Speckled Trout Fishing - The Complete Guide | Great Days Outdoors

Speckled Trout Fishing – The Complete Guide

Whether you’re an avid angler or a novice looking to figure it out, the chase of the speckled trout is a fun one. Speckled trout can be one of the most frustrating fish to try and fool, especially with artificial baits. There are so many nuances when it comes to finding and catching these fish throughout the changing of the seasons. They will make you feel like the best fisherman in the world some days, and they can also make you want to sell your boat other days! 

The speckled trout, or spotted seatrout, is an inshore fish that has captured the attention of many anglers due to how hard they will crush an artificial bait and their sometimes unpredictable behavior. But, what are the best lures to catch them on? Where are the best places to find them? And what tactics for certain times of the year are most fruitful for a successful catch? This guide will unveil the secrets to catching, locating, and understanding the prime seasons for speckled trout. Whether you’re fishing for speckled trout for the first time or you are an old salt with decades of experience, there’s always something new to learn about this cool fish. In this article, we will interview some top speckled trout guides to give us the best information possible to increase your odds at catching these hard hitting, fun to catch trout. 

Speckled Trout Fishing Facts

Speckled Trout, also known as Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus), is a popular inshore fish among anglers. Here are some intriguing facts about this fish. The Speckled Trout has a silver-gray body with a greenish tint on the back. Its name comes from the distinct black spots scattered across its back and fins. They are found primarily inshore in bays, estuaries, and bayous with grassy or muddy bottoms. 

They like areas with oyster beds, seagrass beds, and marshes. Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans like shrimp and small fish. Their favorite prey includes mullet, pinfish, and Croakers. Speckled Trout can live up to 12 years, but many don’t make it past 5 in the wild due to fishing pressures and natural predation. Biologists report that lunker saltwater speckled trout mostly eat baitfish rather than the shrimp preferred by the 12 to 15-inchers, so they’re usually found around schools of finger mullet, pogies, LY’s and other bait in the four to eight inch range.  The largest trout will even eat 12 to 14 inch mullet! 

Unlike many fish, Speckled Trout do not migrate offshore to spawn. They typically reproduce in the shallow inshore waters during the spring and early summer. 


They have the unique ability to produce a “croaking” sound, which is created by their specialized drumming muscles against their swim bladder. Due to their aggressive bites and tendency to leap out of the water when hooked, they are popular targets for fly and light-tackle anglers. 

State Of The Fishery

Due to its popularity, many states have implemented regulations to protect the Speckled Trout population. Size limits, bag limits, and season closures are common management tools. Overfishing, habitat loss, and water pollution are the main threats to the Speckled Trout populations. 

Coastal development, which often leads to the loss of vital estuarine habitats, poses significant threats to juvenile trout survival. Efforts are in place in various states to restore habitats, especially seagrass beds, which provide crucial nursery areas for juvenile trout. Some states have also started hatchery programs to boost natural populations. 

CCA Alabama, the University of South Alabama Department of Marine Sciences, and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab are cooperating on a study of speckled trout and redfish to keep an eye on the management of both species. The program recruits and trains CCA members to tag Speckled trout and redfish. Within this program there are rewards for anglers who report their tags and after a tagged fish is recaptured.

speckled trout
Speckled trout typically reproduce in the shallow inshore waters during the spring and early summer. 

Many of the most successful taggers like Captain Richard Rutland are fishing guides who are on the water countless days a year, and handle thousands of speckled trout each year.

One of the things the study has revealed so far is that sea trout are always on the move. You may catch them in the same spots this spring as last, but in between they’ve been roaming a wide variety of inshore and bay locations.


The Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama funds this program. Anglers who are members of CCA are eligible to participate in the Tag Alabama program. They also provide training either in person or online-, to demonstrate how fish can be safely tagged, how to report data etc. There are annual contests for anglers who have tagged the most fish and categories and rewards for professional guides and for non- professional anglers.

