How to fly fish for spotted seatrout

How to Fly Fish for Spotted Seatrout (Setup, Flies, and More)

There is something mystical about fly fishing for spotted seatrout. These sliver slabs that start in the open water leave us for some time to venture out into the open ocean, only to return bigger, stronger, and more aggressive.

If you were lucky enough to grow up near a spotted seatrout body of water, you would know the countless hours spent in their pursuit. I was always wanted to learn more and get better at understanding them.

The obsession is real! Whether you admit it or not. The urge to get out while others stay indoors will always be there, just like the speckled trout will always return home.

Don’t fight it. Fight them!

Catching spotted seatrout with a fly rod
Catching spotted seatrout with a fly rod

Steps for Catching Spotted SeaTrout with a Fly Rod  

Spotted seatrout can be very tricky at times. The frustrating thing with spotted seatrout is what worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow.

Guide Tip: Spotted Seatrout are often called Speckled Trout and I use this term unchangeably through this article. I might even use the word sea trout as well. What’s weird is these fish aren’t even in the trout family, but are technically in the drum family. (source link)

That’s why having a few tactics and plans according to the water conditions is the best way to approach each session. Using your surroundings to decide and plan is always beneficial.

  1. Having the correct gear to fish for speckled trout is very important. It’s much like anything, really. Having the right tools for the job ensures it gets done correctly. A heavier fly rod and reel will be needed for speckled trout only because they pull hard, and you don’t want to be outgunned.
  2. Once you have the gear side of things sorted and ready to go, the next crucial part of this trout equation is to find the fish. Knowing the right water to fish at different times of the year is very beneficial. Rivers, bays, and lakes that are known to have trout in them will be the first port of call.
  3. Once we have the water source checked, the next thing is to ID the “Holding Water” for speckled trout. Depending on where you are fishing, the holding waters could be shallow ledge drops or tailwaters of the river nearing the main outlet.
  4. Using nature to help decide and chase a specific fish species is key, and spotted seatrout are no different. Look for baitfish swimming around turn over a few rocks to see the nymphs in the system. If you see loads of structure, maybe think or use a mouse pattern or gurgler fly. Use what’s around you to help decide what to fish.
  5. Presentation is key, especially with singular cruising spotted seatrout. That fly needs to land with great finesse. The fish needs to see, track, and eat the fly within a few seconds. These steps all boil down to getting yourself into the correct position to make the cast. Being comfy when you cast is crucial.
  6. Lastly, NO DRAG! Drag will mess up any drift regardless of the species. So, whether you are nymphing or drifting a dry don’t induce drag. It will kill any chance you have. Spotted seatrout are too smart for that.

One of my fondest memories was a few years back when I was chasing spotted seatrout on an early winters morning. The conditions were perfect! Maybe a little too perfect, you know when it all just seems too good to be true.

Well, the water was cold, but the rest of the day was spectacular. I found fish relatively quickly. Clear, shallow water with a 7wt floating line and a good pair of low light sunnies, I was able to actually see the eats.

It was one of those days that will stay in my memory banks for a very long time.

Selecting Fly Fishing Gear for SPotted SeaTrout

Fly Rod – Your fly rod of choice can be anything from a 6wt to a 9wt. I tend to opt for the heavier rods to turn over some of those flies and cast in the wind. A lighter rod is fine; you will just need to know your limits. A proven fly rod recommendation is the Sage Sonic Fly Rod (short cut link to Amazon) Sage have great warranties, beautiful construction and action.

  • Fly Line – When it comes to fly lines, I Like to start off with a floating line. I will generally not change if not needed. Should I need to change, A quick switch to an intermediate is as heavy as I go.
  • Fly Fishing Reel – Look, fly reels can be such a tricky topic to talk about. With the quality of the die-cast reels being made these days, there is no longer a distinct difference between qualities.

That said, I like to fish a Sage Spectrum Fly Reel (quick link to Amazon for prices and reviews). I love these reels, and they have proven themselves time and time again.

Look for a reel that has a large arbor, good backing capacity, and smooth drag.

  • Leader and tippet – on the business end of the fly line, a 7’-10′ leader is ideal with a 2x-4x fluorocarbon tippet.

Favorite Flies for Speckled Trout

Flies for Spotted Seatrout
Flies for Spotted Seatrout – some images Umpqua


Is it a great fly to start off with any time of the year? Fished as a search pattern in darker browns and greens is my preference. I like to tie these patterns in #04/#06 sizes.


The DC Prawn is another great all-rounder spotted seatrout fly and one that is always in my fly box. Orange, reds, and black on a size #4 hook about 3″ in length is my first choice.


The number one choice for a surface fly, I love them! In whites and browns on a size #6 hook, they are deadly. There’s nothing nicer than seeing your fly gets smashed on the surface.


The MR HANKEY is always worth having in the box. A great pattern for inland waters and ideally fished in the evening even into the dark. This gurgler cross mouse pattern pushes water and lets the trout know it’s there. Whatever it may be. The trailing hook size #4 is a great little addition. Keep the colors natural.


