by Lee Brake
This week, Lee goes back to basics a little and looks at those tasty, silver delicacies – the sand whiting. In north Queensland, these fish are starting their winter run.
Grab a yabbie pump and collect fresh bait. It's much better than anything frozen you can buy.
There has been a lot written of over the years about catching whiting on hard bodied lures, soft plastics, fly and even poppers. As much as I love alternative techniques, the age old method that I was taught by my grandfather still holds a place in my heart and fills the shoulder bag with tasty fillets and I'd like to share it with you this week.
As an easily accessible fish for both boaties and bank-bound anglers the whiting is an ideal target species for those who want to introduce the kids to fishing and still bring home some extremely tasty fillets. Many years ago my father and grandfather set me up with a whippy rod and some yabbies and on my very first fishing trip I caught the only legal fish, a whiting. I was so proud my head almost exploded and I’ve been hooked ever since!
Viv Brake and a young Lee Brake with a feed of tasty winter whiting. This is the best species for getting kids into fishing – it worked with the author!
The water is cooling down and the winter months are here, bringing a larger and more prolific class of fish to the Mackay area – the winter whiting. These larger fish make for an absolutely mouth-watering feed and can be an adrenalin rush on ultra-light gear. As I have mentioned, there are stacks of techniques out there but what I will share with you is what my grandfather, Viv Brake taught me.
While worms, pipis and peeled prawns all work at times, I’m yet to find a more productive bait than the saltwater yabby (or lobby). Yabbies can be found at various beds across Queensland, usually in large sandy flats beside creek beds or along beaches. If in doubt, ask a local tackle shop. In Mackay, there are several beds, including Bassett Basin (or Martins Flats to the older generation), Far Beach, Cremorne, Hospital Bridge and the mouth of Seaforth Creek to name just a few. As a point of interest, all of these beds will attract whiting as they are covered by a rising tide, so find the bait and often you’ll find the fish.
Get a cane creel if you can. They keep yabbies fresher longer!
Whiting will take most things. This one took Zac Hunts popper. However, the old yabbie on a long shank is still the easiest.
To gather yabbies, duck down to your local tackle shop and for between $30 and $50 you’ll be able to buy a reasonable yabby pump and a creel. A good pump will last generations but the washer that produces its suction is prone to decomposition so always buy a spare. In an emergency an old pair of thongs can yield a very effective washer when cut to fit. With regards to creels, do some hunting and try to track down a cane one. Cane creels allow for more air flow and drainage and will keep bait healthy longer.
Whiting are great for beginners because a $20 kid’s rod with a soft supple tip and light line will catch more fish than a $500 G Loomis graphite blank. The key is the tip. Often called a ‘nibble tip’ a good whiting rod should contain little resistance or strength in the last 30cm of the blank. This will allow a timid fish to practically hook itself and will greatly reduce pulled hooks.
For a reel use something compact like a 2500 or smaller. Use the lightest monofilament line that you are comfortable with (braid is usually too abrupt; stretch is good for whiting). I like four-sixlb. Quality is also important. If you buy a cheap combo with line pre-spooled, it might pay to toss it and buy some decent mid-range mono (Any Platypus lines are ideal). Where there’s whiting however, there’s usually flathead, so use a decent leader between 12lb and 20lb.
A little long shank hook and a bit of red tubing is simple and effective.
Terminal tackle is simple, a running sinker rig comprised of a one-two sized ball sinker, a size eight-10 swivel, one metre of light, supple leader, a small piece of red tubing or beads and lastly a long-shanked, chemically sharpened hook between a size one/zero and a size four.
Location, Location, Location
Whiting are most commonly a school fish which travel with the tidal flow and use their long snout and rubbery lips to forage the sand for food. Taking this into account, a good whiting spot should be rich in food and have a soft, preferably sandy bottom. Yabby beds are ideal, as are beach gutters due to the wave action which uncovers pipis, worms and other prey. Once you have located a likely spot it’s all down to timing.
Timing is essential and while the debate over the best part of the tide for whiting can rage like a soccer riot, I can only pass on what I do. Our success has usually come on a rising tide. Once we find a likely spot we attempt to pump yabbies early and be at the spot as the first of the tide arrives.
A handy piece of equipment is a pair of polarized sunglasses (I wear Tonics). These will not only block the glare but allow you to see schools of whiting as they arrive in the shallow. Once located by their tell-tale flash of silver, a whiting school can produce one fish one after another.
To maximize your catch stay mobile. Whiting will consistently move up with the tide so a good fisherperson needs to move with them. An old belt will fix your yabby creel to your hip and a basic shoulder bag will hold fish, tackle and a water bottle and provide maximum mobility.
Whiting can be one of the most finicky fish in the ocean or more aggressive than a Bengal Tiger in heat; it all depends on the day. Smaller whiting are usually characterized by their machinegun-like bite. With these rat-a-tat-tat style pickers, a soft tip and some patience is essential, but remember even a small whiting can shred a yabby quick smart. Patience can pay off with the odd legal fish, but often it can be a case of giving up and moving in search of bigger fish.
Larger whiting are a different kettle of fish but the same principles remain. Often your larger fish suck a bait down with just a gradual increase of pressure, which is where a soft tip once again comes into play. If the tip is too rigid, the fish will feel the weight too early and the hook will simply pull free.
A light tip is essential for whiting! The lighter and softer the better.
The trick is to respond to the increase in pressure by allowing the fish some slack line. Once the slack is taken up, you can be almost sure that the fish has swallowed the bait sufficiently for a hook-up. It’s now as simple as slowing lifting the rod and allowing the flex of the tip to set the hook.
I hope I have shed some light on how to catch a feed when the whiting are biting. As an after note, a slim flexible filleting knife is the weapon of choice when cleaning your catch and even then the process is painstaking slow, so take only what fish you need for a feed. There’s no need to kill hundreds of whiting at a time, especially if you want your kids to share in the enjoyment in years to come.
Fresh whiting fillets are one of the ocean's delicacies.
Saltwater yabbies are great whiting bait. This one, however, might be a little big. To this day it's the biggest yabbie the author has ever seen.
Stay warm and say hello if you see me at the yabby bed.