Thoughts on Weakfish
can I tell you about weakfish? Well...it's 1999
and they seem to be back in semi-moderate numbers, including
small specimens from several year classes under 5 pounds. So,
they should be around at least a couple more years.
There are a number of species of fish in their
family, which includes varieties of croakers and
drum. Our fish, the weakie, ranges from Florida to Maine, but
clearly most common off Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North
Carolina during winter months, and Cape May to Cape Cod during
summer months. One of their closest relatives is the
"speckled sea trout" from Florida and Gulf States,
which actually appears to be less speckled and less colorful than
the northern weakie. Another close Pacific relative is the
corvina that's commonly caught in the Baja surf.
Why are the weaks not always as prolific as they
are now? Are these ups and downs in fish
populations dance with the same variables such as the
environment, over harvesting, etc? Personally, NO, I do not
believe the erratic swings in weakfish cycles are due to man's
effect on the environment or overharvesting. Of course, the
effect of modern man on every species on this planet is profound,
but the weakfish was going through erratic "boom and
bust" cycles before we had the fishing vessel technology and
know-how to decimate them as badly as we can today. In fact, the
mid-1930's are referred to as the "last great hurrah"
for weakfish, when they were extraordinarily plentiful, but
disappeared shortly thereafter, even thought to be extinct by
some fisheries biologists.
Weakfish cyclicality is an inherently natural
phenomena. At least that's my unprofessional
opinion. To me, weakfish are a species that Mother Nature holds
in reserve and then uses to periodically control and stabilize
the overall ecosystem. When the population of the "great
grey hordes" suddenly swells and rampages up the coastline,
it stresses certain aspects of the ecosystem and may have a
temporarily debilitating effect. Net effect over time though is
to stabilize the entire ecosystem. Now mind you, these are only
my opinions, but the overall species inability to stabilize its
own self is just too fickle. The "up" cycle is just too
short and too overstocked relative to the "down" cycle,
which can last for decades and is dramatically understocked. This
indicates to me that the weaks are designed to make a brief
appearance and to play a cathartic role in the grand scheme of
As already mentioned, they began to disappear by the late
'30s, vanished and did not come around again for the longest
time. The most common theory was that pesticides and coastal
development lead to the mass, coastal-wide destruction of
eelgrass beds, which lead to the loss of grass shrimp, which was
often touted as the cause of the weakie's demise. However, a
freakish locust-like swarm of weaks during the few years before
and after 1980 obviously has indicated that loss of shrimp and
eelgrass wasn't the reason for this species decline. There were
so many weaks during this peak that I spent many nights catching
them in the surf from dusk to dawn on every cast!
I just think they are a biological "safety valve"
that nature basically uses every so often to "re-plow"
the ocean fields, thereby unlocking nutrients and allowing
certain aspects of the environment to refresh themselves. Kind of
like a forest fire, flood or drought can immediately appear to
very destructive, but it also sets the environmental back to a
level playing field whereby dominant, long term species can
replenish themselves in a newer, richer environment. With striper
populations currently overbalanced in epidemic proportions, it
may not be a bad thing for weakies to put the brakes on the
striper thing a bit. Just how I think of weakies, and may not
necessarily be correct if you talk to a biologist. :)
Anyway, can I give you some fishing tips?
These fish are more commonly caught from boat than from shore.
Some of the best spots for them are deep holes and channels,
especially those that were dredged in mid-bay. They love the
outer fringes of inlets and river mouths, both inside and
especially outside on the open ocean grounds. They are a
highly-schooling fish with a tendency to stay very deep in very
large schools by day. At night, they will come into
shore-accessible spots to hunt. However, these are only very
broad generalities. Bottom line, they can be caught using any
methods, in any spot and with any lures or bait that you would
otherwise use to catch bass or blues.
Years ago, it was common to hear people say that weaks
preferred yellow lures. Well, I think they do hit yellow lures
better in general than bass or blues hit yellow lures - but I
like my whites better than yellows for all three species.
They are feisty gamefish. In my
opinion, they are a very aggressive species - and I have seen
large schools displaying incredible energy while ferociously
tearing up bait on top. In fact, some of the weakfish blitzes
that I have seen make the typical blue and bass blitzes look tame
Enjoy the goldies while you can. They're a wonderful species
that you can only get to see every so often.