18 Useful Spotted Sea Trout Fishing Tips!

18 Useful Spotted Sea Trout Fishing – Pro Tips!

This article on 18 useful spotted sea trout fishing tips will help anglers catch more of these popular inshore saltwater fish. Capt Jim Klopfer has been running fishing charters in Sarasota, Florida, since 1991. Spotted sea trout are one of his favorite species. Capt Jim shares some tips that he has leaned in three decades of fishing for this terrific inshore saltwater species!

spotted sea trout fishing

Spotted sea trout, Cynoscion nebulosusalso, known as speckled trout, are plentiful in the inshore waters of the southeastern United States. They are arguably the most popular saltwater inshore game fish species. Spotted sea trout range from Maryland down the East Coast and along the entire Gulf of Mexico. Trout are a beautiful fish that strikes hard, hits artificial lures readily, are usually cooperative, and are terrific eating!

spotted sea trout fishing

Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.

There are quite a few different areas that provide excellent fishing for spotted sea trout. However, the prime areas for both numbers and trophy fish are the bays and flats all along the Gulf Coast. The waters from the Ten Thousand Islands in southwest Florida north and around the coastline to Texas provide perfect habitat for these fish. The abundance of shallow water flats with grass and oyster bottom are perfect for sea trout to flourish.

Spotted sea trout can be caught on a wide variety of artificial lures and live bait. The top live baits are shrimp and small bait fish such as pinfish, grunts, mullet, croakers, and herring. The jig and grub combo is Capt Jim’s favorite artificial lure. Plugs also catch plenty of spotted sea trout. Spoons are another effective lure. Anglers fly fishing catch plenty of spotted sea trout as well.

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18 useful spotted sea trout fishing tips

Following is a list of 18 useful spotted sea trout fishing tips. These tips will help anglers understand the local migrations, tips, and tackle that are effective for catching fish.

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1)  Grass flats hold spotted sea trout

Anglers targeting spotted sea trout will do well to find grass. Submerged grass flats are the prime fish holding habitat for speckled trout. The shallow grass holds bait fish and crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. This is the main forage for spotted sea trout and other saltwater species. Grass grows in Florida in water up to ten feet deep. Trout will be found at any depth, with the fish being deeper in the cooler and warmer months.

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2)  Trophy trout are found in shallow water

It sounds like a paradox, but the largest fish are often found in the shallowest water. Large spotted sea trout are often times loners. They abandoned the sanctuary of the large schools to strike it out on their own. Once they reach 20 inches in size or so, they have very few predators. Dolphin, sharks, large birds, and large predator fish are there only true enemies at this point. Therefore, they are more comfortable in shallower water than are the smaller trout. Large schools of smaller trout, between 12″ and 16″, are often found in deeper water on the flats. Capt Jim loves to throw a topwater plug early in the morning on a high tide.

plug fishing Sarasota

3)  Spotted sea trout love shrimp

Shrimp are the primary forage for spotted sea trout for most of their lives. This can be said for many other saltwater species as well. Shrimp are abundant on the flats throughout the southeastern United States. They are rich in protein and are relatively easy prey. Anglers targeting spotted sea trout will do well using live shrimp or artificial lures that imitate shrimp. Many lures including jigs are designed to mimic the erratic motion of a fleeing shrimp. They definitely trigger strikes! Live shrimp are often fished under a noisy popping cork.

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4)  Large baits will catch trophy fish

As trout grow, they gradually switch their diet from shrimp and crustaceans to large bait fish. Ever the opportunist, large trout will rarely turn down a nice juicy shrimp. However, larger bait fish such as grunts, mullet, croakers, and pin fish become more important parts of their diet. Larger trout will have to feed less often if they can find more substantial meals. Anglers targeting trophy trout will do well using larger hard body plugs, soft plastic jerk baits, and live bait fish. Topwater plugs in particular tend to fool larger spotted sea trout.

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5)  Popping corks produce a lot of trout

It would be easy to make the argument that more speckled trout have been caught by anglers using a live shrimp under a popping cork than all other methods put together. Popping corks are an incredibly effective technique for trout and other species. It consists of a noisy float, or cork, which makes a popping sound when twitched on the surface. This simulates fish feeding and attracts game fish to the noise. Some corks simply slide onto the line while others require a leader from the cork to the hook.

