The spotted seatrout, also known as speckled trout or simply called specks by some, is one of the most popular fish pursued while Chesapeake Bay fishing. They are best known for their beautiful spotted silvery sides, purplish hue, and the drumming or purring noise the males make during spawning season shortly before sunset. While speckled trout may be noisy fish, that doesn’t mean they don’t taste good – there are many ways to prepare specks and this forthcoming link will take you to one of the highest-rated recipes. But you've got to catch 'em before you can cook 'em, so let's get started down this road with a look at catching some specks in the waters near Smith Island.

What are Speckled Trout?

Scientifically known as Cynoscion nebulosus, speckled sea trout are not actually trout but are in the Drum family. Other names you may hear used for them include seatrout, spotted squeteague, spotted trout, and spotted weakfish. Speckled trout have elongated bodies with elevated backs as well as large mouths and pointed snouts. The coloring distinguishes speckled trout from its close relative, the weakfish (also known as gray trout, yellowfin trout, and sea trout). It has a distinct pattern of black spots along the silvery, upper body that extend into the caudal and dorsal fins. They have a very prominent set of two fang-like “K-9” teeth in their upper jaw – don’t try grabbing a speckled sea trout by the jaw, as you might a striped bass!

speckled trout fishing
Watch out, those specks have teeth!

The male reaches sexual maturity at age two and females reach it at age three. Speckled trout grow up to lengths of around 35 inches, come close to 20 pounds, and can live eight to 10 years.

Record Speckled Trout

While speckled trout are popular in the Bay, Delaware doesn’t record a state record for this species. There are, however, state records for Maryland and Virginia.

  • Maryland - 16 pounds, six ounces, caught by John Philips in 1977
  • Virginia – 16 pounds, caught by Bill Katko, also in 1977
  • World Record – 17 pounds, seven ounces, caught by Craig Carson in 1995

Commonly, the largest speckled trout of the season are caught in the spring – if you want to try to catch a new record trout, this is usually the best time. Read Fishing for Monster Spring Speckled Trout, to learn more about early-season fishing for specks.

When and Where To Find Speckled Trout

Speckled trout can be found from the Gulf of Mexico to Cape Cod, but are increasingly less common as you move north of the Delaware Bay. Some speckled trout never leave the Chesapeake region and may over-winter in or near the mouth of the Bay, but larger stocks of specks travel to the Chesapeake Bay in April and May and move back south in November or December, when the water temperature drops. During the months that speckled trout are in the Chesapeake Bay, they tend to stick to the Lower Bay and Middle Bay regions. Most seasons they become less and less common as you go north of the Maryland/Virginia line. On occasion they’re caught north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but this is a rather rare event.

big speckled trout in fall
Most people think of speckled trout as warm weather fish, but they can also be caught in early spring and late fall in the Chesapeake region. Photo courtesy of Josh Lowery

Specks are usually found in relatively shallow water. Grass beds, oyster bars, creek mouths, stump fields, and drop-offs, generally in less than 10 feet of water, are common places to fish for them. Young speckled trout can be found in very shallow tidal creeks and weedbeds.

Speckled trout hotspots

While speckled sea trout can be encountered in virtually any tributary or along any shoreline in the Middle or Lower Chesapeake, some well-known hotspots include:

The Tangier Sound

Mobjack Bay and the Pinakatank River

The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel

How to Fish for Speckled Sea Trout

There are multiple methods used for speck fishing and they can be caught by casting artificial lures or by bait fishing. In most cases, anglers will either work along a shoreline or around structure. Read How to Catch Speckled Trout in the Shallows, by Captain “Walleye Pete” Dahlberg, to learn more about how to target specks with lures. Anglers near the mouth of the Bay should check out How to Catch Autumn Speckled Sea Trout, by Chuck Harrison, to find out how to enjoy the fall speckled trout run in the Hampton, VA area.

Best speckled sea trout lures

Ask a room full of speckled trout anglers to name the best lure, and of course, you'll hear a room full of different answers. Everyone has their own favorites and which lure is truly "best" can change from place to place, day to day, and even from tidal cycle to tidal cycle. That said, here are some perennial favorites.

  • Soft plastic grubs and jigs, such as BKD lures, Bass Assassins, or Zooms
  • Bucktails
  • Sinking or diving plugs such as Mirr-O-Lures or You-Zuri Crystal Minnow
  • Topwater plugs like Badonk-A-Donks and Neal Cohen Custom Lures
  • Plastic shrimp like DOA lures
speckled trout caught on lure
Speckled trout will hit a wide variety of lures, including soft plastic jigs like the one this speck hit.

Best speckled trout baits

As with lures, different anglers like different baits the most. However, no one will deny that all of these baits can be very effective for speckled sea trout.

  • Peeler crab
  • Soft crab
  • Shrimp
  • Live minnows or small baitfish

Speckled Sea Trout Regulations

While knowing how and where to catch specks is great, you’ll also need to be aware of state regulations regarding size and creel limits. Here are the websites with speckled trout limits for:

Check out our Fishing for Beginners section, to learn more basics about the most popular Chesapeake and Mid-Atlantic species of sportfish.

-By Maya Rogalski