by Jarrod Day
Silver whiting are seldom caught in Victoria by recreational anglers yet when it comes to catching snapper in season; silver whiting are the number one bait to use.
Silver whiting may not look like much but are a top source of bait for other species when used fresh.
Anglers from all over descend on both Western Port and Port Phillip Bay in search of a big red and 9 times out of 10, their snapper are caught using silver whiting purchased from tackle stores or service stations but little do many know, silver whiting can be caught offshore in Victoria.
Home sweet home: Silver whiting inhabit depths ranging 15 to 55 meters of water. While they are not found in Bays and estuaries as such, they are found in offshore waters. In Victoria, silver whiting or as they are better known 'southern school whiting' inhabit the south and south western coastlines of Australia, ranging from Geraldton, Western Australia in the west to Western Port, Victoria in the east of the country.
The species is predominantly found over sand substrate in variable wave and tidal activity zones but rarely in protected bays. They often frequent the quiet waters of sand flats, the surf zones of beaches, as well as inhabiting deeper offshore waters to at least 55 m and possibly much deeper where they are taken by commercial trawlers over sand.
Favorite foods: A silver whitings diet is similar to other whiting species, although the exact composition differs between species inhabiting the same region, allowing competition to be avoided. Crustaceans make up the bulk of the species food. For an angler seeking them out; small pieces of pipi or slither of pilchard fillet work well. Of course most of the fishing is in quite deep water whereby it is imperative that the bait is secured well to the hook. Having such a small mouth, these fish have a knack of stealing baits so take your time when baiting up.
Recommended tackle: While you don’t need heavy tackle to catch silver whiting you will be using quite heavy leads to get to the bottom, in which case a 7ft 4-6kg rod will be ample. Mounted to this should be a reel in the 3000-4000 series that is spooled with 10-15lb braid. Leader line should be around 15lb with a paternoster rig tied from the same leader ideal. With whiting having such small mouths, the most successful hook to use is a long shank in a size 10. This size hook will have no problem in hook a fish. It is very unlikely that you will encounter other species when fishing whiting offshore, but flathead and or barracouta are common in these waters but due to the light leader will bite you off quickly.
Always ensure your using the right tackle.
Tackling: Once you find a patch of whiting you will first notice a lot of little bites through the rod. Generally you won’t have to wait for a bite, rather as soon as the bait hits the bottom they will be onto it. Striking is of no use at this depth, so just hold the rod steady and let the fish hooks themselves. When you are sure you have one hooked, gently wind it to the surface. Keep in mind that you are using heavy weights and the weight of the sinker alone can dislodge the hook if the fish plays up. Simply hold the rod steady while winding the fish up without any sharp movements.
Nothing beats a fresh catch of bait like these models.
Looking after your catch: Once you have caught the fish you want to keep it is best if you look after them correctly. You have spent all this time catching them, there is no use just throwing them into a bucket then into a freezer only to get freezer burnt.
If you’re going to keep them to eat, you’re best to clean them immediately and place into an ice slurry. Further filleting and cleaning can be concluded back at the boat ramp.
If you’re keeping them for bait then you will need a few large size freezer snap lock bags. I like to put six whiting per bag then fill will salt water from where you’re fishing. These can then be placed into the freezer when at home and will keep for months. By freezing them in the saltwater from which they came you’ll notice when defrosted that they don’t get freezer burnt but look as fresh as if you just caught them.
Silver whiting may not be much to tangle with but as a fresh source of bait for snapper and gummy shark they are deadly. If you are going to plan a trip out to catch them, ensure you look after them so you can reap the rewards of using such a quality bait in your home town waters.