Through a sea angler’s eyes there’s something special, almost magical about autumn nights. That cold snap of air that bites your lungs, the star filled skies illuminated by a silver coloured bomber’s moon, the rhythmic crunch of the surf on the shingle, and the anticipation of bites galore as the voracious whiting shoals move inshore. That time is now.
Whiting are the vanguard of winter species. They move in from the offshore grounds with the big equinoctial tides and forecast natures change from summer to autumn. This occurs around the middle of September in most areas, though maybe a couple of weeks earlier along the East Anglian beaches.
At first the fish are small, but they are soon joined by plump fish between 1lb and 2lbs during October and November, these months being the peak for numbers. Most areas then see a steady decline in catches as the fish move back offshore towards Christmas, but the January period can often produce the very biggest of the years whiting giving you the best chance of a specimen 2lber. These are loners, mean predators with a mouth full of sharp needle teeth and a catholic taste.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD WHITING MARK?
Whiting are lovers of clean sand and shingle seabeds. They prefer the surf beaches of the west and east coasts, or the steep-to deeper beaches along the English Channel. They can also be found off rock marks that fall away on to a sandy bottom.
Depth is not important. Whiting move in and feed in to water with a depth of less than 2-feet (60cms) at night if the sea is calm.
Ground feature is not something immediately obvious. Being a shoal fish, whiting move along a beach a set distance from shore hoovering up any available food in their path. But there are certain types of ground structure that can concentrate the fish as they pass by and locating these will improve your catch by a greater percentage.
On shallow surf beaches look for the slightly deeper gutters that run parallel along the beach. The whiting run through these, especially if there is a little surf breaking across the shallower sand. These deeper gutters give calmer conditions and some respite from the rougher shallower water, but also the tide deposits water borne food items in to these gutters.
It’s also worth noting areas where the tide has scoured out deeper holes around the ends of the beaches, especially if this area sees clean sand form a junction with stones, boulders or cliffs.
On the deeper steep-to beaches, the shingle bank at high water falls away at a steep angle and you need to locate the area where the shingle gives way to sand. This is usually within 40-metres of the high water line. This area again concentrates food pushed along by the tide and is a holding area for all manner of species. Whiting can be found at greater range than this, but the better numbers of fish will always be close to this terminus when feeding.
Take a look at the pattern of breaking surf on the steep-to beach. Often, surf breaks in one or two continuos lines close inshore, then there is calmer water beyond, then a further single line of surf further out. The calmer water indicates deeper water between the two surf lines and suggests a potential deep gully running along the beach. If this is present, then it will be whiting hotspot during their feeding period.
UNDERSTANDING WHITING MOVEMENTS
The tide, as with all fish, has a major bearing on their movement through a fishing session.
On surf beaches, stick only to the bigger spring tides, especially the tides two or three days prior to the biggest tides of the cycle. These tend to produce the better fishing, though you’ll still catch well on the tides immediately after the highest of the cycle.
Smaller neap tides, the tides when the sea comes least distance up the beach, still produce whiting, but in nothing like the numbers seen on the biggest tides.
On the shallower surf beaches, they come right in to the white water of the surf tables during the flooding tide if the surf is not too strong. In rougher seas after a good blow, then they will still come closer in with the new flood tide, but stay out in the slightly deeper water that offers less turbulence for them when swimming and feeding.
As soon as the outgoing ebb tide begins, they push out in to deeper water to the sea side of those parallel gutters where they know there is a danger of them in getting cut off. To maintain your catches at this time it is often necessary to double or even triple your casting distance to maintain contact with the main shoals.
Much deeper beaches see whiting in front of you all the time immaterial of whether the tide is flooding or ebbing. However, you will still see an influx of fresh fish to improve the overall numbers during the flood tide period, and a partial decline in numbers and bites as the ebb begins to flow strongly. Again, increase your casting range to maintain your bite ratio.
Whiting will almost disappear during storms and rough seas, but as soon as the weather eases, even though the sea is still coloured, they will come back inshore to make the most of the storm displaced food washing across the shoreline.
Though you will catch whiting by day from the deep water rock marks, you need to treat whiting mainly as nocturnal feeders when open beach fishing. The hours of daylight sees them half a mile or more offshore. But just as dusk is falling, in they come towards the beaches en masse.
There’s a misconception about whiting. Most anglers believe that whiting swim with the tide when travelling along a beach. They actually swim facing in to the tide like trout and let the tide flow sweep them backwards under a controlled movement. In this way, they are better able to smell food scent in the passing water as they fall back past it.
In calm weather, bass rods casting 2 to 3ozs matched to a fixed-spool reel and 10lb line give good fun and some sport with the average fish. But the sea being a hostile place, plus the need for casting distance, then the standard beachcaster capable of launching 5ozs of lead and a couple of small baits is the main choice. Reel line needs to be 15lbs, but add a 22-feet (7-metres) section of 60lb shock leader to take the strain of casting.
You only need two rigs.