World Record Speckled Trout

The world record for Speckled Trout (Spotted Seatrout) according to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) was caught in Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1995. It weighed 17 pounds, 7 ounces (7.89 kg). The record-holder’s name is Craig Carson.

White Trout Vs Speckled Trout

White trout (Cynoscion arenarius) and speckled trout, both members of the drum family (Sciaenidae), are popular targets for recreational anglers in various coastal waters of the US. Here are some identification pointers so you can tell them apart. 

White trout have a silver-white body with a light back and may exhibit a yellow tint on the fins. Generally lacks the distinct spots seen on the speckled trout. Younger fish might have faint spots but these usually disappear as they mature. Generally smaller than speckled trout; common sizes caught range from 12-14 inches. The inside of the mouth is silver to white, while the lower jaw is somewhat pointed.They prefer sandy or muddy bottoms and are often found in slightly deeper waters compared to speckled trout. Mostly found in the Gulf of Mexico, including estuaries and bays, and they range less frequently into the lower reaches of coastal rivers.  Diet primarily consists of shrimp and small fish. Generally spawns from spring to fall, with peaks generally observed in warmer months. 

Speckled Trout are generally larger than white trout; common sizes caught are between 15-25 inches, with some individuals growing much larger. The inside of the mouth is often yellow, and they have prominent canine teeth, these are referred to as fangs by trout fishermen. 


Weakfish Vs Speckled Trout

Weakfish (Cynoscion regalis) and Speckled Trout are two distinct species, but they share some similarities, which can sometimes lead to confusion. Here are the primary differences and similarities between the two. 

Both fish belong to the drum family (Sciaenidae) and share some common characteristics, like the ability to produce drumming or croaking sounds. Despite the similarity in their scientific names, they are distinct species within the Cynoscion genus.  

Weakfish are mostly found in the western Atlantic Ocean, from Florida to Massachusetts, primarily in coastal waters, bays, and estuaries.  Speckled Trout are primarily an inshore species, they are found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast of the U.S., from Florida up through the mid-Atlantic states. 

Weakfish have a more elongated body with a distinct dark lateral line that fades as the fish ages. Their coloring can vary from greenish to bluish on the back, and they often exhibit yellowish or lavender hues. Their mouth has two prominent canine teeth. Speckled Trout don’t exhibit the same color variation as the weakfish.

fish caught
Speckled Trout are primarily an inshore species.

Weakfish can grow larger than the Speckled Trout, with some specimens reaching up to 12 pounds or more, though most caught are significantly smaller. Speckled Trout common catches range from 1-5 pounds, but larger specimens, especially in the Gulf states, can exceed 10 pounds. 

Both species are considered tasty and are targeted by both recreational and commercial fisheries. However, weakfish populations have seen declines, leading to more stringent regulations in some areas. 

The weakfish population, in particular, has seen significant declines over the years due to various factors, including overfishing, predation, and environmental changes. As a result, there have been more aggressive management measures implemented for weakfish compared to speckled trout. 

Where To Catch Speckled Trout

Speckled trout really like estuaries. These transitional zones where fresh water from rivers meets and mixes with salty seawater provide a rich source of nutrients and are vital nurseries for juvenile Speckled Trout. The brackish water and abundance of prey make estuaries a preferred habitat. 

Grass beds are found in shallow coastal waters and are vital habitats. These areas offer shelter from predators, breeding grounds, and a diverse menu of small fishes and crustaceans. Speckled Trout often patrol the edges of these grass beds, looking for prey.

Oyster structures provide an excellent habitat for the small crustaceans and fish that Speckled Trout feed on. Additionally, the complex structure of oyster beds provides both refuge and ambush points for the trout.

Salt Marshes are also a great place to target speckled trout. Rich in biodiversity, salt marshes are another essential nursery habitat for young Speckled Trout. The marshes’ intricate channels and shallows provide shelter and abundant food sources.

In bays and estuaries, areas with soft bottoms are frequented by Speckled Trout, especially when these areas are adjacent to deeper channels or drop-offs. They offer good spots for the trout to hunt, as many small invertebrates and baitfish reside in these substrates.

speckled trout
Speckled Trout often patrol the edges of grass beds, looking for prey.

