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Sea runners - Early Season Excitement - Christopher Bassano

Presented from Issue 100
Considering the world class quality of our sea trout fishery, these fish are not sought after by enough anglers. Sea runners live in the salt water and run up our estuaries and rivers from the start of August to the middle of November. At this time of the year, they are here to eat the many species of fish that are either running up the rivers to spawn or are living in and around the estuary systems. Trout, both sea run and resident (Slob Trout) feed heavily on these small fish which darken in colouration as they move further into fresh water reaches.

The majority of these predatory fish are brown trout with rainbows making up a very small percentage of the catch. They can be found all around the state but it would be fair to say that the east coast is the least prolific of all the areas. They still run up such rivers as the Georges (and many others) but their numbers along with the quality of the fishing elsewhere make it difficult to recommend the area above the larger northern, southern and western rivers.

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113 kgwPresented from Issue 113, December 2014
It all started a few years ago when a small number of King George Whiting were caught in Georges Bay on a few different occasions. We didn’t think too much of it at the time as lots of different species turn up in the bay quite often, some continue to be caught and some come and go. But we kept our eye on it, monitored catch rates and anecdotal evidence over the next few years and found that all of a sudden there were more and more fish being seen. Before you know it we have now had a regular King George Whiting season for about 4 solid years and hopefully will now be another permanent species to add to the ever growing list that is caught out of St Helens . Some would say that King George Whiting are the perfect fish, they fight hard and are great sport, are a fantastic table fish, require minimal equipment, can be caught by all ages and with a little bit of knowledge and know how are not difficult to catch.

The Fish

The King George Whiting, or Sillaginodes punctatus, sometimes also known as the spotted whiting is predominantly a coastal marine fish and is a member of the smelt-whiting family.

The KGW inhabits the south coast of the country from southern Western Australia right through to New South Wales and as far down as North East Tasmania. Flinders Island has always been known locally as a bit of a hot spot as far as Tasmanian is concerned and has certainly produced some very large fish to date.

They are distinguishable from other species of whiting by a unique pattern of spots, as well as its elongated shape.

The King George whiting forms the basis of one of southern Australia’s most important commercial fisheries, reportedly worth over five million dollars per year.

There is very little known about the KGW movements in Tasmania, however just recently we had Professor Greg Jenkins from Melbourne University’s zoology department come down to Tasmania with a team of researchers to investigate the newly flourishing Tasmanian fishery as part of a three year government funded research program.

Prof. Jenkins said that while KG Whiting is the biggest fin fishery in Victoria early research may suggest that the fish stocks may actually be from Tasmanian spawners. Generally speaking spawning takes place in April through June in mainly offshore areas where the larval stage drift with currents for up to four to five months and up to 600 kms. The larvae end up in the coastal estuaries with the aid of water currents and tides and during the summer months, when water temperatures warm up, growth is quite rapid with most fish reaching a size of about 28cm at about two to three years old. By the time the fish have reached 35cm they can be up to three to four years old and at this stage start to move out from the bays, progressively moving into deeper offshore waters as adult fish. KGW can reach a maximum length of 70cm, can weigh up to 2.5kg, and have a maximum age of fourteen to fifteen years.

113 kgw north west
The North West Coast
is another hot spot.

Locations

There are a handful of hotspots around the state that are now producing regular numbers of quality KG Whiting. Flinders Island has always been know as the Whiting capital of Tasmania with some enormous fish coming from the island’s waters. but now other areas around the state are giving it a run for its money. Waters around Smithton, Bridport, Ansons Bay, Low Head and my back yard Georges Bay St Helens are now producing some fantastic fishing with high quality hard fighting fish. Fish seem to be in the 35cm right through to 65cm range which rivals any other KG Whiting fishery anywhere else in Australia.

One key factor I have learnt very quickly while targeting King George Whiting in Tasmanian estuaries is the specific location in which the fish chooses to feed, if you are not right in the zone you will not be successful. What the angler needs to look for are areas of some current flow, either in or adjacent to a channel, where there are patches of sand or shelly bottom in amongst patches of broken weed or weed beds, anywhere there are good shellfish beds close by is even better. The KGW will sit in schools just off the edge of the weed in the current and pounce of food items being stirred up flowing past them. In order to consistently hook these fish you must place your baits right in the little area a foot or two from the weed edge. If you hit the right zone the result will be an almost instant bite and hopefully a hookup. If you find yourself too close to the weed leatherjacket and wrasse will be the dominant species and too far out onto the sand will generally see a long wait between fish.

If you start to look closely at your local waterways you will start to see the type of environment described above is quite common, you too may have a good population of KGW right under your nose without knowing.

113 kgw tackle
The right rig and right
locations are essential.

Techniques and Tackle

The tackle required to target and catch KG Whiting is not complicated nor is it a high tech issue. I favour slightly longer rods, similar to those you would use for bream, in the 7-8 foot range with a soft tip action, a nibble tip style is ideal. The KG Whiting have a very quick but subtle little bite so fast action stiff rods don’t allow the fish to be able to grab the bait without feeling to much resistance and letting go. A soft action with sensitive tip is whats needed to allow the fish to scoff the bait and let the angler detect the bite, the KG Whiting has a very distinguishable bite, a classic little nibble that you will begin to learn over time, but any 6½-7 foot light spinning style rod should do the job ok. Matched to a small spinning reel in the 1000-3000 size spooled with some light 6-8lb monofilament or some 4-6lb braided line will compliment the rod and should be able to handle anything a decent KG Whiting will throw at you.

