I've spent the last twenty-five years chasing the fish that swim in our local waters and I've enjoyed every minute of it! During that time, I've made some remarkable friends and together we've learned a great deal by spending loads of time on the water.
They're back! Weakfish are popping up all over: reports of 3 to 6-pound weakfish are making headlines along much of the northeast coast. The numbers and sizes of fish may not compare to the glory days, but there are certainly more weakfish around than we've seen in the last few years. Most anglers targeting weakfish are catching them in impressive numbers, while others are pleasantly surprised by weakfish at the end of their lines when fishing for striped bass, bluefish, or summer flounder. Let's hope this is just the beginning of a tremendous success story similar to what we've witnessed with the striped bass years ago.
The Glory Days
I don't know where to start. Ok here we go: my name is Frank Ruczynski and I'm a weakfish junkie. I do crazy things that most "normal" people would never dream of in order to catch "a fish." My wife and kids know that I'm not quite right, but even more so during the month of May - they've learned to deal with it; God bless them. Thoughts of tackle-testing tiderunners and a serious case of sleep deprivation often make it difficult for me to concentrate on much else; it took an unbelievable amount of willpower to stay in today so I could catch up on household responsibilities and my blog. During the little bit of sleep I receive, I often wake up to a hook-setting jolt. Once I realize the bite I just set the hook on was just a dream, I'm disappointed and usually can't get back to sleep. To most people it's just "a fish," but fishing for weakfish is one of the things I enjoy most on the planet.
Twenty years ago, when I first started fishing, those fanged-backwater beauties were abundant. I guess you could say weakfish taught me how to fish. In those days, tiderunner weakfish were the talk of the town as striped bass were talked about in a past tense only. At that time, a 10-pound tiderunner was the mark that most of us aimed for, however as the years passed our expectations went up as we continued to catch larger and larger weakfish.
Not Long Ago, Weakfish Like This Were Caught Every Spring
Since then, we've watched the population crash as those great year classes expired. We'd have some hope as schools of spike weakfish would show up here and there in the late summer/early fall season, but the action was sporadic at best.
Recently, we've seen lots of promising signs. It started a few years ago when we were tossing our cast nets for mullet and peanut bunker, but came up with tons of 4 to 6-inch weakies. The next season, we had a nice run of 12 to 16-weakfish. Last spring, we saw a fair amount of weakfish with many in the 18 to 22-inch class. The fall was amazing as we had tremendous numbers of 2 to 4-pound weakfish until Superstorm Sandy put an end to the fun. So the spring push of weakfish isn't much of a surprise, but it sure is welcome. With stories of the striped bass demise, I watched the weakfish dwindle with my own eyes, and storms like Sandy hitting our coast, I take nothing for granted. Enjoy the great fishing while you can!
They're Back and Getting Bigger!
This season, I've mixed two of the things I love the most together: spending time on my kayak and fishing for weakfish. I'm still fairly new to the whole kayak scene as I've spent most of the last two seasons floating in the sweetwater. What can I say? I'm like an old boy scout, I like to be prepared. With plenty of freshwater kayaking experiences under my belt, I felt the time was right to get the little plastic boat salty. I've been out a bunch in the last two weeks with great results.
On my first time out, I had one of the best weakfish action trips in years. Everything went according to plan, even with east winds blowing at close to 20 mph. The current wasn't nearly as bad as I expected and I was extremely comfortable on my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120. I caught over 20 weakfish and went home with a smile from ear to ear.
Return trips haven't been as good as my first trip, but I haven't come home disappointed yet. I've been fishing early mornings, but I think I'm ready for a night trip soon. Most of the weakfish are in the 20 to 24-inch range, but I had a bunch up to 26 inches and one the other day that was pushing 30 inches. With striped bass, bluefish, and summer flounder thrown in, I feel like I've died and gone to heaven.
My Little Piece of Heaven
None of my close friends have kayak fever yet, but I have a feeling it's only a matter of time. Fortunately, I met up with a bunch of good guys on my last few trips. Dan Tholen from Lacy Marine has been a pleasure to fish with and seems to have this kayak thing down to a science. The early-morning kayak crew sure seems much more pleasant than some of my old, bridge-running acquaintances.
