Four fishing techniques for salt water speckled trout

The Spotted Sea Trout (Cynoscion nebulosus), also called the speckled trout, and spotted weakfish is one of the more popular fish pursued in the southern coastal waters of the United States. The name is a misnomer, because it is not a member of the trout family (salmonidae), but of the drum family (Sciaenidae ), and are closely related to weakfish, redfish, and croakers. They inhabit all inshore waters from the northern gulf coast of Mexico, east to Florida, up the Atlantic seaboard as far north as Virginia. They live in bays, estuaries, grassy flats and bayous.

Speckled trout average between 1-5 pounds. The World-Record speckled trout was caught in Florida in 1995, and weighed 17 pounds, 7 ounces. They feed on squid, small baitfish, mullet, crabs, and other targets of opportunity, but their favorite food is shrimp. They are commonly caught on live-bait, as well as jigs and lures.

In order to be successful in catching ‘specks’, like most other fishing, you need to know about the fish. One of the most useful pieces of knowledge is that speck do not migrate, and spend all their lives in the same area. Where you found them this year, you will most likely find them next year at around the same time. They prefer grassy flats in warm weather, but will often hang around wrecks, drop-offs, and the mouth of estuaries. In cooler weather, they prefer deeper water, and will often school over sandy flats. Adult fish are more intolerant of low-salinity water.

Specks spawn from May, June and July, and feed voraciously during this time. They spawn several times during the season, and lay their eggs in grassy flats in shallow water. Once the eggs are layed and fertilized, the adults abandon them, and look for other spawning opportunities.

There are many successful methods of catching speckled trout. The best method depends on location, time of year, and angler preferences.

Drift-Fishing is very productive over oyster beds, sand flats, rocky bottoms, and over structure such as abandoned oil rig equipment, wrecks, etc….

The best rig for drift fishing is a double jig-rig with split-tail grubs, or soft plastic minnows. The fish may be anywhere in the water column from just under the surface, to the bottom. This rig lets you easily explore different depths quickly. In rougher water, the fish tend to stay deeper.

Bottom-Fishing is one of the best methods for fishing with live-bait in open water, and inland bays. Use an appropriate-sized Kahle hook baited with live shrimp, baitfish such as croakers, menhaden, or pogies. Do not use any weight, but allow the baitfish or shrimp to swim around on their own. This can sometimes drive specks insane. If the water is very deep, or a strong current is present, you can use a Carolina Rig with light weight to hold the bait down.

Surf-Fishing and Wading are very popular methods for taking speckled. This method is also very good for fly fishing (my favorite method for any fish). Fishing the surf requires a little extra expertise, and safety issues. You need understand the structure of the bottom near the surf.

The southern coasts of the US have 2 or three sandbars off of the beaches, running parallel to them. The space between them is referred to as the ‘Guts’ of the surf.

Specks, bluefish, barracuda, sharks, and other predators cruise these guts, especially during high tides, in search of baitfish, shrimp and crabs. That is where you will want to fish, but don’t wade directly into the guts. Stay on top of the sandbar and cast into them, so as not to disturb the feeding activity (or become part of it yourself….).

You need to learn to read the water. Look for flocks of diving seabirds such as gulls and pelicans. What is happening is that specks (and other predators) are have a feeding frenzy on large schools of hapless baitfish, and are chewing them to pieces with total abandon. The birds are getting their share of the mangled left-overs. You may also see a lot of splashing on the surface as the predators ‘mow’ through the school. Carefully maneuver yourself into casting distance, and throw directly into the melee.

The best lures to use are Mirro-Lures, Johnson Spoons, bucktail jigs, and Zara Spooks. You can use live-bait if you want, but it takes too long to re-bait, and you will miss a lot of fishing. This is fast and furious. When the action slows down, look for another feeding frenzy. When approaching, do not get too close, at least not until you have determined the species that are chowing down, so that you don’t become the next course. Sharks, barracuda and bluefish are not adverse to taking a bite out of a surf-fisher, whether from hunger, or just eliminating competition. Also watch out for stingrays.

If you slide your feet along the bottom, rather than walking normal, you will usually kick them out of the way before they can ‘pop’ you with their tail. I can tell from experience, digging stingray spines out of your legs is not fun at all. I have the scars to prove it. Stingrays can give you a serious injury, so give them a wide berth whenever you can.

If Hammerhead Sharks, Bull Sharks, other large sharks, or barracuda begin to show any interest in you, it’s time to go bye-bye. Find another spot, a long way off. Other hazards to watch out for are undertows and drop-offs.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. An undertow can take you, and the patch of sand you are standing on, several hundred yards off shore before you realize it. If the water feels like it is getting deeper, and you haven’t moved, look back at the beach and be sure it’s where you left it. Anything that doesn’t look, or feel right, for any reason, s a cue to leave the water immediately. Be smart and live to fish another day.

Winter Fishing for specks is great as long as you understand the fish. August and September are transition months for speckled trout. The schools will break up, and they will seek out deeper water in estuaries, canals, bayous, inland marshes, bays, and even brackish lakes. Their metabolism slows down greatly, and strikes will be very light. Live shrimp is best at this time, although lures can also be used if they are fished very slowly. Set the hook anytime you feel pressure, resistance or anything out of the ordinary.

Happy fishing.

Daniel Eggertsen
Dan Eggertsen is a fellow saltwater fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on saltwater fishing since 2004.

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