The name “whiting” in Australia generally refers to species of sand whiting, along with the king george (KG) or spotted whiting of southern waters.
This article is about sand whiting, of which there are several species.
If you want to skip the species descriptions and get straight to the fishing, scroll down to “Whiting habits”.
Types of whiting
The sand whiting of most interest to Aussie fishos is the bluenose whiting Sillago ciliata, most commonly found along the east coast from Victoria and northern Tasmania right up to Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula.
This species can be identified by a dark blotch at the base of its pectoral fin. Like most sand whiting it inhabits bays, tidal rivers, estuaries and coastal lakes. Schools are often found in the inner surf zone and near the mouths of rivers.
The goldenline whiting Sillago analis is a smaller fish that has rougher scales than bluenose whiting. It is found from Queensland across the far north to Shark Bay. In Shark Bay it is particularly common and supports a commercial fishery.
In South Australia the yellowfin whiting Sillago schomburgkii is the most sought sand whiting species, with the small southern school whiting Sillago bassensis also caught from the state’s beaches.
The eastern school whiting Sillago flindersi is found from south-east Queensland to South Australia.
The western trumpeter whiting Sillago burrus is found across the northern half of Australia’s coastline.
Sand whiting are rarely targeted in Australia’s far north yet several species inhabit the tropics. These are the goldenline whiting Sillago analis, stout whiting Sillago robusta, bay whiting Sillago ingenuua, mud whiting Sillago lutea, northern whiting Sillago sihama and western trumpeter whiting Sillago burrus. Up north they all tend to be small fish, hence the lack of fishing interest, however they do grow big enough to eat.
While sand whiting are found right around Australia they are most commonly fished from the central Queensland coast south to Western Australia’ Shark Bay.
While bluenose whiting are the most desirable species, some of the smaller species are sought by fishos, for example the “winter whiting” or “diver whiting” of Brisbane’s Moreton Bay (probably the eastern school whiting Sillago flindersi) is caught in large numbers, and despite its small size makes a great meal when two or three fish are butterfly-filleted.
Some so-called whiting species, such as various “weed whiting” are not really whiting at all, but this depends upon how one defines the term “whiting”. In the northern hemisphere, the term “whiting” refers to what look like completely different fish, including pelagic species.
Sand whiting are a true shallow-water fish, and as the name suggests they are usually found over sand or sandy mud.
They are saltwater fish that dislike brackish water, and heavy rain will push them down tidal rivers towards the mouth.
Sand whiting are caught from ocean surf beaches but are more often targeted within tidal inlets and in the lower reaches of tidal rivers.
The best fishing is invariably over shallow sand and mud flats that are home to worms and crabs.
Where nipper beds and worm beds are found, whiting will usually be abundant.
The presence of soldier crabs at low tide is often an indicator that whiting will be around at high tide.
Whiting will feed in just a few centimetres of water. The fish tend to move over flats to feed with the incoming tide, and this is often the best time to fish flats, but also fish the edges of gutters and channels on the falling tide.
The edges of walkable flats can be fished at low tide, and gutters on surf beaches that are accessible at low tide can also fish well around the bottom of the tide.
Big tides often produce the best fishing.
A bit of wind and chop makes it easier to catch whiting, as they can be flighty in calm, clear, sunny conditions.
Whiting will bite at night and this is often the best time to target the biggest whiting in hard-fished waters.
From surf beaches, there is no need to cast far for whiting, as they will feed close to shore in the nearest wave-dump zone.
Sand whiting bite all year but summer and autumn often produces better fishing.
Best baits for sand whiting
Sand whiting take many baits but the gold standards are live worms and nippers.
Blood, sand, tube, beach, wriggler and weed worms will all catch fish.
Nippers tend to catch bigger fish, and tiny crab baits also work well.
Big sand whiting can be fussy, try different baits until you get a strong response.
Pipis (cockles) are a good bait in the surf.
If you must use a packet bait try peeled prawn.
Best tackle for whiting
Sand whiting feed in clear sunlit shallows, so light tackle is a must.
Fluorocarbon lines are less visible and therefore a good choice.
As whiting are a small fish caught in relatively open water they can be targeted with as little as 2kg line, with 2kg to 4kg being the ideal range.
Where possible, such as when fishing from a dinghy or yak, avoid using a sinker, just cast and drift the baits out.
Otherwise, use a pea-size running sinker rig that allows the line to pass through the sinker, with a sinker-stopper located from 40cm to 90cm above the hook.
A 3kg spin outfit is ideal for sand whiting. See various eBay light spin combo listings here.
A heavier 3-6kg spinning outfit is suitable for general estuary and light boat fishing and can be used for whiting. See eBay listings for 3-6kg spinning combos and more here.
The above outfit can be used on shallow, low-energy beaches to catch sand whiting, but a dedicated light surf rod would be better for this purpose. See combo listings here, or buy a light surf rod separately to use with your 3-6kg reel.
For most whiting fishing, ball sinkers are used, as part of a running sinker rig where the sinker slides along the line, allowing a fish to easily run with a baited hook. See eBay listings for ball sinkers here.
Hooks in mixed sizes are needed. Suggest 4# to #8 for whiting, though 10# to #12 are good for smaller fish. See eBay listings here.
A rod of medium length assists with casting and helps hold the line above wave action.
A dedicated light surf rod is best if you plan to target ocean beach whiting.
Long shank hooks are ideal for sand whiting, and bait-holder style with barbs on the shank may help hold worm baits so they don’t easily slide down the hook shaft.
Best lures for whiting
Perhaps surprisingly, the bottom-grubbing sand whiting will take lures, even surface poppers.
Tiny soft plastic grubs work well, as do tiny poppers and stick baits.
You will need to use a stealthy approach using a spinning rod combo that can cast tiny lures long distances.
Long casts help prevent spooking the fish.
Whiting for the table
Whiting are among the best table fish, and the fillets freeze well.
Being small you need a fine, sharp filleting knife to get the best out of each fish.
Smaller fish can be butterfly-filleted.
Whiting fillets are particularly tasty when crumbed and lightly fried.
Did you know?
Sand whiting can bury themselves in sand to avoid predators. They have no major sharp spines, which makes them a great fish for children to catch.
The northern hemisphere whiting Merlangius merlangus is a separate species that looks nothing like an Aussie whiting, and was once so common it was ground up and used as a filler for flour, because the fish was cheaper than wheat.
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