Capt. Butch Foster of Yeah Right Charters in Southport said the whiting bite in the lower Cape Fear River is about as good as it gets, and pieces of shrimp are all it takes to get bit. Whiting aren't generally considered a gamefish, but few fishermen will admit to not liking them rolled in their favorite breader and introduced to some hot peanut oil. Fishermen are taking the tasty fish home in excellent numbers.
Whiting, which are also known as sea mullet and Virginia mullet, are the favorite inshore panfish of most coastal old-timers, including Foster. They are members of the drum family, and there are no size or creel limits. Foster said the whiting in the lower Cape Fear River are pretty nice size.
"Whiting in the river are in a large enough area they're pretty easy to find," Foster said. "There is room for a lot of boats, and that's a good thing. It seems like every trip, there are more boats and fishermen. Of course, who can blame them; the fishing is exciting and the fish taste good.
"I have been having the best luck on the east side of the Cape Fear River ship channel, between Battery and Bald Head islands," Foster said. "There are a couple of range-marker towers just east of the channel, and the flat around them is called the Pigfish Grounds. The whiting have been holding on the slope where the bottom drops from the Pigfish Grounds into the channel. Earlier in the year, I was finding them best in 20 to 25 feet of water, but in the past week or so, they have moved a little shallower, say 15 to 20 feet."
Foster (910-845-2004) said whiting will mark on a fishfinder, but some fishermen overlook the marks because they are right along the bottom. Foster said whiting are bottom-feeders, so they won't show relief like many fish. He said if you get the boat positioned so the baits drop to them, you'll catch them.
"A simple double-drop bottom rig is all you need to catch whiting," Foster said. "There is some current running along the edge of the channel, so it takes a 3- or 4-ounce pyramid sinker to hold the bottom. Long-shank hooks in No. 6 complete the rig, and Eagle Claw Series 072 or L072 are local favorites."
Foster said the freshest shrimp possible is the ideal bait, and he cautioned not to use too large a piece. Sometimes whiting will hit bloodworms, sand fleas and the synthetic bloodworms from Fishbites. Foster said it won't take very long to see if you anchored directly over the whiting; they will usually begin biting within seconds of fresh bait reaching the bottom. If they are in good numbers like they have been for the past week or so, double hookups won't be a surprise for long.
"I believe we catch more whiting on the falling tide," Foster said. "They will also bite on the rising tide, but just not with the same intensity. The action has been good and steady lately, and you'll appreciate the short lull when the tide switches directions. It's a good time to eat a snack or get something to drink."