How To Fish For Speckled Trout

Speckled trout, also known as spotted seatrout, is a popular saltwater fish found in the coastal waters of the southern United States. This species thrives in shallow, warm waters, often around estuaries, bays, and grassy flats. Speckled trout are easily recognizable by their elongated bodies, silver-gray color, and distinctive black spots scattered across their back and fins. They are a sought-after species among anglers for both their fighting ability and their value as table fare.

Catching speckled trout can be rewarding and challenging, as they inhabit various environments and respond to a wide range of baits and techniques. In this guide, we will cover the essential aspects of fishing for speckled trout, including the best setups, baits, techniques, and times to catch them.

Speckled Trout Fishing Setup

The best fishing setup for targeting speckled trout involves a combination of light to medium-light action rods and spinning reels for the most effective and enjoyable fishing experience. A rod around 6.5 to 7 feet in length is ideal, providing a good balance between sensitivity for detecting bites and strength for setting the hook and fighting the fish. Pair this rod with a spinning reel that can comfortably handle 10 to 15-pound test braid or monofilament line. The lighter line improves castability and allows for a more natural presentation of baits and lures.

For the best rig to catch speckled trout, the popping cork rig stands out as a highly effective choice. This rig consists of a popping cork attached to the main line, an 18 to 24-inch leader (fluorocarbon is preferred due to its invisibility underwater and abrasion resistance), and a hook or jig head at the end. The hook or jig head size should range from 1/0 to 2/0, suitable for the common bait sizes used for trout. This setup works exceptionally well because the popping cork attracts fish by creating surface disturbance, mimicking the sound of feeding fish. At the same time, the leader length ensures that the bait or lure is suspended at a depth where trout are actively feeding.

Best Bait For Speckled trout

Speckled trout have a diverse diet that includes smaller fish, crustaceans, and mollusks, making them receptive to a wide range of baits and lures. Understanding what speckled trout eat helps anglers select the most effective bait and lures for successful fishing trips.

The best live bait for speckled trout unequivocally includes live shrimp and mullet. Live shrimp are irresistible to speckled trout due to their abundance in the trout’s natural habitat and their natural movement in the water, which triggers strikes. Hooking the shrimp under the horn or tail ensures they remain lively and attractive. Live mullet, particularly finger mullet, are excellent for targeting larger trout. Rigging mullet under a popping cork or free-lining them in currents near structures can be very effective.

When it comes to artificial baits, soft plastic baits in the form of shrimp or small fish profiles are the top lures for speckled trout. Jig heads paired with these soft plastics allow for versatile presentations, from bouncing along the bottom to swimming through the water column. Topwater lures and twitch baits are also highly effective, especially in the early morning or late evening. These lures work best when retrieved with a technique that imitates wounded fish, such as a “walk the dog” action for topwater lures or erratic twitches for twitch baits.

Speckled Trout Fishing Techniques

Live Bait Fishing

One of the most common and effective techniques for catching speckled trout is live bait fishing. This method involves using live shrimp or small fish, such as mullet or pinfish, as bait. The setup usually consists of a light to medium-light rod with a spinning reel, rigged with a popping cork and a leader of 18 to 24 inches, ending with a hook to secure the live bait. The length of the leader can be adjusted based on the depth at which trout are feeding. Live bait fishing is most effective in areas where trout naturally feed, such as grass flats, around oyster beds, or near dock structures. The natural movement and distress signals sent by the live bait attract speckled trout, making it a highly effective technique, especially during the early morning or late evening when trout are most active.

Artificial Lures

Using artificial lures is another highly effective technique for catching speckled trout. This approach can be divided into a few categories based on the type of lure: soft plastics, topwater lures, and twitch baits.

  • Soft Plastics. These lures are often rigged on a jig head and worked along the bottom or through the water column to mimic a shrimp or small fish. The best times to use soft plastics are when trout are feeding on the bottom or in mid-water, particularly in clear conditions where trout can visually target their prey.
  • Topwater Lures. Fishing with topwater lures is thrilling and highly effective during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening. The technique involves casting the lure and retrieving it with a “walk the dog” action, which mimics a wounded fish on the surface. This method is particularly effective in shallow waters with little to no current.
  • Twitch Baits. These lures are designed to mimic injured baitfish and are most effective when twitched or jerked through the water, with pauses in between. The erratic movement triggers aggressive strikes from speckled trout. Twitch baits work well in a variety of conditions but excel in areas with clearer water, where visual attraction is crucial.

Drift Fishing

Drift fishing is a technique that covers more water and effectively locates schools of speckled trout. This method involves letting the current or wind move the boat over known trout habitats, such as flats, drop-offs, or around structures. Anglers can use either live bait under a cork or various lures to entice trout. The setup includes a suitable rod and reel combo with either a weighted rig for bottom fishing or a cork setup for suspending baits in the water column. Drift fishing is most effective when speckled trout are spread out over large areas, and anglers need to cover ground to locate active fish.

Best Time To Catch Speckled Trout

Speckled trout spawn in late spring through early fall, with peaks often occurring from May through June in warmer coastal waters. The best time of year to catch speckled trout is during the fall and spring. During these seasons, speckled trout are more actively feeding as they prepare for the spawning season in spring or recuperate and feed aggressively following the spawn in fall. Cooler water temperatures during these times make trout more energetic and likely to chase baitfish, making them easier to target by anglers.


In spring, as water temperatures rise, speckled trout move into shallow coastal areas and estuaries to feed and prepare for spawning. This is an excellent time to catch them using live bait such as shrimp and mullet or soft plastic lures mimicking baitfish. The best technique is to focus on areas with moving water, such as channels and inlets, or near structures like oyster beds and grassy flats where trout are likely to hunt for food.


