Speckled Sea Trout

specks_0By Ed Snyder/Outdoors
As a saltwater species the speckled sea trout is revered by Chefs and sea food fanciers alike as being one of the tastiest species of fish plated for its cuisine like qualities. But as a saltwater sport-fish it’s highly regarded by sport anglers as being one of the best scrappers in the surf. The spotted sea trout, alias Cynoscion nebulosus, weakfish, or just plain speck, is probably one of the most popular saltwater game-fish swimming in our Texas Gulf Coastal areas today. An inshore gamefish the speckled sea trout, or speck to most of us, is at times hard to catch, but at other times is very easy to catch. As an avid trout angler I’ve often wore my casting arm out catching these spotted critters one after the other from huge schools of feeding fish But just as tiresome I also spent hours wearing my casting arm out with no luck catching these often evasive critters.

School oriented, specks will often school up until females are about 3 years old, when they become loners until spawning periods. Females often average 25 to 28 inches when egged up with males averaging 19 to 20 inches in length. Male and females characteristics include a dark grayish green backs and silvery-white below, with distinct spots on back, fins and tail; black margin along the edge of tail; soft dorsal (back) fin with no scales; and two prominent canine teeth at the tip of their upper jaws.

Fingerling trout feed primarily on small crustaceans. Medium-size trout feed on shrimp and small fish, while larger trout feed almost exclusively on other fish. Predators of fingerling speckled trout include alligator gar, drum and redfish. Specks live around inshore sea-grass beds of shallow bays and estuaries during spring and summer, feeding on prey. As water temps start dropping during fall, they move into deeper bay waters, passes, and the Gulf of Mexico. As water temp begins to warm in the spring, the fish return to the shallows of the estuaries and bays. 

Wade fishing for trout is a big sport

Wade fishing for trout is a big sport

Spotted seatrout reach sexual maturity at two years. Most larger trout 25 inches and above are females who can live to nine to ten years of age. Anglers long ago recognized that very large trout were usually female and appropriately called them “sow” trout, or gator-specks due to the canine like teeth in the front of their jaws. Female trout actually spawn several times during the season in different locations. Younger females release 100,000 eggs and older, larger females release a million eggs or more. Recent studies indicate that specks spawn between dusk and dawn usually within coastal bays, estuaries or lagoons. They prefer shallow grassy areas where eggs and larvae have some cover to protect them from predators.

Husband and wife fishing team nets a big Speck

Husband and wife fishing team nets a big Speck

Specks are found in western Atlantic waters as well as the Gulf of Mexico, ranging from Massachusetts to the Yucatan peninsula, and are opportunistic carnivores whose feeding habits vary with size. Small trout feed primarily on small crustaceans. Medium-size trout feed on shrimp and small fish. Large fish feed almost exclusively on other fish such as mullet, pinfish, or menhaden (shad). This preference for large fish makes large trout vulnerable to the fishing guides who fish with croaker or mullet. Large trophy sized trout do not feed often but when they do the few anglers who know like to use 6 to 8-inch live fish for bait to take advantage of this for their customers once in a lifetime trophy. 

Avid trout anglers develop their own system of bait, tackle, and locations for catching trout. But novice anglers need help for their expectations and can use suggestions. A beginning point will lead to the improvements necessary of his or her developing their own system for catching trout. An upswing in electronics such as sonar and global positioning satellites now make it very easy for guides and anglers alike to locate specks even before they leave the dock. The old days of finding fish by triangulation and or trusting in luck are all but gone now.

Any light to medium action rod and reel combination is appropriate since most spotted seatrout caught are in the 2-3 pound range. Equipment designed for use in salt water is essential because of the corrosive nature of sea water. But bass fishing gear can be used if rinsed properly after each use. I’ve watched several top trout anglers and find the type of fishing lines are variable. Some use braided lines of 20 to 40lb tests, while others use mono type lines from 10 to 15lb test. In my judgment the braids “no stretch” qualities are more sensitive and better for setting the hook, while mono’s inherent stretch qualities are slightly less sensitive and slower on setting the hooks. Even tho I use mono (old school) I recommend the braid. (It’s all in what you get used to folks)  

The most popular method for catching trout is the popping cork rig. My preference is for cork instead of plastic, (again old school). Best results are popping the cork periodically to simulate live feeding action. By varying your retrieves of popping, and bait depth, the best action for the catching trout can be realized. The best bait for catching trout is live shrimp. Live fish such as finger mullet or small croaker can also be effective, with croaker being the best of the two. 