Especially in the Gulf Coast region, these slow-moving, brackish waters are ideal habitats for Speckled Trout, specifically during the warmer months. The waters’ fluctuating salinity and abundant food sources make them attractive.

Shallow, expansive areas, especially those adjacent to deeper channels or basins, are prime hunting grounds for Speckled Trout. They often move onto the flats during high tide or warmer periods in search of food.

What Do Speckled Trout Eat?

Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans like shrimp and small fish. Their favorite prey includes mullet, pinfish, and Croakers. Biologists report that the Gator speckled trout mostly eat baitfish rather than the shrimp preferred by the 12 to 15-inchers, so they’re usually found around schools of finger mullet, pogies, LY’s and other bait in the four to eight inch range.  The largest trout will even eat a 12 to 14 inch mullet with no problem. 

How To Catch Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout Topwater Lures And Techniques

When topwater fishing for speckled trout, anglers need to pay attention to what cadence the fish are keying in on that particular day. Instead of tying on your topwater with a specific retrieve or speed in mind, you will be much more successful if you let the fish tell you how they want the topwater worked in that specific scenario. 

Captain Bobby Abruscato says: ”I am partial to lures that have silver sides as I think that the flash looks like a mullet on the surface. If water conditions are not too choppy or muddy, I use the Skitterwalk from Rapala. If the surface is chopped up, I like the noisy Mirrolure “He Dog,” and if calm, the “Top Dog Jr.”. One key is to vary the tempo of the retrieve. It is amazing how the trout like a certain tempo and how it can change from spot to spot or day to day.  Be sure to cast around 90 degrees relative to the direction of the current while you are searching. Once you locate fish, you can really throw the lure in any direction, and they’ll get it if they are eating. Lastly, learn how to tie a loop knot for use on the topwater plugs which frees up the lure giving it more action. This results in more strikes.”

Wade Fishing For Speckled Trout

On a recent episode of the Alabama Saltwater Fishing Report Podcast we talked with Capt. Richard Rutland with Cold Blooded Fishing to talk about his favorite ways to catch Speckled Trout and how he consistently has success. Capt. Richard loves wade fishing for these big Speckled Trout. 

Q: Whenever you’re going through this in your mind, what about a spot makes you want to get in the water, what are some of the indicators to know it is a good spot to wade and catch speckled trout?

A: “How I’ll find wade fishing spots is, every wade fishing spot I have, I have caught fish out of the boat there previously. And then I have gone back later, got in the water to wade fish and the results are ten fold versus fishing out of the boat. You’ll catch a good fish, and when I say good fish, like a 22 inch trout out of the boat. And usually when that happens, it’s on high water events.  And most of the time, when you’re catching those better sized fish on the boat, you’re on high water, so what that tells me is that those are opportunities that I can have when you have lower water, you can jump in the water and put the sneak attack on them. 

And so the things I’m looking for are number one bait, you have to have some life around if there’s no there’s no bait, there’s no fish, they gotta have something to eat. But the main things that hold these fish are either gonna be over grass, some type of grassy bottom. After finding bait, grass or oyster shells, you gotta have something you can walk on.  Because wading through the mucky stuff is not safe or fun, you’ll fall over and swamp yourself.

I also like to focus, if possible, where there’s a creek mouth or some type of inflow or outflow to create water movement. These fish stage up around those kinds of areas or points and then shells, if you can find shells that’s always money in the bank. Those shells create their own little ecosystem, so it’s gonna naturally attract bait because of growth on the shells that they can eat. Then there’s going to be croakers and shrimp, small crabs and that kind of stuff, so it’s just a reef is all you are fishing. 

And then the other thing that I really look for is bottom relief. Where you’ve got a really nice stretch of bank or area where there’s dips and holes and bars and things like that because these fish are ambush predators. So,as the current is coming across an area, there needs to be an area for them to be hiding, sitting down in those holes and troughs and waiting for some bait to come across the top of their head and boom, they’re gonna hit it.” 

