Whiting (Southern School & Yellowfin)
Category: Low Risk
MANY an otherwise unsuccessful day's fishing has been saved by a feed of whiting. And many people say that there is no sweeter fish in the sea than a whiting. I believe this is probably correct and the good thing is that they are relatively abundant and generally co-operative when it comes to taking a baited hook.
The southern school whiting is distinguished from its very close relatives, trumpeter, eastern and western school whiting, by thin lines of brownish spots across the back and lack of dark blotches at the base of the pectoral fins.
Southern school whiting are often referred to incorrectly as sandies, or sand whiting.
True sand whiting, which are not found in WA, don't have light brown spots or streaks above the lateral line, and do have a distinctive blackish blotch at the base of the pectoral fin.
In fact without that dark blotch they could easily be confused with yellowfin whiting, also illustrated here.
In WA anglers tend to group all whiting - with the exception of yellowfin and king george - and refer to them a "sandies" or sand whiting.
Yellowfin whiting are most commonly found in shallow estuaries and inshore waters and have obvious yellow to orange ventral and anal fins which become paler as the fish gets older. There are no dark blotches on the pectoral fins and no stripes or dots on the back.
Southern school whiting reach 36cm but yellowfin whiting grow bigger - up to 41cm. At this size they are a prize, especially as they often hit baits just metres from shore and fight just as strongly as a king george of similar size. Sometimes the biggest yellowfin are in only centimetres of water. However, realistically anything over 25cm is biggish for both southern school and yellowfin whiting.
Our distribution of southern school whiting extends from the South Australian border right around to Geraldton. Yellowfin territory also starts at the SA border but extends to at least Exmouth Gulf, significantly further than Shark Bay, where there is a major commercial fishery for them.
The biggest southern school whiting are likely to come from water between 10 and 30 metres deep, whereas large yellowfin are rarely caught out beyond the surf zone.
There does not appear to be any indication that WA stocks of southern school or yellowfin whiting are under any threat. Exploitation is not a problem at this stage.
Breeding and migration
Both the southern school and yellowfin whiting are summer breeders, spawning in shallow inshore waters from December through to February. Both species are sexually mature at 20cm, but yellowfin whiting attain this size in two years whereas southern school whiting take three years to achieve maturity. This is thought to be as a direct result of their respective habitats.
The southern school whiting heads offshore to reach maturity but the yellowfin remains inshore, where the waters are more productive, for its entire life cycle.
During the breeding cycle, when both species are in shallow inshore waters, competition for food is eased by the fact that they feed on predominantly different diets. Southern school whiting feed mainly on small crustaceans and yellowfin eat marine worms, which are abundant in these waters.
Tackle and bait
When chasing any whiting I use a soft rod around 2m long and 4kg mono, or if in water deeper than 20m I use gelspun line. I make up three-hook dropper rigs using 8kg mono with long shank hooks plus red beads and tubing.
Sinker weight is important - the rig must get to the bottom, and hold there while you drift. My best baits, in order of preference, are ox heart, prawn, squid and fish.
If I'm after big yellowfin I use a single hook rig with an 8kg trace and small running ball sinker. My bait of choice, when using a single hook rig in the shallows, is a piece of peeled prawn. But if there's a chance of encountering something bigger I will go with a blue sardine on a gang of four small Tarpons.
Offshore for southern school whiting I generally look for a change in depth and then drift over the deeper side of a dropoff. Areas such as the edges of dredged channels are good places to start looking for schools of whiting.
When you have located a patch of reasonable sized fish, think seriously about dropping anchor for a while. I try to get all three hooks loaded up before winding in to entertain myself; it can be done when the fish are on the bite.
I like sight fishing for yellowfin, which means that mostly I see the fish before casting to them. However, if the water is a fraction too deep or too dirty to spot them, try looking for shallow depressions and holes which can hold fish. You may not get a heap of yellowfin this way but it's great fun.
Kailola, Williams, Stewart, Reichelt, McNee and Grieve Australian Fisheries Resources 1993. Hutchins and Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia 1986.