Best Weakfish Techniques

Avid kayak angler, Eric, ‘Slappy’ Harrison, showing off a quality grade weakfish that was taken in Jamaica Bay, New York, on a long Hogys plastic lure.

The gray seatrout (Cynoscion regalis), is commonly referred to as a weakfish, but does not truly live up to the inference that the moniker implies. They are not weak fish at all, and are capable of putting up a spirited battle once they have been hooked. The reason for the nickname is actually because of their weak mouth, which a hook can easily tear through if an angler becomes overly aggressive. Weakfish are commonly found in the coastal waters of the mid-Atlantic, and are some of the most prolific members of the seatrout family. Closely related to their more southerly cousin, the spotted seatrout, they are equally prized as a recreational target species.

As members of the drum family, these fish are also known for the thumping, drum like noises they make, which are caused by a rapid contraction of their abdominal muscles that resonate against the air bladder.

Although gray weakfish are most common in the mid-Atlantic, their total range is between Nova Scotia and northern Florida, where they spawn along beaches, in the mouths of inlets and in larger estuaries. During the months of late fall through winter, adults migrate offshore to warmer more southerly waters.

Weakfish are assertive predators that feed primarily upon invertebrates and smaller forage fish. These include spot, scup, herring, killifish, sand worms, shrimps, squid and small crabs. Although they can attain a weight of nearly 20 pounds, it is far more likely that recreational anglers will catch ones that weigh 10 pounds or less.

Light to medium tackle is recommended when targeting weakfish, with most anglers favoring spinning gear since it is more forgiving in regard to snags and backlashes. Use a fluorocarbon leader and attach no more weight than is absolutely necessary. This can mean only a small split shot or two in skinny water, or a Carolina rig with an appropriately sized egg sinker when the depth or current increases. A short shank 5/0 hook usually works best for most natural baits.

Depending upon where you plan to fish, live baits like shrimp, shredder crabs and sand worms can be pricey unless you are lucky enough to be able to catch them yourself. This is when artificials can offer a viable alternative and can, under certain conditions, even outperform natural bait.

While metal spoons and hard baits will certainly provoke a strike from a hungry weakfish, soft plastics are often more productive. They will bite on a variety of colors, but pink seems to be the most popular with veteran weakfish anglers. Eel like baits between 5” and 7” matched with a long shanked lead head jig of an appropriate weight tends to be one of the most effective rigs for larger fish. The newer pheromone enhanced GULP! baits that are made by Berkley and closely mimic natural baits also work well either on a jig head or rigged on a hook.

The delicately flavored filets of freshly caught weakfish are prized table fare that lend themselves to variety of delicious recipes. However, it is important that you treat the ones you catch with the greatest respect if you expect to get the best out of them. Whenever possible, place your fish on ice in a quality cooler immediately after you land it. Fillet it as soon as you get home and eat it as soon as possible; the fish should remain in prime condition for a few days under proper refrigeration.

Catch and size limits for weakfish vary from state to state. Always make sure that you are in full compliance with current regulations wherever you happen to be fishing.