Volume XI, Issue 41 ~ October 9-15, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

An Admirable Fish Despite Its Bad Name

Open up that big maw and peek around. Careful, now. Weakfish don’t have razor teeth like a bluefish, but their rough-edged chompers can stick you. Now check out the lower jaw, which extends past the upper mandible. It’s a veritable eating machine, no doubt, and demonstrates how weakfish have evolved to take prey on every level of the water column: the bottom, middle or surface. It makes no difference to them, which put sea worms, lances, bunker and silversides all at risk of becoming a meal.

Man, look at that head: It’s huge! It measures nearly one-third the length of its entire body. Stratified layers of sea blues, amethyst purples and deep-tinted gold flash along its flanks. The tips of its pectoral and dorsal fins appear dipped in apricot polish.

In the midst of a classic fall-feeding frenzy, where whole and partial chunks of anchovies lay strewn across my boat’s deck, mostly a by-product of spewing bluefish, I took a moment to look closely at one of my favorite Chesapeake gamefish.

Weakfish, aptly named for their delicate jaws that tear away occasionally when hooked, are one of autumn’s pleasant piscatorial gifts to area anglers. Weakfish travel in schools and can be caught on feather jigs (I prefer up to 3/8 ounce on a three-way swivel) and metal jigs like Stingers, as well as such flies as deep-running Clousers and Deceivers, fished on sinking lines of 300 grain and heavier.

For jigging rods, my personal favorite lure is a Mewshaw-style jig in yellow or chartreuse tied with chicken feathers and a fair amount of flash material. I also like to extend the glitzy tail an inch or so past the main hackles.

While weakfish can eat anywhere in the water column, this time of year they mostly hang on the bottom. When targeting them exclusively, the trick is to get past the busting blues and dink-sized rockfish to where the weakies are hanging. More often than not, a weakfish strike will come on the drop; that is, when the fly or lure is descending, as after a rod sweep with light tackle or when stripping in fly line, then pausing to allow the fly to flutter.

They’re fast-growing fish, and nearly 90 percent of weakfish reach sexual maturity by the end of their first season. Scientists have determined that maturity differs between weakfish found north of Delaware Bay and those found in North Carolina. Northern females mature at 10 inches and males at nine inches, while further south, both sexes mature at seven inches.

The weakfish’s high fecundity rate is encouraging because it means that the stock can recover quickly. Protections include recent offshore regulations requiring smaller excluders in drift nets. Such angler-conservation methods as appropriate creel and size limits also help ensure stable stocks for future years.
Weakfish can reach 30 inches and live as long as nine years. A client caught the largest I’ve seen several years ago north of the Bay Bridge. That monster measured 27 inches. We’ve had good success fishing for big weakies around Tangier late May, early June.

By October, the bite is usually on in the upper Bay. Some years, it lasts until Thanksgiving, but when the water gets too cold, they move out on to the continental shelf. They winter from the mouth of the Chesapeake to Cape Lookout, North Carolina.

Fish Are Biting
Reports of weakfish are starting to get more consistent, especially north of the Bay Bridge. Acres and acres of breaking fish — bluefish, rockfish and some trout below — can be found from Man o War Shoals in upper Bay to Point Lookout near the Maryland-Virginia line. Catchem up.



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Last updated October 9, 2003 @ 1:40am