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Moreton Bay’s back seat divers
  |  First Published: June 2016



The humble little whiting is the very first fish that most of us catch. You can spend untold amounts of money on the latest rods and reels to catch big fish, yet you cant beat the taste of whiting. They taste as good as anything coming out of the ocean. And besides, its a fish that makes us happy to catch, our kids are happy to catch and, as we get older, our grandkids as well.

The Victorians (I am an ex) and the South Australians have those monster King George whiting, but up here we have the wonderful and tasty Moreton Bay diver whiting. They’re nowhere near as large but they taste just as good.

It’s been interesting fishing for these little critters over the last 40 years in the Bay. The way some people carry on about trying to catch one you’d think it was rocket science, but I am here to tell you it’s not. It’s simple and it’s fun, and it’s the type of fishing every family loves to do, especially those with young children.

IDENTIFICATION

It’s interesting to read about the different kinds of whiting and what they look like. According to Qld Fisheries, the sunshine state is home to golden line whiting, northern whiting, stout whiting, sand/summer whiting, and trumpeter/winter/diver whiting (the last three are the same fish). However, apart from a few sand whiting I’ve caught over the years – and I’m talking only 40-50 fish in 40 years – I have never seen any of the other Queensland species in the bay.

In light of that, I feel it’s safe to say that 99% of whiting caught in the bay are trumpeter/winter/diver whiting with a bag limit of 50 and no size limit.

So how can you tell the difference between a sand whiting and a diver whiting? It’s not hard; divers have a very distinct, pale lateral line, which sand whiting do not have. Diver whiting also have very small, pearly scales which come off easily.

WHITING BEHAVIOUR

Over my years of whiting fishing I’ve found that one of the most important factors is movement of the bait. That means a solid drift with a good run in the tide is best.

I don’t find that the time of the day, moon phases nor the time of year make much difference to catch rates. The whiting in Moreton Bay are there all year round.

TACKLE

Back in the day, all the old timers fishing off jetties and boats had the wonderful old handlines, either the line around an old Coke bottle or an old, carved wooden spool. And of course there was the plastic hand spool – that’s all my friends and I used, and we caught thousands of fish without a problem.

The way whiting were targeted then is the same way we target them today, the only difference is that we all now have rods and reels and special lines. I still recommend the rigs we used back then – either a running sinker with a trace and a swivel or the sinker onto the hook, and of course the old paternoster rig which works for everything to do with fishing. Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that those two rigs catch everything that you are going to fish for off the bottom.

The old saying ‘keep it simple, stupid’ works very well for whiting. A simple paternoster rig will do the job, with a red whiting hook (a long shank hook in size #4 or #6) and a ball sinker to get you to the bottom. Because the hook in a paternoster sits up off the bottom, it’s less likely to get fouled with weed.

The reels I prefer for whiting in the bay are the Shimano Alivio 1000 and Daiwa Crossfire 1000, but any 1000 size spin reel will do the job. When it comes to rods, I recommend a 2-6lb light or ultra-light rod around 5’5” to 6”.

When it comes to line and leader, I use 6-8lb mono for both my main line and leader. Anything lighter can break when you’re trying to get the hook out of the fish’s mouth. I like green Tortue Super Control best for fishing in the bay; I won’t use any colour other than green. And in my experience, expensive fluorocarbon leader isn’t necessary.

BAIT

Whiting can be caught on peeled prawns and squid strips, but live or fresh blood worms and beach worms are the best baits. The usual way to rig worms is to cut them into segments of 2-3cm, insert the hook point through the middle of their body and thread them along the bend of the hook.

If you’re using squid strips, the strips should resemble the size and shape of a worm. I like to soak squid strips in red vegetable dye for extra visual attraction.

As the old saying goes, ‘fresh is best’ when it comes to bait. However, if you don’t have any worms, prawns or squid, you can use cured baits or soft plastics. They will still catch fish, just not as consistently.

