Sample spawning speckled trout

speckled trout
Anglers may not find the numbers of trout they’ve become accustomed to in the fall, but bigger sizes are the norm in May. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

For your sanity, paddle out to some great speckled trout fishing in May

With most of the world practicing social distancing, what better way to remove yourself from the crowds than by launching a kayak into any of the vast acreage of salt marsh that lines the Carolinas’ coast and paddling after some speckled trout? 

From early April through mid-May, some of the biggest trout of the year will be looking for the best spawning grounds, and knowing what the fish are looking for is the first step in finding them. 

No. 1 on the paddling angler’s list should be clear water. Trout prefer clean, moving water, so if you combine the two, your success rate is going to be a lot better than just working any point or shell rake you see. 

Kayakers won’t be able to locate the numbers of fish they do during the fall, because trout will spread out more this time of year — in order to take advantage of suitable spawning grounds. 

Obtaining and holding live baits takes some planning before a kayak outing, but baits like this live shrimp fished under a slip cork can pay big dividends. (Photo by Phillip Gentry)

Live bait’s edge

To increase your odds of success, kayak anglers targeting both big females and the larger number of smaller males that will also be in residence in creeks, bays, and marshes should try using both live and artificial baits. It’s hard to beat shrimp, either live or imitation, for pre-spawn and spawning speckled trout. 

Once you have settled on a likely ambush spot with clear, moving water, cast either upstream of ambush points and drift or float the bait down current to the trout.

One benefit of live bait is that it imparts fish-attracting action, even if that action is just being something to eat and drifting past an oyster rake. Roe-laden females are known for being ravenous eaters, and like many expectant females, they develop cravings.

If you find that speckled trout get finicky, drop back to your artificial bait game. Then, it’s a matter of finding that color combination that satisfies that craving.

Grass banks

Spawning specks tend to hold right up against grass banks this time of year, particularly the males who spend more time fertilizing eggs then the females do laying them. On the other hand, females may be in the same vicinity, but in a little deeper water. To target both genders of fish, keeps several rods rigged and ready utilizing either vertical storage in the tankwell area of the kayak or laid horizontally in the front of the boat.

Best Speckled Trout Live Baits

Nowhere is it written that an angler fishing from a kayak is required to fish entirely with artificial baits. Many anglers prefer artificials, simply because it’s easier to transport a tackle box full of soft plastics or hard baits than to fool with acquiring and keeping live bait for a kayak trip. 

This time of year, it’s easy enough to net enough bait for a day’s fishing or buy bait and keep it alive in a trolling bucket tethered to the kayak’s side. With bait moving back into the estuaries, here’s your pick of the top baits to tempt big specks.

• Shrimp. The best thing you can do with a live shrimp is fish it under a popping cork. Trout absolutely love it, making live shrimp the No. 1 trout bait.

• Mud Minnows. Trout eat more shrimp during their early stages and rely more on fish as they attain larger size. Mud minnows are the next food in that progression and are readily attainable from bait shops or with minnow traps. They will also live a long time in a bait bucket requiring little special care. 

• Finger mullet. Small mullet fit the bill, especially later in the spring, before and during mullet migrations. Finger mullet are frequently seen waking along the edges of grasslines on low tides, making them perfect target for trout to ambush.

• Pogies. Pogies are small menhaden; they require specialized care in an aerated bait tank to survive, which puts them further down the kayak angler’s list. They’re frail and don’t last long on a hook, and they don’t put off a lot of action, but they are better than cotton candy on a stick when targeting big trout. 

• Small croaker, whiting, pinfish. Any of these fish up to about 6 inches are prime bait for big, gator trout. Check regulations in your state for croaker or whiting; South Carolina has a daily combined limit for croaker, whiting and spot. North Carolina doesn’t manage croaker or whiting with limits.

Best Bets


WHAT — Speckled trout

WHERE — New River

HOW — Fish either live or artificial shrimp under a slip-cork rig fish in channels near bridges on a falling tide.

LAUNCH — Jacksonville Landing, Southwest Creek Boat Ramp and Gottschalk Marina are all popular launch sites

INSIDER TIP — A rubber landing net comes in handy for speckled trout, which have delicate mouths.


WHAT — Speckled trout

WHERE — Charleston Harbor and rivers and creeks that feed it.

HOW — Look for trout to be holding close to marsh grass in areas of clear, moving water.

LAUNCH — Four of the most popular kayak launches are located in Charleston County – Remley’s Point, Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, Wappoo Cut in West Ashley, and Paradise Landing near Awendaw.

INSIDER TIP — Check prevailing winds and tides before deciding where to launch to take advantage of the most clear water areas.

Z-Man Trout Trick

For more than 30 years, Z-Man Fishing Products has prided itself on bringing technology to anglers, from silicone skirts in the 1980s to cutting-edge soft plastics and ChatterBait bladed jigs in the past decade. are among the world’s premier fresh- and saltwater baits, positioning the company as one of the fastest-growing lure brands in the nation.

One of Z-Man’s most-popular saltwater baits, made in its 10X ElaZtech material that resists nicks, cuts and tears better than other soft baits, is the TroutTrick. Developed and popularized by Bob Sanders, a saltwater guide and former bass pro, the TroutTrick is absolutely deadly not just on spotted seatrout, but also redfish, flounder, stripers, bass, and more! To fish the TroutTrick, simply give the rod two sharp twitches, then allow the bait to fall vertically to the bottom on a semi-slack line.

The 5-inch TroutTrick pairs perfectly with Z-Man’s Trout Eye jigheads and comes in a variety of colors.

MSRP is $5.99 for a pack of 6.

Available at

Wilderness Systems Radar 115

Wilderness System is introducing the Radar series, its first tri-powered kayak with paddle, power and pedal capabilities. In addition to a flat platform for standing and freedom of movement, the Radar boasts state-of-the-art outfitting including expansive SlideTrax™ rails, a multitude of storage opportunities, and scupper options to deploy the Helix MD™ Motor Drive, the Helix PD™ Pedal Drive* and even multiple electronics options including down-imaging, side-scanning or both. When utilizing the Helix PD™, a built-in steering control system affords easy navigation and hands-free fishing, while the AirPro MAX complements the package with optimized positioning.

The center hatch storage bin helps to store and organize small items within reach, custom-made for the Radar 115. Featuring a compression-molded foam material that’s flexible enough to fit with ease, yet rigid enough to hold items securely. The soft foam is also noise dampening, so you don’t spook fish while grabbing gear.

Experienced kayak anglers understand the advantages of remaining undetected. The Wilderness Systems Silent Traction Kit makes your kayak even more capable of sneaking up on your favorite fish by reducing the noise transmitted through the water caused by incidental contact with the hull by paddles, poles, pliers and other fishing necessities. Simply place the self-adhering custom cut Silent Traction pads in their proper locations and put the odds in your favor.

MSRP is $1359. 

Available at




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Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 769 Articles
Phillip Gentry of Greenville, S.C., is host of “Upstate Outdoors,” a weekly radio show that can be heard on Saturdays at noon on WORD 106.3 FM.

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