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  • How to Catch Sea Trout

    5 min read

    Trout in net next to Fly Rod

    Written By: Richard Corrigan

    Sea trout are some of the most frequently caught game fish along the Eastern Seaboard. Also known as spotted sea trout, speckled sea trout, speckled trout or simply “specks,” these feisty saltwater fish are a favorite of inshore anglers because they are abundant, hard-fighting and relatively easy to catch. 

    Sea trout typically measure 16 to 30 inches in length and weigh 2 to 10 pounds. The current world record weighs 17 pounds, 7 ounces and was caught in Florida.

    Sea Trout Range and Migrations

    Spotted sea trout are most common along the coast of the southern states including Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. They can also be found in coastal areas all along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast. They are occasionally seen as far north as Cape Cod, though they are rare above the Chesapeake Bay. 

    Sea trout are primarily saltwater fish, though they are also common in brackish areas, where salt and freshwater mix. They are capable of living in freshwater, and have occasionally been found venturing into coastal rivers, often during winter to shelter from cold weather.

    As a general rule, sea trout prefer warm water. Their optimal temperature range is 69° to 80°F. Some sea trout spend the summer months in Mid-Atlantic coastal areas near Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas and then migrate to southern regions in the winter, while other sea trout populations stay in warm, southern waters year-round. 

    What Do Sea Trout Eat?

    Spotted sea trout are opportunistic carnivores. Younger sea trout have a varied diet that includes crustaceans like crabs and shrimp as well as small baitfish. Large adult sea trout eat almost exclusively fish, with their preferred prey being anchovies, pinfish, mullet and menhaden.

    Fisherman kissing a trout

    Where to Fish for Sea Trout

    Anglers generally target sea trout in shallow water ranging from a few feet to as little as a few inches deep. Sea trout hunt their prey in shallow areas like bays, inlets, estuaries and sounds which typically support a wealth of bait fish and have some tidal current. Sea trout generally prefer clear water and stay close to the bottom.. 

    Sea trout are usually found in or near some kind of cover or structure where they can hunt for food while also hiding from larger fish that might want to eat them, like sharks and tarpon. Some of the best areas to find sea trout include: 

    • Grass Flats: Grass flats support all the creatures that seatrout like to eat, and provide some of their best hunting grounds. Sea trout often move up onto shallow grass flats to hunt during the cool morning and evening hours, and then retreat to nearby channels and drop-offs in the heat of the day.

    • Oyster Bars: Oyster bars offer clear water and a break in the current, which are conditions that seatrout prefer when they’re in feeding mode. High tide is one of the best times to fish oyster bars.

    • Inlets and Jetties: Man-made structures like inlets and jetties typically have some current, which attracts baitfish as well as hungry sea trout. These areas are especially good places to fish during an incoming or outgoing tide. 

    Best Seasons for Sea Trout Fishing

    The best time to fish depends on where in the sea trout’s range you happen to be fishing. Generally, the fishing is excellent throughout the warmer months of the year, and sea trout can be found in shallow water throughout their long spawning season, which generally stretches from April to September. 

    Many anglers consider fall to be the absolute best time to fish for sea trout. From September to November, sea trout have finished spawning and start to feed aggressively in shallow water as they prepare for the long winter months. By December, they often retreat to deeper areas. 

    Closeup of Trout

    Best Baits and Lures for Sea Trout

    Any lure that resembles a live baitfish is likely to get the attention of spotted trout. Some of the most effective baits and lures for these fish include: 

    • Flies: Fly fishing for sea trout is a popular way to target this species. The best sea trout flies are medium to large minnow-imitating streamers such as Clouser Minnows, which have a weight-forward design and large eyes to imitate mullet and similar baitfish. Shrimp-imitating flies can also be effective.

    • Jigs:A jig head tipped with a soft plastic lure is arguably the single most effective artificial lure for spotted sea trout. Curly tail grubs are the most popular soft plastic body to use with a jig, but soft jerkbaits and paddle-tail swimbaits are also effective. White and natural minnow-imitating colors are often best, but there are days when the fish seem to prefer bright colors like chartreuse and hot pink.

    • Soft Plastic Shrimp:Effectively imitating one of the sea trout’s favorite easy meals, soft plastic shrimp imitations are a great choice when fishing shallow flats. Scented soft plastics are best.

    • Topwaters: Topwater lures like floating plugs and spooks are excellent when sea trout are willing to hunt on the surface, which is often the case in spring and fall. Choose topwater lures ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length that resemble the native baitfish in the area you’re fishing.

    • Spoons: Many anglers swear by spoons as a favorite way to catch sea trout. Long, narrow spoons in silver or metallic blue colors seem to work best, and they’re most effective when sea trout are in slightly deeper holes and channels.

    • Live Bait: A wide variety of live and natural baits are also highly effective for catching sea trout. Peeler crabs and shrimp are great for catching smaller and medium-sized fish, and live baitfish are great for catch sea trout of all sizes. To target larger fish, use larger baitfish like mullet. 

    Girl holding a trout on a boat

    Sea Trout Tackle and Line

    The right hooks, leaders and line are important, especially when fishing for sea trout with live bait. Jig heads weighing 1/4 to 3/8 ounce are ideal, and most sea trout anglers use a size 1 to 3/0 hook. A fluorocarbon leader is highly recommended to reduce the visibility of your line, and a popping cork is often used to create some noise that attracts fish. 

    When fly fishing for sea trout, a 6 to 8 weight rod with matching line works nicely. A 7 to 10-foot leader with a 2x to 4x fluorocarbon tippet is ideal in most situations..

    Catch More Spotted Sea Trout

    Sea trout are one of the most often-caught species in saltwater in the United States. Their preference for shallow areas makes them easy to catch from beaches and piers even if you do not have a boat, and their wide range that encompasses the entire East Coast and Gulf Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Texas ensures that everyone has a chance to catch this prized fish!