Underrated by many, but adorned by others, is the whiting. The word “whiting” actually refers to three different species – the Southern kingfish (most commonly caught throughout Florida), the Gulf kingfish, and the Northern kingcroaker. Regardless, whiting all live generally within the surf zones and inlets of our coasts throughout their adult lives, and are some of the most accessible, easy to catch and fine-tasting fish along our beaches.
When to Find Whiting
Whiting can be found year round in Florida, but you have to know where to find them. Like many of our coastal fishes, they migrate seasonally following moderate temperatures – not too hot and not too cold. In the summer, the migratory adults will be mostly in northeast Florida or even more north on the east coast, and throughout the panhandle on the west coast. With the onset of cooler weather in the fall, fish on both coasts travel south towards central and southern Florida, where they will spend the majority of late fall and winter, only to travel back north in the spring as waters get too warm for them.
Where to Catch Whiting
The best place to catch whiting is of course the surf. The surf is not as simple as one might think, however, and there are many different habitats along our beaches. Whiting tend to move in the alongshore channels called “trough” that are dug out by the waves crashing on the sandbars. On any beach, there may be multiple sandbars, and thus troughs, so you will have to explore all of them to see where the fish are running. Often times, most of the fish are in the first trough, just a few feet into the water! The other place to target whiting is within the inlets or channels very close to them. Inlets provide the salty water they prefer as adults (they actually grow up within the brackish estuaries), as well as plenty of food when the small crabs or shrimp are moving in and out of the inlet.
Tackle for Whiting
Whiting fishing is either heavy or light depending on the weather, and subsequently the wind and waves on the beach. Although they can reach 18 inches, most whiting are around 10 to 12 inches, and thus don’t take heavy gear to reel them in.
Spinning Tackle for Whiting
On calmer days, or when fishing inshore, a medium, or even light spinning rod is the best option for catching whiting. Most surf fishermen want to set six rods in rod holders and wait for the action, but are often missing out on the bites they can’t feel. Using a light /medium reel, on a light, fast action rod will allow you to hold the rod in your hand, actually feeling the small taps from a whiting.
Conventional Tackle for Whiting
While a spinning outfit is best for calm days and inshore, conventional tackle is beneficial on those rough surf days. You can cast a bit further using conventional tackle, which will allow you to get past the close part of the breakers that is too rough even with the biggest sinker in your tackle box. The reason conventional gear can cast longer is that the line is wound parallel to the rod, as opposed to a more perpendicular arrangement of a spinning reel spool, and so the bait has less resistance once it gets in the air.
Flyrods for Whiting
There are many places, such as the clear waters of the panhandle, where whiting can be a choice target for summertime fly fisherman. Even though these fish are on the small side, you will want to use a bit heavier rod than you would think, somewhere between 8-and-10 weight, to cast the heavy leader and sinking fly needed to catch a whiting. Whiting are bottom-feeders, and thus require you to get your fly to the bottom, sometimes in pretty rough currents.
Baits for Whiting
The diet of whiting is pretty similar to that of another beloved surf fish – the Florida pompano. It is no surprise then that many of the same baits that work great for pompano, work just as well for whiting. These baits include clams (probably the #1 bait for whiting), sand fleas, peeled shrimp, and squid.
Lures for Whiting
As with the baits, you may also notice some similarities between the artificial lures that work for Florida pompano and whiting. In general, you want to stick to small but heavy, jigs and flies, because these fish have small mouths and feed on the bottom. Work the lures by bouncing them along the bottom to stir up sediments. This will attract the eye of schooling whiting. The best lure for whiting is actually one tipped with a small piece of shrimp or squid, as smell is one of the best senses in these small drums.