Jigging For Speckled Trout

On a recent Alabama Saltwater Fishing Report we interviewed Capt. Patric Garmeson on tips for jigging for Speckled Trout

Q: What is your go to jig weight and what profile and colors do you like?

A: A great option is the Slick Jr from Pure Flats. The colors that have been a main staple for me recently have been the Ozark Shiner, The Croaker Color, Swamp Thing and Cool Beans. It has been an all around great lure for us recently, even fishing some lights at night. 

As far as rigging, if I am in water less than 6 feet, I am sticking with a ⅛ oz jig head. If I am fishing much deeper than that, I am going to a ½ or even up to a ⅜ oz. Sometimes when you go to a heavier jig head, it gets you down to the bottom quicker and can keep you in the strike zone longer. With a lighter jig head, sometimes it can take so long for that jig to get to the bottom, you are just slowing the process. A speckled trout will eat a heavier jig head, no problem. 

Q: What makes you go deep and try a jig? When do you typically switch to jigging for these fish?

A: I hit a bunch of shallow stuff recently around a lot of bait and just not seeing any life, I felt like I was not around life in the sense of fish feeding, no slicks. nothing that really gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that I was around feeding fish and I went through several different areas trying that and not getting any bites, nothing. If I’m not getting hit with lady fish or blue fish or something then there is probably not enough predatory fish around. So that made me go deep and try some deep stuff. In these deeper areas, I was trying both down current and up current and and found that the sweet spot was getting down current of the structure and throwing up current and then whenever I was hopping it, I am just taking the slack up as that lure is just getting pushed down current 

Q: So you are working the jig with the current?

A:  So my vision, at any point when there is a decent amount of current is predatory fish are generally going to be facing into the current waiting for that bait to come to them. 

Q: What is your cadence and what dictates how you are working your jig?

A: You have to find how the fish are feeding that day. The other day I was getting bit when I was hopping my lure higher off of the bottom, that tells me that the fish must have been fairly glued to the bottom and they were striking the jig upwards. 

Q: Does the water temperature dictate how you work your jig? 

A: Right now, we’re in a period where you’re probably wanting to go from a little bit slower cadence to getting a little bit faster and faster as we move towards the fall. Because as we move closer and closer to fall the more active the fish are going to be from daylight to dark or you know, for the whole 24 hour period of the day, they’re going to be more active and feeding more and trying to eat more. So the faster you work it and aggravate one into biting, you should be able to get away with speeding it up a little bit more. You’ll find a sweet spot of where that is. And then that’s gonna be where that cadence is probably gonna live and the speed at which you’re retrieving, it’s just going to incrementally get slower and slower as that water temperature starts dropping again. 

speckled trout
You, generally, get much better results wade fishing for speckled trout versus fishing from a boat.

Slip Corking For Speckled Trout

On a recent Alabama Saltwater Fishing Report we caught up with Capt. Patric Garmeson with Ugly Fishing and got the pro tips on how, when and where to catch speckled trout using a slip cork rig. 

Q: When do you use a slip cork rig? Do you use it in the mornings or when it gets a little warmer? What is your thought process when it comes to using the slip cork rig?

A: I generally am using the slip cork when I’m fishing water that’s eight feet and deeper and especially around when I’ve got some current, because essentially what I want to do is present the shrimp, croaker, pogie or whatever I’m using as my natural bait, I want to present that bait in a manner as close to the same speed as what the current is moving as I possibly can. And that slip cork is by far the absolute best way to do it. You can’t do it with a free line, Because at some point in time, you’re going to get a belly in your line and it’s going to start pulling your bait faster than the current or you’re going to be tightlining in it and you’re going to slow it down and face it into the current it’s not going to look as natural. Those things can work, but in my opinion the slip cork is by far the best way to get that fish fooled into biting something without even thinking about it. I don’t think these fish are going to swim around and look at and observe the shrimp or croaker or whatever that you’re sending down at the natural speed of the current because it’s gonna be so natural that they’re not even going to think about it. 

