Spotted Sea Trout (cynoscion nebulosus) is probably the most popular game fish in Florida, especially along the Big Bend coastline of Natural North Florida. They are easy to catch using a variety of tackle, and make excellent table fare. A daily individual bag limit of 4 fish in the 15-20″ slot plus one trophy ‘gator’ fish over 20″ will easily feed a family of four–an excellent reward for a fun day on the water.
Spotted sea trout (often called ‘specks’, a name that sometimes confuses them with freshwater crappie, or speckled perch) prefer a grassy habitat that holds small bait fish and crustaceans. They typically stay in water less than 6 feet deep, except in extreme temperatures. In the heat of the summer, they will move to depths greater than 10 feet, seeking cool water and in the winter they will move into the safety of deep river channels.
The most popular way to catch sea trout on the Big Bend is to use a popping cork rigged over a live or artificial shrimp, tossed out as the boat drifts over patchy grass and sand bottom. Some anglers use simple J-hooks, while others use 1/4 ounce jig heads, to hold the bait. The leader between the cork and hook/jig (usually made up of fluorocarbon leader material) needs to be long enough to allow the bait to suspend just over the grass tops. Almost any combination of light tackle rods and reels will work, but most ‘serious’ trout fishermen prefer medium-sized spinning outfits spooled with 10-pound test line. Leaders should be made up from 20 to 25 pound-test material. Anglers (and sea trout) seem to prefer corks that have rattles, as that ‘popping’ noise attracts trout to the bait. In addition to live shrimp, artificial shrimp such as those made by D.O.A. Lures and GULP! are popular on the Big Bend and can be fished just like the ‘real thing’.
Anglers wishing to fish artificial lures for spotted sea trout will also find there are many options for successful hookups. In deeper water, I recommend lures made by MirrOlure and D.O.A. MirrOlure’s 52M18 and D.O.A.’s 3-inch glow shrimp are good choices for moderate depths, but you’ll need to get your lure deep if you fish river channels or deep creeks in the wintertime. There, use a MirrOlure TT or a Paul Brown Original Corky (also made by MirrOlure). If you’re able to fish shallow, in the 3-foot depths, use topwater plugs to attract explosive strikes from what are usually bigger fish. MirrOlure’s Top Pup series of lures is a good choice for this style of fishing.
Finally, remember that sea trout are very delicate and need special handling if they’re going to be returned to the wild. Don’t hold them with a towel or dry hands while unhooking them and try to unhook them at water level. A fall to the deck of your boat or the loss of their insulating slime usually means certain death or disease. And if you plan to keep a few for dinner, ice them quickly and keep them cold until cooking time.
For detailed information on fishing the Big Bend, current fishing reports, and general fishing news, visit the SaltwaterAnglersGuides Web site.