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The first reported weakfish catches of 2018 come by way of the Barnegat Bay region on April 12 & 13. Will the tiderunning flood gates soon be open, or will we need one more "spring tide" at the Jersey Shore?
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.  |  April 16, 2018
Karl Stefan of Pennsylvania got into the weakfish action fishing off of Barnegat Bay last Friday with his buddy Shawn Hawthorne and Capt. Steve Purul. Photo courtesy of Reel Fantasea Charters.

The first reported weakfish catch of the 2018 season hit my desk this past weekend when Jim Schiller stopped in to see Liza and the crew at Creekside Outfitters in Waretown on April 12 carrying a 21-inch weakfish for weigh-in.

Caught on a chartreuse jighead with white curly tail, Schiller’s weakie weighed 2.66 pounds.

Just 24 hours later I received a text message from another Waretown fisherman, Capt. Steve Purul, who wrote “Hit some nice weakfish today” while fishing with PA anglers Karl Stefan and Shawn Hawthorne.

“You think they’re new fish or residents,” I asked Steve, thinking a bit about the habits of some fish there in the warmwater outflow in nearby Forked River.

“New,” the captain replied.

The return of spring like conditions late last week could’ve warmed waters significantly in just a short period of time; it’s also likely that the balmier temperatures brought more anglers out of hibernation and significantly led to increased reporting. Whether it was the chicken or the egg, our weekly reports for The Fisherman to start the week of April 16 show surfcasters got into heavy striped bass action along the Raritan Bayshore mid- to late-week, hit a few cocktail blues on the beaches of Ocean City into the weekend, and of course waded into the Barnegat Bay weakfish as well.

Some of the hardcore weakfish guys swear by moon phases; it just so happens that this past Sunday (9:59 p.m.) was the first of our two spring tides during the month of April. The term “spring tide” of course is a historical term that has nothing to do with the season of spring; it actually comes from the concept of the tide "springing forth” during the new and full moon.

Spring tides occur twice each lunar month all year long; neap tides, which also occur twice a month, happen when the sun and moon are at right angles to each other and is a period of more moderate tidal action. Expect the next spring tide of April to arrive at about the time of the next full moon on Sunday, April 29 at 8:59 p.m.

While the first smaller weakfish of the 2018 season have officially arrived at the Jersey Shore, expect the return of the “tiderunners” over the next two weeks immediately following that next spring tide.

By that time, we should also be awash in monster bluefish; weakfish will often feed around blitzing bluefish and are apt take chunks falling to the bottom. 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.

Fin-S plastics, Bass Kandy Delights, Storm Search Baits, Kettle Creek Swing Shads and Zooms from Bass Assassins are favorites; silver fleck patterns are outstanding matches for most of our local baits, though I’ve personally always been a fan of pinks and whites. Veteran sharpies of course will talk of the traditional white bucktail and purple jellyworm bounced along the sod and around jetty rocks.

“Zoom’s Super Fluke is my go-to confidence bait,” said noted weakfish sharpie Frank Ruczynski in an article in The Fisherman Magazine a couple of years back. “Some of the region’s greatest, time-tested tactics include floating bloodworms along the inlet rock piles, tossing MirrOlures from the sod banks, dropping shedder crabs along a channel edge, livelining bunker, bouncing the bottom with a white bucktail and a purple fire-tail worm and my favorite, jigging soft plastic baits.”

New Jersey Fisherman subscriber Bill Collins is a perennial entry into the Dream Boat Challenge come May ever season when those jumbo weakfish arrive along Cape May County jetties. One of his “go to” lures for tiderunners in the spring is the MirrOLure reeled slowly, methodically, right along the structure at night. Hard plastic selections for trophy hunters also include the inimitable SP Minnow from Daiwa, or Rapala’s X-Rap Subwalk.

Personally, In many of the land-based spots I have fished for spring and summer weakfish over the years, I’ve often found incoming tide is best behind inlets and along channel edges, casting into the current and slow-jigging on the slow retrieve while running baits as parallel to the current as possible. There have been times when I’ll cast perpendicular at 12 o’clock to 1 o’clock to work longer in deeper water and find I’m losing more baits to blues; when trying to stay parallel to the channel edges and casting at 2 o’clock to 3 o’clock I’m more apt to hit those weakies and a few stripers.

Because of the spawning nature of these trophy weaks, finding the “right location” to target big fish is not as easy as it sounds. Highlighting any number of exact locations where I’d personally target bigger fish would be “spot burning” at its best (a friend once blindfolded me in a parking lot before walking me out to his favorite sedge for a night of weakfish, just to ensure my silence.)

Suffice to say, night time around docks, bridges, and backside stretches of beach or sod bank can be productive; areas of noted interest throughout the region for surfcasters and boats alike range from Cape May inlet rocks north to the street ends on the Shrewsbury River along the northern coast.

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