How to Catch Speckled Trout

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How to Catch Speckled Trout
How to Catch Speckled Trout

Speckled trout might not have the best game reputation amongst Gulf Coast saltwater fish. They aren’t the strongest fighters nor are they a particularly large fish.

However, speckled trout are an entertaining fish to catch. Especially when other fish just won’t bite. They are also one of the better tasting fish you will catch.

Anyway, I will cover everything you need to know about catching speckled trout in this article.

Speckled Trout Habitat

There is one basic rule when it comes to speckled trout habitat:

Structure.

Trout like to ambush their prey and have a tendency to hide near structure as they wait for a shrimp to come along.

Here are some good habitats that you will usually find trout in:

Inshore

Speckled trout are an inshore fish.

You simply won’t find them very far from the shore. In my experience, trout are rarely in water more than 20 or 30 feet deep.

On the flip side, they have a very shallow minimum depth. It is not uncommon to find speckled trout in water that is 2 or 3 feet deep.

Calm, Clear Water

Speckled trout really like calm, clear water. Simply put, you won’t have much luck catching speckled trout in the surf or in wavy water. The waves simply make it a little more difficult for the trout to hunt for shrimp.

My personal rule is if there are whitecaps, then it’s not a good spot for speckled trout. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to catch speckled trout in whitecaps. It’s just much more difficult.

With that in mind, you should fish near mangroves or structures protected from the wind on windy or rough days.

Mangroves

Mangroves offer plenty of protection for many types of bait, which naturally attracts predators.

Trout are one of those predators that cruise mangroves hunting for shrimp and other bait. Don’t let the proximity to shore fool you, many large trout feed in the mangroves. In fact, you will probably find more trout near the mangroves than you will on other parts of the flats.

Grass Flats

Grass flats are another popular area for fishermen targeting speckled trout.

My favorite method for catching trout on the flats is to look for water slicks (covered later) or jumping fish. If I can’t find any water slicks, then I will normally fish the area where the sand meets the grass.

Remember, trout are an ambush predator. They will often stack up on the sand to ambush any shrimp coming off the grass flats.

Dock Lights

This isn’t exactly a habitat. However, I’ve caught so many trout under green dock lights that I have to share it.

If you have a dock with a submerged dock light (or have access to a dock with a submerged dock light), then you can easily catch speckled trout at night by freelining shrimp.

It’s so easy that it almost feels like cheating. Keep in mind that this method works best if you have access to the dock itself. It will also work if you have a kayak as a boat will often spook the fish.

Also, this same principle applies to piers that are lit at night. The light from the pier will attract bait.

One more thing, trout normally congregate in the area where the light meets the darkness. You will not usually find them in 100% light at night.

Note: People may not appreciate you fishing near their dock at night. It’s also illegal to fish in some canals. Consult all regulations before fishing in a canal.

Slick Water

Slick water indicates that speckled trout are feeding in the area. For those that don’t know, speckled trout are a slimy fish, and some of that slime is released when they are in a feeding frenzy. Additionally, the oils from the bait will float to the surface, which will create an oil slick.

If you see an oil slick in a speckled trout habitat, then it’s a good indicator that there are trout in the area.

Oyster Bars

You will often find speckled trout hunting shrimp on oyster bars.

Personally, I only go to the oyster bar if I don’t see any activity at the other locations. It is still a good option despite being the last resort for many fishermen. Also, you won’t usually see much activity on the surface at an oyster bar, but the trout are most likely there.

Remember, speckled trout are found in almost all the areas that you find redfish.

Best Season for Speckled Trout

You can catch speckled trout in every season if you fish the right areas. However, the best season for catching trout is winter.

That’s right, winter.

Trout are much more active in colder water than warmer water. It might sound odd, but it actually makes sense because trout enjoy cooler water much more than most of the other Gulf Coast fish.

Many fishermen go for trout in the winter when most of the other inshore fish stop biting as frequently.

No complaints about that from me.

Speckled Trout – Live Bait

There is pretty much only one type of live bait that you fishermen use to catch speckled trout. And that’s shrimp.

Sure, you can use live minnows with some success, but the vast majority of trout fishermen will use live shrimp when going for trout.

Shrimp

As mentioned earlier, live shrimp are the best live bait for trout. Period.

You have two choices when using live shrimp for speckled trout:

  • Freelining
  • Popping rig

Personally, I prefer to freeline my shrimp when going for trout near structure, at night, or in very flat water. Simply cast the shrimp in an area you think has trout, leave the bail open, place your finger on the line, and wait for the line to start moving before setting the hook.

You can add a split shot to the line when freelining to help cast.

It’s not difficult. And you will most likely catch something if there are fish in the area. It might not be a speckled trout since just about every inshore fish will eat a shrimp.

