Spot Fish Facts & Fishing Guide

The very first fish that sets many anglers on their lifelong hobby is usually a spot fish. And no wonder these ubiquitous fish are found all over the east coast. They prefer saltwater coasts and dark spots, so much so that it’s easy to stumble on a spot feeding ground without even trying!

Despite its recurrence and ease of capture, the spot fills an essential role in any angler’s life. Whether it’s to serve as bait for bigger, heftier fish, or as a way to teach one’s family and friends about the way of the rod and reel, the spot’s significance can’t be denied.

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What is a Spot Fish?

Spot Fish -Leiostomus_xanthurus
Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Spot Fish, or Spot, is one of the most common saltwater fish in North American coastal waters, particularly along the east coast. These fish also go by the common names of Norfolk Spot, Spot Croaker, and Virginia Spot, though all spot belongs to the leiostomus xanthurus species. 

Spot fish get their name from the distinct dark spot located behind their gill plates. They have a blueish to silver body lined with roughly 12 – 15 darker stripes. Spots have forked tails, compressed bodies, and small mouths. As small fish, spots make excellent bait and are naturally preyed upon by flounder, dogfish, bass, and mackerel, among other fish.

Spot fish is also member of the drum family of fish. That’s why spot fish produce a drumming or croaking noise as they move around. This sound is due to them using particular muscles to vibrate their swim bladders.

You’ll find these fish from all the way up in Massachusetts to down in Texas. Spots are so easy to find and simple to catch – though they will put up a fight. That’s why spot fishing is excellent for kids and novice anglers and a nice way to relax for more grizzled fishermen. 

Additionally, spot respond well to a variety of bait: they’ll happily gobble up stuff like clams, bloodworms, or shrimp, but they’ll just as easily take a bite out of artificial bait too.

When is Spot Fish in Season?

Spot fish are available almost the entire year round. You can hook these feisty fish anywhere from spring through autumn. For best results, you’ll want to wait until the “ber” months, as schools of spot will move during their reproductive cycle.

Before winter, spots inhabits bays and estuaries where they live and feed. Come early winter; this fish will first move to deeper waters to lay eggs, which will then be pushed towards the shore. During this time, catching spots becomes even easier, with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries labeling the months of August to October as “hot” months for Spot fishing.

Where to Fish for Spot Fish?

Where to Cash Spot Fish

Because they prefer brackish waters over sandy or muddy floors, it’s not hard to find a spot fish. You can also visit bridges or other darker areas to find them, particularly oyster beds, due to the availability of food in those areas. And remember: spots are bottom feeders, so be sure your rig bounces at the bottom. 

You can also fish for spots on piers, marinas, or other aquatic facilities, but be sure to get permission from the owner beforehand!

The best places, by far, to fish for spots are around Chesapeake Bay and South Carolina. As the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, it provides the perfect salinity and feeding environment for spots.

Spot Fishing Size Limit (Different States)

Different states have different regulations on spot fishing, with size being the most common limitation. Here are the current size limits on spot fishing, taken from government sites.

  • DelawareNo limit
  • MarylandNo limit
  • New Jersey: No regulations
  • North Carolina: No limit on size, but has a limit of 50 bags per day per person.
  • Virginia: No limit on size, but recreational fishers cannot harvest or have more than 50 spots per day.

You can check this website for a quick peek at your state’s fishing (and spot) regulations.

Best Spot Fishing Gear

Best Spot Fishing Gear

Spot isn’t the type of fish you need to prepare for too much. Pretty much any saltwater rod will do for catching a spot. With that said, it’s important not to go overkill on your spot fishing gear and save your best equipment for when you really need it.

If you’re planning to take kids with you, you may want to have a light and easy-to-use fishing setup on hand. The TZ Fishing Rod & Reel combo is a good package deal as it contains a telescopic rod with a reel, a tackle box, floats, a fishing net, and a travel bag. For adults, bring an accessible fishing rod such as the QudraKast Fishing Rod and Reel Combo.

As spots respond well to both organic and artificial bait, anglers who don’t want to bother with live bloodworms may want to invest in bloodworm lures. FishBites offers an affordable 3-piece package that’s nabbed me a lot of spots, but for those who want to go all the way (or are having trouble with particularly stubborn spot), give Berkley’s Gulp! Alive! Bloodworm lures a try.

Remember, too, that spot fish are bottom feeders. This means that you’ll need to use a sinker to get to where they are. If you don’t have fishing sinkers yet, getting a set of them is always a good idea to be ready for any bottom-feeder fishing. Take note that you’ll still need to bounce the lure around, so don’t get one that’s too heavy.

FAQs about Spot Fish

What’s the difference between a spot and a croaker?

Spot fishes have a very distinct dark spot near the back of their gill plates, while croakers have a dark base around their pectoral fin. Apart from this, spot also has dark stripes along their back. Mature spots are also broader but not as long as adult croakers. Finally, Spots have telltale yellow bellies, from which they derive another one of their nicknames.

What does spot fish eat?

Spot fish mostly eat detritus, worms, and small crustaceans.

Is spot good to eat?

Yes, and I’d rate it as one of the best panfish if you can get it fresh. Spot meat is mildly dense but flaky and light on the palate and stomach. This meat has a slightly sweet and earthy taste, and it’s versatile enough that you can substitute spot for a whole host of other fish. 

Is spot fish high in mercury?

Based on the size and areas where spot fish generally live, it’s safe to deduct that spot fishes will not accumulate toxic mercury levels as they reach their maturity. 

Is spot fish healthy to eat?

Yes, spots are safe and healthy to eat. In fact, its meat is rich in riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium, protein, and niacin, as well as vitamins B6 and B12. On the downside, those with high blood pressure should be wary as spot does contain cholesterol.

How do I cook Spot fish?

The easiest way to cook spot fish is to simply scale them, clean them, then toss them on a pan. Since spot fish are generally small, you won’t need to fillet or prepare them as much as other fish. However, their small size makes them hard to gut, so the fastest and most convenient way of cleaning a Spot fish is to cut its head off and work from there.

How big does a Spot get?

The spot is a small fish; most specimens grow up to 14 inches. Spots are also very light, and Spot fish that weigh over one pound are uncommon.

How long do Spot fish live?

Spot fish have a lifespan of up to 5 years. However, spots rarely live beyond three years.

What is the best bait for Spot fish?

Spots aren’t picky about what they eat. Organic bait, such as clam or squid, will work fine. However, spots are particularly like bloodworms. 

Yes, you can! While some people – myself included – like the taste of fresh and smoky Spot skin, it’s definitely not for everyone.

Are there any restrictions to catching spot?

Mos states have no restriction on the size of the spot that you can catch. However, most states do limit the number of spots you can catch to prevent overfishing. This goes doubly so if you’re planning to catch spot as a commercial venture. If you’re planning to break into the spot fishing market, be sure to check with your state’s individual regulations before proceeding. 

Spotting A Prize Catch

While spots themselves are rarely the end goal of any fishing trip, it’s always nice to have reliable, ever-present fish to rely on and maybe eat at the end of the day. Spots are easy to find and catch that’s why they will always have a place in the memories of new anglers, as well as on the dinner table!