Speckled Trout Fishing Overview

Speckled trout are one of the most prized inshore game fish in the country. Targeting speckled trout takes patience, determination, some local knowledge, and a smidgen of luck. With the right guide, gear, and attitude, dreams of landing a "gator trout" is more attainable than you may think.

Everything You Need to Know About Speckled Trout Fishing

What is a Speckled Trout

The Spotted Seatrout, Speckled Trout, or "Speck" (Cynoscion nebulosus) is a sport fish species that frequents inshore waters ranging from Massachusetts, down the East Coast, and around the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.

They are characterized by distinct black spots along their back and dorsal fins, surprisingly large teeth, and bright yellow skin on the inside of their mouths.

Contrary to popular belief given their name and resemblance, the speckled trout is a member of the drum family, not the freshwater trout family.

How big do Speckled Trout get?

The size of speckled trout largely depends on their sex. The average weight for males and females is between 1-2 pounds, but in many areas, fish weighing up to 5 pounds are common. The average male speckled trout is around 19 inches long, while the average female is around 25 inches long. Females grow quicker and larger than males, and can live to be 10 years old, more than double the average age for males.

What is the biggest Speckled Trout ever caught?

The current International Game Fish Association, or IFGA, all-tackle world record was set in 2015 on the Indian River flats near Melbourne on the east coast of Florida. The specimen weighed in at 17.7 pounds, and was 34.25 inches long, over 10 centimeters longer than the previous record set in 1995. The fish was caught using live mullet on a light spinning rod.

Large female trophy trout are often referred to as "gator trout" or "gators" depending on local vernacular.

Where is the best place to catch speckled trout?

Speckled trout are an estuarine fish, meaning that they live in the inshore waters typically located between the mainland and barrier islands. In temperate climates, speckled trout typically frequent water less than 10 feet deep. Look for grass beds, oyster bars, mud flats, and stump fields. During the winter months and after cold fronts, speckled trout seek refuge from the cold water in deeper channels and basins, and follow baitfish into the shallows wherever present. Don't be afraid to go shallow! Often the biggest "gators" are caught in water waist-deep or shallower.

As a general rule of thumb, look out for areas where the trout can ambush their prey. Grass beds, depressions in the coastline, areas where the current breaks and slows, and underwater structure located in basins and channels produce the best results. Irregularities in the water's surface and birds flying overhead are dead giveaways of bait activity, and are often a good indicator of where the trout are.

You can catch speckled trout in any inshore fishery in the Gulf of Mexico, and going up the Atlantic coast of Florida and into North Carolina. While they're present in Chesapeake Bay, their numbers dwindle as you go further north. Locations like Matagorda and Laguna Madre in Texas and Calcasieu Lake in Louisiana are trophy trout havens.

When should I catch Speckled Trout

One of the great things about fishing for speckled trout is they can be caught year round. Even better yet, when the winter comes around and other fish head for deeper waters, speckled trout remain in the easily accessible shallows. In the winter time, be on the lookout for an overcast day, especially in areas with clear water. Specks, especially big ones, feed more actively in low-light conditions.

In the winter, big trout aren't afraid to chase their prey into the shallowest of waters. If you're duck hunting, odds are there are big trout right under the surface. Big trout can be caught in the summer near the mouths of tidewater drainage creeks. They tend to seek refuge from the heat in grass beds and deeper holes, so be on the lookout for these when fishing during a hot summer day.

How do you catch Speckled Trout

Techniques for catching speckled trout vary greatly given location, weather/tidal patterns, and time of year. Speckled trout generally feed when tidal movement moves baitfish, so keeping an eye on tidal charts is a must. Catching the outgoing tide is a great start.

Speckled trout fishing can be done by boat, from the shore, or wading in the shallows. There are pros and cons with each of them. Using a shallow flats boat, a silent trolling motor or a pole to move through the water allows you to cover more water, but leaves the possibility of spooking the fish. Fishing from the shore or a pier is simple and easy, but you won't have access to the prime backwater fishing grounds. Wading allows you to maintain a low profile and stalk your quarry, but requires extra equipment and you won't cover as much water.

Lures and baits for speckled trout vary as well. For big "gator trout", it's tough to beat shrimp and mullet (dead or alive) under a popping cork. Varying the retrieve on a popping cork simulates live action of your bait. For those looking for artificial action, jigged artificial plastics work well, especially in deeper waters. For the lure fisherman, Corky's, Heddon Zara Spooks and spoons do the trick. A slow retrieve imitating a dying baitfish produces the best results.

Once you hook up, don't try to muscle the fish in. Keep the drag tight and let her tire out. Once you land her, grab the caudal (tail) fin and support the fish just behind the gills. Snap a pic, and put her back in the water until she swims away. The big trout are female breeders, and releasing them safely ensures more big trout for years to come.

Are Speckled Trout good to eat? What are the best Speckled Trout recipes?

Speckled trout make for excellent table fare. Famous chef Emeril Lagasse once said speckled trout is the best eating fish in North America, and for good reason. The meat is often characterized as flaky and white, with a sweet and buttery finish. This flavor profile makes speckled trout a very versatile fish to cook. The most common way to cook speckled trout is to bread the filets and fry them. From there, you can finish it off with a garlic lemon sauce, throw some capers in the mix for a briny taste, or top it off with a creole sauce like Emeril's recipe.