In my neck of the woods, late October signals the start of the religious season for whiting. It is when they start looking up to the heavens, pondering the eternal questions of life. Whether they find salvation is anyone’s guess. All I know for sure is with their eyes upturned, they begin to notice my lures skipping across the surface, and that makes me a happy angler.
I fish for whiting from a canoe in the tributaries of the Hawkesbury River, against a backdrop of steep sandstone cliffs with sea eagles circling high above me. There’s a scraggy ruggedness to the landscape here that can seem inhospitable at first. But with time you come to appreciate the beauty of the place and the wildlife that calls it home.
The start of the whiting season is a time of reacquaintance for me. I paddle up familiar creeks but notice differences from the year before. Heavy rains have washed away snags and replaced them with new ones in different places. Sandflats have shifted. Beds of sea grass have disappeared. Mangrove forests have changed shape.
I soak it all up like a sponge.
The water is dirty from recent rain. It has been raining all year here in Sydney. Records seem to be broken every month. None of it is good for whiting fishing in the upper reaches of the tributary I’m exploring. Too much fresh water pushes the fish downstream like Tequila drinkers. They need their shot of salt.
After four hours of fishing with little result, it was a theory I fully subscribed to. A decent excuse as any. I had only managed two whiting on surface lures. ‘Elbow-slappers’ a least, as the old timers call them. When you grab them behind the head, they are long enough to slap your elbow with their tail. I prefer to measure them that way than with a ruler.
Even though the fishing was tough, my favourite whiting lure came through for me once again. A Skinny Pop Junior in a clear colour with a subtle pattern. I’m a devoted fan of this lure because it casts a mile and spits water forward on the retrieve just like a fleeing prawn.
The technique I use for whiting fishing with surface lures is simple. Long casts, fast retrieves, decent pops of water and no pauses. The best time to fish for whiting is when a rising tide firsts floods sandflats in low light conditions. Having said that, I’ve caught a fair few on falling tides as well, in the middle of the day. The morale of the story is to get out when you can because you’ll learn something new on every trip.
I was at peace with the world when I paddled back to my car that evening. I had reconnected with familiar waterways, observed familiar species of birds pecking their way along oyster covered rocks, or circling high above them, felt the familiar pull of my oar through the water, heard the delightful buzz of my drag against a hard fighting fish, and above all proved to myself that despite being a year older and none the wiser in most respects, I can still dissolve happily into my natural environment and catch me a fish or two.
Visit the Department of Primary Industries for the latest saltwater bag and size limits for whiting here.