Weakfish belong to the drum family, which includes spot, red drum, black drum and Atlantic croaker. This family of fish gets its name from the loud drumming or croaking sounds made by using special muscles to vibrate their swim bladder. The name weakfish comes from the fish’s fragile mouth, which tears easily when hooked by anglers.
Weakfish can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay, mainly in sandy, shallow areas. They tend to feed on small schooling fish such as anchovies and menhaden, but will also prey on crabs, shrimp, mollusks and large zooplankton. In autumn, weakfish leave the Bay to migrate south.
The weakfish is sleek-bodied, with a dark olive back, sides that are iridescent blue and copper, and a white belly. Their fins are yellow, and their upper body has small dark spots which sometimes appear in diagonal lines. A typical adult weakfish weighs from 1 to 8 pounds and be from 12 to 20 inches in length. But they can be as long as 3 feet! The Chesapeake Bay record weighed 19 pounds and was caught in 1983 near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.
Weakfish spawn from April through August in nearshore waters by the mouth of the Bay. By late summer, weakfish larvae drift toward low-salinity tributaries which are used as nursery grounds. During October, the young travel back into the Bay, and will move offshore by early winter.
Illustration of Weakfish by Diane Rome Peebles,