Speckled Trout

How to Catch Speckled Trout With North Carolina Guide Tyler Barnes

General Info About Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout are a saltwater species found in the southern United States along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Ocean. This predatory species is similar to that of a  freshwater Walleye.

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This predatory species is similar to that of a freshwater Walleye. Just check out those teeth!

Speckled Trout have a long spawning season, from spring through the summer. The spawning occurs in shallow grassy flats found along inshore estuaries. It takes approximately one to two years for a Speckled Trout to reach 12 inches in length. This of course is all dependent on the availability of forage and shelter.

An average Speckled Trout is anywhere from 11 to 14 inches in length. The limit here in North Carolina is 14 inches. Some of the above average Speckled Trout can get up to 26 inches. A citation Speckled Trout here in North Carolina is over 5 pounds which normally go 26 to 35 inches. We refer to these as “Gator Trout”. The little ones are commonly referred to as “Spikes”.

In my experience, the colder the weather is, the better the fishing is. These Speckled Trout seem to fire up when it gets incredibly cold out. I’ve had my best days when my reel is dang near frozen. That being said, on most days, in the right area, you can catch anywhere from 10 to 20 fish in an outing.

Baitfish are a common forage for Speckled Trout. Finger Mullets, Pinfish, Menhaden, and juvenile Croakers are often seen as a main food source. Speckled Trout also home in on live shrimp and mud minnows when the opportunity is right. Those two are quintessential in replicating with your Speckled Trout baits come winter time.

Where To Target Speckled Trout

The Speckled Trout normally look for edges of oyster rocks where there are tide breaks and deeper holes where the tide can get a little more slack. They seem to feed right in the slack next to the heavy current areas. The baitfish will wash in from the heavy current right into the slack which makes it a prime feeding area.

They also like to lay on the edge of a flat right where the the lip to deeper water is. This allows the bait to come across the edge of the flat right over their head. When targeting these areas, suspending lures will work really well.

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Here’s a healthy “Gator Trout” I landed this year on a suspending lure!

The majority of their feeding occurs while the fish are looking up for baitfish to come above them. Their patterning allows them to blend in incredibly well with the bottom. Another area to target is in the deeper areas of creeks or flats. In a creek that’s five to six foot deep on average, find a channel swing with a deeper hole can pay dividends. The Speckled Trout seem to stage right on the edge of the deeper area. Similar to how they stage on the edges of flats.  

Surf Fishing For Speckled Trout

You can catch them in the surf, but my main focus areas for Specks is up the back water creeks. Usually in the early spring, they are easier to catch in the surf. This is when a lot of bait is moving along the coast following the cooler water as it makes its way North. In the fall, the small ones seem to be in the surf but normally it’s only “spikes” as the bigger fish don’t feel as safe in the surf conditions that time of year.

They push up the creeks because that’s where the majority of the bait gets pushed and piled up in the fall. This allows the trout to sit and feed up the creeks as the tide comes in and out. Tide rips off of a point, channel swings and deeper slues are my main areas to target. Anywhere there is a variation in-depth, the Specks are usually stacked. Sometimes they will push up onto the flats to sun and warm up similar to how Redfish act.

Slack Tide Speckled Trout

When the tide is slack, the bite is normally very tough. They really only seem to feed in heavy tide as they are ambush predators. You can find still find them feeding in the deeper holes but usually the bite isn’t nearly as good as when the tide is ripping. To entice them during slack tide, playing with your retrieval speeds is key!

The Best Time of Day For Speckled Trout

Speckled Trout seem driven to feed when there is tidal movement which pushes baitfish, or with changing light conditions. This is most likely due to the fact that during these changing light conditions the bait becomes more active. For me, the morning bite is the best time of day to catch not only numbers, but also some bigger fish.

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Getting pulled around in a kayak by some big ol’ Specked Trout… there’s really not a better way to start off your day!

The mid-day bite can be difficult. Usually, unless the tide is occurring during the middle of the day, I use this mid-day lull to move spots or check my other areas for a higher concentration of baitfish.

From just after lunch until the evening, your live bait will shine. Artificial baits can get the job done, but because the Speckled Trout get finicky around this time of day, it’s much easier to fill your limit using live baitfish.

The evening bite is normally a good bite, but not nearly as good as the morning or night bite. I always seem to experience a little lull between last light and true dark conditions. I have also done well fishing late into the night. My best times at night are from around 10 to 2 o’clock.

