Whitebait is a generic term used for small fish up to about 50mm long.

The name whitebait is generally used among Australian fishos to describe frozen packet baits of fish such as Australian anchovy Engraulis australis or sandy sprat Hyperlophus vittatus.

Both species occur in the coastal waters of southern Australia.

Another small fish, the Tasmanian whitebait Lovettia sealii, is found in Tasmanian and Victorian waters.

Whitebait is the smallest of the various small fish commonly sold in Australia as bait, with bluebait being slightly larger fish, and the Australian sardine (pilchard) larger again.

Anglers wanting packeted baitfish larger than pilchards usually buy Pacific saury, yellowtail scad (yakkas), slimy mackerel or mullet.

The term “whitebait run” is used to describe the migration of small fish through estuaries, usually in late winter and spring, and a whitebait run may include a mix of species.

Whitebait runs are a focal point for anglers, as predatory fish follow the runs.

In Tasmania the spring whitebait run is when fishermen target sea-run trout.

Whitebaits tend to be small oily fish.

They are great bait for most species of fish.

Whitebait is also gathered for food in Tasmania and New Zealand.

Whitebait is most often bought as a frozen packet bait in Australia, and is rarely harvested by fishermen themselves, except in Tasmania.

Being oily and soft, whitebait is a great fish attractor, but it easily falls off the hook.

Tiny sets of ganged hooks work well with this bait, but it can be baited on single hooks.

Salting will toughen and preserve whitebait, but its effectiveness as bait may decline.

Whitebait is ideal for catching flathead, tailor, Australian salmon, silver trevally, bream, school mulloway and more.

Read more about the Australian anchovy Engraulis australis and sandy sprat Hyperlophus vittatus and Tasmanian whitebait Lovettia sealii.

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