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Once drawn to the sound of the popping cork, the helpless shrimp just dangling there will usually draw a strike. Anglers will it just the float depth so that the shrimp suspends just above the submerge grass or bottom. Other baits besides live shrimp can be used as well. Many anglers of late have switched to using artificial lures, especially soft plastic baits, under the cork. A small live bait fish can be used as well.

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6)  Spotted sea trout love the jig and grub combo

The combination of a lead head jig and a soft plastic grub body is without a doubt the number one spotted sea trout artificial lure. Size requirements will vary, however a 1/4 ounce jig with a 3 inch to 4 inch grub is an excellent all-around bait. Anglers can choose a tail that resembles the available forage.

Read more about the best spotted sea trout fishing lures

Soft plastic tails can imitate crabs, shrimp, and bait fish. Shad tail and twister tail bates have a lot of built in action. Capt JIm really likes the Gulp line of baits, particularly the 3″ Gulp Shrimp and 5″ Gulp Jerk Shad. Paddle tail and shrimp tail lures require more of a twitch from the angler. Dark colors work well in darker waters. Light colors perform best in clear water. Bright colors such as pink and chartreuse will stand out in dirty water.

spotted sea trout fishing

7)  Spotted sea trout will bite at night

Lighted docks and bridges will attract shrimp and glass minnows at night. This in turn will attract spotted sea trout and other predator fish. They will lurk in the shadows just outside the light, waiting to pounce on their prey. Strong outgoing tides are preferred. The best approach is to anchor up current and 45° from the light or shadow line. Anglers then cast upstream ahead of the light and allow the current to take the lure or bait to the fish. Most bites will occur in the transition area where the shadow line is.

8)  Oyster bars attract spotted sea trout

While many anglers focus on grass beds, and rightfully so, oyster bars are fantastic spots for speckled trout fishing. The best bars will be shallow on one side while dropping off to several feet of water on the other. Most fish will be caught on the deeper edge as the trout cruise in search of food. Low, incoming tides are best as it will concentrate fish in the deeper areas. Spotted sea trout caught near oyster bars are often larger fish.

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9)  Winter spotted sea trout will seek deep water

Spotted sea trout will school up in big numbers in holes in channels in the winter time. Water temperatures that drop down into the low 50s will send spotted sea trout scurrying for warmer water. This can be the channel of the Intracoastal Waterway, deeper residential canals, holes in the flats, and outside bends and rivers. Passes and inlets will also hold winter trout. A free lined live shrimp is tough to beat. Jigs bounced on the bottom will produce fish as well. Anglers locating such as school can experience incredible, nonstop action!

10)  Release tools for spotted sea trout fishing

Anglers targeting spotted sea trout should always have a release tool on board. These are clever little devices with a “j” at the end of them. They allow the angler to slide the tool down and grab the hook, then simply shake the trout off. This is best for the fish as the angler never actually has to put his or her hands on the fish. Spotted sea trout are a bit delicate and need to be handled gently.

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11)  High tides and top water plugs equal trophy spotted sea trout

Topwater plugs fished over oyster bars and shallow flats on the high tide stage will draw strikes from some large spotted sea trout. This is particularly true early and late in the day or on days where there is cloud cover present. As mentioned earlier, larger speckled trout target larger bait fish. A large top water plug realistically mimics a wounded mullet. This is one of the spotted sea trout’s favorite prey. The Rapala Skitter Prop is one of Capt Jim’s favorite topwater plugs.

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12)  Tides are important when spotted trout fishing

Like most aspects of saltwater fishing, tides are very important when it comes to targeting spotted sea trout. Many anglers fishing the flats prefer two hours before and after the high tide. Outgoing tides are generally more productive when fishing tidal creeks as well as passes and inlets. Extreme low tides and winter will concentrate trout in holes. However, as long as the water is moving, fish can be located and caught someplace.