I'm stuck in weakfish gear, but there are lots of other great fishing opportunities to take advantage of now. The striped bass run is picking up and should pop just about any day now. Just in the last few days, I've heard reports of a number of big linesiders out front between Cape May and Long Beach Island. Bluefish seem to be just about everywhere as do an incredible amount of blowfish. Yes, I said blowfish; they are invading our waterways and are pretty good at stealing bait. Let's not forget that summer flounder season kicks off this Saturday, May 18th. Maybe I'll pull myself away from the weakies for a few days; fresh fluke fillets sure sound tasty.
Ok, it's time to catch up. I'm not sure if this week's blog will be up to par as my brain may not be fully functional due to a serious lack of sleep, but I'll do my best. The last two weeks are a bit of a blur. With brook, brown, and rainbow trout in the local watering holes, largemouth bass on the beds, weakfish and bluefish invading the bays, and the spring striper run in full swing, who has time for sleep? I've been fishing day and night and I love every minute of it!
Fishing Day and Night
Even when I'm not fishing, I spend a tremendous amount of time outside. Over the years, I've noticed some connections between nature and fish migrations/patterns. Little things like certain flowers blooming or a particular animal sighting, often correlate to fishing action in some way. Some of the old timers swear when the dogwood trees bloom, weakfish enter the bay. One of my triggers is frogs: each spring, the first night I hear the spring peepers singing, I call my buddies and say it's time to catch stripers. My best weakfish action usual coincides just days after the cherry blossoms fall off the trees.
You See Cherry Blossoms, I See Weakfish
Closer to the water, many of us use diving birds as a sure cue of an ongoing blitz, but there are other, more subtle, hints to finding fish if you keep your eyes open and your mind working. I feel like night herons are my personal little fish finders. If I walk up to a marina with fifty slips, the herons are always perched above the most productive holes. The night herons feed on little fish much like our backwater striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, and summer flounder so it only makes sense that they would show up in the same areas. Good anglers have one thing in common: they pay attention to every detail in their environment and use what they learn to catch more fish.
The sweet water trout bite hasn't been very complicated, when you see the big truck and the guys with nets, it's probably a good time to fish. Fishing for stocked trout might not be the most challenging or rewarding way to fish, but it sure is a great way to spend a day with my boys. The state stocks a bunch of lakes within minutes of our house and I just can't pass up a truckload of trout on a beautiful 70-degree day.
Time for Trout
Last Thursday was Take Your Child to Work Day and as luck would have it, the hatchery truck was due to hit our local lake on the same day! Jake and I packed up our gear and headed to Harrisonville Lake for the day. The guys stocked the spillway with brookies and the lake with rainbows and a few brown trout. After I took a few photos, Jake and I started working spinners in the spillway and had beautiful brookies on almost every cast for a good hour before we moved over to the main lake. Within minutes, we had rainbows chasing down our double-bladed spinners. With a total of five guys fishing the entire waterway, 400 trout was more than enough to keep us busy for the afternoon.
Another Great Day with Jake
While the trout trips are fun, it's the saltwater action that keeps me up at night. With some bigger bass and weakfish popping up, it's tough for me to not spend every minute in the water. Fishing action has been good and it should get much better in the coming weeks. The recent full moon and what seems like a never-ending, east wind didn't help the weakfish bite, but the stripers didn't seem to mind. Some better-sized bass moved into the backwater and they've been a blast on light tackle.
Skinny Water Fun
I feel like I'm surrounded by stripers: they're in the rivers, bays, and surf. I try to do it all, but I usually find myself leaning towards the backwater bite. While I prefer to fish with light tackle in the backwaters, you can bet I'll be out front when the big girls come out of the bay.
Local surfcaster, John Jones has been hitting the suds and bay shores with his son Jimmy. The Jones boys have been plugging the bay shores in the evenings and surf fishing with clams during the day. They've been catching good numbers of 25 to 34 inch fish. My son, Frankie, and I have the back covered. We've landed lots of schoolies and a few keeper bass up to 37 inches on jigs and soft-plastic baits. As fun as it is to be on the water, it's ten times better when you can share the adventures with your offspring.
The Next Generation
If you haven't been out yet, it's time to grab your gear and get out there! Fishing action is good and getting better everyday. It's time to put on the waders; you know where I'll be.