Winter rains can put a damper on January fishing on the coast. If you are not out in the woods or in the marsh hunting, January can become a very boring month for the sportsman. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Why not head down and try to catch some whiting from the beach, it’s sure to put a smile on your face. With the proper winter whiting rig and fish bait, you’ll forget about the dreary weather in no time.
One of the bright spots on a dreary day comes in the form of a very under-utilized fishing situation. Winter whiting fishing along Alabama’s beaches can be very sporty fishing on light tackle. Whiting roam the Bama beaches in January and February and are quite easy to catch.
Last winter, while out on a job, I ran into an old friend working in the same neighborhood. With both of us being avid anglers, our conversation quickly turned to fishing. Since our favorite species, speckled trout, were shut down due to muddy waters, we started discussing winter fishing options.
John Fassbender disclosed to me that rather than sit on the couch watching TV, he had recently turned his attention to catching whiting along the beaches of Dauphin Island. After telling me about his success fishing for whiting, I decided to give it a try.
With Fassbender’s help, I hooked up with enough of the spunky whiting to really appreciate this under-fished coastal species.
A few days later, I hit the beach at Dauphin Island with a five-gallon bucket, fishing rod and a pound of dead shrimp. After battling with lots of various-sized whiting, I was able to head home with a five-gallon bucket partially filled with willing whiting.
Whiting tend to run in schools, so catching more than one at a particular spot along the beach is common. Like many other species, they are often influenced by the tides.
Whiting are a silvery-colored fish with a mouth that turns downward. They are often confused with a very similar species—ground mullet. The body shapes are similar, but the ground mullet have more of a brown, mottled coloring. Whiting are much lighter in color and have a faint colored spot near the tail.
What to Look For
Whiting like to feed along sandbars and at the edge of the surf. They are looking for food to be uncovered by wave action. Casting your winter whiting rig out to the first sandbar and beyond is a typical way to locate the hungry fish. If the water is clear, you can often spot the fish as they cruise in with the next approaching wave.
Fresh dead shrimp are a whiting rig favorite. First peel the shrimp and tear into sections. Use these sections to hide the major portion of your hook. Whiting will be eager to take these small sections of shrimp. Small strips of squid will also entice the whiting. Be sure to pierce the squid with your hook in at least two places.
Sand fleas are also great fish bait to add to your winter whiting rig. By using a specially designed sand flea rake, you can scoop up sand fleas right at the water’s edge. While not at the top of the whiting’s feeding menu, Fish Bites, a small strip bait available at the tackle store, will often fool whiting.
Fishing along the beach allows you to move in search of the whiting. Other than your winter whiting rigs, some of the equipment that will make your trip easier include:
(1) A rolling ice chest on wheels. The chest allows you to bring along bait, ice, plus a small tackle box and drinks. It provides you a place to store your catch. Check out the ROVR in the link above.
(2) Pliers to remove hooks from fish.
(3) Wading boots allow you to get right at the surf’s edge to make long casts. The boots also keep your feet dry and warm.
(4) Rod stakes. The stakes allow you to fish another rod while you hold your primary rod in your hands.
(5) Camera in a large Zip-Loc bag. Beach photos of the surf, birds, and any fish you catch will preserve the memories of your winter whiting fishing trip.
Rods, Hooks & Weights
When it comes to rods, it’s best to use one with a soft, limber tip. This extra give will help you hook more of the light-biting whiting. Spinning rods or small bait-casting rods will do the trick on the whiting.
Hook size is also important. Try using a long shank 1/0 hook. The long shank will give you more to target with a pair of pliers when removing the hook. Whiting have a down-turned mouth. The mouth is also quite small, compared to other fish. Using the smaller hooks will help the whiting take in your bait and hook with ease. By using the smaller hooks, you will reduce the number of stolen baits and short strikes.
Obviously, you will need weight to keep your bait in position on the bottom and to give your bait castability. Some anglers use double-drop leaders. The double-drop leader allows you to fish two whiting baits at one time. This leader has a snap at the end where the weight or sinker is attached. Depending on the current, you may have to use from ½ ounce to three-ounce sinkers. You can also use barrel sinkers on a Carolina rig and short 18-inch monofilament leader.
Places to Try
Any public access beach along the Alabama coast is good for whiting fishing. Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, Fort Morgan and Orange Beach all offer good places to target whiting. The State Pier is an excellent place to catch very nice whiting in winter. Use your manners and follow what the locals do and you’ll soon be catching your share.
While you will be targeting whiting on the beaches in winter, you may be surprised by some other surf dwellers. Pompano will often run the beaches with the whiting. You can catch the pompano on small sections of shrimp. Pompano are also very fond of sand fleas.
Redfish are also occasionally caught by anglers fishing the surf in winter. Fighting redfish, in the surf, on light tackle is a sure way to get your blood pumping in winter!
While it may seem natural to lounge around on the couch watching TV on a dreary winter day, it’s a whole lot more fun tangling with whiting in the surf. Watch the weather, looking for light winds, and you too can experience the fun of winter whiting fishing on the Alabama coast!
See you on the beach.