Along with weakfish, you are likely to find porgies, kingfish, blowfish, snapper blues, and even some sea bass in the mix.
The past few seasons have seen a major influx of summer weakfish to 6 pounds at many locations inside the Peconic Bay Estuary from July through October. The problem is access to many of these spots are limited to residents. Fortunately a hassle free $15 a day launch ramp in Sag Harbor for non-residents puts anglers just minutes from these honey holes. And with some tutelage from Ken Morse of Tight Lines Tackle located in Sag Harbor Yacht Yard, you’re assured of being knee deep in action with weaks and other saltwater panfish.
“There have been some incredible catches of weakfish from May into August,” said an excited Ken Morse. “I’ve had shop regulars report back of catching and releasing over two dozen weakfish to 8 pounds per outing,” he continued. Fortunately, Ken’s regulars either release their catch or at most, stick to their one fish limit.
During the May and June spawn, most fish were in the 4- to 6-pound class with quite a few reaching the 8-pound mark. Then as the majority of spawned out weakfish leave the warming bays of the Peconic’s for the deep cool ocean waters, their smaller siblings mainly in the 1-1/2- to 3-pound range settle into many of the haunts their elders have vacated just a couple of months prior. Some of the spring run weakfish do remain in the Peconic’s during the summer, with some in the 4- to 6-pound range mixing in with the smaller fish and occasionally brought to net by lucky anglers.
The Noyack Attack
According to Ken, summer run weakfish are well spread throughout the bays from August into late September, or depending on the weather through mid-October. One of the more consistent areas the past few summers has been less than a half hour from the Sag Harbor boat ramp in Noyack Bay, which is nestled between the North Haven Peninsula and Jessup Neck. Noyack Bay (41.0122 / 72.3445) has all the ingredients to attract and hold weakfish, including an abundance of food, structure in the form of numerous depressions on the bay’s muddy bottom, and moderate to swift tidal current. While most of the depressions throughout Noyack Bay will produce their share of summer weakfish, the area hugging buoy 16 has been most reliable. Ken suggests that during the incoming tide, start out by the 16 Buoy in 12 feet of water on a drift that will take you south to 54 feet of water.
Aside from weakfish near Buoy 16, porgies, kingfish, blowfish, snapper blues, and even some sea bass will be in the mix for those anchoring and clam chumming anywhere along the drop-off. The current is moderate here at peak speed with 3-ounce sinkers and 1-ounce jigheads usually being sufficient. If you find for some reason that the Buoy 16 area is not producing, wait until the current begins to ease and head over to Buoy 17 by Jessup Neck and try fishing the 70-foot depths along both sides of the buoy. You will find more of a mixed bag here as well, however the current pushes much harder which combined with the deep water, makes it more difficult to get down and hold or bounce bottom. Therefore, focus your efforts here on the last or first hour of either tide. There are also some mighty big sea bass at Buoy 17 as well.
Beyond Noyack Bay
Aside from Noyack Bay and Jessup Neck, Nassau Point, Rose Grove and back west to Robins Island are all areas that can produce extremely well all summer. At Nassau Point, water depths fluctuate as the average water depths surrounding the point are between 25 and 35 feet. However, approximately three quarters of a nautical mile E.N.E of red buoy 22 lies a deep pocket of water between 60 and 70 feet which is often overlooked and produces very well on both moving tides. Most often, the start of the outgoing has the edge.
Just opposite of Nassau Point, Rose Grove gives way to excellent weakfish action during the early mornings or during periods of reduced sunlight. Rose Grove’s bottom consists of a mix of hard and soft bottom sitting in 25 to 35 feet of water. There is little structure here to focus on, therefore Rose Grove is an area where a quality recorder can make a difference. Long drifts in the 25-foot depths should provide a steady pick if the drift is moderate. If you mark a concentration of fish during your drift, focus your efforts on that area.
Traveling west, you will find the southern tip of Robins Island (South Race) where fishing near buoys 25 and 26 has been productive during the early morning or late afternoon hours when boat traffic is minimal. Drifts here should be directed on or off the channel drop-off south of Robins Island where it will drop or rise (depending on your drift) from approximately 18 feet to 30 feet of water. The current can really crank through here, so concentrate on fishing the end or start of either tide, including the change.
