October 04, 2010
If your goal is fast, easy action and a fish dinner at the end of the day, whiting are just the fish for you. Here's how to find and catch them this month.
A stringer of whiting like these taken by Diana Halabi is the first step in creating a fish fry.
Photo by Ron Brooks
Whether you call them whiting, southern kingfish or menticirrhus americanus, these fish offer some of the most dependable action and finest table fare of any fish found on the Georgia coast.
Whiting are cooperative fish. They can be found in schools of well over a hundred fish, running the beaches in search of food. Once they find a good feeding area, they hang there, feeding for the duration of the tide. The angler who discovers such a concentration can fill an ice chest in short order.
Georgia's coast is a mixture of inhabited and uninhabited barrier islands, but mostly the latter. That makes beach surf-fishing a somewhat limited opportunity in the Peach State. Still, there are miles of public beaches where surf-anglers can target whiting.
On a recent day, several anglers were fishing the surf at the public beach on Jekyll Island. All but one of them had 11- to 12-foot surf rods equipped with heavy spinning reels. The one without the surf tackle had a 7-foot spinning rod. Yet he was catching most of the fish!
While the surf-casters made long casts out beyond the breakers, this light-tackle guy was on the fish, which were in the breakers within easy casting range.
This is typical of fishing for whiting. Like real estate, it is a matter of location, location and location. Find the fish and the action can be furious. It is simply a matter of knowledge.
The trick is to head to the beach at low tide and search for some very specific places to fish. Look for run-outs, outer sandbars and deep tidal pools. These areas are obvious during low-water periods. Once located, take note of these in some way -- ordinarily from landmarks on the shore -- and return at high tide to fish them.
Run-outs occur as the contour of the beach causes the retreating water of waves to be funneled into one particular path. After the wave is spent, the water "runs out" through this channel. Each additional wave makes the channel a little bigger and a little deeper.
Small crabs, shrimp and sand fleas are washed around by the waves and carried away from the beach by the swifter water in the run-out. Whiting often position themselves outside the run-out, waiting for their food to be delivered to them!
Let's look at a typical run-out. The power of the water contained in a wave is awesome. Water can move mountains, and the sand along the beach presents little resistance to the waves. On a perfectly flat stretch of beach, the spent waves simply retreat back from the shore in a very even fashion. But beaches are rarely perfectly flat. There are generally some dips, humps and inclines.
Where a high spot or a sandy hump allows water to run off to the sides before it runs back to the sea, a run-out may form. The amount of water retreating along one area increases because of that high spot. That means more power, and that in turn moves sand. After several tide changes, the run-out can become quite noticeable.
In heavy northeast winds, the water generates enough wave power to significantly change the structure of the beach. Rip currents -- sometimes called undertows -- carve out new and larger run-outs. Other run-outs are filled and changed by the moving water.
Because a storm or high winds can cause so much change, it is a good idea to plan a low-tide visit to your fishing location to locate run-outs that may have changed or been formed. The one constant on a beach is change!
Outer sandbars can be other key areas as well. Visible at low tide, and often accessible to wading anglers at high tide, the sandbar creates a path or trough in which fish can feed between the sandbar and the shore. This relatively deeper inside water at high tide is often home to a variety of fish, including whiting.
When looking for these sandbars that parallel the beach during low tide, it is also possible to scout for signs that they may be whiting hotspots. Smart beach anglers often wade in the shallow pools of water between the sandbar and the beach during low water, looking for any sign of crustacean life. These pools are natural settling areas for small shellfish and baitfish. Find those with the most forage and that is where the whiting are likely to be at flood tide.
Low tide also reveals tidal pools. These pools of deeper water are created by wave action and are often completely cut off from the surf during low tide. Fortunately, they are usually fairly obvious at any tide level.
Surfers refer to a "break" where the wave action comes to a peak and the biggest breakers occur. These breaks are a giveaway to shallow water. The inertia of the water moving toward the shore is pushed to the surface by the shallow bottom, causing the wave to grow, peak and break.
Conversely, when the waves come to the deeper water of a flooded tidal pool, there are not breakers. Rather, the waves cross the region as uniform swells.
Unless the waves are crashing directly onto the beach, there are usually deeper holes on the outside and inside of a good surf break. These are the places bait and whiting concentrate. Obviously, the flooded tidal pool closer to the beach is easier for casters to reach and fish.
Of course, if none of these situations is present, you may have to opt for the surf-rod approach and cast a heavy rig beyond the breaking waves. But that is rarely the case.
Using a medium-action rig with 7-foot spinning rod and reel is usually adequate when specifically targeting whiting. You can use this rig to cast to where most whiting feed, and the relatively light weight of the gear makes fighting the fish more fun.
A good terminal tackle setup consists of a bottom rig with a 3-ounce pyramid sinker at the end of the line and a 2/0 hook on a dropper about 12 to 18 inches up the line. That pyramid sinker actually digs into the sandy bottom and helps hold your bait in place under the moving surf.
A variation of this rig sometimes has one or two additional droppers added with hooks. However, the two- and three-hook rigs tend to waste bait. It is really tough to leave the rig on the bottom after hooking one fish to wait for
another fish to bite. Generally, you end up reeling in the one fish, often losing the bait on the other hooks.
