Years ago I read an article on how to catch winter whiting from a popular estuary mark and a friend of mine piped up, “next month they’ve a feature on how to get wet in the bath”. Needless to say that is something I am keen to avoid here, whiting fishing is certainly no dark art! They shoal and when they are in any great number in your waters you cannot fail when afloat.
When you set out for a good day’s general fishing later autumn or in the depths of winter, the humble whiting can offer some great sport. Whether you want to catch plenty for some sport or seek out the larger fish for a nice feed, whiting can be great fun.
Whiting are part of the large cod family, I know some anglers that prefer the taste of whiting to cod itself, although size wise, it normally takes 1 very good whiting or a couple smaller ones to put a healthy meal on the table. The whiting is fairly easy to recognise, only when small do anglers sometimes get a little mixed up with small poor cod or pouting.
Whiting have 3 dorsal and 2 anal fins and when compared to the bulkier mid-section of those fish already mentioned has a more slender or sleeker appearance. Colour wise the whiting has golden/green top half, dissolving into a pure white underside and has a very distinct dark green/brown lateral line. Whiting have some nice teeth, nothing that will tear your finger off in one chomp, but certainly a set of gnashers that will strip bits of skin off as you make any attempt to retrieve your hook with fingers pushing into the fish’s mouth.
To be honest though I much prefer to see anglers using the likes of t-bar disgorgers to remove hooks from whiting that will be returned to the sea. Sadly they are very awkward fish to handle and are susceptible to too much pressure when grabbed at by anglers, resulting in their stomachs collapsing. As anglers we tend to do most of our fishing for whiting on the bottom or just off, mainly within 2 foot of the sea bed. They are though are known to feed between the mid and bottom levels of the sea, in depths that vary from 20m to as deep as 150 in some places.
Shoaling fish they can be found over various grounds such as mud, mussel and rock. They are without a doubt not the hardest of fish to catch. In fact, sometimes they can be in plague proportions and regardless of baits or rigs that you use you invariably end up with a whiting on the end of your hook.
This time of year you need only look on the various internet forums to see reports from both the shore and general boat excursion that catch numbers of whiting from pins to the more take able 1 to 2lb specimens all day long. What we can do here is take this opportunity to look at a few rigs that will not only help you pick up whiting in good size and numbers, but also rigs that can help reduce the inevitable tangles that occur when 3 frenzied whiting hit your rig at the same time. Additionally these rigs can also help put you in touch with other seasonal quarry that may be around at the same time – dogfish, dabs, small codling etc.
Multi hook ledgers rigs -When targeting a mixed bag of species a good 3 down scratch rig is often used; this rig tends to fish hard on the sea bed. With general bottom foraging species, dogs, dabs and huss being prime examples of those regularly found on broken ground, they tend to take a baited hook and pull and shake their heads to remove the hook hold. Whereas they can still tangle your 3 down rig it doesn’t happen as often as when a fish that tends to swim and feed just off the sea bed hits your bait.
Whiting or gurnards in comparison still take baits fished on the bottom and intended for other species, but if hooked on a 3 down, can result in a mighty tangle as the fish swims around in an attempt to shake the hook hold. Hokkais – the simple feather style rigs with luminous rubber fish head attractors are a firm favourite with many boat anglers, they are after all simple to use and relatively cheap. Straight out of the packet, with the addition of some bait you could be catching whiting in great numbers. Although Hokkais are not for everyone, and the hooks and knots tied on some of the cheaper rigs found on the market often result in many lost fish.
Three up paternoster – this is the much preferred choice of many anglers when targeting whiting and similar shoaling species in great numbers. We tie a few different styles for sale on the boat, standard blood loop rigs, those using swivel and crimps to trap the snoods in allocated areas but our favoured style of paternoster is using wire booms. Both heavy and light gauge wire booms have their places for various aspects of fishing, but for fishing so basic the widely available twisted wire variety are simply perfect, the short 10cm versions in particular.
These booms are mounted on a 60lb rig body and held in place using crimps approximately 20cm apart; the lowest boom having another 20cm to the bottom swivel link, thus keeping the hook off the sea bed. Snoods are tied directly to the swivels on the end of the wire booms. Whiting have some pretty sharp teeth and can make easy work with light mono, so I tend to stick with a short 10cm length of 30lb, again I always use fluorocarbon for hook lengths. Attractors are a personal choice, though yellow, red or one single small luminous bead works well for me! For the hooks, most good Aberdeen styles are a perfect choice to help present bait correctly. For my rigs, I like the Mustad 3282 in a size 4. Small and long shanked, these hooks have great penetration and hook hold in a tough whiting mouth.
Paying particular attention when tying this rig to the lengths of snood and spacing on the booms etc. this rig helps to reduce the tangles you encounter significantly. The lead at the bottom and your main line at the top ensure that everything is kept fairly taut with the fish unable to swim any real tangle into the rig … but that said, they do find a way sometimes!
As the tide slackens off this rig is fished in a more upright position for locating double and triple shots of whiting as they come on the feed more with the reducing tide strength. A light tipped rod can see the tip bouncing erratically giving clear bite indication as you wait the arrival of the 2nd and 3rd fish to your bait, never be too quick to lift in that single fish.
Most paternoster rigs and this 3 boom one especially are extremely versatile and can be fished in a few different ways. If in a strong tide, using a grip lead, you can cast this rig uptide, leaving out your line as normal to pull down in the current and have all three hooks hard on the sea bed, tempting a variety of species to your hooks. Alternatively depending on where you cast the rig downtide, you could have the hooks at increasing heights off the sea bed encouraging fish in the first to feet to feed!
30lb fluorocarbon mono snoods with yellow and red attractor beads
Sakuma rolling swivel
Mustad 3282 hooks size 4
Whiting will eat practically anything presented to them. Mackerel and squid are possibly the most used baits for targeting then, a small slither of around 2cm in length being all that’s needed. A favourite mantra of mine is to re-bait your hooks on every drop! Regardless of whether you have a fish or not, if your bait has been working in the water for a period of time the scent will more than likely be all but washed out.
For whiting though, it’s slightly different; fish can be caught on small scraps of bait falling off a hook. In a match situation where you are trying to rack up as many points as possible a well baited hook can often be dropped back down once the whiting is removed, without being re-baited.
When fighting hard for food in the big shoals, whiting are not fussy and jump on your hooks just as quickly as you can lower them.