Whiting – How to Catch and Eat them!
This article, whiting – how to catch and eat them, will thoroughly cover these under rated little game fish species. Yes, I did say game fish! While they don’t grow large, whiting put up more than a respectable tussle for their size. They are also fantastic table fare. One aspect of fishing for whiting that makes them so popular is that so many are caught by anglers without a boat.
My name is Capt. Jim Klopfer and I’m a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. We catch whiting here off of the area beaches. Also, my clients catch them in the deeper dredge holes in the wintertime as well as in the passes. On occasion, we encounter them on the open grass flats, too. Most of the fish are caught by anglers bottom fishing with pieces of shrimp, but jigs catch their share as well.
Surf fishing for whiting is very popular all along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastline. This is very traditional, uncomplicated fishing. Most whiting are caught by anglers a simple high low bottom rig baited with small pieces of shrimp, squid or prepared baits such as Fishbites. Piers and jetties are also good spots to try. Anglers fishing from boats certainly catch plenty of whiting as well.
How to catch and eat whiting
Whiting are known by a variety of names, depending on the part of the country that one is in. Here in Florida we call them whiting. In Maryland where I grew up, they were known as kingfish, which is short for king whiting. In the Outer Banks area, I learned that locals call them surf mullet. No matter the name, whiting are a hard fighting little fish that are generally cooperative and very good to eat!
One look at a whiting will instantly let an angler know how it feeds. Whiting have an inferior mouth, which means that the nose protrudes past the mouth opening. This results in a fish that is very good at rooting along the bottom for its food. Therefore, the vast majority of whiting hooked are done so by anglers presenting their baits and lures right on or near the bottom. Unlike many other game fish species, whiting really don’t relate to structure, usually being caught over areas of sandy bottom.
It is safe to say that the majority of whiting caught by anglers are done so by those surf fishing. On the East Coast of the United States, and along parts of the Florida Panhandle traditional surf fishing tackle is used. These are 10 foot to 15 foot rods with large spinning reels. It may seem a bit like overkill for the size of the whiting, however long casts, often into a breeze, are usually required.
Just about any surf fishing bottom rake can be used when targeting whiting. I usually prefer the basic two hook high low rig with one hook close to the bottom and the other hook about a foot above. My preferred hook size is a #4, but I will bump up to a #2 hook if the fish are running a bit large or if there are other larger species that may be an option. Whiting have a small mouth and the smaller hooks will result in more hookups.
Here in Florida where I fish on the West Coast, we surf fish a bit differently. Most of the fish are found close to shore in the first trough. For the most part, this means less than 30 feet from the surf line. Also, we often experience very light wave action. These factors result in us being able to use light spinning tackle when fishing for whiting off of the area beaches.
Surf fishing rigs and baits
There are a couple different rigs that I use when chasing whiting and other species off the beach. I will use a small hook and either a couple of split shot or a small egg sinker. The second option is even easier, just a 1/4 ounce jig head. With either set up, the idea is to have the bait bouncing along the bottom naturally with the current. Besides whiting, anglers can catch pompano, sheepshead, and other species.
Read my article on surf fishing baits
Anglers surf fishing for whiting do not need to get complicated when it comes to choosing bait. Live, fresh dead, or frozen shrimp will do fine just about anywhere whiting our found. Some anglers prefer squid and cut bait as it does tend to stay on the hook a bit better. This can be an important consideration if the surf is a bit rough. Sand fleas, also known as mole crabs are good baits as well.
A recent addition to the surf fisherman’s arsenal are prepared baits. Fishbites is one of the more popular brands, with Gulp and other companies giving anglers options as well. The main advantage to these baits are the convenience. Anglers can keep them in the tackle box ready to go fishing at a moments notice. They are less messy as well. There are quite a few anglers who swear by these baits and use them exclusively.
Pier and jetty fishing for whiting
Anglers can certainly catch whiting from piers as well. In reality, they are fishing the same zone as those surf casting. Additionally, the pier provides structure, shade, current breaks, and forage. What more could a fish want? The same baits and rigs used surf fishing for whiting work great on piers as well. Shorter rods are normally used.
In most cases, the angler can simply drop the baited rig down to the bottom. Mane fish the up-tide side and allow the current to take the bait under the pier. Others cast out on the down tide side of the pier or off the end. It is best to be observant and see what the fish want.
Jetties are excellent spots to catch whiting as well. Some have nice walkways while others are more unfinished. Anglers need to be careful when fishing the latter. In most cases, casting to sandy bottom in the eddy on the back side of the jetty works best.
Fishing for whiting in a boat
Anglers fishing for whiting can certainly do so in a boat as well. Clients on my Sarasota fishing charters catch them regularly in the cooler months. The best spots are deeper holes close to the passes (inlets). I use small pieces of frozen or fresh shrimp on a jig head with a smaller hook. Pompano jigs are perfect for this as the sink quickly.
We also catch a few whiting casting the jig and grub while drifting the deep grass flats. This is a technique that I use a lot for a variety of species. While we do not catch a ton of them doing this, a few are landed. Anglers can also anchor and fish the sandy areas just outside of bridges.
How to clean whiting
Whiting are fairly easy to clean. They are shaped the way most fish are with the standard rib cage. I fillet and skin everything, and whiting are no exception. It is much easier to skin them than it is to remove the scales. The skin is pretty thick as well.
I start by cutting behind the gill flap down to the back bone. I then turn the knife 90 degrees and run it along the back bone, down to the tail, but not cutting through the skin at the tail. I then flip the fillet over and remove the skin. Not cutting through makes it easier to hold on. I then trim the rib bones out and the fillet is ready to cook!
How to cook whiting
Whiting are a nice, firm fish with a white fillet. They are quite versatile and can be cooked in several different manners. It is hard to beat fried or pan sauteed. Whiting can be grilled if care is taken, they will cook quickly. They can be baked as well.
Pan fried whiting
Whiting are a perfect candidate for pan frying! They are firm and not too large. Olive oil or butter can be used, or better yet, a combination of the two. A little oil will keep the butter from burning. Seasoned bread crumbs can be used as well as prepared fish fry mixes. I personally really enjoy dipping the whiting fillet in an egg wash then coating with panko crumbs. The panko crumbs make a really nice slightly crunchy coating.
Whiting are very good when grilled as well. They are firm and hold up nicely. The only issue is avoiding over cooking them as whiting are not very large. I like to use a commercial grill seasoning and a hot grill. It will only take a few minutes for them to cook. Grilled whiting are perfect for fish tacos.
Whiting are excellent baked as well. What I usually do to keep them moist is bake them in foil, topped with a mixture of parsley in melted butter. A slice or two of onion and lemon will add a lot of flavor. I like a high temperature (450 degrees) and it should only take 8-10 minutes at most. This is a delicious and healthy way to enjoy for freshly caught whiting.
In conclusion, this article on how to catch and eat whiting will help anglers harvest and enjoy these plentiful saltwater pan fish!