In the New England waters where I fish we have a very elusive fish. So elusive that locals refer to them as unicorns. The fish I’m referring to is the weakfish or gray trout. Over the years I have caught a number of these sea trout but it has always been by accident while targeting another species. I always considered them the best bycatch ever!
This season I decided to get a little out of my comfort zone and put some time and effort into targeting these fish. I no longer wanted them to be a surprise bycatch but my targeted species. I had to do a little research to see if I could get some good leads on the patterns of these fish. After reading a number of articles from various magazines i.e. The Fisherman Magazine and On The Water Magazine and also picking the brains of a few local fisherman I had gathered enough info to begin my mission.
From what I had gathered it seemed as if I should focus my efforts on the May full moon when its believed that weakfish come into shallow sandbars and spawn. Like most fishing, timing was the key. I figured I had a three-day window around the moon phase that I wanted to fish. The full moon was going to be on a Wednesday night so I decided I would start my fishing in the early am hours on Monday morning.
I got to the water around 3 am and got my gear ready for the morning of fishing. From my research and from the knowledge I gathered from a few people, I knew that the weakfish liked pink jigging or paddle tail style lures. They also were known to hit hard plastic swimmers like SP Minnows and Rapalas. The rods I planned on using were my basic medium heavy spinning and casting rods between 7 and 7 and a half feet in length rigged with 20-pound braid and 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. I also made sure I didn’t forget my net for this trip because weakfish have very soft mouths and when landing them it would be important to have a net handy so I wouldn’t pull the hook trying to flip a fish into the kayak.
By 3:30 I was off and looking to see if I could successfully land my target species. The area I was going to be fishing was a shallow sand flat that stretches for miles. The tide was low so I figured I would target a few areas that had some deeper water that ran along the edge of the sand flats. It was a cold morning and I was just praying that it wasn’t so cold that the fish wouldn’t bite or even be there.
Fortunately once I made it to the area I had planned on fishing I immediately started to mark fish sitting near the bottom. In wasn’t one hundred percent sure if the fish that I happened to be marking were weakfish but I did notice that the marks were bright and thick and I was told that this is what to look for. Due to the size of the swim bladder on a weakfish it causes them to show up really well on sonar.
It was time to fish! Even though it was a cold morning I had won half the battle by locating some fish. The only thing is I wasn’t sure if the fish I was marking were my intended target. I started out fishing a 4-inch pink skirted Joebaggs Patriot Fish. I knew the fish were holding close to the bottom so my plan was to work the bait low and slow. I let the bait get all the way to the bottom and I’d pop it up and take a few cranks and let it settle back down.
The Patriot Fish is perfect for this type of slow fishing because the paddle tail has a ton of action and bump even when it is retrieved very slowly. On my second cast after bouncing the bait off the bottom I got a sharp tap and was tight on my first fish of the morning. I wasn’t sure what it was when I first hooked up but at first it felt a little like dead weight followed by some real tight head shakes and then the fish decided to go on a little run. I fought the fish up to the side of my kayak and was extremely excited to see I had successfully hooked into my first weakfish of the season!
I quickly netted the fish and was more than pleased that I had landed my intended target. These fish are so beautiful! They have a pinkish color with a bunch of spots all over them and some nasty looking fangs in their mouths. I stayed on that spot for a few more hours and I ended up landing three more weakfish and a few stripers. Nothing big but I was going to be targeting them for a few more days. Now I wanted to get a trophy!
Better Than a Trophy
I had let a few of my fishing buddies know that I had gotten into a decent weakfish bite. A few of them had never seen a weakfish and they were really interested in catching one if possible. I was more than willing to get them on the water to see if I could get them on their first unicorns. We met up at the launch at first light and headed over into the same area I had fished the morning prior. As soon as we approached the dropoff we all started to mark fish on our sonars. It didn’t take long and after about five minutes I was into my first weakfish. My buddies were excited to see that the fish were still around and soon after my friend Jose AKA Outflowjoe was hooked up to his very first weakfish. He was excited beyond measure!
The unicorn had been high on his bucket list of kayak fish for a few seasons now and he finally had one. He was as happy as a kid on Christmas morning that got everything he wanted. Soon after my other fishing partner Ryon was into his first weakfish as well. We ended up having a decent morning of fishing with close to 20 weakfish landed between us and a number of striped bass and a few fluke. I never got my trophy weakfish but I did successfully target and land some unicorns and I also was able to get my buddies on a few of them also. I think that was a lot better than catching a big fish. It’s always good to see someone get their first and even better when you’re the one who helped!
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