WHEN beach fishing, the tradition is big rods, big sinkers and casts that send the bait flying towards the horizon. However, there’s another aspect to beach fishing that clued-up whiting anglers have known for years.
The whiting is one of the shyest fish you can target from the surf. The churning waves, highly oxygenated water and brutal turbulence of the wash creates a snatch-and-run mentality for most of the fish that you encounter. Tailor certainly fall into that category, and the plagues of dart that extend from one end of the gutter to the other are all competing with each other to jump all over your bait. However, big whiting are a completely different kettle of fish!
When I say ‘big whiting’, I’m talking about fish as thick as your forearms. These big, mature fish, which react and hunt along the shoreline in a different manner from their smaller relatives, can be quite easy to catch. Every Summer I spend a lot of time chasing big surf whiting, and I’ve made a number of observations on how the better anglers manage to land them.
Whiting feed on crustaceans, worms and shellfish that sit close to the shoreline, so you’ll rarely find an actively-feeding whiting too far from shore. This rules out fishing on the days when the waves make it impossible for the fish to get in too close to the shoreline. A swell of around half a metre is ideal, but a smaller swell is more productive than a big swell.
The type of gutter that provides the best whiting fishing is definitely a narrow section that’s deep right up against the water’s edge. I like to discover these sections by looking for waves that lift and dump on bare sand. This creates a berley trail that washes food into the gutter, and the whiting line up to enjoy the feast.
Gutter selection is vital with all beach species, so spend some time walking along a stretch of beach (or driving, if possible) and select the very best gutter you can find. Whiting don’t object to a shallow gutter, but it does have to have some wave action right on the shore. Gutters that have the shore break closing out a few metres from the bare sand won’t hold as many fish as the banks that have waves dumping on, and churning up, the shore.
This also means that if you are casting too far out, you’ll end up dropping your bait right over the top of the fish. There will usually be some dart and bream out there to take away your bait, and you’ll end up spooking the whiting that are right at your feet. If this happens, you’ll never know the fish that you missed by using the heavy-handed approach.
The golden rule when targeting large whiting in the surf is to never walk straight up to the water’s edge. This may sound bizarre, but my first few casts are always around 20 metres out from the water’s edge. As I make a few casts, I progressively move in a little closer until I’m at the shoreline and exploring the deeper water, or casting parallel to the beach to see if there are more fish to my left or right.
Casting along the length of the beach is a very successful technique for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you won’t scare the fish by standing in front of them and secondly, if there’s a stiff south-easterly you can cast to the north and have the wind coming over your shoulder. It’s a much more comfortable way to fish, but just be careful of your mate standing a little further up the beach.
After I’ve fished a location for a while, the bite starts to taper off as the fish get spooked. At this point I move on to the other end of the gutter or go in search of a new hole to fish from.
The bait I like to use is the humble king beachworm or pipis. If I have both I often place a whole pipi on the hook and then add a little beachworm on the end. The worms have an amino acid in them that’s not available in any other food source on the beach, and the scent of this amino is a strong fish attractant. Combined with the bulk of the pipi, it makes an ideal bait for big whiting.
Casting the bait into the surf and slowly retrieving it back helps to keep the bait moving and attracting fish. A slow retrieve also keeps the line tight, allowing you to detect any soft bites.
Setting the hook on whiting has never been necessary. Whether it is in the estuary or in the surf, the fish will happily eat the entire bait and swim off with the hook in its mouth. The rule here is not to strike. Instead, let the fish hook itself.
I prefer a 10’6” light surf rod, but an all-round estuary style rod will do fine. I have always used Alvey reels on the beach because they are durable can take heavy punishment.
Long shank hooks are a must, especially when you use pipis for bait, but they also assist greatly in hook removal. Whiting have a tendency to swallow hooks very deeply, so I forget about using chemically sharpened hooks and prefer the very cheap and nasty bronzed hooks that will rust away quickly if I have to leave them in the mouth of a fish.
Keep sinkers running off a short trace and try to never exceed a size three. When the surf is small and there is little or no sweep, you can get away with a size two and catch a whole lot more fish. You will have to keep the line class nice and light in order to get some casting distance out of the light sinker. While you don’t have to cast far out in the surf to catch whiting, remember that you’re standing back from the shore a fair way and will still need some casting distance.
The vast majority of the big whiting that we catch are full of roe sacks, meaning that they’re on the beach to spawn. When selecting which fish we will keep, we often give the belly a gentle squeeze. If there’s ‘milk’ coming from the anus it’s a male, and a better option for the table than a female full of eggs. Most of the large fish – especially the big fat ones – are female, but a good session will produce enough males for a good feed.
I have placed a few of the biggest whiting we’ve caught on the chefs’ scales at work (fairly accurate). Without any guts, the biggest fish came in at 705g. I’ve heard all the stories of kilo-plus whiting and I have to assume that some of these are true, but if you consider that a legal fish weighs only around 200g, 700g is a good fish. These fish are as thick as your forearms and are great sport on light surf gear.
Some of the best beaches for targeting surf whiting are Moreton Island, Bribie Island, Tweed Coast, South Stradbroke and any of the beaches that have a little swell and very light four-wheel-drive traffic (or none at all). Vehicles moving up and down the beach, as they do at Fraser, spook the bigger fish. If you want to fish these areas, be on the beach before sunrise and before all the vehicles hit the sand.
Better still, if you’re fishing a beach like North Stradbroke – which can get quite a few vehicles on it – make the trek down to a small patch like Frenchman’s beach to get away from the crowd. I have enjoyed a few awesome whiting session at Frenchman’s, and there are plenty of worms and pipis at your feet. A whiting session followed by a few fresh fillets for breakfast is a great way to start the day.
1) You’ll encounter plenty of flathead feeding in the whiting gutters.
2) A couple to take back to the pan!
3) Ladies and children love to tangle with the sweet, spike-less whiting.Reads: 2374