Regardless of where you wet a line, do not leave home without a navigation chart, especially if you are trailering and visiting the area for the first time. Yes, GPS does a great job of keeping tabs on where you are, but the charts can be studied prior to fishing, revealing potential hotspots that can be marked and stored in your GPS.
Both baitcasting or spinning outfits consisting of 6 to 6-1/2-foot rods in the 8- to 15-pound class are ideal. Stout rods will not cut it when it comes to weakfish as the soft tissue around their mouth will tear easily if too much pressure is applied. It is also easy to wear a large hole in the tissue, resulting in your jig or hook falling out if you allow any slack in your line. Slow taper, light action rods will help keep steady pressure on the fish. If all possible, try to keep any weakfish you intend to release in the water and remove the hook with a disgorger. Only net fish you intend to keep. As for fishing line, the lighter the better, especially if you plan on using jigs.
Some crusty old salts will recall the two open boats Capt. Clark and Capt. Clark II that berthed on the east side of the Shinnecock Canal, where each summer, Capt. Clark Bellows, Sr. and Jr. would sail their boats full of fishermen into the Peconic Bays, filling buckets and coolers with summer weakfish and porgies. Well back in 1975, I was aboard Senior’s boat and after using the standard hi/low rigs those days, I traded the rig for a 1-ounce pink Bagley’s Salty Dog. After a few hitless cast, Capt. Clark approached me and said “you’re three months too late with that stinky pinky son – those plastics work great in May, but they’re no good in August.” Fast forward some 40 plus years and the technology and modifications of lifelike soft body plastics and bucktails is much closer to mimicking the real thing. Hence, artificial lures do work their magic on weakfish whether fished in May or late summer inside the Peconics.
The time-tested standard hi/lo rig still produces remarkably well, especially when baited with a four to six-inch pennant shaped squid strip, with the fresher the squid the better. A great substitute that produces incredibly well is FishBites line of E-Z Squid in pink, flesh, and pink/flesh. The E-Z baits consists of two 12-inch ribbons of dissolving flavor/scents and gels which can be cut into any length you desire, and which will dupe a wide array of species. In truth, FishBites products take fishing with artificial bait to a whole new level. Check out their website to see their full line of products. Sinkers from 2 to 3 ounces should round out the terminal end.
As for soft plastics, Fin-S-Fish, Bass Assassins, Mister Twisters, Z-Man and Berkley Gulp fished on half- to 1-ounce leadhead jigs are just a few choices that will put a beating on the weakfish. One of Ken’s favorite for weakfish is a 1-ounce funky bucktail tipped with a Mister Twister Tail in chartreuse, pink, fire tiger white or pearl. Ken describes a funky bucktail as a mix of multiple hot colors combined. Ken finds that such psychedelic style bucktails tipped with the Mister Twister work very well throughout the season, especially during June.
My favorite jig in the Peconics is a half- to 1-ounce Spro Squid Tail in white and pink tipped with Fishbites 4-inch E-Z Bait in squid and shrimp flavor
I asked Ken if he would be willing to pass along any suggestions to The Fisherman readers to help improve their score. He advised setting the alarm clock a couple of hours earlier than usual. The best fishing is at first light or at sunset. Do not get on the water at 7 a.m. and expect great fishing because you’ve probably missed the bite by two hours. Additionally, for reasons only the weakfish can explain, Ken told me that there is a certain stage of light transition that makes the weaks more aggressive for about an hour. Unfortunately, it is a phase that is unpredictable and is either hit of miss.
If early mornings are not in the cards, you may want to head out on low light days with overcast skies. Finally, make sure you have a landing net as there are some holdover fish to 8 pounds still in the area.
So if you are looking for a change of pace this summer, head into the Peconics for some exceptional weakfish action. Please remember New York State allows possession of one fish per person of 16 inches or larger. Before heading out, stop over at Tight Lines where Ken will be happy to help with all your bait and tackle needs, as well as current fishing info. You will not find a more genuinely friendly and helpful man.