KING George whiting would be my favourite fish to catch for a few reasons; they taste great, fight well on the right tackle, are plentiful around Melbourne, and most importantly, require a bit of angling skill to catch on a consistent basis.
They can be caught in both Westernport and Port Phillip bays, but my choice is Westernport due to its tidal nature and make up of vast weed beds, mud banks and channels. The change of tides in Westernport sees huge water movement in and out, with mud banks being uncovered on low tides and then being covered again as the tide rushes in. This lends itself to targeted fishing for whiting and once you build up your knowledge on the fish, it allows you to consistently catch good bags of whiting by using the conditions to your advantage.
Whiting can be caught throughout the bay all year round, though not in the same places or with the same consistency. By studying water temperatures, you will start putting together the first pieces of the puzzle that is whiting fishing. I consistently catch whiting when the water temperature is between 14 and 20 degrees. This usually occurs between September and May. As the temperature can be different in different parts of the bay, at different stages of the day and tide I use this to my advantage and will fish different areas depending on water temperature. Early Spring, I will focus the southern end of the bay around Ventnor and closer to the ocean on a flood tide as the warmer ocean water moves up the bay. In summer I fish the shallows in the mornings as the water has cooled overnight. As it gets to early winter, I fish the top of the flood at the end of the day on tortoise head bank as the temperature may be a degree warmer than the start of the ebb tide, as the ocean water once again helps my fishing..
To consistently catch whiting you need to get an understanding of the fish’s habits, tides and tidal influence, key bite times, how to anchor, bait selection, preparation & gathering, fishing efficiency, and berleying
So where do you start with all that is required to learn? Getting your gear together is the first thing and although you can use a lot of different outfits to catch whiting my preference is for a longer rod of about 7 to 8ft in length, rated 2-5kg and a solid glass tip that is quite light. There are several reasons for this outfit. Firstly, it’s light to hold and I do this for the whole trip, so a heavy rod would not work for me. The length of the rod allows me to keep the fish away from the berley pot, sea anchor and motor easier than a short rod. It also acts as a shock absorber as the fish lunges close to the boat and by dropping the rod tip, I can give the fish about 6 feet of line before the drag goes. This style of rod can fish a 1oz sinker or up to 4oz without any problems. This allows it to be used in the shallows or in the deep water if required. Quite often I will encounter other fish in the night such as pinkies, small gummy sharks and the extra power in the rod allows me to land these.
Matched to this is a light reel and it does not need to be expensive. Whiting fight well but do not take metres of line or put the drag under any undue stress. A 2500 size reel will be adequate when fishing the shallows and an ideal reel is the Shimano Sedona, a great value reel for the money. This should be spooled with a quality braid line of about 10 lb and then a 12 lb leader attached with a surgeon or double uni knot. The leader length should be around 6 ft.
Terminal tackle is straight forward with the only requirement being some bomb sinkers in size 1 and 2 oz. Then a couple of types of hooks. The long shank worm hooks in size 6 are my choice, as I always fish with the rod in hand and enjoy striking the fish. I would also by some size 6 shiner hooks if I were going to fish a rod that was in a rod holder. I would get a box of 50 of the worm hooks as you can go through a few in an outing with bites offs from toadies and leather jackets.
Bait is the next key, with my preference being calamari I have caught myself and frozen. By freezing it the colour becomes white and is easier to slice thinly. I would catch most of my whiting on this, but I am always fishing at peak times when the bite is quite hectic. I always take pipis with me as a change of bait when the bite slows can often start it again. Other baits I use with success are bass yabbies, mussels and cuttlefish (when I can catch it). I also take out some old pilchards which I use for berley in a pot.
With the fishing gear sorted it is time to make sure the boat has all that is required. There are a number of things that will help you catch more fish and these include a good sounder to allow you to find good bottom, Navionics app to allow you to get a satellite overlay of the area you are fishing and find sand holes, channels, run offs, etc. A sea anchor, good bait board, berley pot, rags and a bridle, will all help to improve your catch. Also ensure you have a good esky with ice to ensure that you look after your catch once it is caught.
Now that you are ready to go from a gear perspective, it’s time to work out where and when you are going to target the fish. The fish have two clear bite times during a 24-hour period, and these are dawn and dusk. These times will see the fish bite ferociously at most bait thrown at them and you can bag out in under an hour at these times if you are set up for it. If fishing the morning I like to be on the water before first light, as the bite will start in the darkness and increase before the sunrise. The quality of the fish is usually better, and I find they stop as the sun pokes its head above the horizon. At dusk I tend to be on the water an hour before sunset, as the fish come on as the sun sinks low in the sky.
