'You've got to love weakfish," Capt. Tom Federico said as he lifted a pretty 4-pounder out of the net. "They show up in the spring, hang in the bays through the summer and don't head south until the kids return to school."
We were fishing Wednesday evening on Peconic Bay, slightly east of Robins Island, but we could have found similar weakfish action in Great South Bay off Cherry Grove, Ocean Beach or Massapequa, in Moriches Bay southwest of Quogue Canal, or even in Centerport Harbor on Long Island's North Shore. The weaks have been in good supply and although tiderunners are mostly caught in the spring, the smaller summer schoolies offer a perfect blend of aggressiveness and fighting ability for family fun. With a 16-inch minimum size limit and one per day creel, they are also ideal for teaching catch-and-release theory.
"I focus on the weakfish through the summer before switching to stripers in the fall," said Federico, who runs Surfmaster Sportfishing Charters (631-377-6619) from Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, "but these are really mixed-bag trips. Most days we'll deck weaks to 8 pounds, some porgies, fluke, sea robins, sand sharks and maybe a blowfish or kingfish. It's an interesting mix but the weaks -- with their magnificent colors and larger proportions -- usually steal the show."
The key to finding mixed-bag action in the bays is working deep holes and channel edges. Federico drifts with nothing more than long strips of squid impaled on a high-low rig. He favors 2/0 wide-gap style hooks dressed with bright pink teasers, a setup he claims catches nearly everything in our bay waters.
Sea bass opens Tuesday
Another great family fish to target is the black sea bass. Anglers aboard open boats with RSA permits out of Point Lookout, Freeport, Captree and ports east have scored well this season, so expectations are high for Tuesday's official opening.
"This is another form of mixed-bag fishing that's perfect for family fun," said Capt. Steve Kearney of the Point Lookout open boat Super Hawk. "We're fishing ocean waters an hour from port and catching porgies, triggerfish and plenty of sea bass with pool winners topping four pounds."
Capt. Neil Delanoy of the Captree open boat Laura Lee agreed with Kearney's assessment. "We've been catching all along on our RSA permit, so there should be plenty of action," he said. Delanoy plans to run a late-night sea bass special Monday so anglers can get their lines in the water at the stroke of midnight come Tuesday morning.
While the South Shore is a sure bet for sea bass action, this year's sleeper hot spot might be Long Island Sound. "There's more sea bass here than I can ever remember," said Capt. James Schneider of the Huntington open boat James Joseph II. "We've been throwing back keepers to 5 pounds for weeks. We'll still be fluking but those sea bass will add extra fillets to our catches come Tuesday."
North Shore fluking has improved significantly in recent days. Schneider has been working 14-foot depths in Smithtown Bay and running out to between 30- and 45-foot depths within the Eatons Neck Triangle as the tide slows down. Both places, he noted, have plenty of sea bass mixed in with the summer flatties.