An alternative setup uses a "fishfinder" rig. An egg sinker is threaded on the line above a barrel swivel and an 18-inch leader. The hook then tips the other end of the leader. This rig is best for calmer waters, but it does have one advantage over the bottom rig. When the whiting takes your bait and moves off with it, the line slips through the sinker. You feel the bite, but the fish does not feel the weight of the sinker and is less likely to drop your bait.
In heavier-surf conditions, slip-sinkers can roll and move with the water and eventually end up back on the beach with you. In these conditions, revert to that pyramid sinker.
Food is something that is always on a fish's mind. Their lives revolve around the search for food. For a whiting, that forage includes small shrimp, small crabs and other crustaceans. Small whisker-like barbels along the whiting's under-slung mouth are actually sensory devices that help this bottom feeder find its food.
Anyone who has played in the surf with youngsters has seen or caught sand fleas. These small mole crabs resemble oversized fleas, hence the name. Having no claws, they are easy to catch. Look for them burrowing back into the sand as the water from a big wave retreats. Then simply dig down with your hands or a small shovel and pick them up!
While sand fleas work as whiting bait, the all-time favorite bait is fresh dead shrimp. The key to catching more whiting is to make sure the shrimp on your hook is peeled. The peeled shrimp gives off more odor in the water for the whiting to home in on. A 2/0 hook and a small piece of shrimp will catch whiting better than any other bait.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind once you head to the beach for whiting this month in Georgia. Stay with the deep water. Fish the deepest water on the beach. It will be the water with the least surf action and may actually look calmer than surrounding water.
|THE RECORD WHITING|
|GEORGIA STATE RECORD|
2 pounds, 12 ounces
St. Simons Island
2 pounds, 13 ounces
Virginia Beach, VA
Fish with a small bait and a short-shank 2/0 hook. Whiting have comparatively small mouths, and the small hook is easier for them to take. The short shank lets you cover the entire hook with a small piece of shrimp.
Remember to peel your shrimp. The more odor the bait sends out in the water, the better your chances of attracting some whiting. Some anglers take this too far and believe that some half-rotten shrimp that smells really terrible will work even better. This is simply not the case. Unlike freshwater catfish, which seem to prefer the smelliest bait, whiting are looking for fresh food to eat. The smell of that peeled fresh shrimp is what they are pursuing.
Do not stay in one place too long. If you fish a previously scouted area for 30 minutes without a bite, it is time to move. Whiting are not very finicky when it comes to feeding. If they are in the area, they will usually take your bait with very little hesitation. This is why a good scouting trip is important. If one spot you marked does not currently hold fish, move on to other marked spots.
Finally, do not rule out coming back to your first spot before the tide is all the way down. Sometimes the school moves and the original non-producing pool or cut may be their next stop.
PLACES TO TRY
Access to the beaches is the key to whiting angling along the Georgia coast. The most easily reached beaches, and thus the most popular destinations for beach anglers, are on Jekyll, St. Simons and Tybee islands. Cumberland Island, although it has restrictive access requirements, has miles of beach to fish.
One problem encountered on all Peach State islands is the gentle slope of the sand. The water remains shallow for up to a quarter-mile in many places and holds few fish. One way to beat this problem is to target areas near the ends of the isles. Where the creeks and rivers empty through inlets into the ocean, the water is usually much deeper on nearby beach areas. This is particularly true on the south end of Tybee Island and on both ends of Jekyll.
The beach at Tybee Island has designated areas for fishing. This helps keep the swimmers and anglers from disturbing each other. Walk the beach at low tide and look for the run-outs, pools or sandbars in the fishing areas. Over a given summer, with the lack of really strong northeast winds, these areas remain fairly stable. Once you find them, they will likely be there all summer.
At East Beach on St Simons, it is an easy walk north to Goulds Inlet. Here the Blackbank River separates St. Simons from Sea Island. The shallow cuts in the sandbars change often here, but the deepest water tends to be along the St. Simons shore. Oddly enough, as the inlet nears the ocean it gets shallower. It is often possible to wade across it on low tide out near the breakers.
Inspect this area at low tide to locate the cuts and run-outs. Then return on a high outgoing tide to fish them. Though fishing can be good from either shore, access to the Sea Island side can be a problem due to the exclusive nature of that resort isle.
Fishing from all these beaches can be good from high tide all the way down to low tide. You may have to relocate or move to another run-out or cut, but the fish stay in the area as long as there is sufficient water depth, and as long as the wave action continues to move food their way.
The cuts around the sandbars at Goulds Inlet have a surprising amount of current running through them on an outgoing tide. These are ideal places to find fish. Whiting do not mind the current. Their body structure and feeding habits keep them right on the bottom, scooting along under the current looking for food.
With a heavy current situation, it is easier to walk the sand alongside one of the cuts and fish at an angle to the current rather than try to fish perpendicular to the current. For one thing, your sinker holds better, but more importantly you feel the fish bite far easier when you fish with the current rather than fishing across it.
Georgia's other barrier islands -- especially Sapelo, St. Catherine, Ossabaw and Wassaw -- have similar beach fishing opportunities. But they are more difficult to reach. Most require a boat, though arrangements with local boat captains can be made for ferry
ing out to them. In the case of Cumberland, regularly scheduled ferries operated by the National Park Service provide access. This service, however, is by reservation only.