Fishing & Boating News

Winter Whiting - Winter Fun in Texas

by: Ed Snyder, Ed Snyder Outdoors

Shrimp baited surf rods are ready for action.
Photo by Ed Snyder
Bonus reds like this are often caught as shown by Rick Bauchman of Gilchrist TX.
Photo by Ed Snyder
(Feb. 07, 2012 - Bolivar Peninsula, TX. ?)

Winter fishing in Texas could mean dodging 30 degree snow flakes in the West Texas panhandle while fishing for "whatever" or wriggling toes in 70 degree sands along the Southeast Texas Gulf waters of the Bolivar Peninsula while surf-fishing for "whatever". My choice! Wriggling toes in the warm beach sands of Bolivar catching "whatever".

Rigged with shrimp baited surf rods we hurled our lines just beyond calm breakers to catch our "whatever's" which resulted in hooking up with a smallish, but bullish species of fish that filled our fish fry yearnings. Within minutes those cravings were well satisfied after several brawny sized whiting began biting from the surf.

Whiting, otherwise known as southern kingfish (Menticirrhus americanus) or gulf kingfish (Menticirrhus littoralis) are mostly referred to by Texans as Whiting. Whiting have arched backs with wide shoulders giving them bullish shapes. Silvery-gray for gulf whiting or coppery striped with dark shades on their backs for Atlantic whiting are highly sought after as table fish with their flaky white texture and sweet taste savored by most seafood lovers.

Both southern, or Atlantic whiting have black tipped tails and chin barbells' with two dorsal fins, the first being taller and pointed. Found in the Atlantic Ocean as far north as New York and as far south as South America, whiting are also plentiful throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the Texas Gulf Coast. But gulf whiting are primarily a gulf species. Mostly found in the surf, whiting prefer water over sandy shell or muddy clay bottoms along the surf or around gulf piers, jetties, rock groins, old pilings, or boat basins. Shell banks with clayish bottoms are prime fishing areas for whiting who like to feed within a clutter of seashells. Both species spawn anywhere from February through June, with females scattering their eggs in open waters.

Hatching larvae then drift on currents to inshore waters where the young survive seeking food and protection from predators such as redfish, speckled trout, jack crevaile, shark, and just about every species that feed on other fish.

Texas saltwater fishing records the Southern (Atlantic) Whiting at 3.62 lbs and the Gulf Whiting at 2.38 lbs in the record books. This 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. The whiting average but - pound to one pound with some bull whiting going 2 pounds or better. Although small by surf-fishing standards the whiting do have chunky bodies which provide some excellent filets. Presently, TP&W Dept: lists unlimited size or creel limits for whiting, so you're allowed to catch and keep as many as you feel you want to clean.

Having soft flesh in summer but firm flesh in winter, the whiting provide excellent winter action for Texas anglers who like to eat fish. Whiting keep well in the freezer, but one way to preserve them for future fish fries would be to keep 6-to-8 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 or more.

My rigging for surf whiting are 12ft surf rods and surf spinning reels spooled with 20-lb test with double drops. Depending on water conditions use 3oz to 4oz pyramid or spider weights with a 2ft leader 12inches from above bottom weight with another 12inch leader about 2ft above the bottom hook. Use #4 stainless long shank hooks baited with 1inch sections of fresh dead shrimp. You'll need to cast past the breakers or the first sand bar. Use rod holders of PVC pipe cut into 4ft sections and hammered into the sand at surfs edge. This keeps your line above the breakers to avoid wave action plus to be able to tell between the breaking waves and fish bites. Although dead shrimp is the #1 bait, fresh cut croaker or whiting does just as well. The whiting are hard hitters so you'll know when they hit. BUT! Keep watch your rods in case a 20-lb redfish finds your bait instead of a 2-lb whiting or you might be swimming to catch up with your rod on a redfish run!

For you calorie counters prepare your whiting by just sauting lightly seasoned filets in a non-stick skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil until brown on both sides, then plate with a wilted lettuce salad and lemon slice and served with a premium white wine this meal is superb and healthy.

But for you southern fried fish fanciers who crave a heartier feast, season your filets with Cajun fish fry then deep-fry in peanut oil until golden brown and plate with a hefty pile of country fried taters and onion rings and serve with your favorite chilled brew. "WALLAH" ... redneck supreme.

Yet another rather tasty way to satisfy your cravings would be to lightly brush your filets with honey mustard then roll in dried potato flakes and saut in virgin olive oil until golden brown. Plate with German potato salad or slaw and serve with a good hearty brew.

Either way you choose is guaranteed to satisfy your seafood yearnings that will definitely leave a smile on your bibs and begging for more. Besides, fishing coastal in Texas this time of year provides more than just fish for your larder as migrating birds escaping the frozen north offer plenty of eye candy as well as scenic beaches covered with seashells.

The long stretches of warm sandy beaches along Bolivar offers plenty of room to breath and fish for those of you who wish quiet and peaceful moments, or for those wanting to gather in groups for a little socializing fun while you fish.

Our "sandy toed" fishing trip to the Bolivar beach casting the surf started with a stunning sunrise which by lunch/30 managed to put two dozen whiting in the box, along with one really nice 28inch redfish that we released. A day well spent for our Winter fishing adventure along the Texas Coast.
Silvery and the smaller of the two is the Gulf Whiting.
Photo by Ed Snyder
Darker with barred markings is the larger Atlantic Whiting of the two.
Photo by Ed Snyder