One of the premier inshore fish species on the Alabama Gulf Coast is the speckled (or spotted) trout.
Although speckled trout are most often targeted by anglers during the warmer months, specks can be caught year-round if you head for the right spots under the right conditions and are patient.
Because of the number of anglers who have focused on inshore fishing has increased dramatically in the past decade, the Alabama Marine Resources Division changed the regulations to reduce the bag limit and change the size limit. The bag limit is now six fish per person per day with a slot limit of 15 to 22 inches with an exception that anglers are allowed to keep one fish per day that is larger than 22 inches. The new regulations are designed to protect the larger females during the long spawning season from May through September.
Most anglers have discovered that speckled trout will take a variety of artificial lures during the spring before the fish become finicky. Minnow-imitation plastic baits with a ¼-ounce jighead will work hopped along the inshore areas that include structure, especially oyster beds and grass flats. Shrimp-imitation baits under a popping cork will also work.
When the weather gets a little warmer, the trout will transition to live bait. Live shrimp will work but be sure to carry plenty of bait because everything will eat a live shrimp.
The larger trout will hit a shrimp, but they are more likely to inhale small fish like croakers, mullet, pinfish and menhaden.
The most successful trout anglers I know during the “live bait period” use live croakers that are hooked through the snout and free-lined out the back of the boat. If the bait keeps coming to the surface, you can add a split shot to keep the bait down.
Trout prefer water temperatures from the low 60s to the low 80s and will hang out on the flats in fairly shallow water. When the weather gets hot, the trout will be in shallow water during low-light conditions at dawn and dusk and move to deeper waters during the heat of the day.
Unlike redfish, speckled trout don’t tolerate low salinity, so look for clear-water areas that are plenty salty. Because saltwater is heavier than freshwater, the trout may head to deeper water during periods with significant rain.
If we have periods of drought, the trout will follow the bait into the bayous, creeks and headwaters of the rivers.
As water temperatures decline during fall, fish move into deeper bays, which means anglers will have to shift tactics. Trout will often hang out in areas with flats near deeper channels, where they can retreat after a cold front.
As with any inshore fish species, when the weather is cold in late fall and winter, you have to slow your bait presentation. The fish don’t move as fast or feed as often, which means that patience pays.
When you get a few speckled trout in the box, head for the cleaning table and prepare for a fish fry. Trout dusted with blackening seasoning and sautéed is delicious, but you just can’t beat fresh trout rolled in fish fry mix and dropped in 350-degree oil until golden brown.