For average casting distance go for a sliding two or three hook rig. The main body line needs to be 60lb mono and 30-inches long (75cms). Tie on a 3/0 oval splitring at one end. Now slide on to the line a 2mm bead, small size 10 swivel and another bead, then the same combination again once or twice to make the two or three rig options.
To hold the bead trapped swivels in place, you can either tightly coil phone wire around the mono at either side, or tie in sliding stops knots from Powergum (used by fly fishers), both are good.
The sliding wire or knots can, with force, allow you to move the position of the hooks on the rig. Why? You’ll notice that more fish will fall to one particular hook on the rig. If this is the lower hook on a two-hook rig, then slide the upper hook swivel down to the middle rig position and this will see an increase in catches more akin to the lower hook. The same applies if it’s the top hook catching. Move up the lower hook to the mid rig position to increase the catch rate.
For long range casting on the ebb tide, you can add bait clips to the two-hook rig and clip the hooks and baits in to these to streamline the rig during the cast and to maintain bait presentation. Personally, I prefer a wishbone rig instead.
The wishbone is a simple paternoster rig. The rig body mono needs to be 60lbs and 36 inches (90cms) long. Add an oval split ring at the base and a bait clip. Slide on copper rig crimp, a 2mm bead, size 10 swivel, another bead and another crimp. Finish with a size 4 rolling swivel for a leader connection. Crimp the swivel in place about 3-inches (8cms) below the swivel. The trace line should be about 20-inches (50cms) long and then tie on a size 8 swivel. A 24-inch (60cms) length of 30lb mono is passed through this swivel and a size 2 Aberdeen hook added at each end. The hooks will seesaw backwards and forwards now through the swivel. Above the hooks tie in a Powergum stop knot about 6-ins (15cms) up. This forms the wishbone and will fish two baits relatively close together maximising scent in the water and often catching two fish at one time. It also casts well with the baits positioned in the bait clip tight behind the lead weight.
Worm is a good basis for a whiting bait, but not necessarily on it’s own. You can increase catches and selectively pick out the bigger fish in the shoal by using combination baits.
For general whiting fishing you can’t go wrong fishing a lug or ragworm bait tipped at the hook point with a small square section of mackerel flesh, or a strip of sandeel or herring works just as well.
The problem with worm is that it tends to interest too many of the smaller to average sized whiting in the shoal. To pick out the bigger 1lb plus fish, you need to bait purely with fish. By far the best bait for the larger whiting is a whole small sandeel or a section of a larger sandeel. The whiting have a mouth full of teeth and are a true predator, one of their main food prey are sandeel that live in the sand the whiting feed over, hence its effectiveness. Second best is a slice of mackerel about 2-inches (5cms) by one-inch (2.5cms). Herring is again worth trying, whole sprat held on the hook with bait elastic or even a strip from a freshly caught whiting as they a cannibalistic.
After storms, whiting also take worm baits tipped with shellfish, especially razorfish and queen cockle.
The most successful whiting fisherman always fish two rods. It pays to have one cast out to maximum range and the other kept close to start with. You can then bring the furthest casts shorter and lengthen the close in casts until the whiting’s feeding zone is found. This also allows some experimentation of bait combinations and hook positions on the rigs to maximise your catches.
When the tide is running short hook traces about 9-inches ( 23cms) long will catch well, but as the tide flow eases away to next to nothing it pays to lengthen the hook traces to as much as 18-inches (45cms). In a strong flow, the fish hit the bait and turn away or are pushed backwards by the tide run. This produces self-hooking.
In little or no tide run, the fish have time to take the bait gently and turn away slowly. This produces little impetus for the hook to be driven home if you continue with the short hook lengths. By lengthening them, the whiting has more freedom of movement and will have built up some speed and inertia to set the hook themselves when they come up tight on the hook trace.
If you’re fishing a two or three hook rig, don’t be in too much of a hurry to hit and wind in every bite. Often, a hooked whiting will draw in other whiting to the adjacent bait and a full rig of fish is likely.
In the post Christmas period, if you’re aiming to catch a 2lb whiting, which is a specimen fish, from the surf beaches then they literally run through the surf tables like bass. The best rig is a simple flowing trace about 24-inches (60cms) long made from 25lb mono and size 1/0 hook. The trace is tied to a swivel attached to the leader line, which has a bead, and sliding swivel link added to take the weight. Bait this with a whole small sandeel about 4-inches (10cms) long and leave this to rise and fall in the water as the waves pass overhead.
On the deeper beaches, then fish a two hook rig with size 1/0 Aberdeen hooks and the whole small sandeels for bait, or strips of fish.
CARE OF THE FISH
Whiting are not good survivors and can’t tolerate mishandling. Most will go back if you gently lift them from the water with the rod and swing them in to a wet hand or wet cloth. Remove the hook and quickly put them back.
What damages whiting the most is handling them with hot, dry hands. Imagine coming straight out of a cold sea and being gripped by a warm as toast hand. It’s the shock of this that does the damage.