I like to use a popping cork on the flats. Just cast it out, pop it a few times, and wait. If nothing hits after 10 seconds, then pop the cork a few more times.

Repeat this process until something hits or you reel the line in.

I recommend using live shrimp if you want to catch speckled trout. Freeline near structure or in very calm water. Use a popping cork on the flats when the water is a little rougher.

Croakers and Finger Mullet

The vast majority of trout fishermen use live shrimp when going for speckled trout. However, there is one downside to live shrimp:

It attracts a lot of junk fish. You will often catch pinfish, catfish, mangrove snapper, and other fish you probably don’t want to catch while using live shrimp.

Many anglers have started using live fish to combat that problem. The two top choices are small croakers and finger mullet. But any small minnow will work. Some fishermen even use small pinfish as trout bait.

You can rig these in a few ways. A Carolina rig or popper works great. Some fishermen will even freeline live fish, but I find this very annoying near structure or on the flats.

I recommend a popper when using live bait.

One other thing, live fish are great for catching gator trout (big speckled trout) that are usually found in Texas and Louisiana. If you live in an area with small speckled trout (South Florida), then you won’t have much luck using live fish to catch speckled trout.

Live Bait Hooks

The type of hook you use depends on the type of live bait you plan on fishing. For shrimp, a 3/0 circle hook will work perfectly fine. You can hook the shrimp through the tail or the head. Just don’t puncture the shrimp’s brain or you’ll kill it.

I prefer hooking shrimp through the tail.

If you use a live fish as bait, then a 3/0 or 4/0 circle hook will work. You can even use a 2/0 if you’re using a small fish as bait.

Speckled Trout – Tackle

This section will cover all the tackle that you need when going for speckled trout. It will include the best lures, hooks, popping corks, and leaders for speckled trout.

Lures

Trout like shrimp, so it shouldn’t surprise you that most of the artificials used to catch trout resemble shrimp.

I recommend using these artificials on topwater in the early morning, late evening, or at night. During the daytime, you will want to bounce the soft plastics off the bottom on your retrieve.

Gulp! Shrimp

Gulp! Shrimp is a must-have when going for speckled trout. I prefer the 3” shrimp in white, but the color is not really that important.

Trout are attracted to the smell and that you have the proper motion on your retrieve.

DOA Shrimp

3” DOA shrimp are another great soft plastic for speckled trout. I’ve had good luck with the bright colors. My personal favorite colors are chartreusue/silver glitter (318), rootbeer (352), and carbonated pink/clear (427).

Of course, the best color just depends on the area.

Curly Tail Grubs

3” curly tail grubs work surprisingly well for catching trout, which is great because they’re very affordable and super easy to use.

I like to use curly tail grubs on the surface at night when pier fishing. I will reel for a second or two, stop for a few seconds, and continue my retrieve.

Speckled trout almost always hit on the pause. Also, expect to catch lots of ladyfish if you use a curly tail grub to go for trout.

Surface Walkers

All the previous soft plastics are mostly meant for catching smaller speckled trout. But what if you want to catch gator trout?

A surface walker like the Mirrolure Top Dog or Top Dog Jr is the choice for you.

I actually find surface walkers pretty fun to use on the flats. You want to use a “walking the dog” motion on your retrieve for maximum efficiency.

The Top Dog is 4.75” and weighs ¾ oz. Personally, I find it overkill unless you’re going for massive speckled trout.

The Top Dog Jr at 4” and ½ oz is the surface walker I recommend for most fishermen going for large speckled trout.

Jigheads

I recommend a ¼ oz jighead for speckled trout if you plan on using the 3” soft plastics. You can go a little bigger, but I find that ¼ oz works great for most scenarios.

Popping Corks

Popping corks are mostly used with soft plastic shrimp or curly tail grubs. They aren’t really hard to use. Simply tie a leader with a length of 6” to 24” (depending on depth) and pop the cork every 5 to 15 seconds.

Let the bait sit for 5 seconds or so before popping it again. Most trout will hit during the pause.

Popping corks work surprisingly well when going for speckled trout. And you can even use them with live shrimp.

Best Line for Trout

I recommend using mono for trout. It has a bit more stretch than braided line, so the trout’s lip is less likely to rip when it runs with your bait.

As for the pound test, 10 pound mono works fine. If you’re in an area with other fish (redfish, pompano, jack, etc.), then you should use a stronger line. Some anglers use 15 or 20 pound mono when going for trout in those areas.

And yes, you can use braided line if you really want to use it. Just make sure that you set the drag much looser than you set it while using mono to prevent breaking the trout’s lip.

How much line do I need to spool for speckled trout?

