Words & Images: Kosta Linardos
To the inexperienced bait fisherman, the idea of targeting whiting and successfully reaching your bag limit may seem an easy task. However, there is a lot more to catching the humble King George than is given credit for.
Many anglers taking up the sport in the past decade have begun their fishing pursuits using lures. They have a basic understanding of how to work a lure but will often struggle to tie what more experienced anglers would consider simple rigs, made up of essential knots that should be as well-known as your ABC.
It was only recently, while fishing with an angler aged in his late 40s who is experienced with various styles but couldn’t tie a simple dropper loop, that I realised we’re no longer learning the fundamentals of bait fishing.
So I thought it would be beneficial to many of our readers to go through some simple rigs for targeting whiting. Whiting are an extremely popular species that require some specific rigs. Remember, we don’t do knot explanations at Hooked Up (as it can be hard to explain if the knot isn’t being demonstrated ‘live’).
Hook style – long shank
Let’s start with the most important part of any fishing rig – the hook. Without them we can’t catch fish, and we pick hooks that are a compromise between the bait or lure we’re presenting and the fish being targeted. In the case of whiting, the best styles you can use are a long shank hook or a circle hook, but they need to be used in different ways – more on that later.
The long shank hook is a versatile hook that allows you to present a lot of different baits that whiting love. Some of the best whiting baits are molluscs such as mussels and pipis, and squid and cuttlefish. The long shank enables you to thread on such baits to present a solid offering while still enabling good hook exposure. Whiting can be finicky, so when using long shank hooks it’s best to hold the rod and be ready to strike to set the hook. Therefore, the smaller the hook, and the finer the gauge, the better chance you have of setting the hooks. The downside, of course, is that you’ll commonly encounter bottom-dwelling by-catch such as pinkie snapper, leatherjacket, banjo sharks, grass whiting and stingrays. These species require pliers to remove hooks and the delicate gauge of hooks in sizes 10-8 (higher numbers mean smaller hooks) will often just bend or break. I therefore recommend the use of hook sizes 6-4. This size in a long shank allows you to thread on good baits and present them with good hook exposure. If the fish are ultra-finicky, use a size 6 and take the risk of breakages and the need to re-tie.
Some great hook styles and brands to look out for are Black Magic Baitholder, Mustad Bloodworm, Gamakatsu Long Shank and Worm and Owner Long Shank. They are all good hooks at varying price points that come in a range of sizes.
Hook style – circle hook
When it comes to using circle hooks for whiting I refer to them as ‘sleeper hooks’ – because unless the bite is hot, you could fall asleep waiting. Circle hooks are designed to hook the fish in the jaw due to their natural re-curve. You therefore don’t want to strike on a fish when it swallows a circle hook as you’ll pull the hook from its mouth. A circle hook should be left in the rod-holder while you allow the fish to hook itself. Circle hooks are highly effective and will enable you to catch more fish, quickly, in a hot bite scenario, where you can hold the rod with the long shank and leave the circle hook rig in the rod-holder. They also allow you to remove the hook quickly and rebait as it’s rare that the fish swallows a circle hook.
But if you are fishing only with circle hooks and leaving your rod in its holder, you may catch nothing while your rig is sitting there without any bait. So, while they are effective, they do have their place and should be used only in the right scenario. The other factor to consider is soft baits such as mussels and pipis aren’t the best baits for circle hooks, but a thin strip of squid or cuttlefish can be deadly.
Some great circle hook styles are the Black Magic KL, Owner Mutu Light and Gamakatsu Shiner. They’re all great hooks but the Black Magic KL is a stand-out for its thin gauge and great price for the number of hooks you get in a packet.
The running sinker rig
One of the simplest set-ups you can use for whiting is the running sinker rig. It requires only the use of a blood knot and is simple to tie. It requires a ball sinker running down to a swivel with a leader length of around 70-90cm from the swivel to your hook; 5kg monofilament leader will be fine in most scenarios. The advantage of this rig is that your bait will spend most of its time wafting around the bottom of the sea floor, where whiting are often feeding. The disadvantage is that if you’re fishing over weedy ground you may get snagged easily, or your bait is getting covered in weed, thus preventing hook-ups or making the bait undesirable or undetectable to fish.
If you are fishing over this kind of ground, a paternoster rig has some distinct advantages.
The paternoster rig
The paternoster rig will serve you well in life. Whether you’re targeting whiting, snapper, gummy sharks or you’re miles offshore somewhere chasing down an exotic bottom-dweller, this rig has a million applications, regardless of fish size.
The paternoster allows you to keep your hook just off the bottom. The big advantage here is that your hook isn’t getting caught up in weed or reef and your bait is presented well with great visibility. This rig works by having either a bomb or small teardrop sinker at the bottom and your hook hanging off a dropper loop midway up your leader. It also allows for easy sinker changes, which can be highly advantageous as the current ebbs and flows, or as you change depth. You can still tie the hook at the bottom and put the sinker midway up, so you can keep your bait on the seabed, but have the option of being able to easily change sinker.
The only knot you really need to learn aside from the blood knot for this rig is the dropper loop, or dropper knot. It isn’t hard to tie but takes a bit of practice, so jump on YouTube with some leader and start practising. Otherwise you’ll be like my old mate at close to 50 not knowing how to tie it.
Beads, tubing and flashers
Many anglers like to dress up their rigs with small beads and thin red tubing. With whiting, red is usually the colour of choice. Some anglers use just tube, some just beads and some both. I am a fan of using beads or tube when the whiting are a bit shut down, as I think it is a visual attractant that draws attention to your bait. How many you use is up to you but don’t be too excessive – a few beads and a hook’s length of tube is enough.
You can also buy pre-made rigs if you want to get out and target whiting before you learn the knots properly. You can buy both running sinker and paternoster-style rigs with Black Magic, Mustad and Wilson all producing quality pre-made rigs.
The Black Magic rigs feature flies on their KL Circle hooks that come in both running sinker, called Whiting Whackers, and paternoster, called Whiting Snatchers. These can be highly effective in deep water or when there is a slower bite and you want to leave a few rods in their holders. They are very well made and affordable.
The right rig and the right hook is going to dramatically increase your catch and strike rate. So take time to learn your knots and spend time pre-tying some rigs before you head out – it will improve all aspects of your fishing, regardless of species.