Is a classic salmon fly, but boy, does it work for spotted seatrout. Fished in reds and black on an intermediate or sinking line is the best way to get results. You want to get this pattern down in the water column.

How I Like to Setup my Fly Rod for SPOtted SeaTrout

My first-choice fly rod and reel set up for spotted seatrout is an 8wt fly rod with a matching reel. I currently use the Snowbee RMX Spectre 9′ #8 rod with a Shilton SL6 Reel.

My first-choice fly line is an RIO salt floating line; I tend to always start off with a floating line and may change to an intermediate line at a later stage.

My leader and tippet setup is pretty standard. I tie my own leaders and use Lefty Kreh’s 50% method to formulate them. I have put a link below for you to watch. I now tie all my leaders in this format.

Lefty Kreh’s 50% leader formula

I fish a 9′ leader with a 3-4x tippet to start. If the waters are extremely clear, I scale down my tippet to some fluorocarbon tippet.

When we talk knots, I know that many of you have tried and tested knots. Don’t change them on my account. I will list the knots I use and when these have been tried and tested by myself.

Below is a YouTube Playlist with my favorite knots

Some Knots to Learn


Feeding Fish This is often the easiest time to catch speckled trout. They aren’t focused on a particular insect stage and will eat almost anything that crosses their path. I like to start with a nymph rig here and work the bottom first. Depending on the success, I would move to a dry fly or, in the bigger deeper pools, a streamer.

Running FishSpeckled trout are known to run at night, but if the conditions are right, they will run during the day. This is streamer time! Focus on getting the fly to swing slowly down past the moving fish. Keep the fly as deep as possible without catching the riverbed.

Rising fishDry fly magic! When a hatch is on, and the speckled trout are responding well to it, it’s time for a nice-sized dry fly longer leader and light tippet. It’s vital to get the drag-free drifts here. The dry fly needs to move as one with the water. The classic ‘sip take’ can be expected, so be ready.

Guide Tip: Understanding the different types of rise forms can give you clues to what fish are eating. Learn more with this article -> Fly Fishing Tactics – Understanding Rise Forms

Types of strips

Your retrieve is one of the most important variables while you are fishing. How you retrieve in a given condition can mean catching a fish or not. Remember, spotted seatrout, like all other salmonids, are predatory fish and will eat on instinct.

When fishing nymphs, there isn’t much stripping but more of keeping in touch with the nymphs on the bottom and having no drag. Yes, at the end of the drift, I like to swing the nymphs and strip them back up vigorously to start the drift again, but that’s about it.

When fishing a dry fly, again, there isn’t any stripping but more focus on keeping in touch with the fly and not creating any drag. This is especially important with dry fly fishing. Remember, the silhouette can be seen from below, and it is moving faster than the water or other insects. It’s not natural, and chances are it will be ignored.

One little trick I like to do when fishing a dry. When I know the fish are eating dries, but the spotted seatrout need a little more convincing, I like to skate the dry on the surface. What this means is I deliberately high stick and drag the dry across the surface. This could imitate a few things and generally gets the eat.

When fishing streamers, the retrieves will change a lot. My general rule is that when fishing daylight, I use smaller flies with a faster erratic retrieve. When the light starts to fade and we move into the darkness, I gradually fish larger flies at slower speeds through the runs. Remember that as night sets in, the fish still need to see the fly, so a large fly fished slower makes sense.

Guide Tip: With a couple little tips you can use your floating fly line for fishing streamers. Learn how in this article -> How to Use Floating Fly Line for Streamer Fishing

What Additional Gear is Great to Have when fishing for SPOTTED SeaTrout?

  • It’s always beneficial to carry a second fly rod setup with you. I like to have the opposite of what I’m fishing first at hand to change quickly should I need to.
  • Carry spare fly lines if you are fishing a singular rod. I like to have an intermediate and DI3 sinking line just in case.
  • A dry bag in your backpack is always a good idea.
  • A headlamp is a must for those early mornings and late evenings. It is also essential when fishing at night.
  • Warm jacket when night fishing
  • A good thermal flask for a nice cup of coffee is always a great idea.

Where to Find SPOtted SeaTrout?

Ok, so we have all the gear and flies. You are now ready for your first mission to try and catch a silver slab. But where to look? How do you start your search?

Ok, let’s go!

Look for moving water; moving water is a great place to start looking for speckled trout. Spend some time watching the water to see if you notice any activity. If the fish are there, they will be moving in and out of the feeding lanes. A streamer is a good choice here if the area is quite large. Alternately you can fish a nymph rig if the run is shallow enough to get to the bottom.

 Stillwaters are always a good place to find speckled trout. Fish the shores that have the prevailing wind blowing onto them. This is where the food will gather. Fish the structure and drops. The fish will use these areas to feed.

