How To Catch King George Whiting In Port Phillip Bay

Words & Images: Kosta Linardos

If the sound of the final siren of the AFL Grand Final signals a psychological trigger to start snapper fishing in Melbourne, you could say Boxing Day is the point on the calendar when anglers switch their focus to King George whiting. Summer on Port Phillip Bay and whiting go together like cricket and beer, and if you want to get in on the action and take home a feed of tasty fillets, we have some great information on how to make the most of your next whiting session.

Finding Whiting

Like any fish, whiting inhabit areas that hold their prey, where they use their conical-shaped mouths to sift through sand, silt and mud for crabs, shrimp, yabbies, pipis and mussels. They also inhabit areas where they can hide from predators as well as find relief from fast-moving water. In Port Phillip Bay, prime grounds are those that holds significant weed patches with sand holes and are near gutters. Areas with strong tidal flow are prime locations, which means the southern end of the bay offer significantly better fishing than the northern parts. Whiting can be found in water as shallow as two metres right through to 16 metres but are more commonly fished for in depths of four to eight metres.

On the eastern side of the bay, Rosebud all the way down to Point Nepean offers excellent whiting fishing.  You don’t need to go far out from shore so all these areas are accessible via kayaks and small boats.

Mud Islands, which sit north-east of Portsea, offer excellent whiting fishing on the east, north and western sides with the grounds west of the Pinnace Channel on the eastern side of the islands being a hot spot.

The western side of the bay probably has the best and most consistent year-round whiting fishing, with St Leonards, Queenscliff and right down to the heads providing outstanding fishing, with fish of 40-45cm a common occurrence and 50cm fish likely.

Once you get to these areas a great idea if the water is clear enough is to look for heavily weeded ground and the sand patches within them. Your aim should be to cast on or near these sand patches. The whiting will shelter in the weed and feed across the sand. On clear days, marking these sand patches on your GPS for the next time you’re out is a great idea and will pay dividends on future trips.  On the days when you can’t see the bottom and the water is dirty, using your sounder to find good ground is essential.

When To Go

The most important factor to whiting fishing is tidal flow – no run, no fun, as the saying goes. Dirtier water caused by ocean swell through the heads can be an advantage but I have had countless bag-out sessions on whiting in crystal-clear water. A full moon provides less tidal influence and can make the fishing harder and if your only opportunity is to fish in these conditions, you can still find success by fishing deeper.

Gearing Up

Now you have a good idea of when and where to fish, it’s time to start assessing your rods, rigs, bait and tackle, as there are some specific things you need to have right to make the most of your whiting session. A rod of about 7ft through to 9ft and rated 2-4kg is perfect for whiting. Just be sure it has a long enough butt section to sit nicely in your rod-holder. While you need something with a light tip that is sensitive to small bites, you do need to match it to the area and tide in which you are fishing as you increase your sinker weight.

I prefer a fast-tapered rod to set the hook quickly but with a soft tip sensitive enough to detect bites. If you are fishing further south towards the heads, you may need sinkers up to 6oz and heavier rods rated 4-6kg in order to cast the larger weights necessary for the stronger tides. I generally match these rods with a 2500-size reel. You don’t need anything amazing but you are better off buying a quality reel that can withstand the saltwater exposure, bait and berley that is inevitable when whiting fishing. I always spool my reels with braid, which offers extreme sensitivity, a better hook-up and – importantly – is much thinner than mono line, so it doesn’t grab in the tide and prevents a big bow in the line.

Hooks & Rigs

The best hook when targeting whiting is a long shank or worm hook in size 6. While many anglers extol the virtues of circle hooks, I seldom use them as I like to remain active when fishing for whiting. By always have the rod in your hand you’ll miss fewer bites by setting the hook, which you can’t do with circle hooks.

The rig of choice for me is a single extended paternoster tied from 12 to 20lb mono or fluorocarbon leader. If fishing in heavily weeded areas, I will tie the hook off the dropper then attach the sinker on the bottom of the rig, but most of the time I have the hook tied on the bottom and the sinker coming off the dropper. I like a long dropper of about 15cm and a long leader from this point of about 1.3 metres. It may not be as easy to manage as shorter leaders, but it accounts for far more fish. Whiting don’t like the sight of the sinker, and the longer leader and dropper allow for a more natural bait presentation.

Small bomb-style sinkers are the best to use and you need a range of sizes from 1oz through to 6oz.

Bait
The best baits for whiting are pipi, squid, cuttlefish and mussels. You can start with varying baits on each rod to ascertain which gets the best response but these three will usually always get the job done. Baiting with mussels and pipis is relatively easy as you just thread them on the shank, but squid needs to be presented in a nice fine strip about 3 to 4mm wide and 40 to 50mm long in order to prevent it spinning.  A cocktail bait can be effective, whereby a softer bait such as pipi or mussel is presented with a squid strip underneath.

Berley

Berley is another crucial factor to get a great whiting bite going, and a berley cage is essential. A mix of pilchard, pellets and a bit of tuna oil has always been highly effective, but you can use whatever you have on hand that has good smell. Another great berley tip is to smash your pipi shells with the handle of your knife so they crush up and throw them behind the boat – this really gets the whiting going.

If you’ve arrived at your spot and haven’t had a bite within 20 minutes, it’s time to move. It’s a hassle, but you need to pull anchor and move to a different location.  It doesn’t need to be very far, it might be a slight depth change, some weedier ground or to a depth contour. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to move; you’ll often find that a small location change can make all the difference.

It Isn’t Hard

Catching whiting is simple, albeit messy, bread and butter fishing and you shouldn’t over-complicate it. Port Phillip Bay has outstanding stocks of whiting and if you follow the steps in this article you will find success. They are a great eating fish and you should take good care of them by getting them on to an ice slurry as soon as they’re caught. Have some fun catching them, go through the arduous task of cleaning the boat and fish afterwards, then enjoy cooking and eating them.

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