Updated: Feb 19
It's somewhat mystifying that so many people stop chasing KG whiting over the cooler months here in SA, as this is when some of our biggest and best whiting can be caught, and the fish are typically quite schooled up. While they might take a bit of extra effort to locate initially, once found the sessions possible can be sizzling hot, which kind of makes up for the weather I guess!
Regardless if you're chasing smaller bay whiting, or the 'knacker whackers' in the deeper water this winter, coming armed with a range of baits will ensure regular KG success. Sure when the fish are hot to trot and are scarfing anything, you can get a bit slapdash with the baits used and how they're rigged. However, KG can be a royal snob at times as well, and on the slow days, or when the tide isn't to their liking, they may need some extra coaxing onto a hook. This is where having different offerings to use can turn a sluggish session on its heels.
Over the years we've covered many baits for KG in this magazine, including all the standard and mainstream favourites of cockle and squid, through to razorfish, worms, pilchards and peeled prawns, and even one angler who was having good luck using corn. All this said, one of the real unsung options however, and one of the easier DIY baits imaginable, is the use of fresh fish flesh from various species of common SA baitfish.
The use of fish flesh is a deadly method when it comes to decking whiting, and it repeatedly accounts for many slob sized fish across a range of typical KG areas for us, but particularly in the mid depth and deeper areas that we typically fish over these months. Although the last time we used it we were only in around 10m of water and it again accounted for the better fish for the session.
KG whiting are opportunists and the bigger they grow, the wider their food preference seems to be, and the more aggressive they become. Living in deeper water and competing with many other larger reef species like snapper and innumerable other mouths all vying for a meal, further encourages such diverse eating habits, which includes tackling the aforementioned flesh offerings with gusto. But even in much shallower parts we've turned to flesh and got results, so it does seem like a natural food source they're willing to get stuck into at any size. So what are a few flesh options to be trying out, and how to get the most from them on old mate freckle flanks this winter?
There's a bunch of reasons to be using flesh for whiting. We turn to it if bait stocks are running low, the bite is slow, fish are shutdown, when looking for a more robust bait, or just to mix up the experience. There is something undeniable about a fresh bait, regardless of what it is, that seems to spark activity, and we find this the case with flesh on 'tings. There's an abundance of likely fish that fit the role as cut baits for KG's, but the handful below rank high for us.
At the top of the pile are safe bets like silver trevally and slimy mackerel, both of which are also common bycatch when on the whiting grounds in some areas. Silver trevally are probably my pick if I had a choice. One of my biggest whiting over 60cm was caught on a whole side of fresh silver trevally rigged on two 8/0's for a samson fish, so they are partial to it! Outside of this however thin shavings of trevally are prime bait, and the skin on trevally is ideal for pinning with your hook to keep it on, even if you're only talking a thin, elongated strip. The flesh when fresh is also firm enough to hold its shape and stay on hooks well. I've talked to some pro whiting anglers who swear by it, and even dedicate time to catching them before trying for whiting, that's how highly they rate it.
Slimy mackerel are another fave, and if you throw out a bit of berley it's common to have them swarming around the boat and rustling a few for fresh cut baits is usually easy. Like trevally, slimies have plenty of blood and oil in the flesh, even more so, and whiting love it. Similarly we've found tuna to have the same appeal.
Chow are also an option, and a genuine baitfish, and are easily sliced up. One of the lesser known gems is the humble tommie, and in the right circumstances its flesh can be a gun offering. Pushing the envelope further I'm sure there's many others that can be used and it's going to be fun experimenting with new baits again this winter.
Catch care of your bait is important, and you don't want to be using a sun stroked sloppy mess of a fish, but rather you want it to have all the smell, juice, texture and fresh goodness in it that's likely to tingle the tastebuds of a snooping whiting. Really the thinking is no different to the squid and cockles you're using, it should be of the best and freshest quality you can get your hands on for the session.
HOOKS & RIGGING
Using flesh baits there's a temptation to jam any shaped hunk of meat on a hook and drop it down and expect it to be slammed within seconds, but this isn't the case. Some extra care rigging up your baits will go a long way to ensuring you've got succulent KG fillets on the menu that night!
A good sharp knife to extract clean pieces from your baitfish is first needed, then it's a case of shaving off/chopping off appropriate length and width pieces, which is dependent on the size of the hook being used. Thin, long baits are better than short, awkward shaped pieces of flesh, in terms of a whiting eating it easily are concerned. As mentioned use the skin of the fish in your rigging, as this is a good holding point, which is handy if there's pickers about. If there's minimal pest fish you can just use the flesh.
Using flesh is similar to using other baits in that you need to sum up the mood of the fish. If they're fickle and playing hard ball then put more effort into serving them a streamline and well rigged offering, with the hook tip nicely positioned. But if they're frenzied and the bites are near-instant then you can obviously be less fussy with things and get a bit more agricultural with it. Fish flesh is also well suited in a 'cocktail' role, and works well in conjunction with cockle or squid and you can make up some interesting combo baits to try and fool the fish with. The bite code for the day can sometimes be surprising, even for a common target like whiting that you think you have well wired!
We tend to use a variety of hooks for whiting, with circle hooks and longshanks probably the two most common patterns. The Mustad Demon Circle is my first choice for inshore and medium depth whiting fishing, and is a deadly pattern I always carry a few packets of. When there's a high chance of sizable bycatch like gummy sharks or respectable snapper, I may opt for a heavier gauge and slightly larger circle, even going up to 3/0-4/0 in some deep reef areas. Whiting won't be deterred if you step up the size of your hook, it may just cost you a few chances but you can soon redeem yourself if you deck a nice red on your whiting rig! Ideally though keep hooks on the smaller side if you can. We also use stainless steel and chemically sharpened long shanks like the Mustad Blood Worm (chem sharp) and Mustad 92608 Stainless Long Shank, as a couple of examples. There's some sturdy mid length shank options also out there to experiment with.
In deeper areas, say 15m plus, we run glow beads above hooks for extra visual appeal and the mega black eye of a reef dwelling KG will soon home in on it. Your flesh baits can also be added to flasher rigs to spice them up as well, which work a treat on reef whiting. In shallower areas you can again use extra visual aids like red tubing and beads, and I think they're only a positive, especially when the bite is challenging.
Using ridged droppers on traces is paramount when using flesh, as you can get more line twist compared to smaller, compact baits. Stepping up your trace strength a touch or using twisted dropper loops works well in deeper areas, while a stiffer fluorocarbon leader over mono can help you avoid the issue as well.
While you'd never hit the water without the standard KG baits in your arsenal, incorporating freshly caught flesh offerings into your attack can only be a positive and help you pin more of these enthusiastic 'meat eaters' this cooler season!