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Three Best Seatrout Fishing Spots in Florida: Where To Fish For Spotted Seatrout & How To Find Them

On the search for seatrout? These are three of the best areas in Florida to try for one of these spotted vampires. Mind the fangs!

Three Best Seatrout Fishing Spots in Florida: Where To Fish For Spotted Seatrout & How To Find Them

If they grew to 6 feet long, you wouldn’t dare swim in the same water. Spotted seatrout are voracious predators known for their gaping mouths and vampire fangs. They have no idea how large their stomach actually is and will try to swallow almost any bait fish they can fit their mouths around. Considering most average trout are between 12-20 inches their ability to pack a 6-inch mullet into their gut is impressive. But, when trout cross the 20-inch threshold and begin growing towards the 30 inch “trophy” range, they become a different animal. Their violent attitude and savagery towards other fish has earned them the nickname “gator trout”. They don’t discriminate when it comes to food, making them a favorite target among lure anglers and bait fisherman alike.

Also known as speckled seatrout or “specks,” seatrout in Florida are actually members of the croaker family. They are widespread throughout most inshore marine ecosystems on the east and Gulf coasts of North America and can be found in a vast range of habitat. But, like any fish, there are certain conditions and locations seatrout prefer over others. The best spots for speckled trout in Florida tend to be located in three regions: East Central, West Central and Northeast Florida.

Disclaimer: Water quality has become a very unfortunate factor in the health of many Florida fisheries. Pollution, habitat loss and toxic algae blooms have become a rapidly escalating problem in Central, South and West Florida. These once thriving ecosystems are being decimated on a yearly basis due to man-made influences. Polluted storm water runoff, outdated sewage systems, poor management of aquatic resources, over-expansion and unmitigated development has left wetlands and estuaries on life support.

Seatrout are one of the many species these water quality issues effect. Healthy water means healthy fisheries—they are directly linked and cannot be ignored any longer. Please visit these links to educate yourself and spread awareness of the current water crisis in Florida. If nothing is done these once historical trout fisheries will die and the fish with them: Captains for Clean Water, Vote Water, Save the Indian River Lagoon and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

That being said, you will need to take into consideration the health of the ecosystem when choosing a destination to target trout. If the region you intend to fish is currently experiencing algae blooms or habitat degradation, that will drastically affect your success. The locations outlined below are presented from a healthy point of view. If algae or discharges are occurring in or around these areas, all bets are off.

East Central & Southeast Florida: New Smyrna to Stuart - Indian River Lagoon

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Central Florida is world renowned for its Intracoastal lagoons and aquatic preserves. These shallow, grassy ecosystems are fed by an Intracoastal waterway called the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). Extending from Titusville to Stuart, this lagoon is responsible for slowly circulating water and fish into some of the most pristine grass flats Florida has to offer. When conditions are calm and the weather is prime, it often feels as if you are fishing in an aquarium. The water can become crystal clear and routinely offers up world class sight fishing opportunities.

The Indian River is also home to one of the most legendary speckled trout fisheries in the world. Extremely shallow lagoons, mangrove forests and protected estuaries provide perfect habitat for trout to thrive in. There is very little tidal movement, allowing fish to push very shallow without worry of being stranded. These skinny water flats also prevent many larger predators, such as dolphins, from chasing down and eating the trout within them. With plenty of baitfish, very little threats from other predators and practically ideal living conditions the trout fishery thrives—when water quality isn’t an issue. This allows a healthy population of mature female breeders to grow large and continue populating the fishery. And it’s these large female “gator trout” that draw so many saltwater anglers to the Indian River. Not only can you catch handfuls of smaller to mid-size fish, the possibility of hooking into your largest trout ever is very high. In fact, the current all tackle world record for speckled trout is a 17-pound 7 ounce trout caught out of Fort Pierce.

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Typically, winter and spring are the best times to target trout inside the IRL. In winter the water is cooler, cleaner, devoid of most algae and conditions are favorable for targeting shallow trout on sunbaked flats. In spring, the trout begin to spawn and become ravenously hungry. This is typically when you see the heaviest fish and can count on catching some large females.

However, as mentioned earlier East Central and Southeast Florida have struggled with water quality issues. Habitat loss, harmful stormwater discharges, nutrient runoff and resulting algae blooms have become a critical problem. Spread awareness and check in with local anglers, outfitters and guides for a report on estuary health before you make a trip.




West Central Florida: Tampa to Bradenton - Tampa Bay

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Massive expanses of shallow grass flats riddled with potholes, oyster bars and mangroves compose one of the most well-known fisheries on the west coast of Florida. Fed by inlets and natural passes, Tampa Bay rests along the Gulf of Mexico and is well known as a fish haven. It provides ideal habitat for some of the most sought-after saltwater species, including seatrout.

Tampa Bay, like the IRL, is a shallow ecosystem with limited tidal movement. Trout can stay in protected flats with very little threats from larger predators. You may notice a trend here: many of the best places to find large populations of trout in Florida are shallow grass flats. Trout do occasionally migrate to deeper water and passes to stage during spawning periods or seek refuge during severe cold fronts. They can also occasionally be found cruising the beaches as they feed on schools of mullet and white bait. However, the general consensus is that seatrout, especially large females, thrive in shallow protected flats. And like most other regions of Florida, the best time frames to target these fish are during cooler water periods. There is more oxygen in the water and the shallow, warmer flats and large schools of hungry trout will congregate there. So, winter and spring are again the most ideal time periods for good conditions and consistent feeds.

Unfortunately, the Piney Point discharges in 2020 have left a critical amount of unhealthy nutrients in the bay. The resulting supercharged red tide event ravaged Tampa, St. Petersburg and Bradenton. The grass flats in the region are beginning to recover, but they have a long road ahead of them. The fishery can bounce back, and the seatrout will likely recover as long as there are no more discharges or major red tide events.

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Northeast Florida: Jacksonville to St. Augustine - “The Sleeper”

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Northeast Florida is often overlooked for the sexy flats and clear water of East Central and West Florida, but North Florida is slowly becoming a destination to target speckled trout. The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) extends from the Northeast United States all the way through the east coast of Florida. It consists of both natural and man-made inlets that allow saltwater to flow inland with incoming tides and freshwater tributaries to flow outward, eventually connecting to the ocean. In Jacksonville the St John’s River connects to the ICW and creates a “sweet water” or brackish ecosystem that allows trout to live in a variety of habitats.

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The first thing you’ll notice when setting out on the water is the sprawling marsh and dark water. Unlike Central and West Florida, the North Florida region is composed primarily of spartina grasses, oyster bars and silty mud banks. It looks completely different than its southern counterparts. Therefore, the methods used to target trout will be slightly different. Instead of focusing your efforts on shallow flats you will target man-made structure, oyster bars, grass lines and deeper sections of the river. Trout in this region take advantage of deeper, darker waters to ambush mullet and shrimp as they move with the tide. This is the most important difference between this region and the rest of the state—the tide.

The average tide is between four to five feet with some tides as large as seven feet during certain times of the year. Millions of gallons of water are being circulated in and out of the inlets every day. This is significant for two reasons: 1) Trout will feed with the tide as bait is being flushed in and out of the tidal marsh. 2) North Florida does not experience the stagnant water algae blooms and water quality issues that other trout fisheries suffer from. The water is circulated and filtered through the oyster beds and grasses regularly, leaving anglers with healthy estuaries. Healthy habitat means a healthy fishery and as water quality issues continue to become an issue in the southern portions of the state, we may very well see North Florida become a popular fishing destination for anglers seeking speckled trout.

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