Weakfish and Speckled Trout are probably one of the most notorious sources of confusion when it comes to determining the species. Not only that they are incredibly similar, but they also often inhabit the same fishing grounds!
In the following lines, we will try to demystify this confusion – and also add some interesting information you will find very useful when planning your fishing trip!
Same Family, Different Fish
Both Weakfish (Cynoscion Regalis) and Speckled Trout (Cynoscion Nebulosus) belong to the same Cynoscion (drum) family. Despite being called a trout (Weakfish is sometimes also called Grey Trout), they are not related to the Salmonidae family! Speckled trout are also called spotted sea trout in many places.
Characteristics and Differences
These species share an incredibly similar appearance. For start, they share the same elongated body shape, same lateral line, same prominent canine teeth, same dorsal fin shape, same color (but not always), and often same size (both reaching a maximum of 18 lb and averaging 2-6 lb).
They also share an interesting anatomic feature. Having incredibly tender mouth muscles, their jaws are very fragile and prone to tearing when hooked up. This peculiarity is the source of the Weakfish name!
These similarities might be a bit discouraging, but luckily there is a key difference that will help you figure out what fish did you just land.
Spots are the Key
Both Weakfish and Speckled trout have black marks covering their dorsal side, and these marks are the main characteristic you need to search for when determining the fish species.
Weakfish do not have well-defined spots on the back – they are more flecked than spotted. These spots usually form lines on the body, but it is important to note that they never enter the fins! Weakfish have yellow fins, without any kind of spots.
Speckled Trout on the other hand has very clearly defined, irregular black spots scattered along the top half of the body – they are very similar to the spot pattern of a Brown Trout, hence the trout in its name. It is important to notice that these dots extend to dorsal and caudal fins – Weakfish will never have any dots on fins!
Body Type and Color
Besides spot patterns, you can also distinguish Weakfish from Speckled trout by their body type. Seeing them both together, Weakfish is stockier, carrying more weight on the same body length. Speckled Trout has more of an elongated, elegant body shape!
Also, Speckled Trout has a silver body that can take a golden hue if they live in murky water. Weakfish have dark, green back and silver bellies, with sides varying from purple, green, gold, or blue.
Weakfish and Speckled Trout inhabit the fishing grounds of the South Atlantic Coast, with Weakfish being more dominant towards the North (from North Florida up to Nova Scotia) and Speckled Trout being abundant in the South (from Delaware Bay to Texas).
Weakfish are a migratory species, and the best fishing grounds change during the year. Stretch from North Carolina to Florida is most productive in the winter, while summer fishing grounds go from Delaware to New York.
Speckled Trout are not migratory and can be fished for during the whole year in the Gulf of Mexico and stretch between Florida and the Chesapeake Bay.
So, if you fish anywhere from North Florida to Delaware (which includes Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia), you have big chances of hooking up with both species!
When targeting this species, it is important to know what type of habitat they prefer.
Speckled Trout love hanging around shallow bays and estuaries, preferring sandy bottom covered with seagrass or oysters. You will find them in shallow water during warmer months, but when the ocean starts getting colder, they will move out to deeper water – mostly deep bays and especially the Gulf of Mexico!
Weakfish also prefer sticking to estuaries and shallow flats covered with seagrass, as this is the type of terrain with large populations of baitfish. They are especially fond of brackish water during their spawning season (with Chesapeake bay being the most important spawning ground). As the winter approaches, Weakfish will start their migration into the offshore habitats – primarily off North Carolina.
Average and Maximum Size
Although Weakfish is reported to grow up to a respectable 3 feet length and 18 lb weight, the average fish is usually 12 – 18 inches long with 2-4 lb weight.
The biggest Speckled Trout ever reported was just under 18 lb and 3 feet, and the average is somewhere between 19’’ for males and 25 ‘’ for females, with a 1-3 lb weight span.
Have you ever asked yourself, what is happening with Weakfish? If yes, it was for a good reason. Weakfish stocks were heavily depleted during the early 2000’, and despite the conservation efforts, their population is not growing at all!
Although overfishing was the cause of the major population collapse, at the moment it seems that Weakfish are struggling with huge natural mortality. Population and catches are at an all-time low at the moment!
On the other hand, Speckled Trout has no problems considering the health of its population, with numbers steadily going up after 2010. As overall conservation efforts are showing good results, we can keep looking forward to plentiful fishing seasons!
To keep the population as healthy as possible, there is a minimum size of 13’’- 16’’ for Weakfish with a 1 fish bag limit, depending on the local laws.
Speckled Trout has a minimum of 15’’ and a maximum of 25’’ keep limit with a 5 fish bag limit, and a possibility to keep one fish that is bigger than 24’’.
One of the most important reasons for the popularity of Weakfish and Speckled Trout is their willingness to eagerly take all kinds of artificial and natural baits! Here are two simplest, yet very effective ways of fishing for them:
Popping Cork Rig for Speckled Trout
Using live shrimp as bait on a simple popping cork rig is the most used and effective way of fishing for Speckled Trout. There are a lot of tweaks and variations you can use to adapt to the situation, but for start, try popping the cork to make the bait look more lively.
Cape May Float Rig for Weakfish
Weakfish are suckers for baits such as shedder crab od bloodworms, especially in the spring when the sea starts getting warmer. Drifting these baits with a simple Cape May Float Rig is one of the best ways to ensure a good fishing trip!
When fishing for Weakfish or Speckled Trout, you always need to consider the amount of force you will use on the fish. If you use too much force, the fish will end up with torn mouth, and you will end up with an empty bag! But if you do not keep the line tight, fish will shake off the hook.
As most of the fish are in the 2-4 lb range, light to medium tackle is a perfect choice!
Weakfish vs Speckled Trout Taste
Although some claim Speckled Trout is superior in taste compared to Weakfish, most anglers agree both of these fish share the same fine taste and meat texture that makes them so popular.
To enjoy your catch, the fish you are preparing must be fresh. Once caught, Speckled Trouts and Weakfish should be put on ice immediately, as they have tender meat that will lose its quality very quickly! It is also not recommended to freeze them.