Top-shelf whiting
  |  First Published: December 2012

By now most anglers have become familiar with the technique of pursing whiting on surface lures, even if they haven’t tried it for themselves.

Whiting seem to take surface lures for fleeing prawns and the strikes can be spectacular. I still find myself in shock every time a whiting crashes my surface lure.

This technique is readily accessible to anyone, from the casual Summer holidaymaker right through to the most enthusiastic sport fisher.

It is family-friendly and a great way to obtain a delicious feed of fish.

Topwater whiting fishing is highly productive from a boat or the shore. A boat can provide access to hard-to-reach locations but many prime sandbars are easily accessible on foot. Whether you present your offering from the boat, or simply wade the flats, if you have not yet had a crack at surface-luring whiting I strongly urge you to give it a go.


Catching whiting on surface lures is not a year-round prospect. Surface activity generally starts in October, peaks through Summer and wanes around April.

A lot rides on certain key factors to produce a hot bite: tide, water temperature and barometric pressure.

The tide is probably not so important but it will govern where you can fish in your chosen estuary. Some locations work better on a run-out tide while others fare better on the run-in tide.

Extremely shallow flats host an expansive body of water, allowing fish to spread out and feed. Isolating feeding or schooling fish in this scenario can be challenging because they spook very easy.

I prefer to fish the gutters or channels adjacent to these shallow flats, as well as unleashing a few casts right up onto the draining flats during the last of the run-out tide.

As the tide abates, fish retreat from the shallows and station on the fringes of the exposed flats. Whiting hold in these gutters even if there is just enough water to cover their backs.

This really concentrates the fish and can result in multiple fish charging down your lure. It’s a great scenario as fish fight over your offering until one is hooked. It is possible to raise whiting in water as deep as 2.5m or 3m but is more productive on the flats where prawn activity is more common.


Water temperature is a major key to success. Whiting generally won’t strike a lure on the surface unless the water is 21°-25°. There are exceptions but experience tells me this is a good governing factor.

The water from shallow, sun-warmed bays runs from the flats, making the falling tide an ideal time to fish. Even if the general water temp is only 20°, the bays can warm up to 23°, triggering a surface bite.

Sudden drops in water temperature from rain run-off or a cold current can quickly shut down the surface bite. A shut-down bite can recover if warmer seawater floods the estuary flats on a rising tide.

The optimal scenario is to have the natural water hovering around a constant 23° and you should then experience surface bites on all tides and at all times of the day.

Ideally, you need the barometer high (1020hpa) and rising.

Paul Seward and I recently enjoyed a cracking whiting surface session. It was 3:30pm one a falling tide with water of 23.7° with a stiff breeze at our backs.

The breeze helps long casts and the chop provides cover for the whiting, allowing them to feed more ravenously.

The barometer reading for our bite period was 1024hPa rising to 1027hPa, perfect.

The next day produced a carbon copy of the conditions, with the exception of hungry fish. Searching for answers, I checked the barometer to find the reading low and rapidly falling.


Most estuaries have vast arrays of flats but not all are productive. Flats littered with small molluscs, worms and crustaceans are fertile feeding grounds, while some flats can be barren and void of nutrition.

You need to find areas with yabby and worm burrows and possibly baitfish and prawn activity apparent. It helps if there are weed beds in the general area and the sand should sparkle with silt, crushed shells and spent worm casings when stirred up.

Clean, pure sand heavily licked by the tide holds almost zero food and while you may see whiting in these areas, they are generally passing through and are very tough fish to tempt.

A pair of quality polarised sunglasses will be invaluable to your success. Polarised eyewear provides the luxury of spotting feeding whiting. Seeing them flick and roll with their noses in the sand and tails up, is a massive advantage when searching for feeding activity.


My catch rates have increased since adopting a long, light leader rather than the traditional short, heavy one, especially when the fish are finicky.

The short, heavy leader connected tight to the tow point helps a popper track straight during a constant blooping retrieve. This helps the whiting find the hooks as they swipe and slash at the popper.

However, there has been a massive swing towards using surface-walking lures, which certainly do not need to track straight, eliminating the need for short heavy leaders.

Surface offerings that skip, skitter and slide erratically appear much more natural.

Remember, your surface presentation needs to imitate a fleeing prawn.

Light leaders aid hook-ups especially when a lure is paused and whiting do eat motionless lures.

I discovered this as I stopped my retrieve to adjust my electric motor. During this brief moment, my line came tight and connected to a rampaging whiting.

The next time I adjusted the Minn Kota resulted in another hook-up! Reading the pattern, I brought my lure to a halt during my next retrieve and was thrilled to witness a pack of whiting swiping at it until one found the hooks.

Pausing may not be the best way to score results but may convert a follow into a hook-up if the standard constant retrieve fails to raise interest.

Learn to read the signs and attitudes of fish to provide the correct presentation on the day or any particular retrieve.

One final tip is to keep covering water and fish new, ‘un-spooked’ territory. Whether on foot or in a boat, whiting wise up to artificial offerings very quickly.



• Rod: Shimano Raider Lure Project 2.18m, 2-5kg

• Reel: Shimano Sustain 2500FG

• Line: 3lb Power Pro with 1.5m of 6lb monofilament leader

• Lures: JazLure Zappa 55, Lucky Craft Sammy 65, Rebel Pop’R 45

• Mako sunglasses

Reads: 5257

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