Natural Selections: Cynoscion nebulous

With high numbers, good sizes and a fighting attitude, specks are a local angling favorite. Just in time for prime fishing season, learn more about the brackish marine creatures and where they can be caught on Mobile Bay.

IN OTHER WORDS Though known as speckled trout in these parts, the proper name is spotted seatrout. Other aliases include spotted squeteague, specks, spotted weakfish and, for big ones in the Florida Peninsula, gator trout.

RULES & REGULATIONS Our high numbers of speckled trout are no accident: The Alabama Department of Conservation works hard to keep it that way. Limiting the number of specks caught to 10 per person helps to prevent overfishing. The 14-inch minimum size ensures that each caught fish has had a chance to reproduce, so that the species can counteract the effects of recreational fishing.

A MILD MISNOMER Oddly enough, speckled trout aren’t trout at all: They’re actually drums, a family of fish named for the drumming noise that their bladders make for spawning purposes.

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TO CATCH A PREDATOR Specks are ambush predators, meaning that they lie in wait for their prey before attacking with their signature fang-like teeth. This intense way of striking is also what makes them a favorite for fishermen. 

SNIFFING AROUND An old wives’ tale swears that the smell of watermelon on the water indicates that speckled trout are feeding nearby. Supposedly, the fish regurgitate while dining, and the sweet-smelling remnants rise to the surface, creating a trout slick.

Shipp’s tricks

Professor emeritus at the University of South Alabama Dr. Bob Shipp fills us in on speckled trout in Mobile Bay.

  • “They’re well managed, so there’s a very healthy stock, ” Shipp says of our large local populations. “The conservation department’s regulations work. If you know where to go, you’re going to have success and catch yourself a mess of fish.”
  • Why do speckled trout enjoy our waters so much? “Mobile Bay is such a great place for trout because there are so many nutrients in the water and a lot of food for them, ” Shipp says. “It’s a really productive bay, and that translates into great trout populations. In Florida, their speckled trout are not nearly as abundant because their rivers are clearer and don’t have near the nutrients in them that ours do.”
  • “They love to hang around oyster reefs because there’s an abundance of food, ” Shipp says of the species’ favorite local hangouts. “The state and some private organizations have been building a lot of oyster reefs in Mobile Bay and Perdido Bay, which enhances their populations.”
  • So, local anglers, when and where should you fish for speckled trout? “I would touch base with the conservation department and get a map of where those oyster reefs are, ” Shipp says. “April and May are the best months to catch them, because as the water warms up, they grow faster and feed more.”

Dr. Bob Shipp literally wrote the book on fish around here.
Find his “Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico” at

text by HALEY POTTS • illustration by kelan mercer

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