For as long as I can remember one of the most successful baits used when fishing for Port Phillip Bay snapper has been silver whiting. Purchased frozen in vacuumed sealed bags, they have been the downfall of thousands of snapper over the years and continue to do so.
Whenever you hear of a fishing report during the snapper season it usually includes snapper being caught on pilchards or silver whiting.
Within the past few years, a minority of anglers have been catching silver whiting to use as fresh bait for snapper and unbeknown to the majority of the angling community silver whiting can be caught right in our backyard, Bass Strait.
Silver whiting, also known as school or eastern school whiting, are found in offshore waters from Queensland to Tasmania including Bass Strait.
They are found over sandy areas but are common around reef and weed patches. Silver whiting can be found in depths up to 100m but are caught by recreational anglers in depths up to 40m in Bass Strait.
They grow to 32cm but very few exceed 25cm. At around 15cm, they are around 2 years old and reaching sexual maturity.
In appearance, their head is typical to that of the whiting species, although they are a light golden colour with reddish brown tiger-type stripes along their flanks.
Little is actually known about school whiting but they are regularly caught in large numbers by commercial fishers.
Silver whiting are actually easier to find than sounding around for snapper in Port Phillip Bay. Bass Strait harbours excellent numbers of silvers and best of all; they are a year round fishery. Through most of the year though there numbers are fewer except during January, February and March when they are in greater numbers.
Silver whiting prefer sandy areas but can also be caught while drifting over large reefs while in search of other species.
They are often caught as by-catch, but once located can be caught in large numbers. Drifting is the preferred method, as this way you’ll encounter them in patches before drifting off and finding another patch.
In Bass Strait, they are mostly found in depths ranging from 20-40m along the coast from Punchbowl to Kilcunda and along the back of Cape Woolamai right through to Seal Rocks.
In shallow water up to 30m you can anchor when a school is found. Then a berley trail can be set to attract the school to your fishing area.
Berley can consist of fish pellets mixed with tuna oil and pilchards and lowered to the bottom in a berley pot. To establish a successful trail, the berley pot will require large holes for the berley to be dispersed by the current.
Fishing for whiting doesn’t require the use of state of the art fishing gear; rather a more simple approach can be taken.
Rods rated 2-4kg are recommended with matching 2500 series reels suitable.
You must remember you are fishing in Bass Strait and the ocean current will play a major role when fishing. You will have to use quite a substantial amount of lead to hold bottom. To reduce the sinker weight, I suggest using a braided fishing line. Breaking strains between 2-3kg (4-6lb) will be suitable as the line will be less affected by the current due to its finer diameter.
The most productive rig is the paternoster tied from no more than 10lb monofilament or fluorocarbon; it can enable you to fish two baits at a time. A running sinker rig can be used when tied from similar leader strengths.
Silver whiting have only a small mouth in which small, long shank hooks will be extremely productive. I have had most success with long shank hooks in a size 8, 10 or 12.
At all times, try to use minimal weight. Using a too heavy a sinker can cause the hooks to pull while winding the fish to the surface as it thrashes around.
The main reason for targeting silvers is to use them as fresh bait for snapper. Most anglers throw them into a plastic bag and put that straight into the freezer. Doing this will make them freeze together and open the silver whiting up to freezer burn.
To keep silver whiting as fresh as possible, store in airtight containers filled with salt water. After a fishing session, I fill a 20L bucket with salt water and take it home with me. Once at home I place 10 or so whiting into a container. This amount is ideal for any snapper session. If you need more baits you can always take out two containers worth and re-freeze the one you don’t use after fishing providing you have left it air tight and on ice.
When thawed, silver whiting prepared and stored in this way look as though you have just caught them: fresh, golden and full of scales.
There is no point in catching bait for your season unless you’re going to store it correctly. Do it right to have perfect, fresh baits for your future snapper fishing trips.
Although the majority of whiting eaten is the mighty King George, silver whiting are also quite delicate to the palate.
Although I’m usually not one for munching down on a plate full of fish I would use as bait, they do actually taste quite nice. You do have to try them at least once. They have a delicate flavour with soft, flaky flesh that can be barbequed, steamed or deep fried. They do contain very small bones that can be easily removed when filleting.
Whatever your quarry, catching silver whiting can be a lot of fun. They are easy to find and extremely simple to catch. Store them correctly and you’ll have some of the best baits possible for the coming snapper season.
KNOW YOUR LIMIT
Silver whiting have no size limit, just a bag limit of 40 scale fish per person per day.