In the last few years our spring run of big weakfish has been decent at best. However our summer weakfish bite has been red hot. A lot of people forget to target these fish. Most people are usually trying to find that last keeper fluke when the weakfish arrive in late summer. Summer weakfish have become a great target to pursue as you await the arrival of the fall run.
You definitely want to start looking for them inside the bays. In the last few years they have appeared and held for quite some time in many different locations within the Great South Bay. I have found these fish on the Kismet Reef, in front of West Fire Island, on the north side of the bay off of Sayville and the Ocean Beach area. If you fish to the east or west of the Great South Bay you will most likely find summer weakfish held up in deep holes, around structure and drop-offs. As October rolls around these fish begin to move out into the ocean to begin their migration. A lot of times you will mark what you think is bait while you are searching for bass. If you were to actually drop down a small jig you might be surprised to find out you are floating above thousands of weakfish. When it comes to finding weakfish don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Nothing feels better when you find your own school of fish away from the crowd.
Summer weakfish usually start to appear in late July. Unlike the tiderunners that appear in the spring, these summer weaks aren’t as boat shy. These fish can be targeted in the morning, evening or in the middle of the day. An easy way to know if the weakfish have shown up is to keep your eye on the fishing report section in this magazine. Quite often party boats that are targeting bass and blues in the evening will report catching them on Bass Assassins. Don’t worry if you can’t get out to fish for a week or two. These fish usually hang around for a couple of months. As far as tide goes you can catch them on either the outgoing or the incoming. Just make sure you have wind with tide (current) otherwise you are just wasting your time.
By late summer the bay is teaming with a variety of weakfish baits. Hands down the most plentiful of baits are peanut bunker. Whether you are targeting weakfish from the Peconics to Jamaica Bay you can find plenty of peanut bunker in the canals and creeks. A very hardy but a little tougher to find are mullet. If you struggle at throwing a cast net or don’t own one, you can always drop down a killie trap the day before your planned trip. If you don’t have a livewell it’s okay, killies actually stay alive on ice for several hours. If you must have something live on the end of your line fear not, you can stop by your local tackle shop and pick up some sand or blood worms. Don’t forget about how effective a simple hi-lo rig is that is baited with squid strips. If you buy whole squid try cutting it into strips before you push off. You will be glad you did if the bite is red hot.
The Fake Stuff
I like to use Z-Man products. A small jig head with a 3-inch soft plastic will bend a rod. During the summer you may encounter small sea bass, blowfish and snappers while looking for weakfish. Z-Man lures are made to stretch and absorb bites without tearing. If you want to add some scent, Gulp is a great alternative. So many different artificial lures work great on weakfish. Small Deadly Dicks, small diamond jigs, small Hogy soft plastics, small bucktails and many more. The one thing they all have in common is being small in size. Most of these fish are 2 to 3 pounds with the occasional 5- to 6-pound fish mixed in. So keep things on the small size.
Sometimes it feels like I’m cheating. With today’s advancement in technology finding fish has never been easier. Actually, I should re-phrase that, it’s gotten very easy to identify fish beneath your boat. When I search the bay looking for weakfish I won’t drop a line if I’m not marking fish. You need to have confidence in what your fishfinder is trying to tell you. Summer weakfish are usually found together in large schools. If you take a look at the screen shot found within this article you can see a massive school of summer weakfish stacked up on a drop-off. Every time I write about electronics I mention just how important it is to constantly keep your eyes on your fishfinder. As you catch fish that you are marking, it will allow you in the future to have a better understanding of what is below your boat before you even drop a line down. Different species of fish appear as different marks on your screen.
A lot of my gear tends to be used for multiple species. What I use for bass can be used for blues; what I use for fluke I can use for scup or black sea bass. The rod and reel that I use for weakfish is only for weakfish. That’s because of how light I like to go. Not only are the rod and reel light but so is the line and the lure. I use a medium action Ugly Stik with a Penn Sargus. If you go too heavy on the rod, the hook will rip out of the weakfish’s very soft mouth. If you go too light the headshakes will allow for slack to occur in your line, which can cause your lure to slip out. My reel is spooled with 15-pound braid with a 3-foot 15-pound fluorocarbon leader tied directly to the braid using the Alberto knot. I try to get away with the lightest (half ounce) lure I can use. I use the same setup in the summer that I do looking for trophy size weakfish in the spring. I feel the single most important aspect of your gear is your drag setting. You need to keep it loose or you run the risk of ripping the hook out of its mouth.
You can usually tell when there is a good bite going on. When weakfish are found they are usually stacked up in a small area. A telltale sign will be a bunch of boats clustered together. Don’t be afraid to join the bite. Just remember to be courteous and don’t short drift the other boats. Weakfish are on the bottom of my list as far as my favorite fish to eat. If you do enjoy eating them please remember that it’s a one fish bag limit at 16 inches. One last thing: don’t be surprised if you end up with a few keeper fluke while you are targeting summer weakfish.