Short and sweet. Fast and furious. Snooze you lose.

So describes the brief-but-full blast and then gone arrival-and-departure of big weakfish along the southern New Jersey coast’s bays and ICW.

“Oh, man, they (big weakfish) are here and they are snapping,” observed Capt. Al Crudele III from Bayhound Charters based in Sea Isle City, adding, “but they won’t be hanging around for long. A couple of weeks at most before they head north. The time to catch them is now,” he emphasized.

Indeed, from behind Cape May up into Great Egg Harbor Bay and, by the time you read this, behind Atlantic City, the tide runners will be on the move, chowing and spawning as they move towards their Barnegat Bay and Raritan Bay haunts, and then farther up the coast to Long Island and beyond.

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Ludlam’s Bay is on fire as you read this, with other areas igniting as the tides change.

Soft plastics, either fork tail (Fin-S, Zoom), paddle tail (Mr. Twister, Kettle Creek) or grub tail (Mr. Twister), in the 3-5 inch range are all effective when mated to a ¼ -1/2 oz. jig head, the weight of the head and length of the tail predicated on the depths being probed.

In select low water situations, a 1/8-oz. jig is employed when a 3-inch or 4-inch bait is presented.

Tom Pagliaroli
Tom Pagliaroli

“It’s all about the slow, deliberate presentation,” explains Crudele, noting that these big weakfish can be notoriously selective, hard charging on one tide and finicky during the next.

Top tail colors include hot pink, bubblegum, Arkansas Shiner, pearl, electric chicken, white, Texas Chili, black/silver flake, and chartreuse/silver flake.

The daily limit is one fish at a minimum of 13-inches. Ridiculous, yes, but it’s been this way for years as the various federal and state agencies, commissions and councils try to figure the “why” of the weakfish decline and how to make the stock recover. From this corner, it’s dolphins, stripers and bluefish eating ‘em up that is a major part of the decline as it pertains to all those millions of 6-8 inch “spikes” coming down the coast during September and October but a huge percentage not returning the following spring during the northward migration. More down, less up. But, that’s merely my opinion, simplistic as it is.

The corollary being that during the next few weeks, the possibility is high of catching weakies in the 4-10 lb. range.

As one guy bitched one day last April in the spreading sunrise at Corson’s Inlet near the Ocean City/Strathmere Bridge, hoisting what looked like a 6-7 lb. tide runner into a big ice-packed cooler on the tailgate of his pickup, “Only one fish! We used to get dozens here at night on the right tide back in the day!”

I mean, how much weakfish can you eat?

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