By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2022-06-10
Have you ever heard an angler speak of catching "salt-water Trout"? If so, he wasn't talking through his hat; he was referring to the Weakfish, called Trout by many fishermen along the Atlantic Coast. "Weaks" are only fair fighters, but they compensate for this lack of talent by being so numerous that when you find a school, you can catch more than you can carry. For this reason, and because of his fair size—which averages 2 to 5 pounds, occasionally 10—the Weakfish ranks close to the top among salt-water game fish. Of course, he has taste appeal, too. Commercial fishermen net over 25 million pounds of Weaks annually. And he has a cooperative habit of invading inshore waters where anglers on docks, bridges, and small boats have little trouble reaching him. He has been named Weakfish because his mouth is paper-thin and easily torn. Remember this when you hook him—play him easy; don't try to muscle him in, or you'll lose him. Actually, there are many members of the world's Weakfish family, but the two most sought by anglers are residents of the Atlantic Coast. The northernmost of this pair roam between Massachusetts and Florida and is called just Weakfish. The other is the Spotted Weakfish which remains south of Delaware because he can't stand cold water. He literally can't stand it; when a cold snap catches him, he becomes numb, and you can pick up the entire school with your hands! The Weakfish has a lethal look in spite of the fact that his mouth tears easily; his lower jaw protrudes pugnaciously, and his upper jaw carries two large fangs. His color is silver-blue on the back and silver-pink on the sides, with a thick scattering of black dots. The Spotted Weakfish looks the same except his spots are heavier and more conspicuous. The sure way to tell them apart is by their fins; the plain Weakfish has scales on his dorsal and anal fins while his spotted brother doesn't. The world record plain Weakfish was caught off New Jersey and weighed 17 ½ pounds; the world record Spotted Weak was a Florida fish weighing 15 pounds, 3 ounces.
The warm weather between May and October is the time to go Weak-fishing. Then he's spawning. And he's quite noisy about it; he's one of the few fish that can make actual grunting sounds. Specifically, only the male "speaks." Inlets and channels are his favorite inshore spawning spots. He feeds anywhere; when food is scarce in the bays, he frequents the "rip" where two tides meet or even the surf—places where the violence of the water puts his small prey more at his mercy. And he feeds on almost anything but prefers crabmeat, shrimp, and squid. When still-fishing with bait and tackle will do, but be sure each hook (about No. 2 for most Weaks) is tied to a twisted nylon snell heavy enough to be safe from his sharp teeth. Rig a sinker on the end of your line and tie the hooks above it, then bait up, cast out, and let the bait roll on the bottom with the tide. If it doesn't roll enough, keep it moving by jerking it. Examine your hooks frequently because the crabs steal your bait.
The angler who still fishes for Weaks, however, is missing a grand opportunity. No salt-water fish will take artificial lures, from flies to small plugs, more eagerly. Use fly tackle, spinning tackle, or light bait-casting tackle, with leaders of not less than 10-pound-test because a Weakfish strikes hard. Besides, from the ocean's generous horde, you might collect some other species. Large streamer flies in red, white, and yellow work well. For spinning, use weighted feather jigs in similar colors, and also small polished spinners and wobblers. Do the same for your light bait-casting outfit. On each lure, add a piece of the real thing —shrimp or crabmeat—but not so much that it spoils the lure's action. When the tide is flowing away from you, especially if you're fishing from a dock, you can take advantage of the current. On your way to your fishing spot, get a bucket of grass shrimp, chopped clams, or some prepared "chum." Before fishing, make a "chum slick" to draw the fish. Do this simply by dropping the chum into the water, a little at a time as the current carries it away, until finally there's a slick (or trail of "chum") extending out into the channel or bay. When the fish find it, they'll stay in it, eating the particles of the bait that drift toward them. Now, cast your fly or small spinning lure into this slick. They'll hit it!
Bait-casting for Weaks isn't widely practiced because it's hard to get lures that are both small enough and heavy enough for this tackle. But there's a solution, and veteran Weakfishermen claim it'll take fish when all other baits and lures miss. Take the hooks off a colorful freshwater Bass plug, one of the underwater darting kinds, and tie it to your line. Then to its rear screw-eye, now hookless, tie 3 feet of 10-pound-test leader, and to the end of this leader, tie one of the small feathered spinning jigs with a dab of bait on its hook. And toss this setup into your chum slick! The heavy plug will give you enough weight for a long cast, and the feathered jig is small enough for a Weakfish to grab. Besides, it's a strange thing about Weaks—nothing seems to make them madder than the sight of a small fish chasing a big one!