King George Whiting

There are a number of Whiting species found throughout Australia, and many Tasmanians would be surprised to learn that recreational fishing surveys report around 10,000 Whiting are caught in Tasmanian waters every year. These would mostly be sand whiting though. 
The King George Whiting is the prize. It is the largest and most well renowned species and is considered one of the best table fish around. 
Normally South Australia is spruiked as the KGW capital of Australia but in recent years Tasmanian waters have started to produce some regular numbers of good quality, well sized KGW. 

The Fish
The King George Whiting, or Sillaginodes punctatus, is sometimes known as the spotted whiting. Predominantly a coastal marine fish, it is a member of the smelt-whitings 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. 
The KGW can grow to a length of 72?cm and 4.8?kg in weight and is distinguishable from other species of whiting by its 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 generally speaking spawning takes place in April through June in mainly offshore areas. 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 grow to around fifteen years old.

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 in catching the KGW. 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 and didn’t even realise. Many estuaries on the East Coast of Tasmania are now starting to produce good numbers of KGW.
Techniques & Tackle
Here is where the old school style of rods really come back into vogue, I favour a longer rod of 7-8 foot with a soft tip action, a nibble tip style is perfect. The KGW 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 nice soft little tip allows the fish the scoff the bait and lets the angler detect the take, a classic nibble is what we are talking about here so sensitivity in a rod tip is the key. Reels in the 1000-2500 size, Shimano Sienna or Sedona are perfect, spooled with some supple 6-8lb monofilament or a light 3-4lb Braid, the new Crystal Power Pro Braid is ideal for this purpose, will compliment the rod and handle any KGW thrown at them.
My favourite rig for Tassie waters is ideal for use in deep or shallow water, fast tides and is the perfect rig for those times where the KGW can be touchy. It is a simple running sinker rig with a small sinker attached to a trace with a ring or swivel at the other end running down the main line to another swivel to stop it. I find small bomb style sinkers are best suited 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. Then a trace of about 3 feet from that swivel down to a #2 Gamakatsu Red Baitkeeper hook finishes off the complete rig. KGW mouths are relatively small and are adapted to sucking up such bottom organisms.
This rig allows the bait to move around naturally in the current attracting their attention and getting them to bite, it also allows the fish some room to move and play with the bait, before a good hookup occurs. As with any rig, you should also consider allowing your trace to be slightly heavier or stronger than your main line and another little trick is to put a small red bead on top of the hook for added attractiveness.
The baits need to be tossed right into the “Hot Zone” discussed earlier and stay in touch with the bait as soon as it hits the water, once the bait hits the bottom provided you are on the fish they will be on the bait almost immediately so be prepared for a fast, quick nibble type bite and strike quickly but not too violently, you don’t want to pull the hook from the KGW small mouth.
KGW will eat a wide range of baits but prefer worms, yabbies, prawns and without a doubt their favourite Pippies (or Cockles depending where your from).
To catch KGW the angler must make the effort to have premium bait, 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. I found the Pippies were also a favourite as were small strips of Tasbait Squid.
The best time to fish for whiting is usually with a rising tide although the fish will bite right through the day. When the tide falls, the fish retreat to the deeper water of the channels and drop offs.
The King George Whiting are starting to turn up in good numbers in various locations all over Tasmania, especially in the East Coast estuaries, whether this is due to water temperatures, “Global Warming”, a reduced effort in commercial pressure and recreational netting in our bays and estuaries or just simply anglers using better fishing tackle and techniques to target specific fish species……..I don’t really know but what I do know is King George Whiting are great eating and if the evidence we have at the moment is anything to go by than Tasmania is fast looking like adding another great species to its ever growing list of fantastic fish.
Tasmania’s angling future is looking great but remember one thing, limit your kill don’t kill your limit and help the fishery grow, wouldn’t it be great if Tasmania becomes as good a KGW fishery as South Australia and can be caught for many more years to come.

Jamie Henderson