Whiting – All you need to know

This is the first in a three part series on summer whiting with Kaydo beach fishing specialist Dave ‘Nugget’ Downie taking an in-depth look at baits, rigs and places everyones’ favourite fish, the whiting, like to feed. To kick off part one Dave summaries the best baits to use for this classic and tasty species.
Freshly pumped yabbies - one of the best all-round whiting baits you can use.

Freshly pumped yabbies – one of the best all-round whiting baits you can use.

Yabbies:

Yabbies (pink nippers, ghost shrimps) are a great bait, especially as they are free if you have a yabbie pump. They work particularly well when the water you’re fishing is discoloured, often out-fishing other worm baits. I prefer the females, they are smaller and don’t have the large claw like the males have. You need to select a hook that allows you to present a yabbie in natural looking way – stretched out as they are when crawling along the bottom. A bunched up ball of yabbie looks pretty ordinary. A medium shank hook with bait holder barbs works well but make sure you select a pattern that has the barbs through the length of the shank like the Mustad 92668NPNR, not just at the tie point end as in a worm hook as this helps keep the yabbie straight. Thread the yabbie on starting at the tail, then twist the hook slightly bringing the point out through the side of the head carapace. Pinning it through this bit of firm shell helps hold it on during the cast.

Soldier Crabs

Soldier crabs, particularly the small dark coloured ones, are a good whiting bait. They have a reputation for catching less numbers but a bigger average size whiting than other baits, particularly during daylight hours. I’ve found their success drops off remarkably after dark. You need to thread enough on the hook to completely cover it, usually three or four if you’re using size four or six medium shank length hook. Being a fairly firm shell they don’t bunch up on a hook as worms or yabbies do so you don’t need to use a bait-holder style hook. The secret to presenting them well and keeping them on the hook is to use as fine a wire hook as you can get. There are some great fine wire fly hooks available that are ideal for when you’re using soldier crabs for bait.

Jelly Prawns

Taylah May with two nice 'kid sized' whiting.

Taylah May with two nice ‘kid sized’ whiting.

Looking like a tiny see-through prawn, jelly prawns are a few centimetres long and often found in thick schools in slow tidal estuary areas. The best way to collect them is with a very fine scoop net, the type use in the aquarium trade. Check your local regulations that you are allowed to scoop bait with a fine mesh net, there are minimum mesh sizes in some States and waterways. They work best if used live, to keep them alive you need to keep them aerated and cool, even a few degrees increase in temperature will turn them belly up very quickly. Like soldier crabs the best hook is a very fine wire size four or six however I prefer a short shank hook for jelly prawns. Don’t thread them like a normal prawn bait, you’ll go crosseyed trying. Thread as many as you can, pinned across their length straight through the body, until the hook is completely hidden. You’re trying to make a mini flicking prawn ball. Places to look for them include over weed beds, along canal rock walls and especially any man made drains flowing into a waterway. They are usually less than a metre under the surface looking very much like a school of minnows. Like soldier crabs they have a reputation of producing less fish but better quality however unlike soldier crabs, they work just as well at night as they do during the day.

Worms

Fred & Michael Preston with some stonker fish.

Fred & Michael Preston with some stonker fish.

There are several different types of worms and believe it or not, the difference is chalk and cheese when it come to using them as bait for whiting. Firstly let’s get one thing straight, garden worms are useless, in my experience they do not work well for any species in salt water. You might catch a few fish but they would have to be thick, any other bait will out-fish garden worms for whiting. The best hook for all worms is a size four or six fine wire ‘worm hook’, so called because of small barbs at the tie point that keeps the worm spread out.
Young Max McPhee was suitably impressed with the capture of this solid whiting.

Young Max McPhee was suitably impressed with the capture of this solid whiting.

Mud Worms and Bloodworms

The number one bait for whiting are mud worms, also called blood worms, dug from estuary mangrove foreshores. You can not buy genuine mud worms in a bait shop, they are not sold commercially simply because they are too time consuming and difficult to dig. The worms sold as bloodworms in bait shops are a slightly different worm, often called a Cribb Island worm, they are firmer and not as juicy. Bought bloodworms are a close second to mud worms and the best option short of digging your own. On average shop bought bloodworms will catch you 80% of what mud worms will, although that ratio drops to 20% for fish over 40cm – 40cm plus whiting love mud worms. They are found below the high tide mark where the new mangrove shoots end and the mud foreshores start. It is best to dig them with a fork so you don’t cut and damage the mangroves roots. You need mud that is not sandy but sticky with almost a quicksand consistency. Dig the fork in and roll the top 30cm of mud back, looking for them in the hole and in the clump you just dug up.

Sand Wrigglers

Sand wrigglers are found in course sand around estuaries foreshores and Islands – not mud. A pale coloured worm that varies in size and thickness, the way to dig them is with a multi-prong garden fork. Use the fork to sift through soft sand, the more prongs it has the easier it is to find them, usually hanging off the prongs. Here’s a tip, if you find seaweed washed up along the high tide mark, scrape it back and sift through the sand under it, they love to feed on rotting weed.
BarryGowland with a couple of quality whiting caught on fresh baits.

BarryGowland with a couple of quality whiting caught on fresh baits.

Canal Wrigglers

Canal wrigglers are a thin pale coloured worm that looks a little like a skinny mini beach worm. They are found on sand foreshores and canals and pumped with yabbie pump rather than dug. The technique is to look for small pin holes in the sand between the low and high tide mark and use a yabbie pump to suck up and pump the sand into a fine sieve, the type of sieve sold in tackle shops is fine. They used to be a popular bait on sandy beaches in many developed canal estates until councils started arial spraying for mosquitoes, which has almost wiped their numbers out making them hard to find in recent years.

Rock Wrigglers

Rockies are skinny and short, usually no more than 10cm long. They’re found in the hard mud-clump banks of Moreton Bay’s northern foreshores, particularly the Redcliffe and Woody Point areas. I would class them as being on a par with bought bloodworms, maybe a bit better in some locations, but not as good as dug mud worms. They are dug with a garden fork pushed into the hard rock-like mud below the high tide mark to break off clumps of mud. You then break open each rock clump to find them in small tunnels in the clumps.

Beach Worms

Although they work well in the surf, beach worms are a poor whiting bait in estuaries, rivers and creeks. On a scale of best baits, they sit above garden worms but well short of yabbies, prawns and worms for whiting.

In Summary

If you buy your bait, buy bloodworms, if they are out of bloodworms buy yabbies. If you collect your own bait, mud worms are number one. Any other worm except beach worms are as good or better than bought bloodworms. If you can’t find a place to dig mud worms, pump yabbies, collect soldier crabs or jelly prawns. If you’re fishing at night, forget soldier crabs, the catch rate drops off in most locations.

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Next The last word on WHITING: Part 2

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