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Weakfish

Cynoscion regalis

Weakfish have a sleek body with small, dark spots on the back and yellow fins. (Freshwater and Marine Image Bank/University of Washington)
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Weakfish have a sleek body with small, dark spots on the back and yellow fins. (Freshwater and Marine Image Bank/University of Washington)

The weakfish is a sleek, iridescent fish that visits the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow waters in spring and summer.

Appearance:

  • Sleek body
  • Dark, olive green back with iridescent blue, copper or green on the sides
  • Small, dark spots on the back that form irregular diagonal lines
  • Silvery-white belly
  • Yellow fins
  • Deep notch in the dorsal fin
  • Squared tail fin
  • Two large canine teeth in the upper jaw
  • Grows to 12-18 inches, but can be as long as 3 feet
  • Weighs anywhere from 6-18 pounds

Habitat:

  • Most often found in shallow, sandy-bottom areas
  • Lives in schools

Range:

  • Visits the Chesapeake Bay during spring and summer when the coastal weakfish population migrates northward
  • Most common in the southern portion of the Bay
  • Leaves the Bay in autumn to migrate southward

Feeding:

  • Preys upon small schooling fish such as anchovies and menhaden
  • Will also eat crabs, shrimp, mollusks and large zooplankton
  • Once a weakfish sees its prey, it will slowly move toward it, then quickly lunge at it with open jaws
  • Weakfish are the top carnivore in the Bay’s eelgrass beds

Predators:

  • Other predatory fish such as bluefish and striped bass
  • Sea lampreys
  • Sharks such as dusky sharks

Voice:

  • Makes a drumming or purring sound
Weakfish courtesy of Sciaenid Acoustics Research Team, East Carolina University

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Spawns from April-August near the shores of the Bay’s mouth
  • Females produce more eggs as they get larger
  • Larvae spend the late summer drifting through the lower Bay, eventually reaching their nursery areas in low-salinity rivers
  • Once they have grown to about 4.7 inches long, young begin to swim toward saltier waters. They leaving the Bay by early winter.
  • Reaches maturity at 1-2 years old
  • Can live for 17 years, but most do not live past 9-12 years

Other Facts:

  • The state fish of Delaware
  • The name “weakfish” comes from the fish’s fragile mouth, which tears easily when hooked by anglers
  • The Chesapeake Bay is an important spawning area for weakfish
  • A member of the drum family, which includes spot, red drum, black drum, spotted seatrout and Atlantic croaker. All drums are able to make a loud drumming or croaking sound by vibrating their swim bladder using special muscles.
  • The 19-pound Chesapeake Bay record weakfish was caught in 1983 near the Bay Bridge-Tunnel

Sources and Additional Information:




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