Targeting Port Phillips Winter Whiting

by Gawaine Blake

As we roll into winter, it can be increasingly difficult to get motivated to get out on the water and go fishing. But, with some smart planning and a few good hours on the water, you can scratch that itch and produce one of the world’s best feeds.

Whiting are not only great eating, they are also a lot of fun to catch and as a schooling fish species, where there is one you generally get more.

The author with a couple of Port Phillip Bay's finest

The author with a couple of Port Phillip Bay’s finest


Whiting inhabit a wide range of areas and depths. Most commonly in southern Port Phillip Bay, they can be found in depths ranging from 3-10mtrs of water around the edges of weed beds and in sand gutters between the weed.

It is in these areas where they can forage in the sand for worms, yabbies, shrimp, baby squid and other tasty morsels while using the same weed beds for shelter and protection from predators and respite from tide flow.


As the water temperature decreases, the Whiting schools head south towards the ocean. Many of these fish actually leave the bay but a substantial number remain in the bay through the colder months due to the increasing health of the bay and the abundant food sources available.

The majority of these winter fish stay down the southern end of the bay where the water is warmer. This is due to the ocean being deeper than the bay and holding a higher temp through the colder months. These warmer ocean currents affect the southern regions of Port Phillip Bay with the ebb and flood of the daily tides.

With this is mind, the most common (and productive) areas to fish are from Rye through to Point Nepean and St Leonard’s through to Point Lonsdale on the eastern side of the bay.

Bait and Burley:

When we consider the feeding habits and habitat of the whiting, the main baits used when targeting these magnificent table fish are Pippi, Mussel, peeled Shrimp and Squid. All of these are soft baits that the Whiting just love to slurp down with their vacuum like mouths.

I prefer to use cocktail baits such as a piece of mussel threaded onto the hook just in front of a thin strip of squid (4mm by 40mm long). For best results, pin the squid strip to the hook at the top of the strip allowing it to hang naturally in the tide flow. This will prevent your bait from spinning in the tidal current and give a more natural presentation.

Burley is a must for Whiting if you intend to hold them in your zone for longer feeding and bite times. When schooling, the Whiting face head first into the current and swim up tide vacuuming the bottom as they go. This is where a good burley trail becomes critical by holding the fish also enticing the worms and other critters to come out of there holes and investigate the tasty flavour you have introduced into the current.

My favourite mix of burley is some mashed up pilchards with a couple of fresh Squid heads and guts and a good hand full of chicken pellets all squashed together. For best results, I use a heavy burley pot (lead weighted bottom) to disperse the attractant on the bottom where the fish will be holding. The burley pot should have fine mesh to ensure that the trail does not include chunks of burley – a consistent, fine trail of scent is what you need to achieve.

Every 20 minutes or so, bring the burley pot in and give it a mix up as the fine mesh holes can block up slowly. This also has the added benefit of refreshing the scent of the burley you are using and increases the effectiveness of the trail.

Rod, Rigs and Hooks:

I use an extended (single) paternoster rig tied from 10lb Unitika Silver Thread leader line. Hooks can vary according to your fishing style of personal preferences. For example, if you are the sort of person who likes to hold the rod and strike on the bites, then the Gamakatsu Worm Hook size 6 is the best option from my experience. This is a super fine gauged hook with a chemically sharpened conical point and it has unbelievable penetration.

However, if you prefer to fish with two or more rods or have your children on board I would suggest either the Gamakatsu Shiner or Octopus Circle. These hooks are designed to roll into the corner of the fishes jaw with the slightest bit of pressure and almost self-hook feeding fish.

I consider Braid to be a must for Whiting fishing as it gives a direct contact with the rig for ultimate bite detection on these sometimes very finicky fish.

A fast tapered rod with soft tip for bite detection in the 2-6lb range is the best option to target Whiting. My personal rod of choice is the Samurai Inflict 2-4lb loaded with 10lb Unitika braid on a quality 2500 size spin reel. This beautifully balanced outfit is not only a pleasure to use but is light enough to have in your hand all day and also has enough grunt to take on any surprises like the odd gummy shark or snapper that may cruise up your burley trail.