Q: So for our folks that aren’t familiar with it, just kind of walk us through what a slip cork is, what’s your ideal rod and reel set up and what that rigging looks like?

A: Okay, the rod and reels I use, I like to use spinning equipment but if you’re a baitcaster guy and you just want to use a baitcaster those big old school round reels are by far the best ones. Something that’s got a big hole for the level wind to where you can have those slip knots just pass right through. I use a braided line, 50 pound test on spinning tackle. I use a Lew’s size 400 reel. But it’s essentially a 4000 size reel. I jam as much line on there as I possibly can. I’m not trying to cast these things a whole lot. It’s all about just getting it into the current and start feeding out that line. I use a 50 pound braid because it is less likely to break.

So then if you get hung up with the leader, or the hook actually hangs up or a Spanish or something like that were to pull it and break it, you’re not losing your entire rig because it does it takes me probably three or four minutes and if you interrupt me with having a net of fish or bait my hook or whatever it is going to take six to 10 minutes to rig up a slip cork. So the least amount of slip corks I have to rig up on the boat the better. As far as the way I have that thing set up I’m going to have the 50 pound braid, my absolute favorite bead and Slipknot combo is by a company by the name of Thill. The thread is really really small so it doesn’t get bound up into your spool too bad. So like in a spinning reel, when you go to cast it, every once in a while it may catch, if you’re trying to cast it any distance you may catch. Well, these are much smaller, and they don’t get caught up in your line as bad.

They come with a bead that’s really small as a really small hole. It’s barely big enough to fit that 50 pound braid into but it is absolutely perfect because it’ll slide up and down that braid. And it’ll get stopped by those tiny Thill knots. Instead of having those really big bulky knots some of these other brands sell and they will get caught up in your spool. So the knot is the part where you’re going to be setting your depth. So that’s where you’re going to pull that on, you’re going to put it tight, I like to use two or three of them, Bobby taught me that trick. Those things are gonna wear out so go ahead and just start it with one,  two if not three, and then if it breaks later on go ahead and put another one on there, put a third or fourth one on there because eventually they get loose, unravel and they just fall off. So always having those backups there’s a good plan.”

I use a Billy Boy Cork from Bett’s Tackle, the hole on them is pretty small and that way the bead will not get stuck in the cork. They’re the egg shaped cork, they’re orange and yellow and the hole on them is pretty small so that little tiny bead won’t go in there and won’t get stuck inside your cork. There’s other cork brands but the most important thing is using a big one because most of the time if you are using a croaker or if you’re out there in a chop you don’t want to be losing your cork behind a little bit of a chop every 30 seconds thinking your cork went down. So I use like a three and a half to four and a half inch cork. They’re good and buoyant. From the cork, you’re going to go below that you’re going to use an egg sinker. And I use anywhere from a half to three quarter ounce. And then you’re gonna go from there to a swivel, the swivel just needs to be big enough to where your egg sinker doesn’t slide over your swivel.

I don’t like using beads down there, it is just unnecessary rigging, keep it as simple as possible. After that, tied to your swivel is going to be your leader. I used to use all exclusively fluorocarbon but I’ve gotten to where I use either 20 pound monofilament or 40 pound monofilament. If the Spanish are really bad I go up to 40 if they’re not too bad, a stick with 20. Then as far as the hook, I used to do a treble hook but I’ve gotten to where I do a lot of tagging fish and a lot of catch and release trips. A treble hook is going to get into the throat of a fish occasionally and the least amount of fish I can kill when especially when we’re not intentionally trying to kill fish, we’re just there to catch and release them then I got away from the treble hook and I’m now using a 1/0 Kahle hook and then when the Spanish mackerel are bad, I’m gonna go to that 40 pound leader with a 2/0 even upwards to a 3/0 kahle hook and that does not slow my trout fishing down at all and it actually helps me catch more of those Spanish.” 