During the hot summer months, speckled trout tend to seek deeper, cooler waters during the day and may be more active during cooler early mornings and late evenings. Night fishing can also be highly productive. Targeting areas with deeper drop-offs or fishing near light sources that attract baitfish can be effective. Using live bait under a popping cork or deep-water jigging with soft plastics are good techniques.


Fall is arguably the best time to catch speckled trout as they feed aggressively to bulk up for the winter. Look for them in shallow waters again, especially in early morning and late evening. Topwater lures can be exceptionally effective during this time, as the trout are often more willing to chase bait on the surface. Live bait and soft plastics continue to be successful, especially when worked near structures or in estuaries.


In winter, speckled trout move to deeper, warmer waters. This season may require more patience, but trout can still be caught, especially on milder, sunny days when they may move to shallower water to feed. Slow-moving soft plastics or live bait fished near the bottom can be effective, as trout’s metabolism slows down, and they become less active.

Where To Catch Speckled Trout

Speckled trout are a prime target for anglers along the Gulf Coast and the southeastern United States. The best locations for catching speckled trout in the US include the estuarine and coastal waters of Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Each of these locations offers unique habitats that are ideal for speckled trout, ranging from shallow flats to deep bays and estuaries.


In Texas, the Laguna Madre stands out as a prime location for speckled trout due to its shallow, clear waters and abundant seagrass beds. The most effective technique here is sight fishing, using soft plastic lures or live bait like shrimp and mullet. Anglers can spot trout in the clear waters and cast directly to them, making for an exciting and interactive fishing experience.


Louisiana is renowned for its productive speckled trout fishing, particularly in the marshes and estuaries surrounding the Mississippi River Delta and Calcasieu Lake. Trolling with live bait under popping corks around the edges of marshes and inlets or casting soft plastics near submerged structures are highly effective techniques in these nutrient-rich waters.


Florida’s extensive coastline offers diverse habitats for speckled trout, with the Indian River Lagoon and Tampa Bay being standout locations. Here, drifting with live bait such as shrimp or using soft plastic lures in grass flats during the early morning or late evening can yield significant catches. The abundance of grass beds and mangroves provides perfect ambush points for trout.


Alabama’s Mobile Bay and the surrounding inshore waters are excellent for speckled trout fishing. The key technique in this area is to fish around structure such as docks, bridges, and oyster reefs using live bait under popping corks or jigs tipped with soft plastics. The moving tides around these structures often bring speckled trout in search of food.


The Mississippi Sound and Biloxi Marsh areas are fertile grounds for speckled trout, with a focus on fishing near oyster beds and grassy flats. Live bait fishing with shrimp or mullet, especially under popping corks, can be particularly productive. The combination of brackish water and abundant baitfish makes these areas a hotspot for speckled trout.

Tips To Catch Speckled Trout for Beginners

  • Start with a light to medium-light action spinning rod and reel combo, about 6.5 to 7 feet long, which offers a good balance of sensitivity and power for speckled trout fishing.
  • Use 10 to 15-pound test braided line for your main line; it’s durable and has a smaller diameter, which helps with casting distance and sensitivity to detect bites.
  • The easiest and most versatile rig for beginners is the popping cork setup. Attach a popping cork to your main line, then tie a 18 to 24-inch length of 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader to the bottom of the cork. This setup works well because it keeps your bait at a consistent depth and the cork’s popping sound attracts trout.
  • For the hook, a size 1/0 to 2/0 live bait hook works well for most speckled trout baits. To set up the hook, tie it to the end of your fluorocarbon leader using a loop knot, which allows more natural movement of the bait.
  • The best bait for beginners is live shrimp, as it’s universally appealing to speckled trout and easy to rig. Hook the shrimp just under the horn on its head or through the tail to keep it alive longer and more attractive to fish.
  • When casting your popping cork rig, aim for areas near structure such as grass beds, oyster reefs, or docks. These areas are where speckled trout often hunt for their prey.
  • After casting, retrieve the line with short, sharp jerks to make the popping cork create noise and simulate feeding fish. This action attracts speckled trout to the bait suspended underneath the cork.
  • Always be alert to the cork’s movement; a sudden dive or jerk is a sign that a trout has taken the bait. Give a firm, quick tug on the rod to set the hook when you see or feel a bite.
  • Practice catch and release when possible, handling fish gently and using a dehooker to minimize harm to the trout. This practice helps maintain healthy populations for future angling opportunities.

More About Speckled Trout

Speckled trout, scientifically known as Cynoscion nebulosus, are a type of saltwater fish more accurately referred to as spotted seatrout. Despite their common name, they are not true trout but are part of the drum family, Sciaenidae, which includes croakers and red drum. Speckled trout are highly sought after by anglers for their sporting qualities and culinary value.

These fish are easily recognizable by their elongated bodies, silvery-gray appearance, and distinctive dark spots that scatter across their back and fins, extending to the dorsal and tail fins. They vary in size but can grow to be quite large, with some individuals reaching over 30 inches in length and weighing more than 10 pounds, although most caught are smaller.

Speckled trout inhabit the coastal and estuarine waters along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast of the United States. They prefer shallow, warm waters with grassy or muddy bottoms and are often found around oyster beds, marshes, and estuaries. These environments provide ample food sources and protection from predators, making them ideal habitats for speckled trout. Their diet mainly consists of small fish and crustaceans, including shrimp and crabs, which they actively hunt using both sight and vibration-sensitive receptors to detect their prey.