The above are the peak times, but fish can be caught though out the day, the fishing may not be as hectic or consistent, but a bag can still be caught. If fishing during the day I look for conditions that suit a daytime bite, such as dirty water which is often caused by rough conditions or a big swell rolling up the bay. Matched with a cloudy day and strong tide you will have a good chance at catching a fish.
There are so many areas in Westernport where you can catch whiting in shallow water, which for me is anything from 1 to 3 metres, which I will fish at dawn or dusk, through to 4 to 7 m which I would fish during the day. All the areas will have different combinations depending on stage of tide, weather conditions boat traffic, time of year. It would take forever to learn them all. Below is a scenario that I would use if I were fishing a bank that dropped off into deeper water to give an idea:
I would start at the last hour of the flood tide and fish on top of the bank amongst the weed patches looking for a sand hole. Using a good pair of polaroids, you will be able to see the sand amongst the weeds. I try and find bigger holes as these will support bigger schools of fish. One of the best spots you can find is where a channel links to sand holes through weed. The whiting use this to travel between the two and can be easily targeted at the entrance to the channel
As the tide slows and turns, I will stop fishing for whiting and throw a squid jig around as these areas also hold calamari and it is a good way to stock up on bait. Once the tide turns, I make sure I position myself at the opposite end of the sand hole, so I fish back into it. I may also position myself near one that is closer to deeper water, which numerous schools may use to move through as they move off the banks. As the tide drops further, I would move to the edges of the banks in 4 to 6 metres of water and where I know there is a runoff from the main bank. I would position myself there as the fish tend to use these to school up and feed on the rich food source that gets washed off the banks.
One of the most important things you can do when whiting fishing is keeping a diary. Recent tagging has shown that tagged fish tend to be caught in similar areas where they were tagged. My experience and diary have taught me that whiting are creatures of habit and I tend to use marks I have found over the years to do my fishing. The reason for this is that these marks will have fish at certain times of the year and by combining these with the peak bite times, I have the confidence to know the fish will be there and I will get a good feed.
Things that you should record in your diary are time of bite, sunset, sunrise, tide strength, tide, moon phase as this influences tide strength, bait, weather conditions and water colour. This will allow you to build up what are ideal conditions for your marks. Then you can repeat the process consistently over the years. An example of conditions I use are a mark off Red rocks where on strong tide the fish start just as the first of the ebb flows. The bite only lasts an hour not because of the fish but the weed that hits the line and the strong current makes it unfishable, but often the bite is so hard I will get very close to my bag each time on quality fish. The time of day does not matter on this mark as it is about 5 metres, but the tide is crucial. Another example is Tortoise head bank in autumn. This area fishes consistently well on an afternoon flood going into evening, the stronger the tide the better. These marks and how they fish are through the use of a diary. I use a simple excel spreadsheet as this allows me to filter on specific items e.g. tide, weather and then I can see spots that will suit the conditions I am going to fish and I can have a good plan.
Rigging up for whiting is straight forward and for years I used a snap swivel to attach my sinker to the line, with a running sinker rig. I have recently changed to a fixed paternoster with a leader of about 45 cm and have noticed no drop off in my catch, but the rig is so much easier to tie. I keep the sinker on a short loop of about 10 cm off the bottom to keep the bait near the bottom where the whiting feed.
When baiting up I use a very thin slice of the squid tube, so the bait almost looks like a worm as it sits in the current. I put the hook through the top of the bait once, so it does not spin. Once this is cast out, I let it sit for 30 seconds before bouncing it back to the boat very slowly. What this does is the sinker makes a puff of sand appear and this alerts the whiting and then they see a moving object that looks like a worm and quiet often, bang you are on.
By doing the above you are likely to have a good day on the bay and get a few whiting. To improve your catch rate dramatically fish with one rod only. The reason for this is you will feel all the bites, have less fish hooked deeply, be able to get back out in 10 seconds. You will know where you cast to and can place it straight back in the same spot where the whiting school is feeding. The whiting peak feeding times are quick and hectic and doing the above and having your bait cut up and ready to go will see you improve your catches dramatically.
When looking for fish I will fish a spot for 10 minutes, if I have had no bite, I will move and keep going till I find the fish. Once I have found them, I will use berley to keep the school there. If you have found a school and they move, I suggest keeping on the same depth line and moving 50 to 100 metres forward and you may find the school again, as whiting feed into the tide.
Once you do catch whiting make sure you look after them as they are one of the best eating fish in the sea. Dispatch them quickly and put them on an ice slurry.