Game Fishing > Drum Family, Sciaenidae > Weakfish


WeakfishThe weakfish, or squeteague, was first described by Bloch and Schneider, in 1801, from the vicinity of New York. They named it regalis, or "royal." In the Southern states it is called gray-trout and sea-trout. The name weakfish is doubtless derived from the Dutch, and is said to have originally meant a soft fish. Jacob Steendam, in a poem in "Praise of New Netherland," in 1661, has "Weekvis, en Schol, en Carper, Bot, en Snoek," meaning weakfish, plaice, carp, turbot, and pike.

The name squeteague is of Indian origin. The natural habitat of the weakfish is along the Atlantic coast south of Cape Cod, occasionally straying to the Gulf of Mexico. It is most abundant between Buzzards Bay and Chesapeake Bay. It is a handsome, shapely fish, resembling somewhat the salmon in outline. It has a robust body, with a depth of about one-fourth of its length. It has a long, pointed head, nearly as long as the depth of the body. The mouth is large, with projecting lower jaw. The teeth are sharp, in narrow bands, with several fanglike canines in front of the upper jaw. The dorsal fins are but slightly separated, and the caudal fin is almost square.

The color of the back and top of the head is bluish or bluish gray, with silvery sides and white belly, and with purple and golden iridescence. A series of dark, diffused spots or blotches form transverse or oblique streaks, more pronounced on the upper part of the body, from whence they run downward and forward. The cheeks and gill-covers are silvery and chin yellowish; the ventral and anal fins are orange; dorsal fin dusky; pectoral fins yellowish; caudal fin with upper part dark and lower part yellowish.

The weakfish is a warm-water fish, visiting the coast and bays during the spring, summer, and fall, though more abundant in the summer. They are surface feeders, and swim in large schools in quest of menhaden, scup, and other small fishes. They are more numerous some seasons than others, probably owing to certain conditions affecting their food, temperature of water, and the abundance or scarcity of their enemy, the bluefish. They seldom, if ever, ascend the streams to fresh water, but remain about the outer beaches, entering the inlets and estuaries on the flood tide in pursuit of their prey, and go out again with the ebb; at least this is the habit of the largest fish, known as "tide­runners." Smaller fish probably remain in the bays and bayous, resorting to deep holes at low water.

Its breeding habits are not well understood, though it spawns in the bays in early summer, about May or June. The eggs are quite small, about thirty to the inch, are buoyant or floating, and hatch in a few days, usually in two. I have taken many in Chesapeake Bay in August, but do not remember ever catching one containing roe during that month. It is an excellent food-fish if perfectly fresh, but soon deteriorates, becoming quite soft and losing its characteristic flavor when out of the water a few hours. It is quite an important commercial fish during summer in the eastern markets. Small ones, below a pound in weight, are delicious pan­fish; larger ones should be baked. Its usual weight is two or three pounds, and its maximum ten or twelve; occasionally they are taken still heavier twenty or twenty-five pounds.

Being a surface feeder it is a good game-fish on light tackle, taking bait or an artificial fly with a rush and snap that reminds one of a trout, and for a short time it resists capture bravely. Its first spurt, when hooked, is a grand one, and when checked darts in various directions, making for the weeds if any are near, or toward the bottom, or rushing to the surface leaps out, shaking itself madly to dislodge the hook. It must be handled carefully and gingerly, for it has a tender mouth from which the hook is apt to be torn if too much strain is exerted at first.

A very light striped-bass rod may be utilized, but the most suitable is the "Little Giant" rod of seven and one-half feet and eight ounces in ash and lancewood. The most satisfactory mode of fishing for weak­fish is from a boat anchored near the channel, or tied to a pier or wharf in a tideway. The time for fishing is on the flood tide, from half flood to half ebb, as the tide-runners are going in or out in large schools. As little noise as possible should be made by any necessary movements in the boat, as the fish are easily frightened.

Long casts should be made toward the advancing or retreating fish, and the bait kept in motion by being reeled in. No sinker or float is required, as the bait must be kept near the surface. Menhaden or minnows, shedder-crab, lobster, blood­worms, clam, and shrimp are all good natural baits. A small spinner, or a small mother-of-pearl squid, if reeled in rapidly, often proves very taking; also a large, gaudy fly, as the red ibis, soldier, silver doctor, Jock Scott, royal coachman, etc., can be used with good effect when the fish are running strongly and in goodly numbers.

Still-fishing, with a float, and a sinker adapted to the strength of the tidal current, can be practised in the eddies of the tide, or at slack water near deep holes, using the natural baits mentioned. Another method is casting with heavy hand-line in the surf from the outside beaches, using blocks, and hauling the fish in, when hooked, by main strength. The largest fish are taken in this way; but while it is in a degree exciting, it can only be said to be fishing, not angling.

Many anglers, however, prefer it to any other mode of fishing. Another favorite method, but a tame one, is drifting with the wind and tide, following a school of fish and taking them by trolling with hand-line. If suitable rods and tackle were used, it would not be objectionable.

Next to the striped-bass the weakfish is the most important game-fish of the East Coast, and to judge from the greater number of anglers who pursue "weakfishing," it is far and away the favorite with the majority. The estuaries and bays of the Jersey coast, Long Island, and Staten Island, and along the Sound, afford good fishing in the season and at favorable stages of the tide. These localities are more frequented by anglers than any other section of the East Coast. While ideal angling can only be found on inland waters in casting the fly for salmon, black-bass, or trout, amidst the rural and pastoral scenes of hill and hollow, with the birds and sweet-scented blossoms ever near the rippling streams a full measure of enjoyment is vouchsafed to the salt-water angler in the exhilarating sail to the fishing­banks, the sunlit crests of the incoming tide.