You may have heard that using red tubing or red beads on your rig can help you catch more whiting. I have tried both in the bay, and I didn’t notice much difference. However, it’s possible that using red tube in the surf may be useful in attracting those solitary fish prowling the gutters. In the bay the whiting are usually in schools.

When you’re bait fishing for whiting you simply drift your bait over the sandbanks in Moreton Bay, where you’ll see other boats doing the same thing.

LOCATIONS

Most of the good areas for whiting haven’t changed over the years and, in spite of all the boats fishing in the bay these days, the fish are in great numbers.

The areas that have always produced whiting are: the Sandhills of Moreton Island, all the way from the entrance to the Blue Hole (and in the Blue Hole), all the way to Shark Spit and Lucinda Bay; the Rous Channel from start to finish; the Small Boat Passage or half tide gutter between the Chain Banks and Maroom Bank; Amity Banks; and of course Deanbilla Bay and the Pelican Banks.

And that’s not all – wherever there are sandbanks and a little mud close to shore, the whiting are there. However, they won’t always be there in great numbers. They like to move around a bit depending on where they are finding food, so there are days when you need to spend some time to find where they are. One thing I often look for is feeding dugongs, as you’ll nearly always find whiting nearby. When I’ve cleaned whiting caught near dugongs they’ve always had small crustaceans and tube worms in their stomachs. From this we can assume that when dugongs are in herds, disturbing the ocean bed by eating the seagrass, it stirs up food items for the whiting.

Some of the whiting hotspots of old aren’t what they once were. For example, many years ago around the mouth of the river toward Wynnum you’d see up to 100 boats catching thousands of whiting. It was a similar story south of Mud and north of St Helena. I have not seen whiting caught there for many years. It seems to have happened as the port area has kept coming out further and further (I am concerned for Mud Island in years to come, as it could be our new ship terminal).

BEACH FISHING

If you would like to fish from the beach, the most likely locations are Sandgate, Margate and Redcliffe, and of course the Wynnum foreshores (or you can hop over to Moreton Island or North Stradbroke Island). Most shores which have a little sand and mud at high tide contain whiting, but most times the fishing is hit-and-miss. One option which may improve your chances is to use berley. Over the years I’ve seen many beach anglers throwing out berley pellets to draw the whiting in to where they’re fishing.

Before you start fishing, you need to ‘read’ the beach. Reading a beach means walking or driving along the shore, looking for features that attract fish, namely weed banks and depressions in the sand. If you walk the foreshores at low tide you’ll see these features. Round depressions are called holes (or melon holes), and long depressions are called gutters.

The typical way to fish is to cast your bait past the gutter/hole and take in the slack line as the waves push the bait back to shore. If you don’t get a bite, don’t start ripping your bait back too soon because sometimes the whiting can hit your bait almost at your feet. That’s a good sign because it can mean they’re hunting in close, so you don’t have to cast out very far.

The most common rig for beach fishing for whiting is a ball sinker above a swivel, then around 60cm of leader down to a whiting hook. You can add a bit of red tube above the hook if you like. The weight of the sinker should depend on the conditions and the distance you’re casting.

Most Queenslanders like to use an Alvey reel when beach fishing, because Alveys can happily get soaked in the waves or dumped in the sand, and still work. A good outfit is an 5” or 5.5” Alvey on a 9-11ft glass light surf rod with a fairly soft action.

ON THE PLATE

My favourite part of catching these fish is preparing and eating them! I do have a pet hate: the practice of putting them in a scaling bag and dragging them behind a boat at a great rate of knots. You might as well put them in a blender and turn them into mush!

The best way to prepare diver whiting for the table is to scale them by hand and fillet them, and you don’t need to bother boning them. With larger whiting species (and larger fish in general), you would cut out a ‘v’ shape to remove the bones. With these little diver whiting, however, the bones are so fine you don’t need to remove them. Even kids don’t notice they’re there.

My favourite way to cook whiting is to use tempura batter and deep fry them in light olive oil. You can’t beat it!

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