Game Fishing > Saltwater Fish > Squeteague or Weakfish

Squeteague or Weakfish

Squeteague or WeakfishIn abundance and popularity this fish is better known to more anglers of the Atlantic Coast than any caught on the line. The reason is obvious; it is a bold and ready biter and any angler who knows how to go about it, lands from ten to fifty fish in one tide. It is a handsome as well as fairly nutritious food fish, affording considerable satisfaction to hosts of anglers throughout the warm summer months.

The squeteague is found on the Atlantic Coast, from Cape Cod to eastern Florida, and is abundant throughout this range, except in regions where its productiveness is interfered with by the blue fish. It is then more scarce. But it is nowhere at any season more plentiful, than in summer along the stretch of shore from Norfolk to Nantucket. Its wanderings vary; its habits are identical with the blue-fish, but the latter being the swiftest swimmer and the most voracious feeder, possibly interferes with the food supply of the squeteague.

In the South it is called the spotted trout, sea trout and salmon. About Cape Cod it is called the drummer; about Buzzards Bay, yellow fins; in New York and New Jersey, weakfish; Names in Virginia, blue-fish; the name squeteague is of Indian origin, and squit, succoteague, squitee, and chickwit, are variations of the name in different ancient and modern dialects. On the Pacific Coast it is known as the white sea-bass; other species, larger or smaller, are known as the gulf bass, sea trout, blue-fish, and guaymas. The white sea-bass attains a weight of 100 pounds on the California coast in the vicinity of Santa Catalina. The average weight of the Atlantic species is from two to ten pounds, though specimens have been taken up to thirty pounds.

The name weakfish is not applied because it is not a gamy fighter, but for the reason that the bony processes of its mouth are unusually tender, so that it requires some skill to land a large fish without pulling the hook away. The Cape Cod fishermen call the weakfish "drummer," because of the peculiar noise it produces when travelling in schools. Weakfish are erratic in temperament and movements. Today they are taken on a certain tide, tomorrow they will bite on another; sometimes a windy day is good, at others a calm day; thunder drives them to the bottom, and perhaps two days will intervene before they rise again to the surface. If sharks are in the vicinity, the tackle may be put up for the day; any loud noise in the boat, splashing of oars in the water, even the dropping of the anchor too forcefully, has a tendency to drive them to pastures new.

At low tide they go into holes and sand bars and stay there till the tide moves in; at night time they run up the creeks to feed in the salt meadows, and there will take the hook freely, especially if baited with shrimps. Their habit of floating slowly into the bays with the incoming tide is mostly on, or near the surface, at flood, or nearly flood; the largest specimens may be seen at the top of the water, with the tall dorsal fin just above the surface; at times they will jump and splash much in the manner of trout.

The most favorable tide for catching them is generally considered the latter half of the flood and the first half of the ebb tide, in the bays and flats. In the ocean, the ebbing tide is best. It is necessary to "feel" for weakfish; sometimes they run on the surface, at other times on the bottom; it all depends on where the food happens to be in that particular place. It is well to try the bottom, then a few feet from the bottom, then at the top.

The usual rig for weakfishing is a light, stiff rod, not more than five feet six inches long, weighing ten to fifteen ounces, made of bamboo or green­heart, in two pieces, butt and tip, having good solid guides. Use a line, fine, but strong, and multiplying reel, holding 300 feet. The baited hook should be attached to the line with a three or four foot double leader (without sinker), and allowed to drift with the current. If the current be very swift use a split shot, or a pearl squid. If the fish are not feeding on the surface use a one-ounce sinker, attached just above the leader with float. If fishing deep a 2.5-ounce sinker should be used.

The four principal baits for weakfish are shrimps, shedder crabs, sand worms, and spearing. The last named are best, especially for the big tide runners. They are always hungry, so that the bait most convenient to get will probably do. Whatever bait the angler may use, he must remember that "chumming" is one of the necessary things in weakfishing; "chum" constantly, but not too freely. Shrimps are the best to use for "chum," next best are chopped Lafayettes, porgies, sea robins, hard clams, and horse mussels.

There is never any doubt when a weakfish bites; it does not nibble round the hook, but takes the bait at one fair swoop and then starts off with it like a limited express with time to make up. It is a shy fish, easily frightened, and the man who uses a small line, light leaders and snells to the hook, is the one who is apt to have the best luck. When the fish strikes keep a taut line all the time, lead the fish instead of tugging or hauling it, and let it run if it wishes, but lead it back and land it with a net. The latter is perhaps the most important part of the tackle. A net is sure and safe. Lifting the fish over the boat side leads to more losses than anything else. Weakfish may be caught in the surf by the same method as that used in striped-bass fishing, with tackle similar but lighter. They may also be caught in the ocean, trolling in the manner employed for blue­fishing. For bait use the artificial squid of bone, cedar, or pearl. By these last two methods much larger fish are captured than those caught in bays and channels at flood tide.

The Pacific squeteague, popularly known on the California coast as the white sea-bass, ranges the coast even to Canada, and is most common from south of Magdalena Bay to Santa Barbara; and like the Eastern species is very uncertain in its movements and equally so in biting. The season may be said to be from May first to July, or even August; some seasons the fish is rare and will not bite; again it comes in numbers and affords sport long to be remembered. Charles F. Holder records, with a fellow-angler, taking ten of these fish, all over fifty pounds in weight, between 9 and 12 o'clock, not 100 feet from the beach in Avalon Bay. He further states: "A large school entered the bay and remained ten days, affording excellent sport. In our boat my companion and I each hooked a large fish at the same moment; one rushed ahead, the other darted astern, and we were at once involved in a most spirited tug­of-war which resulted in the loss of one fish. At one time twenty or thirty small boats were fishing, and sometimes half of these would have 'bass' hooked at the same time; the scene, as the big fish towed the boats about, the cries and shouts as lines were parted, or rods succumbed, being a most animated one. I recall one rush of a bass hooked by a lady, which towed the boat almost entirely across the bay before the fish could be checked. The game later tipped the scales at eighty pounds."

Of course, no such weakfishing occurs on the Eastern coast. The white bass is taken almost invariably in deep water along the rocks, and will often plunge down and sulk; then plunging along, it makes inshore rushes to reach deep channels.

The method of fishing is to troll slowly, just outside the sea-weed; the fish nearly always swim on the surface, in small schools, and are easily recognized by their dorsal fins peeping above the water. The fish are not easily alarmed, when the bait is cast among them, for the reason that it is the habit of the flying-fish to repeatedly drop with a splash in all directions, and they are taken by the largest fish as food. For that reason, the flying-fish is often used as bait. The white sea-bass average about forty or fifty pounds, small ones being more or less rare.

Specimens weighing eighty pounds have been caught with hand lines. The rod record is around fifty-six pounds. In the San Francisco market, bass weighing sixty to eighty pounds are not uncommon, and doubtless the fish attains a maximum weight of one hundred or more pounds. In the Gulf of California a larger species of this genus was found; it is a stouter and bulkier fish; there is a record of one being caught weighing around 172 pounds. It is known as the Gulf bass and can be found in vast numbers on the shores of the East coast, even entering the mouth of the Colorado River.