Speckled trout are a peculiar species. They can be found from Delaware to Texas, and I have caught them in both of those locations as well as Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. They may be taken out of the surf, the bay and tidal rivers, and behind the marsh islands. Some years they seem to be everywhere and the next year you can’t find them anywhere.
Other than the natural cycle of fish, the one thing that will deplete a local stock of speckled trout is a hard freeze while the fish are in shallow water. Reports of trout stunned by the cold water or dead or dying often come right after a dramatic cold snap.
In our part of the world, specks are sought after along the Eastern Shore from Crisfield on down to Cape Charles and from Gloucester down to Virginia Beach on the Western Shore. The vast majority of this fishing is done in shallow water around grass beds, drop-offs, and other structure.
I have a couple of friends who pursue specks the way I once went after rockfish. They pretty much eat, sleep, and breathe speckled trout, and while they will fish for other species, they are planning the next trout trip while catching whatever happens to be on their line at the time.
The number one lure for many of these devoted speck fans is the MirrOlure. Some swear by the red head/white body, others go for the electric chicken. You can pick from a wide variety of colors and weights.
One of the hottest setups is a popping cork with an artificial or live shrimp following behind. I have used this with a D.O.A. shrimp or a live shrimp in Florida, and I have no doubt it would work in Maryland or Virginia with a nice piece of peeler crab or imitation crab or shrimp. The cork-created commotion on the surface attracts the trout’s attention, and when it sees the lure or bait, it strikes. The hit drags the float underwater and sets the hook long before the angler rears back on the rod.
Plain old bait fishing will also produce speckled trout. I fished around Smith Island with peeler crab and caught plenty of specks from the channels and Bay. We also had decent luck using peeler crab during a period of dirty water when fishing out of Deal. Nothing fancy, just a plain old top-bottom rig bounced along the bottom close to the edge of a marsh and set when we felt the bite.
Many speck fishermen like to use jigs. These can vary from every shape known to man and every color of the rainbow. When I lived in Virginia Beach, the Mr. Wiffle soft plastic was considered the go-to lure for speckled trout. I often fished with Mr. Wiffle’s designer, Dick Smaling, who simply punched some holes in the wide tail of a soft plastic swim bait and got a trademark. He was also the hands-down master when it came to catching speckled trout with his lure. Unfortunately, the company went out of business, but recently it has been resurrected as Mr. Wiffle Lure, and if you go to the website and type in ‘MrWifflelure’ you can still order these soft plastics from the new company in Florida.
One of the tricks Dick taught me was the jerk and drop. You make your cast to the edge of the marsh grass, oyster bed, or other structure. Let the lure drop to the bottom and then jerk it up as fast as you can raise the rod tip. Reel out the slack, let it drop again, and repeat. The hit will come on the drop; this will work when the regular retrieve doesn’t. Your fishing buddies will be amazed!
Trolling is not a normal form of fishing for specks, but I did know of one man who made it work. While fishing near Gloucester with a friend, I saw a man in a rowboat with a single rod trolling around the flats. He was catching the occasional trout. My friend said he was a local priest and this was his way of relaxing. I don’t recall if he was fishing on Friday.
Speckled trout fishing has been pretty good this year, and the same friend in Gloucester has sent me photos of some very nice fish. I have also seen photos of some big specks from North Carolina, and my son Ric has caught some from the surf in Virginia Beach. Might be a good time to give speckled trout fishing a try.
By Eric Burnley