(Feb 8, 2016 - Rollover Pass, Bolivar Peninsula,TX.)
Fishing reports advised that whiting were biting in the surf along Bolivar's beachfront, so with nothing much happening anywhere else, a trip was quickly planned for some hopefully active surf fishing that would put a few whiting on the fish fry menu.
Arriving in Rollover Pass area early the next morning the open beach treated me to an amazing sunrise with a pleasant surf laid out flat before me . Driving down the beach to a yellow beach house, (a favored surf fishing area)- I positioned my vehicle on the edge of the surf, hammered a couple of rod holders in the sand, set out my beach chair, and made my first cast into the morning surf. Then, even before setting my surf-rig into the rod holder, the fishing report suddenly validated itself as a chunky 14-inch whiting became the first, of many fish that would fill the bottom of my 48quart cooler.
After settling back in my surf-chair with a mug of hot coffee wafting it’s steamy, french roast aroma, my eyes began taking in the coastal vista of diving sea birds, splashing pelicans and a rippling surf reflecting the colors of a rising sun... "Life is good!"
(Menticirrhus americanus) Southern kingfish, or (Menticirrhus littoralis) gulf kingfish, or referred to in Texas as whiting, have arched backs that give them bullish shapes and wide shoulders with the long thick bodies of strong fighters. Silver-gray or copper in color with darker shades on the back, the southern kingfish, or whiting, also have a series of dark, vertical bars on their sides that help distinguish them from its first cousin, the gulf kingfish, which is more silvery in color and much smaller with a black tipped tail. Both, the southern and gulf kingfish have large heads with a single chin barbels and two dorsal fins with the first being tall and pointed and have uneven tail edges.
Found along the Atlantic coast as far north as New York and as far south as Argentina, the southern kingfish are also found throughout the Gulf of Mexico with heavy concentrations along the Texas Gulf Coast, with the gulf kingfish primarily a gulf species. Mostly found in the surf, whiting prefer water over the sandy or muddy bottoms found along the surf or around gulf piers, jetties, rock groins, old pilings, or boat basins. Shell banks with clay bottoms are great fishing areas for whiting who like to feed within the clutter of seashells.
Both species spawn anywhere from April through August, with females scattering their eggs in open waters, where, after hatching, the young larvae are carried by currents to inshore waters where the young survive for months by seeking food and protection from predators. During this period they are heavily predated by redfish, speckled trout, jack crevaile, shark, and just about every surf species that feeds on other fish, including adult whiting.
Whiting can be tough fighters when light tackle is utilized. Best whiting rigs can be typical bass or freshwater bait casting or spinning gear spooled with 12 to 15 lb test mono-lines and rigged bottom-sinkers and #6 Aberdeen, Circle, or Croaker hooks which can be multiple tied on with at least 8inches between the hooks. Best baits are always live or fresh dead shrimp, but most whiting anglers will filet out their first whiting catch to use whiting strips cut into 1inch chunks for bait. Anglers typically bottom fish for whiting from bridges, piers, surf or small boats, but one of the more comfortable ways is to surf fish for them.
One little unknown fact about fishing for whiting is that they are an excellent night fishing species and will school up in heavy concentrations near the surf edges during the night. This is also a good time for catching the larger "bull" whiting. The best places for night-fishing the whiting would be near piers, rock jetties, or gulf cuts that have lit up areas near the surf-line.
Whiting, both Gulf and Atlantic species, are considered great table fare and excellent when deep-fried. But my absolute favorite way to prepare them is Beer Batter style by mixing in a bowl some pancake batter and a can of beer to a semi thick constituency, dipping filets in the batter, then dropping into hot oil to fry until golden brown. -OR- if your more healthy minded just lightly brush the whiting filets with garden mustard and roll each filet in freeze dried potato flakes. Then, in a non-stick skillet, saute’ the filets in a tablespoon of lite olive oil until crispy brown. Serve the filets with German slaw and a chilled beverage and you’ve created a meal to die for. (Special note)- during warmer months the whiting flesh may take on a heavy iodine taste. To solve this problem just soak the filets in butter milk for 20 minutes prior to preparing them for the meal.
So when those redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and other- preferred surf residents aren’t cooperating for that family fish fry, target the lesser known, but much appreciated whiting for a day of surf fishing fun for an evenings meal that will definitely satisfy your seafood cravings.
Texas saltwater fishing records list the Southern Kingfish at 3.62 lbs and the Gulf Kingfish at 2.38 lbs. This report caught me by surprise since I had caught a 4.5 lb specimen while fishing San Luis pass during a long ago February fishing trip. But that was my loss. The average size for surf whiting will mostly be within the 1/2 to one pound range, with some "bull" whiting going 2 pounds or better. Although smallish by anyone’s surf-fishing standards the whiting do however have thick bodies which provide some excellent filets.
Presently, TP&W Dept: lists unlimited size or creel limits for whiting. So you can catch and keep as many as you feel you want to clean and eat. Having soft flesh, the whiting don’t really keep well in the freezer. But one way to preserve them for future fish fries would be to keep 6 filets per zip-baggy with a teaspoon of lemon juice. The lemon juice will help to keep the flesh firm and fresh for at least three months.
NOTE: When catching and keeping whiting, or any saltwater species, ALWAYS store in coolers of ice to keep them fresh. If the fish aren’t chilled they will stress, giving off ammonia like gases that will spoil your catch often giving them a gamey taste.
Often times, during our short, but chilly Texas winters, we are often blessed -(thanks to the gulf)- with some nice warm-up trends mixed betwixt those blue-bird cold fronts. It is at these times that you’ll see anglers shedding their wintry woes by grabbing their fishing gear and heading to their favorite surf-fishing areas. Whiting will be the main item of interests on their fishing agenda, but when these whiting concentrate along the surf-line they often attract other species such as redfish or black drum. So as your relaxing trip to the Texas coast may provide some easy fishing, it could also produce some "Toe to Toe" - activity with those predator fish that will often weigh 20lbs or better. Just figure this as a bonus catch IF you can reel that critter in on light tackle that is.
Winter fishing on the Texas Gulf Coast, especially on Bolivar Peninsula beaches, can provide needed breaks from those Wintry doldrums, and in doing so, will provide an early season fish fry for you as well. Try it, you’ll like it!
This article sponsored by: Miss Nancy's Bait Camp- Crystal Beach Local News.Com- The Beach Triton, Fishing World.Com