Speckled trout are not very good fighters, so you don’t need much line on your spool for them. I still recommend 150 to 200+ yards when going for speckled trout because you will catch fish that are better fighters than speckled trout.

Anglers going for speckled trout have caught redfish, snook, pompano, jack (very hard fighters), and even tarpon.

Leaders

Spotted sea trout do have teeth that can rip your line to shreds. In addition to that, other fish that actually fight will grab your bait.

I recommend a 10 to 14 pound monofilament leader when going for trout. You can use a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, but you are more likely to fail at hooking the fish. Also, fluorocarbon line sinks, which makes it terrible to use with topwater rigs.

That said, I have freelined shrimp and used soft plastics without any leader in the past and not had any issue with the line breaking. I don’t recommend it, but it will work if you don’t have a leader available. Just make sure that you have a mono line.

Speckled Trout – Spinning Setup

The tackle you need for speckled trout will be smaller than most of your other inshore rigs. Speckled trout simply don’t get very big nor are they hard fighters, so you won’t need heavy tackle when fishing for them.

Here are my recommendations:

Rod

A 6 to 7.5 foot medium action rod is your best bet when going for normal-sized speckled trout. It has enough length to offer good casting.

Medium action will work perfectly fine for most of the trout you catch (2 to 4 pound range). If you plan on going for gator trout, then you will definitely want a medium action rod.

You can use a light action or medium-light rod if you don’t plan on catching gator trout or other large fish.

I’ve actually seen people use an ultralight rod while trout fishing from a dock, so it is definitely possible. You will have a pretty good fight with small trout and ladyfish if you use an ultralight rod.

I don’t recommend using a rod that has a heavy action because trout have a very soft lip, which means you can easily rip the lip right off when setting the hook. You still might rip the trout’s lip off if using a lighter action because trout have such soft lips.

Reel

You will want to use a spinning reel when going for trout. A baitcaster really isn’t necessary for a speckled trout.

As for size, 2500 or 3000 size reel will work fine if you use a medium action rod. Obviously, use a smaller size reel if you use a light or ultralight rod.

Catching Speckled Trout – Tips

Here are some general tips for catching speckled trout. These fish are a little more particular than other fish, so you don’t want to skip this section.

Don’t Set The Hook Hard

The biggest mistake that beginners make when going for speckled trout is setting the hook way too hard.

Seriously, some fishermen set the hook on a speckled trout the same way they set it on a freshwater bass or shark.

That just doesn’t work. These fish have very soft, delicate lips. You will literally rip the lip off if you set the hook with a powerful motion. This begs the question, how do you set the hook on a speckled trout?

First of all, you should use a circle hook to minimize this lip-ripping problem. Using a circle hook makes fishing for speckled trout, and other fish, much easier.

My biggest tip for setting the hook on a speckled trout is to use a loose drag. This gives the fish time to run with the bait and hook itself.

I’ll put it this way, if the trout doesn’t take any line when it takes your bait, then you have the drag set too tight.

All in all, circle hooks and loose drag will dramatically increase the amount of speckled trout that you land.

No Bait; No Fish

My other big tip for catching speckled trout is to look for bait in the water. I know, this might sound obvious, but many fishermen simply fish docks because that is prime trout habitat.

Sure, it might be the right habitat, but if there isn’t any bait in the water, then you won’t find trout.

Predator fish follow the bait.

This also begs the question, what type of bait should be in the water?

Ideally, you want to see shrimp in the water. It’s not always possible to see shrimp from the surface, though. However, if you see baitfish shining or moving towards the surface, then that’s a good indicator that there are shrimp in the water.

Trout are usually lurking in the distance waiting for their opportunity to strike.

Bring a Light at Night

If you’re fishing for trout at night, then purchasing a bait light is a good investment. Why?

Invertebrates, such as shrimp, are attracted to the light. These invertebrates attract small baitfish, which then attract the attention of the predator fish that you want to catch.

A bait light is a great investment if you do a lot of night fishing. And a green bait light seems to attract the most fish for some reason.

Note: Check all regulations before using a bait light to fish. It’s not legal in all jurisdictions.

Final Thoughts

That’s about everything you need to know about catching speckled trout.

My biggest piece of advice for catching speckled trout?

Use live shrimp, or soft plastics that mimic shrimp, under a green dock light. You are pretty much guaranteed to catch a speckled trout with that.

Catching gator trout is a little different, but the general concept is the same. I just recommend using a surface walker, menhaden, or small finger mullet to prevent catching junk fish.

Anyway, speckled trout are one of those fish that you catch for the challenge and taste more than the actual fight. Of course, you can use ultralight tackle if you want a challenging fight. It’s actually pretty fun, so I recommend it if you have an ultralight setup.

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