Georgia’s coast is a mixture of inhabited and uninhabited barrier islands – mostly the latter. That makes beach fishing and surf fishing a somewhat limited opportunity in the peach state. But don’t let that fact fool you. There are miles of public beaches where surf anglers, many of whom want to keep their fishing areas a secret, do very well, thank you! Whiting are a major reason for their success.
We found several anglers fishing the surf at the public beach on Jekyll Island this particular day. All but one of them had surf rods eleven or twelve feet long equipped with heavy spinning reels. The one without the surf tackle had but one seven-foot spinning rod. Yet, he was catching most of the fish!
While the surf casters made long casts up and down the beach out beyond the breakers, this one man, John was the name he gave us, stayed in one place with his small rod and reel and simply caught one whiting after another. It took a little while for the others to respond, but one by one they came to his spot to see what he was doing.
This is typical of fishing for whiting. If you know what you are doing and where to fish along the beach, you can make other anglers look like amateurs. It is simply a matter of knowledge.
Whiting are a cooperative fish. They can be found in schools of well over an hundred fish, running the beach in search of food. Once they find a good feeding area, they will hang there feeding for the duration of the tide. The angler that knows where they feed can fill an ice chest in short order.
Commercially, whiting are a fishing industry in their own right. The white, flaky meat makes them great table fare. Fresh whiting is hard to beat on the table, and is probably the easiest fish to catch once you have the knowledge of where and how to catch them!
Food is something that is always on a fishes mind. Their lives revolve around the search for food. For a whiting that food includes small shrimp, small crabs and crustaceans. Small whisker-like barbels along the whiting's under slung mouth are actually sensory devices that help this bottom feeder find its food.
The Jekyll Island anglers watched and asked questions of John, the mystery angler who was catching all the fish. An almost proud look was on his face as he explained his technique.
John comes to the beach at low tide and searches for some very specific places to fish. He looks for run outs, outer sandbars, and deep pools. These areas are obvious at low tide, and John marks these spots and returns at high tide to fish them.
Run outs occur where the wave action on a beach causes the retreating water to be funneled into one particular path running away from the beach. After the wave is spent, the water “runs out” through this channel. Each additional wave makes the channel a little bigger and a little deeper.
Small crabs, shrimp, and sand fleas are washed around by the waves and are carried away from the beach by the now swifter water in the run out. More often than not, a school of whiting will position themselves outside the run out, waiting for their food to be delivered to them!
Outer sandbars can be a key area as well. Visible at low tide, and often accessible by wading anglers at high tide, the outer sandbar provides a path for fish to feed between the sandbar and the shore. This relatively deeper inside water at high tide is often home to a variety of fish, including whiting.
Low tide also reveals what anglers call tidal pools. These pools of deeper water are created by wave action, and these are relatively easy to find at high tide as well.
Let’s look at a typical run out. The power of the water contained in a wave is awesome. Water can move mountains, and the sand under the waves presents little resistance to that power. On a perfectly flat stretch of beach, the spent waves simply retreat back from the shore in a very orderly fashion. But as beach anglers soon find, no beach is ever perfectly flat. There are dips and runs, pools and sandbars.
Where a high spot on a sandy beach allows water to run off to the sides before it runs back to the sea, run outs begin to form. The amount of water retreating along one area increases because of that high spot. That means more power, and that in turn means sand being moved. After several tide changes, the run out can become quite noticeable.
It’s the moving water, taking with it sand and small sea creatures that the whiting pursue.
In heavy northeast winds, the water will generate enough wave power to significantly change the structure of the beach. Rip currents – sometimes called undertows – carve out new and larger run outs. Other run outs are filled and changed by the moving water.
Because a storm or high winds can cause so much change, it is a good idea to plan a low tide visit to your fishing location to locate run outs that may have changed or been formed. The one constant on a beach is change!
The easiest fishing areas to locate are the outer sandbars. They are visible at low tide and easily marked for a return trip. Smart beach anglers will often wade at low tide in the shallow pools of water between the sand bar and the beach looking for any sign of crustacean life. These pools are natural settling areas for small shellfish and baitfish.
Tidal pools, easy to spot at low tide, are equally easy to find at high tide. Surfers refer to a “break” where the wave action comes to a peak and the biggest breakers occur. These breaks are a give away to shallow water. The inertia of the water moving toward the shore is pushed to the surface by the shallowing bottom, causing the wave to grow, peak and break. It’s the areas at high tide that are NOT the good breaks that are of interest. On either side of a good surf break will be the deeper “pools” of water that will hold the bait and thus attract the whiting.