Q: Now that we know how to rig and how to use the slip cork, what applications are best to use this method? 

A: Slip corking is certainly a structure fishing scenario. I especially like a slip cork, when I can do what I was saying with letting the bait drift in the current, I want to utilize that current to naturally just drift with the current. The popping cork is all about just all just throwing it out popping it trying to bring that fish up to you. And is not necessarily as much about the presentation of drift in the current. So if you find yourself in a lot of current, a popping cork is usually not the best option, even if the fish are shallow. Say if you were on a 12 foot structure, and the fish kind of told you or maybe you saw them on the fishfinder that they were only five feet deep. I still think a slip cork set at five feet deep is going to be a better option, toss it up and let it drift down through the current. 

Lures For Speckled Trout

There are plenty of highly effective speckled trout lures for lunker trout, particularly when they’re in the shallows where topwaters come into play. The Heddon Spook and Rapala Skitter-V are both legendary trout catchers, while for sub-surface action suspending lures like the MirrOlure Mirrodine and the Live Target Scaled Sardine are among the best. Many anglers are also big fans of the larger DOA Shrimp and the DOA Bait Buster.

For a good trout lure that the largest fish can’t seem to resist, many expert trout anglers prefer a fish catching product that’s not widely-known outside the Gulf Coast and that is the Slick Lure.

slick lure
There are plenty of highly effective speckled trout lures for lunker trout.

It’s a soft plastic bait that looks sort of like an elongated gum-drop. There’s no fat swimmer tail, no fins, joints or built in flashers, no added scents or flavors. For whatever reason giant trout love these speckled trout lures. “It’s the most productive soft plastic jerkbait I’ve used in over 40 years of trout fishing,” says Captain Bobby Abruscato, well-known Dauphin Island guide. “I have yet to find anything that outfishes it—and I’m not sponsored by the company.”

Best Bait For Speckled Trout

Large live baits are among the most dependable attractors for giant trout, with a six inch pigfish or finger mullet being at the top of the list.  Catching these baits and keeping them lively is more work than fun, which is why so many anglers prefer to chase trout with artificial lures like the Slick Lure.

When Do Speckled Trout Spawn?

In general, speckled trout spawn from spring to early fall, but this can vary depending on the geographical location. In the Gulf of Mexico and southern parts of the Atlantic coast of the US, the spawning season tends to be longer, often starting in late spring around April and extending through September. In more temperate regions, the spawning season may be more abbreviated.

Spawning activities of many fish species, including the speckled trout, often correlate with moon phases. The speckled trout tend to spawn more intensively around the full and new moon phases. The gravitational forces exerted by the moon during these phases can affect tidal rhythms and currents, which, in turn, can influence the spawning behavior of these fish. 

During these periods, the higher high tides and lower low tides create more substantial tidal movements which facilitate the dispersal of eggs into areas with good food availability and lower predation risks for the larvae. Apart from the lunar cycle, the daily spawning cycle of the speckled trout is also quite pronounced. The spawning usually happens in the late afternoon to evening, closer to dusk. 

During the spawning season, speckled trout usually migrate to specific spawning grounds, which are often located in estuarine areas with seagrass beds, which offer protection and abundant food resources for the juveniles. Water temperature is another crucial factor influencing the spawning of speckled trout. The optimal water temperature range for spawning is generally between 68°F and 86°F (20°C to 30°C).

How To Fillet A Speckled Trout

Here is a great video of how guides filet speckled trout with minimal waste.  

Speckled Trout Recipe

When it comes to cooking fish, I am always going to lean on my buddy Hank Shaw to guide me in the right direction. Speckled trout are delicious fried and here is a fantastic recipe from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. 

Final Thoughts On Speckled Trout Fishing

I have been speckled trout fishing more in the last 5 years than I have been in my whole life. I have really enjoyed getting better at finding and catching these fish in all of the scenarios and tactics mentioned in this article. If you have never been wade fishing with topwater for speckled trout, you are missing out on an awesome experience. But, do not take my word for it! Get out there and get tight. 

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