Four year old gets her first speck

Four year old gets her first speck

Another method is adding a very small weight to your line, this is called “free-lining shrimp”. Other bait types can be used with this tackle, such as finger mullet or shad. This method is effective when drift fishing from a boat or when fishing in areas with strong tidal flows. The bait is allowed to drift freely in water. Adjust the weight of sinker and amount of line out to move the bait up or down in the water column until fish are located. 

A conventional bottom rig may be used when trout are found to be feeding near the bottom. But it’s best to use the C-rig which allows your line to pass freely thru the weight. Artificial baits are effective for catching trout the year round. Although many types and styles of artificial baits exist, generally they can be classified in three ways; jigs, spoons, or fish-like lures. 

Jigs may be fished singly or in pairs (tandem) either with or without the use of a cork. They are very effective when fished under lights at night as trout congregate to feed under the lights. Worm jigs, fished under a small popping cork in grassy flats are effective. Try them without corks in deep guts or channels. Vary the action, depth fished and lure color. Hot pink, dark red-(Winter/Spring)- Rootbeer, chartreuse-(Spring) and white in warmer months are good choices. 

Spoons are very effective, particularly during the warmer months. Vary the speed and depth of the retrieve, as well as the weight and size of the spoon. Although silver is best color for trout, gold or brass colored spoons “at times” will produce, especially when the croaker are running in the Fall.  

Try fish-like soft plastic lures such as saltwater assassins, chicken boy, or berkley gulps during the cooler months, and hard plastics such as mirrOlures, rattle traps, or spittin image during warmer months. When fishing shallow water during cold weather vary the retrieve, size, color, and weight. Floating lures have recently become popular with fishers stalking large trout in shallow water during the warm months. The movement of the lure at the surface may be especially exciting to trout and for the angler.

Where to fish important for the proper baits and techniques. During warm weather, fish shallow areas in early morning and late evening. In the heat of the day, move to deeper areas such as the drop-offs around grass flats, channels or oyster reefs. When the weather is overcast, the fish may remain in shallow water most of the day. However, during very cold weather, try fishing the deep rivers, harbors and channels. Mostly, these deep areas are best after a “norther” has subsided and clearing skies are associated with rising temperatures. Locate muddy areas as they absorb heat which attracts the trout.

Boat anglers look for flocks of feeding gulls during summer and fall to find trout. Schools of trout chase shrimp or small fish to the surface at this time of year, which attracts the gulls and other sea birds. Action while fishing under birds can be fast and furious with the feeding trout taking almost any bait or lure. This is called “working the birds” and can be very exciting. I once worked a flock in East Galveston Bay that produced 68 specks in one hour of fishing, releasing all as fast as I caught them.

Lady anglers with great catches

Lady anglers with great catches

Trout slicks are major targets when searching for trout. This is when feeding Trout often regurgitate when excited during feeding sprees with oils from partially digested bait rising to the surface making oil like slicks. The odor emitted when they do this has been described as similar to fishy watermelon odor. The smaller the slick, the newer the slick is. And the larger the slick, the older it is. Anglers will target up-current smaller slicks when casting for trout. Schools of Gafftop catfish will also cause this natural phenomenon. But you really won’t know until you make that first cast.

Present TP&W regulations allow for 15 inch minimum size limits for 10 specks with only one over 25 inches kept in North and South East Texas waters, with only 5 specks allowed in Mid to South Texas. Check the rules and regs on trout for correct info in your fishing areas. The Texas state record spotted sea trout is a 37.25 inches weighing 15.6 pounds, caught in the Laguna Madre waters of South Texas.

Info Guides for this EdSnyder/Outdoors Article:
Texas Parks & Wildlife, Google, Wikipedia.

Article Sponsors:
The Beach Triton, Miss Nancy’s Bait Shop, CrystalBeachLocalNews.com

(This article published 5/4/2015)

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