Spotted sea trout fishing tips

13)  Plugs are effective baits for spotted sea trout

Plugs are not only effective, they are a lot of fun to fish. They tend to entice larger fish than do jigs and other lures. Top water plugs are great early and late in the day. Shallow diving plugs have an erratic action and are excellent for casting to oyster bars and shorelines. Suspending twitch plugs are deadly when fished over the deeper grass flats. Anglers do need to be mindful of the treble hooks.

chumming with live bait

14)  Live bait fish are terrific for catching spotted sea trout

Live bait fish catch both numbers and quality spotted sea trout. Scaled sardines are very effective in the warmer months. Both grunts, also known as pig fish, and croaker are extremely effective baits for spotted sea trout. They will also generally catch larger than average fish. Both of these fish put out distress sounds when hooked. This is the sound of the dinner bell ringing for spotted sea trout! In shallow water these baits are fished under a float. In deeper water in channels a little weight can be added to get them to the bottom.

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15)  Locate spotted sea trout by trolling

Spotted sea trout will often times scatter out over a large grass flat. It can take a lot of time for anglers to eliminate unproductive water. This is especially true on days without some wind. Trolling is an excellent technique that can be used to minimize the prospecting time. Spoons, shallow diving plugs, and jigs with a bait fish tail can all be used. Anglers should troll slowly, just above idle speed, over various steps until fish are located.

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16)  Spotted sea trout will be found in larger numbers over deeper grass flats

Grass flats in water between 4 feet deep and 8 feet deep will hold school sized spotted sea trout. These fish will average between 14 inches and 18 inches long. They will school up by size in fairly large numbers over these deeper flats. The deeper water gives them a sense of security. Anglers seeking numbers of fish and good action will do well casting artificial lures and live bait over these areas.

fishing for spotted sea trout

17)  Wading is a productive technique when spotted sea trout fishing

Wading is a very productive shallow water trout fishing technique. Spotted sea trout can be quite spooky in shallow water. Boats make noise, no matter how quiet anglers try to be. Wading allows anglers to quietly and thoroughly work a stretch of water.

Fly Fishing for spotted sea trout

This section covers fly fishing for spotted sea trout in Florida. Anglers have the opportunity to catch many different species in Sarasota Bay in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.

Fly fishing is enjoyed by many anglers visiting Florida. Any fish species that can be caught on and artificial lure will take a well presented fly. Most anglers can learn to cast well enough to catch a fish with just a few hours of practice. The following information is geared to the novice angler that is interested in getting into the sport of fly fishing.

spotted sea trout fishing

The primary difference between fly fishing and spin fishing is that and fly fishing the line provides the wait for casting. With spin fishing, it is the other way around. Realizing this will help take some of the mystery out of fly fishing. It really is not that difficult to learn. However, as in all fishing, proper equipment is important.

Fly fishing tackle

The three major components of a fly fishing outfit are the rod, line, and reel. Believe it or not, the real is the least important of the three. It basically holds the line and provides drag on a larger fish. The vast majority of time, the line will be manipulated with the anglers hand.

Fly tackle is designated by “weight”, shown as”Wt” on rods. A 6wt rod is then matched to a 6wt line along with a corresponding reel. Not to over complicate, but rods also come in various actions and lines come in several different forms. The easiest rod for most anglers starting out fly fishing is a “mid flex” rod. This is the most forgiving action and the easiest to learn how to cast.

Fly fishing Sarasota

Fly lines come in floating, sink tip, and full sinking varieties. Floating lines are the easiest to use while full sinking lines are the most difficult. In between is the sink tip line, which is the most versatile all round fly line for most anglers fly fishing Florida.

7 wt outfits are a great choice for fly anglers

So, the best all around fly fishing outfit for someone new to the sport would be a 7wt rod with a medium or mid flex action, a 7wt intermediate sink tip line, and a matching reel. Fly lines are usually around 100 feet long. On the real underneath the fly line is a couple hundred yards of “backing”. This adds volume to the spool and also gives the angler extra for line if a large fish makes a long run.

A leader is used between the end of the fly line in the fly. These leaders are generally tapered. This means they are thicker at the fly line and then they are at the fly and. This allows for easier casting and better presentation as the fly rolls out smoother. Most anglers use a short “bite tippet”. This is the same as the shock leader that almost all spin fisherman use. Leaders can be hand-tied, but most anglers purchase commercially prepared leaders.

