the bait, allowing it to swim freely without weighing it down to much. Light-wire hooks are a good choice when fishing for trout.
A landing net is also a must when targeting trout; many fish are lost each year by anglers who don't have a net when the hook pulls through the mouth while attempting to swing a fish onto the boat, dock, etc. For this reason bridge fishing for trout isn't recommended, as the amount of pressure on a the trouts mouth will all-but-guarantee lost fish. Unless of course you bring a bridge/pier landing net with you.
Popping Corks for Trout
A popular trout fishing method is the popping cork above a baited hook. This setup probably catches more fish than any other method. Snell a hook to the end of the line and attach a popping cork to the line about 18-24 inches above the hook. Free-lining baits also catch a good number of fish. Just remove the popping cork as above and use the weight of the bait itself to cast. You can also add a couple of small split-shot weights about 8-10 inches in front of the bait to gain distance if needed.
Trout are leader-shy most of the time. If you feel the need to use a leader, either because you are fishing heavy structure (dock pilings encrusted with barnacles for example) or an area with lots of tooth critters (blue fish, spanish mackerel, etc) then use fluorocarbon leader rather than wire.
Live Bait Fishing for Speckled Trout
Shrimp: The bait of choice when fishing for Specks
The most popular bait for trout fishing is the live shrimp. Hooked either in the horn near the head, or through the tail, the live shrimp probably catches more inshore fish than any other bait or lure. Use either a popping rig or a free-lined bait, and pitch the bait close to grass beds or other likely trout spots. If you are fishing the flats and see a trout, fish a free lined shrimp but don't cast at the trout! Fish in shallow water are normally skittish, and throwing a bait right on top of them will make them flee for deeper, safer waters.
Instead, try to angle you cast so that as you retrieve the shrimp (slowly) it will pass a couple of feet at most from the target. Pause frequently in your retrieve-shrimp tend to move in bursts rather than simply scooting along the bottom at a stead pace. Let the shrimp settle down right in front of the trout if possible, and then bring it up off the bottom quickly. It is a rare trout that can resist a live shrimp that bolts from just under its nose.
Live Baits for Gator Trout
For larger fish try using a live croaker or mullet. Small live croakers under a popping cork at night are deadly on trout. A mullet is another good choice. Pilchards, menhaden and other small baits can be free-lined around structure with good results. Just make sure the bait doesn't swim into the structure or around a piling. Hook menhaden and the like in the 'shoulder' of the fish, just ahead of the dorsal fin for best results. Mullet and croakers can be hooked through the nostrils if they are larger enough, or through the lips if they aren't.
Menhaden- A favorite forage fish for most inshore fish, including speckled trout.
Hooking and fighting speckled trout
Whether fishing with shrimp or bait fish, allow the trout some time to 'eat the bait'. At the first sign of a strike, lower the rod tip towards the fish. This allows the trout a few seconds to turn the bait for swallowing, and will lead to more fish being caught. If using circle hooks, simply reel tight. A trouts soft mouth means no hook-set is necessary. When using J-hooks, set the hook with a short, quick jerking movement. None of this 'over the head and almost touching my butt' hook sets like you see the bass fisherman on TV shows.
Always keep the line tight when fighting a trout, allowing any slack will result in lost fish. The only time you should stop putting pressure on the line is when the fish jumps, and then as soon as it hits the water reel in any slack as quickly as possible.
Targeting specks at night around lighted docks
One of the best methods of catching spotted sea trout is by targeting lighted docks with a live shrimp or bait fish. Alternately, a light source can be carried with you to attract them to you. Lighting can be a simple as a glow stick lowered into the water. There are also a number of commercially available lights that connect to a battery source and are lowered into the water. A powerful flashlight can also be used to attract trout.
Trout, and most fish in general, seem to prefer green lights over white lights. Other colors that are popular are orange, red, and purple. Whatever the color, it takes time for the fish to come to it. Normally the first fish to show up will be small bait fish, these in turn attract the larger fish. Shrimp are also fond of light at night.
Trout, and larger fish in particular, tend to hang around right at the shadow line of the light, whether it comes from a dock or other source. Concentrate your efforts first at the edges of light unless you see larger fish swimming directly under the lights. An often overlooked consideration is that unless the light is shining all the way to the bottom, the best place for a bait is actually right under a light at the point where the light starts to fade. In these situations, allowing your bait to sink is great way to catch large trout that otherwise would never see your baits.
Artificial Lures for Speckled Trout
Every speckled trout fisherman has his own secret go-to lure for trout. This secret lure is normally as jealously guarded as his favorite trout honey-hole. The reality, though, is that trout will readily take many different types of lures. Favorites include top water jerkbaits, suspending twitch baits, spoons and jigs.
Top-water lures should be used around dawn and dusk
Top water baits are most effective early in the morning or just before dusk on calmer waters. Use a 'walk the dog' retrieve, and refrain from setting the hook when a fish strike, otherwise you will not only miss the fish but may injure yourself or others when your lure becomes a flying projectile. Generally surface strikes are savage in nature and the fish will hook itself. This explosive hit is what makes top waters so much fun.
Suspending twitch baits/crank baits are a good choice later in the day in 6-12ft of water.
Suspending twitch baits and crank baits also catch plenty of trout. Work them at a steady pace for a bit, then pause, and repeat. Many of your hits will occur after the pause. Light 'twitches' of the rod tip are all you need, avoid jerking the bait around too much or the bait won't 'look right' in the water to the fish.
Spoons will catch a lot of speckled trout-along with mackerel, reds, and any other fish that feeds on small baitfish.
Silver spoons are a great catch-all bait for inshore waters, and will catch plenty of trout. Nice steady retrieves are all that is needed. Simply cast around the edges of structure, and retrieve. Spoons are an old favorite because they are so simple to fish and effective. A crocodile style spoon is great for casting in this method.
Some tips for targeting specks with jigs
Plenty of trout can be caught on a jig. A red jig-head with a white grub body and a pink curly tail will catch a ton of fish, and not just trout. Most of the usual inshore suspects will eat this jig. White jig heads are another good bet, followed by pink, yellow, or green. Grub bodies can be any of a number of different body styles and colors as well.
A Carolina-rigged grub can be deadly when driftfishing
A technique I've used to good effect is a Carolina-rigged grub on a worm hook. Tie the hook onto a 24 inch flouro-carbon leader and hook the grub weedless. Then above the swivel I'll use a small egg-sinker or slip lead. Then simply cast the lure near the edge of sea grass beds or bank and allow the boat to drift. You can also add air into the grub body if you want to make it float above the bottom. I normally use this setup for flounder, but I've probably caught just as many trout as flounder with this rig.
Trolling for trout can help you locate fish in deep water, especially in winter
Another good technique, especially for locating trout in winter, is slow-trolling. Streamers, small lipped crank-baits, and shrimp-imitation lures are all good choices. Fish the baits at various depths until you find where the fish are holding. When a fish is caught, stop and start casting lures or baits in the area-normally there are more around. Trolling speeds should be slow-no more than 2-3 knts or even slower. A trolling motor is preferred in shallow waters during the summer months due to sound, and is also a good idea for the winter months when fish are found in deeper water.
Need more information on the best lures for speckled trout?
- Best Lures for Speckled Trout
This page will highlight some of the best lures for speckled trout fishing. Includes additional information on how to fish each lure.