Average 12 to 18 inches but can reach three feet in length; weigh between 6 and 18 pounds
Found in shallow, sandy-bottom areas; live in schools
Visit the Bay during spring and summer when the coastal weakfish population migrates northward, leaving the Bay in autumn to migrate southward. Most common in the southern portion of the Bay.
Feeds on small schooling fish such as anchovies and menhaden; will also eat crabs, shrimp, mollusks and large zooplankton
Average 9 to 12 years; can live up to 17 years
The weakfish's sleek body grows to 12 to 18 inches on average, but can grow to reach three feet in length and weigh anywhere from 6 to 18 pounds. It has a silvery-white belly and a dark, olive-green back with iridescent blue, copper or green on its sides. Small, dark spots on its back form irregular diagonal lines. Its fins are yellow, it has a deep notch in its dorsal fin and its tail fin is squared. It has two large canine teeth in its upper jaw.
Weakfish prey upon small schooling fish such as anchovies and menhaden, and 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.
Other predatory fish (such as bluefish and striped bass), sharks (such as dusky sharks) and sea lampreys prey on weakfish.
The weakfish makes a drumming or purring sound.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Spawning occurs April through 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, leaving the Bay by early winter.
They reach maturity at 1 to 2 years old. Weakfish can live for 17 years, but most do not live past 9 to 12 years.
Did You Know?
- The weakfish is 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.
- Weakfish are members 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.