Whiting, School & Yellowfin
Whiting are fantastic fish to start off your fishing career. Far from a pushover to catch, the rapid fire bite of the Western School Whiting and Yellowfin Whiting requires some quick reflexes or you’ll be spending the day refining your baiting up technique rather than catching fish.
Yellowfin whiting are a worthy adversary for the light tackle hunter. Fat and more powerful than you might think, yellowfin feed in shallow inshore waters and are easily spooked. Once hooked, they give a fine account for themselves but careful preparation is required to be consistently successful.
Western school whiting (sometimes called sand whiting) are smaller and ravenous feeders. Placed in the food chain somewhere above whitebait, the smaller fish are a favourite food of the tailor and the larger fish are a tasty meal for humans.
Yellowfin whiting spawn from September to January in northern WA through to Shark Bay, which has a big population. As you move further south, yellowfin spawn along the inshore waters and estuaries right through to eastern Australia around December but may spawn as late as February.
A smaller 22cm fish can have 170,000 eggs while a larger 32cm fish can have 220,000 so you can see why larger breeding stocks must be treated with care.
Before spawning, ripe fish break off from the main school and form smaller breeding schools. After spawning occurs, they gather during summer in the inshore waters before heading deeper as the temperatures cool. This means you can catch whiting over summer knowing that they’ve done their breeding for the year.
How To Catch Them
The small whiting that are in plague proportions almost everywhere are actually Southern School Whiting not Sand Whiting. The hardest thing about them is usually finding some good sized models.
From the shore it’s very hit and miss with most beaches able to supply you with heaps but the size seems to usually be small. By changing your approach a little you’ll find that you start to do much better.
School whiting seem to live around surf beaches and most you’ll encounter are quite small in size. They destroy baits quickly and are hard to catch unless you are fishing with very small hooks. They are also the most common whiting caught offshore in waters of 5-20m of depth.
Yellowfin whiting are most common around Penguin Island and beaches in the northern suburbs like Trigg and Brighton Road where they school in the shallows each summer. They are also present in the lower reaches of the Swan River and, for some reason, South Beach south of Fremantle. This is probably due to the lack of surf at this beach, which is protected and slopes away quickly compared to others.
To find large school whiting from shore it’s a case of potluck. Any beach will almost certainly contain a whiting population and the real task is to deter the babies and get to the decent fish.
The best way to do this is to use a very durable bait like squid or, even better, wogs or ox heart which are hard to pull off. By using a rig with a small sinker and dragging it slowly, you will stir up the bottom which attracts them. A long shanked hook will also stop the smaller fish swallowing the whole lot.
Many anglers like to thread on a small length of red tube above their hook that resembles a worm. It doesn’t matter if you’re not using worm baits because once the fish are attracted to the motion, they will eat anything. It is unproven whether this works but it certainly doesn’t deter the fish and every 1% will help you with your catch.
Small fish will have a go, of course, but larger ones will occasionally sneak through the wall.
Targeting yellowfin whiting is a little easier because you don’t generally get smaller ones. Penguin Island is our favourite place to catch them but it can be hard because they can see you and your line. We like to use 2kg line and leader with a tiny running ball sinker. The best bait is worms because you won’t get pickers and they’re the natural food.
Other great places to try are Brighton Road, Cottesloe and Trigg. The lower reaches of the Swan also has a transient population but dusk is the only time to fish or blowies will drive you mad. South Beach is very easy to fish because they’re less fussy and, when they’re on, you’ll do very well. Watch the fishing reports for the times that they’re in town because it is pretty hard to predict.
The technique for targeting other whiting from a boat differs from King George fishing. Because you’re looking for large sandy areas without weed, you can set a slow drift and work the bottom until you come across a patch of whiting. Once you hit a patch, drop the anchor and berley or turn around for another drift. You will mostly catch school whiting this way but some yellowfin are bound to show up.
Fly fishing for whiting is becoming very popular and has caused them to be known as the poor man’s bonefish around Perth. They may look a little like bonefish but that’s where the similarities end.
The real skill in fly fishing for whiting is the hooking rather than the landing of the fish. The now popular bloodworm fly is by far the best way to target them using light leaders like 2kg or, even better, fluorocarbon. The strip should be very slow or even stationary.
There is no size limit for school and yellowfin whiting and the bag limit is 40 but we do urge you to fish sensibly and go for quality rather than quantity.