This month’s feature fish is the weakfish. With the incredible run of nice sized summer weakfish that took place from the Peconic to Jamaica Bay last year, this year’s spring time run could be awesome. This fish has cost me a great deal of anguish. Without a doubt, I have lost more weakfish than I have actually caught. Weakfish begin to enter our bays on the south shore in mid-late April. These fish come into the bays to spawn. If you happen to fish these areas where some of the spawning takes place you can expect to catch some double digit sized fish. Personally, I don’t like the taste of weakfish so I’m thrilled to release those that I catch. Keep in mind that you can only harvest one and it must be a minimum of 16 inches. Before you head out and target these fish it’s important for you to understand why they are called weakfish. It’s simple, the reason why you may end up “dropping” a lot of these fish is because of their weak mouths. Try to set the hook like you are fresh water bass fishing and you can kiss that weakfish goodbye. Most of the time I believe in the saying “the bigger the bait, the bigger the fish.” However, when it comes to weakfish I like to keep things relatively small.
The key is to use the lightest weight to get into and stay into the depth in which the weakfish are feeding. Many times a small (1/2oz – 1oz) jig head rigged with a soft plastic is all that you will need. Personally, I like to use Zman products because of how well they hold up during a hot bite. I use multiple colors no bigger than 3 to 4 inches. When it comes to picking out the right weakfish rod it’s very important to get a rod with flexibility but not too flimsy. I really don’t care about the size of the reel that you are using. I prefer to use a spinning reel. I find it to be a lot easier to cast a 1 ounce jig head with a spinning reel. Keep in mind you need to use light line and leader to be able to fish light jig heads. My line is no more than 20lb braid and my flouro carbon leader is usually 15lb test. It’s very important to just raise the rod tip when you get a bite, do not jerk the rod. It’s also important to make sure your drag is not too tight. If it’s tight you are going to lose a lot of fish. You need to have some give to avoid ripping the weakfish’s mouth. I briefly mentioned using a jig head rigged with a soft plastic as my go to lure. I use plenty of other baits and lures when I’m targeting weakfish. I have no problem using a simple hi-lo rig with squid. This rig is great especially if the tide is moving too fast to fish something small. Use the hi-lo rig with a 2 or 3 ounce sinker to keep your baits in the strike zone when the tide is ripping. If you don’t want to use bait you can use gulp instead. As the tide slows or before it picks up you can use an assortment of artificials. Small diamond jigs, swim shads, bucktails etc. There is one lure/bait that may out-fish them all - worms. Blood or sand worms work great but they are expensive. However, there is a great artificial version that works well. The much forgotten about jelly worm. Fish these jellies on a jig head or tipped on a small diamond jig.
Moving water is crucial to catching these big spring tiderunners. You can catch them on incoming or outgoing but keep in mind you need wind with the tide to present your lures properly. When it comes to the best time to fish for them I’m very lucky. I fish a lot during the week while most people can’t. I can fish the weakfish grounds before most people are awake. Target these fish at dusk, dawn, and when there is light boat traffic.
Here’s what’s biting
If you happen to splash your boat in March you may be able to get into some really good fishing much closer to shore than you may think. If the weather is nice head out of your local inlet and look for some mackerel and herring. It’s not easy finding these fish. So keep one eye in the sky and another on your fishfinder. The size of the schools may surprise you. They can be so thick that your fishfinder will show a much shallower depth then you are really in. Once you find these fish all that is needed is either a sabiki rig or a mackerel rig. It’s a great time to load up your bait freezer in the shed or the garage. If you can’t find mackerel or herring you can hit a few of the local wrecks and look for ling and cod. With water temps being so cold there is a good chance that you won’t need to go far to find a few fish for the table. A great place to fish is the San Diego wreck. It’s located in 110 feet of water between Moriches and Fire Island inlet.
A Random observation
We have had some really cold days this winter. So I decided to look back at my website (fishgaak.com) and compare some past winters to see if it causes striped bass to show up later. I’m not a scientist nor am I claiming to be one. I see no correlation with cold winters and striped bass showing up later than normal. Personally, I feel it has to do with spawning, bait and hours of sunlight. That’s just my opinion.
I recently attended a lecture at my local library. It was all about the history of oyster on Long Island. I thought it was very informative. The guy speaking talked about how the oyster population in the Great South Bay began to die off after the hurricane of 1938. He explained to us that unlike clams if oysters get buried in silt they will die. I was also very glad to hear about how many oyster farms are popping up on the south shore of Long Island. He mentioned some clammers have given up clamming because they can get three times the price for an oyster than they would get for a clam. It’s a win-win situation for the bay. If people stop clamming then more clams can grow and help filter the water, and by adding oyster farms it also adds another mollusk to help filter the water. A two inch oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day. After last year’s brown tide I’m happy to hear that the oyster business is booming. In case you are wondering, unlike farm raised shrimp and fish these oysters aren’t fed anything. With our fishing season just about ready to kick off I would like to wish everyone a safe and exciting season.