M enticirrhus Americanus is a sleek fish with a humped back and sharply tapered snout. Their underslung mouth is small and designed for taking their meals on the bottom.
Whiting are members of the drum family, and the family tree includes speckled trout, redfish, black drum, and croaker—all tasty by my standards.
Whiting don’t get a lot of love on the Texas coast because of their relatively small stature; most fish range in size from 10 to 16 inches. What they lack in size, they make up for in attitude. There is no mistaking when you have a bite.
My favorite time of year to catch whiting is January and February. After a dismal stretch of winter weather, nothing refreshes my sprit more than spending time outdoors in the bright sunshine, under bluebird skies. Driving a ten-mile stretch of beach and not seeing another person is an added bonus.
Whiting are bottom feeders and dine on benthic invertebrates, small crustaceans, and polychaete worms, all of which are found on, or near the bottom. Whiting favor “high energy areas,” such as the surf zone, where tumbling waves wash away layers of sand and expose the groceries that whiting favor.
A whiting’s under-slung mouth increases their efficiency at picking up meals off the bottom as they dash into the after-wash of a crashing wave.
Practically any rod and reel can be used to catch whiting. This isn’t a finesse game. However, longer casts do pay dividends. Light, limber rods with reels loaded with fresh, limp line allow you to cast farther. Longer rods provide more leverage than do shorter sticks, but don’t pass up a whiting trip because you don’t have the perfect outfit.
Terminal tackle needed to bag a box of whiting is as simple as it comes. A basic bottom rig is all you need. Beginning fishermen are often tempted to buy pre-made steel leaders, adorned with obnoxiously bright red beads.
I recommend that you save your money and learn to tie your own bottom rig. Cut off a piece of 20-pound test monofilament, fold it in half, and tie an overhand knot where the line is folded. This creates a loop in the line, with two tags hanging below the loop.
Tie on some sort of weight to the long tag and some sort of hook to the shorter tag. The exact dimensions don’t matter, nor the length of the tags. I will make up two or three rigs ahead of time and drop them into a sandwich bag, which I then tuck into my short pocket. That’s all you need to tangle with some whiting.
As noted earlier, whiting have relatively small mouths so hook size is more important than hook style. Small treble hooks (Sizes 10 to 8) are good choices, and long shanked single hooks are also good. Hemostats and needle nose piers are great aids when dislodging a deeply hooked fish.
Whiting are active eaters and will absolutely hammer a bait soaking on the bottom. If you have a young charge at home who would like to learn how to fish, this is a great fish to learn on.
There isn’t anything involved other than casting and setting the hook. Whiting are not known for their subtlety when they bite. Neophyte angers will have no trouble detecting a bite.
Whiting will eat a wide variety of baits. Dead shrimp is a good choice and is readily available up and down the coast. To stretch your bait budget, pinch the shrimp into two or three pieces and bait your hook with a small portion.
Squid is another good option and will stand up to repeated abuse from hungry whiting. Make sure you pack a pocketknife and cut the squid into thin strips.
Gut studies reveal that whiting also eat small fish. From personal experience, I can attest they will readily strike small lures and soft plastics.
My “go to” lure for whiting is a “beetle style” soft plastic with a crystal clear plastic body that has a light touch of silver glitter. I like to use ¼ ounce jig heads and generally fish a double jig rig.
To tie your own double jig rig, tie up a bottom rig described above and substitute jig heads on each dropper. Cast your jigs into a trough beyond a sand bar and allow them to settle to the bottom. Retrieve them slowly to keep them near the bottom, twitching your rod tip periodically.
A pair of chest waders is a valued ally for winter whiting, allowing you to stay dry while you cast from shin- to waist-deep water.
Croaker and whiting have traditionally made up a large percentage of the bycatch in shrimper’s trawls. TPWD’s buyback program reduced the number of bay shrimpers dragging the bottoms of our bay systems, which in turn reduced the number of juvenile croaker and whiting being killed. TPWD gillnet studies reveal a significant increase in the populations of both species over the last few years.
Whiting are considered an under utilized species by TPWD and there are no daily size or bag limits. If the winter doldrums have you down, grab your rod and head to the beach. The whiting will be waiting for you.
Email Greg Berlocher at [email protected]