As air temperatures push past 30 degrees in Canberra and water temperatures nudge 23 degrees in the NSW south coast estuaries there is little doubt that summer has arrived. At this time of year flathead are a pretty reliable catch but some temperamental coastal weather including some big storms, has seen the bite run hot and cold over the last couple of weeks. Instead, it has been the whiting, waking from their winter slumber, that have provided some of the hottest fishing action.
With their tiny mouths and a taste for small nippers, prawns and worms, whiting are normally targeted and caught by skilled bait fisherman. In the last few years however whiting decorated with poppers and other small surface lures have graced the covers of fishing magazines and DVDs. Inspired, I’ve bought the lures (and the magazines) and cast into likely looking spots for hours. Even scoring one in a session would bring the biggest smile to this anglers face. But as I’ve learnt there is a real art and a science to catching whiting consistently on lures. With some experimentation and plenty of persistence, the boys and I have been able to find some hot whiting fishing, including 25-30 in the last couple of weekends on the south coast. On surface lures it’s been incredible fun – just like in the magazines! There is little doubt that they are one of tastiest fish in our estuary systems, but in shallow water they are also one of the hardest fighting.
The two types of lures favoured for this type of fishing are the ‘walk-the-dog’ lures, also called stickbaits, and the cup faced poppers. Both are generally 50-70mm long and 3-5 grams in weight. Look for transparent models in orange, pink and brown, which imitate a small prawn. The most reliable lure for us has been a hybrid between the two styles with a smaller, less pronounced cupped face and a flat surface underneath. These little lures will bloop, gurgle, splash and importantly also dart from side to side. They are irresistible to a hungry whiting. If you see fish follow your lure or strike at it, don’t stop! Whiting tend to lose interest very quickly. For bream and flathead, often a pause IS required, but that’s a whole other story! Cast the lure out as far as you can and use short sharp jabs of the rod tip downwards, while retrieving a little line on the way up. Keep it moving and hang on tight.
Time and tide are critical in this style of fishing. One of the most productive places to target has been shallow sand flats that are only covered with water at high tide. These areas can be as little as 10-30 cms deep so be prepared to park the tinnie and float in a kayak or even wade them on foot. Look for whiting ‘tailing’, with their head down trying to extract a nipper or worm buried in the sand. Keep an ear out for slurping and boofing noises too, as whiting suck prawns off the surface. My favourite way to fish these flats is to drift over them in a kayak with the breeze at my back and fan my casts in all directions downwind. You can cover a lot of ground in this way.
The other area which has proven more reliable has been sandy flats with sections of flowing deeper water (up to 1.5m) nearby. On a falling tide, prawns and other small creatures are forced back into to the main tidal channel as the water drops and the whiting line up waiting for their meal. This is well suited to fishing from a boat as you drift along the channel and make casts up into the shallows. In both situations a small amount of wind to ruffle the water surface and make the fish less spooky can help a lot.
If you can find the right time, tide and place, expect a surface strike or ‘boof’ every 2 or 3 casts – It’s exhilarating visual fishing! Although there is no closed season for whiting, the day they come on the bite each year, often mid to late November is one that I always look forward to. Once you’ve witnessed a big whiting boof a lure in just 20cms of water you’ll be hooked for life!
See you on the flats