Chris Bush is an officer in the Air Force, a husband, father and an avid inshore angler. He spends his fishing time targeting big speckled trout and sharing his knowledge on his website, The Speckled Truth.
Topwater baits often work the coastal marshes from Virginia to Texas. Anglers from all over squint intently at the water’s surface in hopes that their peaceful setting turns into a chaotic disruption. Whether it’s angered by the lure’s presence or hastily attempting an easy meal, spotted sea trout, or commonly known as speckled trout, leave little to the imagination when it comes to attacking surface plugs. In short, it’s visual and appealing to most anglers. However, outside of euphoria, it’s actually the preferred way by most trout purist to pursue big speckled trout. In the next few paragraphs, let’s explore how to catch speckled trout using topwater baits.
Topwater Bait for Speckled Trout
Believe it or not, topwater plugs are extremely versatile. Produced in an array of shapes, colors and sizes (more on that later), their sole reason for existence is to imitate baitfish near the water’s surface. Conversely, big speckled trout, by nature, are highly predacious and opportunistic feeders. As they mature from juveniles, studies have shown a general shift in diet from shrimp to larger finfish, i.e. mullet, pogies and often times other trout. Additionally, as speckled trout grow in size they also begin their pilgrimage to isolate themselves from the safety of schools. This transition, depending on estuary and environmental conditions, can be along shallow flats (knee deep or less) with a bottom texture often composed of seagrass or oysters. For some deeper water estuaries, like the river systems along the east coast, adjacent flats along ledges provide suitable ambush points for big trout to come and go, but a general rule of thumb is the shallower the water the bigger the trout.
Like tools in a toolshed, lures and techniques have specific jobs and topwater baits are no different. They’re productive because they target the very top of the water column in generally shallow water situations. In a more basic sense, they do a great job at imitating clumsy or dying baitfish, thus capitalizing on the fish’s overzealous feeding instinct.
When to Use Topwater Bait for Speckled Trout
Having touched on the why, knowing when to throw topwater baits for trout is also just as important. As contentious as many political discussions, some anglers affiliate with either the “seasonal” or “year round” parties. Seasonal anglers believe that water temperatures (either rising or falling) coincide with months of the year, spawning the phrase “topwater season.” As a general rule of thumb, this is April through June or September through October depending on the estuaries latitudinal line. Conversely, “year round” affiliates believe subtleties in environmental conditions, regardless of calendar and location, dictate a productive topwater bite.
In other words, a gentle warming trend in January, raising water temps from 49 to 55 degrees, may be just enough to get those big speckled trout from a lethargic to an aggressive state. Notionally, neither vantage point is wrong. Instead, having a better understanding of water temperature as an axis point and knowing baitfish presence, water levels and solunar activity is key. In short, be open minded – the fish will tell you what they want if you’re willing to listen.
Speckled Trout Rigs
Quality gear, as in most obsessive hobbies, can be the difference between success and failure. Targeting trophy speckled trout is no different. The right rod, equipped with a high-performing reel spooled with durable line can lead to more bites and successful attempts at catching sea trout. Baitcast or spincast options are adequate for fishermen based on their angling needs. More often than not 6’6” or 7’ Medium action rods provide plenty enough power to drive the hooks home even on longer casts and give just enough in the rod tip during the fight to avoid pulling the hooks. Most conventional bass tackle is suitable for the transition to saltwater. Higher gear ratio reels like a Shimano Casitas 7.2:1 or Penn Battle II 3000’s provide enough spool capacity without compromising a heavier wait. In other words, the lighter the better. This will increase casting distance while maintaining maximum sensitivity, thus leading to less wary fish and more blow-ups. Suggested line for the task at hand is Suffix 832 braid in 20lb test, 6lb diameter. The lack of stretch braided line provides, maximizes sensitivity and amplifies the power of the hookset. Having said that, the only downside is it’s visible in the water column so a 5 to 7-foot, 15 - 30lb test flourocarbon leader is recommended. Uni-to-Uni or the FG knot are both highly recommended when tying braided line to a fluorocarbon leader.
Types of Topwater Baits for Speckled Sea Trout
Topwaters, as mentioned, come in an array of shapes, colors and sizes. Oftentimes the best speckled trout lures range from 3 – 6 inches and vary in body type. The top speckled trout lures by brand manufacturer are MirrOlure, Rapala, and Heddon. Of course a myriad of other lure manufacturers produce topwater baits, but personal experience and literature validate their consistency. What separates these baits is their profile and more importantly their audible presence. For example, a Top Pup and She Pup produced by MirrOlure have the exact same profile, but their audible presence varies greatly.
The She Pup is much louder than the Top Pup, and is more suitable for windier conditions. Healthier wave conditions constantly move the bait which affords the louder audible presence to match the conditions. The same can be said for the MirrOlure C-Eyes Top Dog and the Heddon One Knocker.
As you can hear, the One Knocker is way more subtle than the Top Dog, which omits a louder, higher pitch. Thus making the Heddon the better choice for calmer, more wary fish. With regards to color, it’s a matter of personal preference. Since silhouette is the greater component to drawing a strike, focus on size, profile and pitch vice color. If you feel color is an important factor, lighter colors for lighter days and water clarity is the general rule of thumb.
Whether you’re just beginning to learn how to catch speckled trout or are a seasoned charter captain, few anglers would choose another technique over fishing with topwater. Its visual appeal and kinetic response offers the most thrilling way to fish. However, if it has been a technique that has alluded your angling ability, hopefully the aforementioned curtails your learning curve. By garnering the knowledge of why this technique is so effective, it’s only a matter of time before you learn how to fish topwater lures for big speckled trout.