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SPRING WEAKFISH OUTLOOK

New Jersey tiderunner action is underway, but with April’s full moon on the 22nd and plenty of bait arriving in New York and New England, it could be an early start for all.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
Tags: inshore, surf

The first reported weakfish of the 2016 season for upper Mid-Atlantic and Northeast region was registered by Mikey Crudele behind Sea Isle City, NJ on March 29th on a Mr. Twister Silver Fleck. “More bait, minnows, shrimp and anchovies than I've seen back there in spring in years, before Sandy,” said Capt. Al Crudele of his son Mike’s big catch.

Typically, the first weakfish catches reported by New Jersey anglers come sometime in mid to late April, but no doubt a mild winter and sudden presence of good quantities of bait (including both peanut and adult bunker this spring) bodes well for an earlier season for most throughout The Fisherman Magazine’s range.

If you’re keeping fishing logs from year to year, take two to three weeks off your 2014/2015 catch records—and don’t forget the plastics!

SQUETEAGUE SCIENCE
Researchers say our local sea trout or weakfish have a range from Florida to Nova Scotia, and spawn beginning in May sometimes running through October in our inshore waters. Sometimes referred to in old school New England ease as squeteague, the weakfish stock has seen a pretty significant decline since the 1990’s, resulting in fairly drastic reductions in both the recreational and commercial fisheries.

While a coast-wide one-fish bag limit has been in place for the past several years, researchers have noted that fishing pressure alone has not caused the rapid decline, and that overall natural mortality has increased substantially. “Factors such as predation, competition and changes in the environment have had a stronger influence on recent weakfish stock dynamics than has fishing mortality,” is how New Jersey biologist Russ Allen put it in 2010. “Competition with Atlantic croaker, decreasing prey items such as bay anchovy and Atlantic menhaden and increasing water temperatures may all be playing key roles in the weakfish decline.”

A jighead rigged with a soft plastic is a surefire way of hooking up with a spring weakfish when you find the right location.

One bit of optimistic news coming out of Allen’s field work is a 2015 Delaware Bay trawl survey shows that despite a decline in young of the year weakfish captures there in 2012 and 2014, the overall trend in recruitment has been creeping upwards since 2008.

BASIC INFO
The IGFA World Record was caught on May 6, 2008 in Staten Island by New Jersey’s Dave Alu while fishing with St. Croix rep and Shore Catch Guide Rich Swisstack. The 19-pound, 12-ounce monster tiderunner was taken on a chunk of bunker, and was one of several teen-class weakies taken by Swisstack during that particular stretch (though he released all but the record!)

Weakfish will often feed around blitzing bluefish and are apt take chunks falling to the bottom, while drifting worms is always a killer method. I grew up chumming live grass shrimp while on an anchored boat during the summers, and while drifting across channel edges with a bucktail tipped with shedder crab as well. But as the younger Crudele proved during this year’s run, plastics are a surefire way of hooking up when you find the right locations.


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