Fishing & Boating News

Winter Whiting

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

Kicked back and enjoying the pleasures of the surf.
Photo by Ed Snyder
Peanut-fried chunks of stingray, filet of whiting, and gafftop served with taters and tomato salad- mmmmm a meal to die for
Photo by Ed Snyder
(Feb. 06, 2011 - Rollover Pass, Gilchrist, Bolivar Peninsula, TX.) Surf rods bending, fish being reeled in, and coolers filling with "soon to be" succulent treasures from the Gulf of Mexico. Whiting, averaging less than a pound, are not known for their fighting abilities, but as table fare the small cod like fish are superb to the palate.

Arriving on the beach in the early afternoon to find the surf flat due to a north westerly breezes, motoring to a favored whiting fishing area we set up our surf-rod holders, baited hooks, and hurled our first casts out into the rippling surf. Kicking back in our surf-chairs with mugs of hot coffee, we waited, enjoying the sounds and pleasantries of the rolling surf and chatted about the impending actions of our first bite.

(Menticirrhus americanus) Southern kingfish, or (Menticirrhus littoralis) Gulf kingfish, referred to in Texas as Whiting. Having arched backs giving them bullish shapes with wide shoulders and long thick bodies of bullish fighters. Whiting are silver-gray or copper in color with darker shades on their backs. The southern, or Atlantic whiting, also have a series of dark, vertical bars on their sides that help distinguish them from its first cousin, the gulf whiting, which is more silvery in color and much smaller with a black tipped tail. Both, the southern and gulf whiting have large heads with chin barbels and two dorsal fins with the first being taller and pointed with uneven tail edges. Located in the Atlantic as far north as New York and as far south as Argentina, the whiting are also found throughout the Gulf of Mexico with heavy concentrations found along the Texas Gulf Coast. But the gulf whiting is primarily a gulf species, where both species inhabit the shallow coastal waters. 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 clayish 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 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 species that feeds on other fish.

One little known factor about fishing for whiting is that they are excellent night fishing targets and will school up in heavy concentrations near the surf edges during the night. This is also a good time for catching the larger ones. The best places for night-fishing the whiting would be piers, rock jetties, or gulf cuts that have lit up areas near the surf-line. Whiting, both the Gulf and Atlantic species, are considered great table fare and excellent when deep-fried. But my absolute favorite way to prepare them is to lightly brush the whiting filets with garden mustard then roll each filet in freeze dried potato flakes. Then, in a non-stick skillet, saut? the filets in a tablespoon of virgin olive oil until crispy brown. Serve the filets with German slaw and a chilled beverage and you've created a meal to die for. But whiting filets rolled in cornmeal or seasoned fish fry then deep fried in peanut oil and served with French fries or hush puppies is an excellent way to serve these Gulf treasures as well and will keep you asking for more, more, more! So when those redfish, speckled trout, flounder, and other preferred surf residents aren't cooperating, target the lesser known, but much appreciated whiting for a day of surf fishing fun and an evenings meal that will definitely satisfy those seafood cravings.

Texas saltwater fishing records list the Southern (Atlantic) 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 ½ pound to one pound range, with some bulls 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 an unlimited size or creel limit fishery for whiting. So you can catch and keep as many as you feel you want to clean and eat. Having soft flesh, the whiting doesn'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 then cover the filets with water. The lemon juice will help to keep the flesh firm and fresh for at least three months.

Our afternoon of enjoying the Texas coastal surf finished with the cooler holding a dozen whiting, one nice gaff-top catfish, and a platter sized stingray. So with the sun setting at our backs we headed back to camp with the entr?e for our evenings meal well tucked within our approaching hunger. It was a good winters day spent on the beach.
Gulf Whiting
Photo by courtesy Ed Snyder
Southern (Atlantic) Whiting
Photo by courtesy Ed Snyder