Beginner’s Guide to Winter Whiting
  |  First Published: June 2010

Those cold winter mornings have descended on us and the winter whiting have followed. While it seems to have cooled down earlier than usual this year, for me this means it’s time to dust off the whiting gear, get out in the early mornings and bag a good feed of winter whiting.

Winter whiting are one of those bread and butter species that everyone talks about, but they are very high on my scale of eating fish. Their beautiful little fillets are just dynamite dropped in a little beaten egg and thrown around in a bag of breadcrumbs, then quickly fried until they turn white. Just thinking of those tender sweet tasty morsels of fine fish makes my mouth water.

To get yourself a feed of these fine fighting adversaries you will need to have a few basic things. The first is the gear needed for landing our winter whiting (or dive whiting, as some call them). My favourite way of catching whiting is to use a long whippy rod coupled to either a small egg beater reel or small Alvey reel.

Why the long rod? I find it helps to hook a fish when they are biting just that little bit timidly, by allowing a little more give when striking. You can just drop the rod back a little and as you do the line goes slack and a quick smooth lift of the rod will have the fish on.

Don’t forget that using a handline is just as effective as rods. I have fished using both rods and handlines and to tell you the truth handlines allow you to be just that little bit more aware of what’s happening at the end of your line. It is a personal choice whether you use rods or handlines, as they are both very effective.

Line weight

I like to use any line that is in the 8-12lb range. Some might say this is a bit heavy for little divers, but with the spots I frequent you never know if a big flathead or even a small tailor might be lurking nearby. Like anyone I can trust that if a double header or flatty comes along I have a bit of extra give, as whiting can be aggressive when in a feeding frenzy.

Rigs and hooks are very important factors in producing a quality feed when the going is tough and the fish don’t want to play the game. My favourite rig for winter whiting is a double paternoster over the standard running ball onto swivel and down to a trace with one long shank hook. I prefer to have the two hooks dangling with the sinker on the bottom.

Another favoured tactic is to have either a small piece of red tubing or two or three little red balls on top of my hooks for extra attraction. The hooks used are usually Mustad No. 8 long shank red bloodworms. These are small hooks, as over time I have found that a smaller gape made it easier to hook more fish, as their mouths are quite small after all.

However using the standard old rig with a trace of 70cm or so with the red tubing or the like works just as well. Remember to judge the depth of the water correctly as often the fish are picked up on the bottom. Having the bait at the right depth will very much increase your chances of a quality feed of whiting.

Right Bait

With your rod or handline at the ready and a healthy supply of tackle you are ready to find a spot and start catching some tucker.

The only other piece to the equation is to have some fresh tasting bait at hand. Whiting aren’t very fussy eaters. Worms are one of the best baits for any whiting and will certainly increase your chances. You don’t have to spend heaps of money, buying a small packet of nice fresh or fresh frozen squid will adequately do the job.

I generally only fish with squid and still manage a great feed most of the time.

Small peeled cooked prawns are good bait as well, and work well threaded onto a small size 8 hook. Yabbies also work a treat. If you have the time and can get to a bank where there are yabbies, they usually create a dynamite bite.

Berley is another favourite of mine. While most people don’t associate berley with whiting fishing, it is a great way to keep a school of whiting in the one area.

My favourite way to berley is with the Rjayz berley system – the secret is to tie the berley halfway between a brick and a crab pot float. This allows the berley to get to where the fish are and you get to know where the fish are so you can drift right through them each drift.

Locations and time

Now we have all the gear we need, the next job is to find a lucrative spot where the whiting are all schooled up. The best place to start looking for whiting is next to a sandbank in water between 5-8m deep. Sometimes the fish are on top of the bank and other times they are cruising the deeper edges.

The best way to locate them is to find a good looking bank and do one big drift through one area. Make sure when you catch a fish you note what depth and where about on the bank you were. This will tell you where the fish may be holding and give you a hint as to where to start your next drift.

Whiting can be caught right up in the shallows on a high tide but are generally caught in waters deep enough where the bottom is just out of sight. Seagrass beds interspersed with sand is the kind of terrain whiting prefer, and it’s where I catch most of my winteries.

The best time to catch a whiting is to get out early in the morning. It’s not like getting out to catch snapper either when you have to leave in the dark, all you need to do is set off from the ramp at daybreak as fishing for whiting is really a seeing game. Unless you already know the exact area you intend to fish, you need to be able to see what the bottom is like to decide whether there might be fish there or not.

My favourite whiting fishing weather is 5-10 knot south to southeasterlies or 5-10 knot south to southwesterlies. When these winds tie in with a rising tide at about 10am and overcast conditions, if I can locate the fish, I will clean up.

Treat them well

Once you have a few whiting in the esky make sure you take care of them by either mixing up a salty brine or sitting them on ice to keep them tasting the best they can.

Well there is my beginner’s guide to catching winter whiting. If you are keen now really is the time to get out on the water and catch a few. I have caught some good numbers recently – anywhere between 30 to the bag limit of 50 on the good occasions. Believe me 30 whiting is enough, as this equates to 60 fillets and you will certainly get a couple of meals out of that.

But while some days you can catch your bag limit of whiting, it’s important to remember to only take as much as we need for that days consumption. This just helps keep the overall population healthy, so we can catch just as many in the future. If you have a few fillets left over, freeze them in a freezer bag and you will have perfectly tasty fish for another meal.

Until next time, I hope your esky is well weighed down.

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