Local insights on the hot weakfish bite.
Do you remember the 70s and the incredible run of weakfish we had in Great South Bay? I do, and it will be embedded in my fishing memories forever. I fished with former Editor of the Long Island Fisherman Scott Simons and I was only 14 years old. Using the old standby – Salty Dog shrimp, we had countless fish – with some pushing into 16 to 18-pound class, while most were over 12! When you attempted to net a true “tiderunner,” there were two to three other big fish right with it.
Then, without warning, they disappeared for years. For the last three years, anglers once again have found the weakfish bite rock-solid in Moriches and Great South bays and other areas around the ‘Island. Previous year anglers had the typical good run in late April into May, but then the bite continued throughout the summer and fall.
The Hot Spots
There are no secret hot spots in either bay so before you start yelling “spot burning” is a no-no, relax. The best early-season areas in Great South Bay have not changed in 50 years. If you want early season action, head to the Ocean Beach area on the last of the flood tide. Try West Channel, and then cross the bay and fish Heckscher State Park and Nichol Point if that does not pan out. Then head a little west and the East-West Channel off Amityville is another producer.
Head east to Moriches Bay and the best hot spot can be found near the Smith Point Bridge, Narrows Bay and the mouths of Forge River and Senix Creek. A little-known hot spot is the Great Gun Channel. It is a tricky area to fish as it is very narrow, but non-windy days are a good option.
The key to any of these hot spots is one item! And no, it is not to be there at first light! The key to weakfish success is the change of the tides, whether it is the flood to ebb or ebb to flood. However, if you can match this to first light, you could be in for a great day. Boat traffic can play a part, but the weakfish will bite if the tide is correct, regardless of how many boats are in the area.
Catch ‘Em Up
There are many great ways to catch weakfish, but I like artificial baits. Small jigheads tipped with Berkley Grubs, Fin-S Fish or other soft plastics in pink or orange always seem to produce. Fishbite baits like the Fight’n Shrimp in, Hammer Fist, Knock Out and SmackDown are my favorites. Weakfish will also hit small bucktails, tins and Rapala type swim/jerk baits.
Live bait like grass shrimp will load the boat, but the key is getting them and getting enough of them to be able to chum and bait your hook. A burlap bag hung off your dock will load you up nicely. Peanut bunker is another great bait, which is best in the latter stages of the summer into the fall. Weakfish will feast on these, with some real trophy fish to over 10 pounds in the mix. Earlier in the season and throughout, sandworms and squid strips are an excellent go-to bait, and will keep the action hot throughout the tide.
Weakfish, in my opinion, are not overly aggressive like some fish. Fluke will smack a bait hard, stripers will run amuck and blues will crash baits and artificials like they are never going to feed again. Heck, even bottom-dwelling kingfish and blowfish hit pretty hard. On the other side, a weakfish bite is more subtle and, at times, tough to detect. Paying attention to any slight twitch or movement in your line is a key ingredient.
Make your cast and allow the bait to sink fully. Pay close attention since the bait will get hit on the fall at times. After your line goes slack, reel slightly, then impart small twitches, keeping in contact with your line and trying to keep all the slack out.
Even back in the early 70s, when I was a kid and fishing for true tiderunners over 15 pounds, the tackle we used was light. Maybe not as light as today’s standards, but it definitely was not a broomstick and heavy conventional reel.
We used spinning tackle, and if I can remember, we used green South Bend reels and Berkley spinning rods. For the 2022 season, there are plenty of great manufacturers out there – Abu Garcia, Penn, Shimano, KastKing, Daiwa and a lot more. I like a 7-foot rod rated for 10 to 17-pound test with a fast taper. Match this rod to any good quality spinning reel in the 2500 to 3000-size class and you are all set.
On line end, spool up with 10 to 15-pound braid topped off with a good fluorocarbon leader in 10 to 15-pound test. I like to tie directly to the jig rather than a snap. For me, the direct contact is just one less item to wear or break. Some anglers prefer a snap for easy changing of jigs/lures.
The time is right and as I pen this article, there are already reports of weakfish in both bays, with more to show in the coming months of June through October. Before we close, another bonus hot spot that is overlooked is the great shorebound action in the back-bay canals that dot the South Shore. This is primarily a night bite due to restrictions at these secret honey holes that may not be that accessible by the light of day.
Grab your favorite soft plastic bait, sandworms, grass shrimp, or peanut bunker as the year wanes on and catch a few nice weakfish for the dinner table. And, don’t be surprised if you land a true “tiderunner” like we used to catch in the 70s!