Weakfish are the most common sea trout caught in coastal waters around Long Island and southern New England. Weakfish is also known as the gray sea trout and by it’s original Native American name, squeateague. The name weakfish is misleading because it is really a powerful swimmer and a strong fighter when hooked. The name “weakfish” was bestowed on this fish by recreational anglers because of its fragile mouth structure, which permits a hook to tear out rather easily. This characteristic has undoubtedly been lamented in many tales of the trophy fish that got away.

Weakfish are members of the drum family, which also includes the spotted sea trout, croaker, and spot. These fish are all noted for the drumming noises they make. Rapid contraction of abdominal muscles against a resonating air bladder produces a drumming which is audible to boaters. Whether or not a message is conveyed is not known. It is known, however that the volume of the drumming is turned up at spawning time. Only male weakfish make this noise.

The average weakfish caught in our area varies from one to three pounds with a few up to five or six pounds. Big “tide runners” may weigh up to ten or 12 pounds. However, weakfish of this size are scarce. Weakfish range from Massachusetts to Florida but the greatest concentrations of weakfish are found from Long Island to North Carolina. They move in schools, often small but sometimes consisting of many thousands of fish. Weakfish migrate up and down the coast as the water temperature changes. They prefer water temperatures 60°F or higher. In the summer weakfish live in shallow waters close to the shore. During the summer, weakfish appear to travel in single-sex schools. Spawning occurs from May to October. In the autumn they move south and to offshore waters.

During the years shortly after World War II fleets of charter boats and commercial seiners were unable to more than dent the vast schools of “tide-runner” weakfish that invaded eastern Long Island from late April to July. No fish has such extreme highs and lows in its abundance. Weakfish virtually disappeared in the early 50s and showed no sign of recovery until 1972. The local catch in New York also varies from year to year, and weakfish are likely to be most abundant in the marketplace in the fall and, to a lesser extent, in late spring.

The flesh of weakfish is white, sweet, lean and finely textured. It makes a delicious meal when fried or broiled. Because of the texture it’s also fragile and must be iced immediately after capture to retain its natural elasticity and flavor. One of the finest methods for cooking weakfish is to cook the fish whole with seafood or other stuffing in the oven or over hot coals on the grill. Weakfish fillets can also be broiled or baked with a variety of sauces or vegetable accompaniments.