My personal outfit at the moment consists of a 7’6” Shimano Bushy Bait Legend Whiting rod coupled to an ATC Valiant SW3000 reel and spooled with some 6lb Mustad Thor braid. The soft action and sensitive tip of this rod is perfect for detecting and then allowing me to react to the take quickly. The KG whiting don’t muck around, they hit the bait quickly and often all you get is a very fast “rat-tap-tap” and it will have stripped a whole bait from the hook so you need to feel the bite immediately and react to it.

When it comes to rigs for the KG Whiting they are reasonably simple and can be done a couple of different ways. Hook choice is very important and I favour two types of hooks, the Mustad long bait holder and the Gamakatsu worm hook both in a #4. They are chemically sharpened, fine wire high penetration hooks that will minimise missed takes. Being long shank hooks they also offer a bit more insurance against leatherjacket bite-offs.

The most basic rig you can use is a simple running ball sinker rig, not my preferred option but I have seen it working to good effect and it’s simple to rig and stay on top of. The hook is tied to the end of the trace then a short distance, approximately 30-40cm, up the trace tie in a swivel with the ball sinker above this on the main line. The amount and size of the ball sinker will be determined by the depth and strength of the current but does mean cutting and re tying the main line onto the swivel as conditions change.

My preferred rig is what is commonly termed as a Ledger Rig, This consists of a small snap swivel slid on to the trace and the sinker clipped onto this, then a swivel tied to the end of the trace with about 40cm of 6lb fluorocarbon trace tied on the end of that and then finally the hook. Wilson Surecatch make a pre-made version of this called the “tangle free whiting rig” that is perfect for Tassie waters. Its ideal for use in deep or shallow water, fast tides and is the perfect rig for those times where the KG Whiting can be touchy.

I find small bomb style sinkers are best suited for use with this rig and only ever use just enough weight to get the rig to the bottom but still allow some natural movement; you don’t want to anchor the rig to the bottom. This style of rig allows you to change the sinker weight to suit the conditions without having to change the whole rig.

The KG Whiting seem to find little what I call “Hot Zones” in and around the sandy patches with nearby weed beds where they feed, your baits need to be in these zones. If the fish are there and feeding once the bait hits the bottom they will be onto it almost immediately so be prepared for a fast tap, tap, tap, nibble like bite, strike quickly to set the hook being careful not to be too violent that you pull the hook from the fish’s mouth.

When choosing baits for the KG Whiting make the effort to have premium quality specimens not just some junk you have had laying in the freezer for a while that may have been thawed out more than once, a little bit of care in this department will reward you later on. The whiting will eat a range of baits that include yabbies or nippers, prawns, squid, worms but by far the favourite is the pippie.(or cockle depending on where you come from).

113 kgw rig
A couple of rigs for whiting, or
you can buy ready made rigs.

Here in Tasmania we have two native species of shellfish the venerupis clam and the katelysia cockle, both of which are great baits for the KG Whiting but will need to be collected by hand from sand flats and are not available to purchase through bait shops etc. The other type that will be able to be purchased through tackle stores will be the SA pippie and is also a great bait however due to quota restrictions on pippies in SA are fast becoming hard to source.

Bloodworms and beach worms are difficult to find in Tasmanian waters however Dynabait do a freeze dried series of worms in bloodworm, sandworm and tubeworm. They can be kept in your tackle box and only need a few minutes of rehydrating in some water to leave you with a quality top rate KGW bait. A small piece of squid tentacle is also a fantastic bait to try, a little bit of a bash with the back of the knife to tenderise and thread on the hook to leave a little trailing tail that will wiggle in the current will not be refused.

Successful fishing for this particular species however does require the angler to be actively involved, you need to be on the ball and react swiftly to the fish hitting the bait. Just casually baiting the hook, sticking the rod in the rod holder and sitting back waiting will not produce the fish. Take care baiting up, check the rig is correct and not tangled, make sure the sinker is just enough to keep it on the bottom not anchored, stay in touch with the line tight and strike quickly at the slightest indication of a rattle……even then you will still miss a lot of takes as the KGW are fast at pinching a bait.

From my experience you also need some moving water to get the KG Whiting fired up, I have found that as the tide starts to rush they become more active and once you have found a few they will stay on the bite while the tide is running hard only slowing as the water movement does. This will mean often changing sinker weights to allow your bait to be presented in the most effective manner during the changing tide run.

The King George Whiting are a hard fighting, fantastic table fish, some would say one of the best eating fish in Australian waters, and are able to be caught by anglers of all ages. Every season for the last few years we have been seeing more and more of them appear in quite a few different locations around the state all the way from the North West coast to the East Coast estuaries and in sizes up to 65cm.

Tasmania is fast adding another great species to its ever growing list of fantastic fish and, I hope will continue to prosper and we as anglers can help this by limiting our catch.

I urge anglers every day to limit themselves to a maximum of five whiting each, the current fisheries regulations may allow for more but in my opinion we don’t know enough about this fishery or the fish itself to take too much advantage of an old rule and risk depleting a fishery before it begins to establish itself properly. Help look after the fishery and ensure we have strong numbers of KG whiting to catch in the future and only take a few fish for an immediate feed, limit your catch not catch your limit.

Jamie Henderson


A King George Whiting with a ruler for scale - click on the image to open it in a new  tab

113 KingGeorgeWhiting

 

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