Time of Year To Catch Speckled Trout

Here in North Carolina, we begin pursuing Speckled Trout around the end of September or the beginning of October. It’s one of the fall species we all know and love. As I stated, they migrate with the colder water and show up right at the end of when the live shrimp are migrating through.  In the fall, they will also pursue and eat Mullet which are of abundance right now. Speckled trout stay concentrated in our area until right around March. This is when they begin their migration north, with resident fish being an exception

Common Baits And Lures For Speckled Trout

Hard Bait Lures for Speckled Trout

There are plenty of lures on the market, so I’m going to give you all my preferences. My best lure, hands down, is a Mirrolure 17MR suspending twitchbait. That thing is deadly. Not only do I catch loads of fish on it, but most of my bigger fish come off of that lure. My favorite colors to recommend are pinks, greens, reds, and the VPB color at night.

Another one of my favorites is the Paul Brown slow sinker shaped like the popular bait fish, Menhaden. With the Paul Browns, I always bring them in pinks, whites, blacks, and natural pinfish colors. This allows me to be prepared for almost any water clarity.

Two of my favorites that are often overlooked by most anglers would be Rapala X-Raps Chatterbaits in a pinfish color or following natural bait fish color schemes. In my opinion, the Speckled Trout are more focused on the noise aspect of these baits. If it has rattles or makes noise they will eat it… plain and simple.

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Here’s a look at some of my favorite Speckled Trout baits!

Soft Plastics For Speckled Trout

My best soft plastics are without a doubt the Storm Wildeye shrimp, and the Egret Baits Vudu shrimp. I throw these hese soft plastic pre-rigs in a pink or natural color. I also do well on tiger and lime or a pure white.

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Some other notable mentions regarding soft plastic baits would be the Gulp shrimp and Z-man shrimp in morning wood or shrimp Po Boy colors.

Some soft plastic bait fish style lures I would recommend having are a Jerkshad which is known by most freshwater guys as a zoom super fluke. I also recommend throwing paddle tail swimbaits that resemble mullet in a golden brim or lightning shad color. As a final note, a secret tool I never leave home without is the Gulp! Pogy soft baits. They resemble menhaden and I always like to bring along some crazy colors!

Rod And Reel Setup For Speckled Trout

My favorite soft plastics setup for Speckled Trout is definitely my Star Stellar Lite rod in a medium or medium light. I recommend a rod length from 6’6” to 7’ with a nice tip to be able to feel the bump or thump. The biggest thing with Speckled Trout is, you have got to be ready to set the hook quick upon feeling that bite. My favorite reel for that rod setup is bar none, the Penn Spinfisher VI in the 3500 longcast version.

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Here’s a look at some of the setups I take with me when chasing these Speckled Trout!

My hard baits setup differs a little. I prefer an Abu Garcia Veritas series or a Fenwick in a 7’ to 7’6” with a little longer tip to have longer ranged casts. I usually prefer medium to medium heavy action so I’m able to twitch the lure and have backbone when setting those treble hooks in. For a reel, I prefer a Shimano Stradic 4000 for hard baits.

Line Setup For Speckled Trout

This is a word to the wise, don’t overthink your line. I recommend using a 10 pound PowerPro braid or Diawa J-Braid with a 15 pound fluorocarbon leader. I lean towards using the Yo-zuri HD pink leader. I recommend this setup because it offers great abrasion resistance which is key since that light braid is so thin. I always tie my leaders with a Double-Uni knot or an FG knot.

If you’re heading out looking for a great day fishing the coast, don’t pass up the opportunity to set the hook into some Speckled Trout. They are certainly one of my favorite species to catch, and my clients love to get out and chase them with me! I hope that after reading this, you feel more prepared for your next outing chasing after these beautiful fish!


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Tyler Barnes

ABOUT Tyler

I’m not a average angler I’m part of a fishing community that a large fish is like getting a award. Fishing is a passion for me. I fish nearly daily. I am currently on the field staff team for Penn Reels from True Sports. In the past I’ve had sponsorships from Daiwa, Bullbuster, Eagle Claw, and I’m currently helping promote Monsta fishing apparel. I am also a avid tournament angler in many kayak divisions as well as offshore species. Catch my episode on the ANGLR Tour!

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ANGLR Expert, Tyler Barnes