Effective spotted sea trout fly patterns

Just as with artificial lures, there are countless fly patterns, colors, and sizes. However, anglers only need a couple different patterns in several colors to consistently catch fish in Florida. As with all fishing, the idea is to match the fly to the size and type of forage that the fish are feeding on. However, large bulky flies are difficult to cast, especially for the beginner.

spotted sea trout fishing

The Clouser Minnow is arguably the most popular saltwater fly, and for good reason. It consists of dumbbell eyes which provide weight and give the fly action along with some buck tail or synthetic care dressing. The weight of the eyes gives it a jigging action in the water. The hairdressing can mimic most bait fish and crustaceans.

The Crystal Shrimp is another very effective fly. It is deadly for snook both out on the beach and went fishing the lighted docks and bridges at night. It also works very well on the beaches for false albacore as well as over the deeper grass flats for speckled trout and other species.

The D.T Special is the third of the “must-have”flies that the ladies fly fishing Florida use. It is unweighted and is a terrific bait fish imitator. This fly works very well for anglers fly fishing off the beach and is deadly in the inshore Gulf of Mexico for Spanish mackerel and false albacore. It also works very well anytime breaking fish are seen feeding on the surface, such as bluefish and ladyfish.

Fly casting for spotted sea trout

Fly casting is a skill, and some even call it an art. It really is not that difficult, once the basics are mastered. Wind is an issue when trying to fly fish. Even the most experienced fly anglers have trouble on breezy days. It is probably best for novice fly anglers to give it a try on days when the wind is calm.

spotted sea trout fishing

There are many good resources that anglers can access to learn how to fly cast. So, I will not try to duplicate them here. YouTube videos are a great source. Anglers who choose to invest a few dollars in a fly casting and fly fishing course will find that a great investment. Do not wait to get out on the boat before trying to learn to cast! This will only lead to frustration and disappointment. Orvis offers classes throughout Florida.

Finally, it is time to go fishing! We have our seven weight rod, intermediate sink tip line, 9 foot tapered leader, and a #1 white and chartreuse Clouser tied on the end. We have practiced casting and can throw 40 feet to 50 feet of line. The best place to to catch fish on the fly for the novice angler are the deep grass flats.

Fly fishing the deep grass flats

Florida has many many acres of submerge grass beds and 3 feet of water to 10 feet of water. These flats hold just about every inshore saltwater species. This is where I fish on my Sarasota fishing charters for clients that are looking for action and variety. It is fairly easy fishing and does not require great fly casting skill.  Speckled trout, bluefish, ladyfish and more provide great action.

The technique is quite simple. Anglers set up a drift where the wind and current will push the boat over the area to be finished. Fly anglers will do well to target water depth of 4 feet deep to 8 feet deep. It can be difficult to get a fly much deeper than that on a drifting boat.

Anglers want the wind to be over their casting shoulder. The vast majority of people are right-handed. Therefore, placing the angler on the bow the boat with the breeze over his or her right shoulder works the best. Obviously, the situation is reversed for a left handed caster.

As the boat drifts across, the fly line is cast out. The fly and line are then allowed to settle for several seconds. With the rod tip low to the water, the angler retrieves the fly back with the off hand. Again, a right-handed angler will have the rod in his or her right hand and will strip the line back in with the left hand. Once most of the fly line is retrieved, it will be cast out again in the process repeated.

Hooking fish on the fly

It is easy to tell when a fish takes the fly. The fly line really transmits the bite. When an angler gets bit, he or she pulls sharply with the stripping hand removing all the slack then the rod tip is raised up. This is called the “strip set”and is used in most saltwater fishing and even in freshwater fishing when using streamers.

Smaller fish are then brought in by hand stripping the line in. Larger fish may make a run taking up all the slack and getting on the reel. Once this occurs, the fish is then fought using the reel. Keep in mind that fly fishing reels are “single action”. This means that the real handle will go forward and backward, so keep your knuckles clear when a big fish makes it run.

In conclusion, this article on spotted sea trout fishing should help anglers catch more of these desirable and popular inshore saltwater fish!


Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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