Whiting, aka sea mullet or Virginia mullet, are a tasty panfish and one of the first fish of spring to arrive off the North Carolina coast.
They usually begin showing up around the mouth of the Cape Fear River in March, and while some fishermen overlook them because they rarely hit lures, many fishermen appreciate them for their lightly sweet, firm fillets.
Butch Foster of Yeah Right Charters (www.yeahrightcharters.com) in Southport, N.C., said the weather and water temperature will determine exactly when whiting arrive, but it is usually around the middle of the month. He said whiting show a preference for the slope on the eastern side of the Cape Fear River ship channel between Battery and Bald Head islands, areas just outside the mouth of the river and west down Caswell Beach for a mile or so.
Dennis Barbour of Island Tackle Charters (www.islandtacklehardware.com) in Carolina Beach said another good spot to find whiting in the lower river is beside the Southport-Fort Fisher ferry channel on the Fort Fisher side. He said they usually congregate on the edge of the channel but sometimes spread out into the shallower water around it. He cautioned this is a narrow channel and not to anchor in it and impede the ferry.
Fishing for whiting doesn’t require a lot of specialized equipment. Any serviceable rod and reel will work, and whiting bite pretty well, so you’ll feel the strike just fine, no matter what kind of line you use. Most fishermen will do well with just about any double-drop rig, but some prefer rigs with small plastic squids or beads above the hooks. The most-technical rig is a speck rig with its small bucktails. Eagle Claw L072 hooks, which many fishermen refer to as “spot hooks,” in Nos. 4 and 6, are the standard hooks for the double-drop rigs, and a sinker of 2 or 3 ounces should carry the bait down well.
While some fishermen disagree on whether jigging the bait lightly about a foot off the bottom or letting it sit on the bottom is more productive, they agree that a small piece of the freshest shrimp possible is the best bait. Whiting have an excellent sense of smell and will often turn down older baits or baits that have been refrozen.
Another bait that is gaining in popularity with whiting fishermen is Fishbites’ synthetic bloodworms, fished in small pieces on the small hooks. Fishbites have a scent whiting obviously like.
North Carolina does not manage whiting with any creel limit or minimum sizes.