Tampa Bay great for spotted seatrout
Tampa Bay great for spotted seatrout – image Google Maps – LINK

Bays are a great place to fish for speckled trout. I like to fish the shallower sections and work my way out. Make sure you know if the tides affect the bay at all, as this is a safety concern. Fishing shrimp patterns in clear waters usually produce good results.

Saltwater is a whole other ball game when chasing speckled trout. Tides play a huge role in how and where to find these fish. I like to fish the incoming tide about 2 hours after it has turned.

Use the low tide to scout areas with holes and channels that the fish could use on the high tide. Fish bigger baitfish patterns as well. On this note, please make sure you know the highwater mark for the pushing tide. You don’t want to have to swim home.

When is the Best Time to Fly Fish for Spotted SeaTrout?

Ok, so to understand this fishes behavior, we need to understand their life cycle. Every year in late winter, early spring is when the speckled trout start to make their way back into the rivers to spawn.

Most of the bigger fish will run first, so if you are in for a big fish, you will have to brave the cold a bit. You will find the fish holding in the bigger pools during the day and then at night is when they make a move and run further upstream.

They will continue to run for the spawn up until mid to late July, even into August, before they start to head back out again.

June and July are your best chances of catching some nice fish. For me, these months are great times because the weather is better and more bearable compared to mid-May.

Work the deeper pools during the day and keep an eye out for the late evening hatches as things tend to kick off then.

Fishing at night is very productive for spotted seatrout. They are out in numbers and generally eat big flies.

The spawn is a very debatable time to fish for any fish, really. I know of rivers and waters where the spawning season is closed to all angling, but let’s face it, it is the time to catch that trophy fish. If you do find yourself fishing for spawning fish, be sure to handle them with care and not to spook the others in the pool as they congregate.

Different Fly-Fishing Techniques for Catching SPotted seaTrout

Dry Fly

Tie on that dry fly as soon as you see the hatch starting. Match the hatch a size up or down first and see how that goes. If you get into the fish immediately, then enjoy. If they show interest but no commitment, change smaller or larger again. This usually works.   


Streamers are so much fun when the time is right. I like to use them as search patterns when the day is slow and hopefully get an eat. I also like to swing them across and down the current, let them hang for a while in the current, then retrieve with an erratic motion.

Streamers are also great in still waters or bays where there is plenty of baitfish around. Casting at single cruising fish is one of the ultimate pleasures.


This is my go-to technique when I’m fishing the rivers in early spring and into summer. I fish a double rig with a heavier point fly. I work from the bottom up, covering all the water columns.

A euro nymph rig is great for this type of fishing. You have direct contact with the fly and very seldom miss a eat.

More Nymph Fishing Articles – WHY because NYMPHS Catch Fish!

Tips for Catching SPeckled Trout with a Fly

  • Have a selection of dry flies, nymphs, and streamers ready.
  • An 8wt fly rod is perfect for covering most of your fishing scenarios.
  • A floating line is best. Having an intermediate backup is not a bad idea either.
  • Fish the early mornings and evenings really well in the early season.
  • Night fishing in the summer is a must. This is when the fish run upstream and can be a very productive time to catch your trophy fish.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch it up. If things aren’t working, change fly and tactics.
  • Having a headlamp for night fishing is a must. Don’t shine it on the water, though. Keep it on the ground and in the sky. If the trout see it, they are gone!
  • If you fish the spawn, do so with care and make sure you don’t disturb the pools too much.
  • Saltwater is a great place to target the early season fish and post-spawn. Fish with the tides and work the inlets and gullies. Keep an eye for singular cruising fish. They have that lovely silver shine and are generally big, bold, and wise.

Fighting, Netting, and Handling SPeckled Trout

So, the hard yards are done! You found the fish, made the cast, and presented the fly well. You see the fish turns onto your fly. It tracks the fly, and BOOM!

It hits hard, and now the fight is on. These old silver slabs didn’t get this way by being stupid. So, you know you are in for a fight.

You finally manage to muscle the fish to the net and make a single swooping move to net the beast.

You’ve done it!

Wet your handle before you handle the fish; you don’t want to wash any of that protective slim off its skin. Get a few good photos of you and your fish. If you can keep it in the water for these pics, that would be great. We should all be advocates for keeping fish wet.

Before the release, make sure the fish is strong and ready to swim off properly.

Last Cast for Spotted SEATrout

I have a love, hate relationship with speckled trout. Some days, it all just works, and others, it all goes wrong. That’s fishing, they say. But I really do believe with the right knowledge and skill. You can change those bad days around and make them so worthy.

A true angler won’t stop because the conditions weren’t great. They power through it and hopefully come out with a fish or two.

Equipped with the right flies and gear, your chances are great! Be sure to look at the Flies for Spotted Seatrout section to get yourself kitted correctly.

Now, get yourself out there and get that line stretched!

Happy Fishing!

Kyle Knight writer Guide Recommended

Kyle Knight

Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.

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