Sand whiting are a summer standby up and down the east coast.
There’s always something satisfying about catching a sidelong silver glimpse of a chrome-flaked whiting as you walk along the beach or dive into the ocean.
They’re a quintessential part of the Australian marine ecosystem, an important part of many professional and recreational fisheries, and are the first fish that a lot of us learn to catch.
While chasing sand whiting isn’t always action packed, it’s an enjoyable style of angling that rewards those that are patient and pay attention to detail.
I was taught to catch whiting in estuaries and from the surf as a kid, and although I now sometimes go months at a time without fishing for them, I’ve found that just like riding a bike, you never really forget how.
Sand whiting are found strewn up and down the entire east coast of Australia, from Cape York right down to Tassie’s east coast, however they’re found in their greatest concentrations in northern New South Wales and in southern Queensland, where they’re known as summer whiting.
Whiting can turn up at any time of year throughout their range, but really seem to come on the bite as the East Australia Current starts to pump in early summer, pushing warm water down the east coast.
Sand whiting are a shallow water species that will happily survive in knee-deep estuaries and creek mouths, but also frequent the turbid wash zones fronting exposed surf beaches. They’ve long been recognised as a top quality eating species and are heavily targeted by the professional fishing sector as well as by recreational anglers.
Due to the whiting’s preferred shallow water habitat they’re in little danger of being wiped out by the professional fleet, so, at least for the time being, there’s no shortage of whiting out there for those looking to go and bag a few fresh fillets from the beach.
Whiting are a schooling fish, so if you can manage to catch the first one, you’ve probably hit pay dirt. On the other side of the coin, it’s a big ocean out there and you might struggle to find the school if you don’t know where to start looking.
Whiting are bottom feeders that feed on a variety of crustaceans, shellfish and worms that live just below the surface layer of sand. They prospect areas in shallow water close to the tide line where these sorts of invertebrates are generally found.
The best places to start looking for whiting are close to shore in areas that pippis, crabs and beachworms are found.
Whiting are happy to prospect around the surf zone as the impact of the breaking waves will help them to uncover their prey from beneath the surface layer of sand, so it’s a good idea to start your search close to breaking waves.
You’ll often find that it’s hard to keep your bait positioned properly in the surf impact zone, so it’s often more effective to cast your bait into a slightly deeper gutter or rip that runs alongside turbid water, and allow the whiting to search it out.
These fish are fairly fussy by nature and will turn their noses up at a poorly presented bait, so it’s usually necessary to use fresh baits, small hooks and sinkers and light leaders.
Due to the whiting’s average size being fairly small, there’s no reason not to introduce a more finessed approach and fish with very light tackle. You’ll get more bites this way and appreciate the whiting’s fighting ability a lot more too.
The best whiting baits are live or fresh baits you’ve sourced yourself. Pippis and beachworms pulled from the intertidal line, nippers pumped from a nearby mudflat or prawns netted from the closest estuary all work exceptionally well.
If you’ve never tried catching your own fresh bait, it’s really worth learning how, as it will exponentially amplify your catch rate, and it eventually comes to feel like as much of a part of the whole process as catching the fish themselves.
Of course, it’s not always possible to catch your own fresh bait, so as an alternative try using prawns or beachworms from your local tackleshop or bait supply.
The fresher the bait, the better result you’ll have.
Always fish as light as you can when targeting whiting. A light mainline and leader, small sinker and hook and a well-presented bait will attract fish every time when compared to a sloppily rigged bait on heavy gear.
Even the largest whiting only weigh around a kilogram, so there’s no need for beefed up tackle. You’re almost always fighting these fish in clean country over a sandy bottom, so there’s very little risk of losing a hooked fish to the terrain.
A 2000-3000 size threadline reel loaded with six or eight-pound braid matched to a lightweight spin rod will set you in good stead, with rod length dictated by the type of water you’re fishing.
If you’re predominantly fishing estuaries and river mouths, a seven foot rod will be about right, but if you’re fishing from surf beaches the extra reach of a nine or ten foot rod will help.
Tie on a rod’s length of lightweight fluorocarbon leader will a long shanked hook around size 4 or 6, depending on the size of the fish that are being caught and the baits you’re using. You can run a pea-sized ball sinker straight to the hook to help keep your bait in the strike zone for longer.
Some fishos like to rig a small red or glow in the dark plastic bead directly behind their hooks in the hope of attracting more bites. There’s not a lot of evidence to indicate that it necessarily works, but it doesn’t seem to result in any less bites.
ON THE PLATE
There are few finer meals than a couple of freshly caught whiting fillets, skinned and boned and tossed into a hot pan with a light dusting of flour.
The delicate flesh has very low oil content and tastes sensational. It really doesn’t need any seasoning at all, but at most add a little salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with some hand cut chips and salad and tell the family they can call you Jamie Oliver.
One of the best things about fishing for whiting is how well it works as a family activity. They’re a very user-friendly fish that are quite simple to catch and a perfect way to get kids interested in fishing.
It makes for a great day out to take the kids bait prospecting on the beach for pippis and beach worms, using your fresh caught bait to land a couple of fat whiting and then later whipping up a storm back at the camp kitchen.