King George whiting might not be high on the sportfish list, but they are most certainly at the top of the list of fish to take home for a feed.
Whiting, whether you're catching them offshore, in Port Phillip Bay or around Western Port, are available year round. While they may be found in different locations depending on the season, they all have similar feeding characteristics. Whiting are quite a challenging species to catch and occasionally what seems like a feeding frenzy one day can be the polar opposite the next.
Fishing for whiting requires a few specialised techniques that can be used to catch them. When they're fussy, a simple rig change can be the difference between having a productive session and not.
There are three main rigs used for catching whiting in Victoria's waterways and while no one rig is better than the others, there is a time and a place for each to be used. The paternoster rig is undoubtedly the most widely used rig for whiting, but this still has its flaws, especially when the fish are fickle.
A paternoster rig consists of a length of leader (usually 16lb) with two dropper arms tied at equal spaces apart. Each arm is to have a hook, usually a no. 4 or a no. 6 circle hook.
The main reason for the heavier leader isn't because the fish will bust you off or bite through the leader, but for its abrasion resistance on the weed and reef. Or should a pinkie snapper, salmon or trevally take your offerings, by using the heavier leader you'll have more of a chance at landing these species too, rather than being busted off and having to re-rig when the whiting are on the chew.
The same goes for the hooks. Circle hooks set themselves without angler interference and fishing them this way works more effectively. Circle hooks are designed to be fished on a tight line; they don't work the way they're meant to on a running sinker rig due to the slack in the line.
Fishing a paternoster rig with circle hooks also requires a fairly moderate drag pressure engaged on the reel. At all times the slack should be taken out of the line if you're fishing in the current so that when the fish takes the bait, the hook sets and the fishing rod buckles, taking the weight of the fish further and aiding to the hook set. Paternoster rigs fished in this way are highly effective, however they only work in their designed way when the fish are actively feeding.
Another version of the paternoster rig is the extended paternoster rig. Simply attach a swivel to the end of a length of leader with a second length of leader attached to the other end of the swivel. This second length has one looped dropper tied into it around 20cm from the swivel, and this is where the sinker is attached. On the end of the leader is a hook.
This rig is often used when the fish are feeding closer to the bottom in more sandy areas where reef and weed aren't going to cause any snagging up. Though some anglers prefer to use a long shank hook on this version of the rig, it can actually have negative effects on hook setting. When the fish takes the bait using this rig, the weight of the sinker will cause the hook to set as they try to pull away.
If you're using a long shank, you have to strike to set the hook, which will have you lifting the sinker weight first before attempting the set the hook. This really isn't giving any impact to drive the hook in, meaning you are more likely to pull the bait from the fish's mouth than to make it set. Another advantage of fishing the extended paternoster rig is that when landing the fish and lifting it into the boat the rod has the weight of the sinker eliminating the fish from using the weight of the sinker to flap around and possibly dislodge the hook.
Long shank hooks are best rigged on a running sinker rig. This rig is more useful when the fish are timid and very finicky. This situation tends to be in shallower waters and when the sun is bright and high. This rig is as simple as placing an Ezy Rig Sinker Clip onto the mainline followed by a swivel and a length of leader with a no. 6 long shank hook, like the Mustad Bloodworm hooks, tied to its end.
The idea in this situation is to fish baits back into a berley trail with a light amount of drag pressure engaged on the reel. It also pays to fish with this rig while holding the rod in your hand, which will enable you to strike in that split second of feeling the fish grab the bait.
When the fish grabs the bait, it can move off with it feeling little pressure due to the excess line in the water. Instantly the rod tip will indicate a bite and then you can strike. A long shank hook will almost be swallowed completely and by striking the hook sets and the reel's drag will engage, furthering the hook setting process.
Using a circle hook in situations like this will have very few fish hooked; whiting will gently suck on the bait and not completely swallow the hook because of the gape on the circle. A long shank's gape on the other hand is smaller, allowing the hook to be completely swallowed at the same time the bait is sucked into their mouth.
While there is no right or wrong rig to use on whiting or one that is better than the other, there is really only a time and a place where each of the three mentioned rigs should be used. If there is one simple rule to live by when fishing for whiting it is this: when they're finicky, fish light and when they're hungry, fish tight.