Pensacola Surf Fishing Bringing you the latest information on Florida Surf and Inshore fishing with a focus on the Pensacola Beach area
Depending on location, the name Whiting may refer to one of several species of fish, all of which are good eating.
 Whiting Caught From The Surf On A Pompano Rig

In Pensacola and most of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, the Whiting we usually refer to is actually the Gulf Kingfish, although all of the information in this article will be applicable all three species of "Whiting" described below.  Whiting are small coastal fish that are often thought of more as a by-catch even though they provide consistent hookups, and are excellent table fare.  Despite this, many young children have been welcomed into the world of surf fishing by Whiting, and when a school of fish is located even seasoned anglers get excited.  Since most Whiting that are caught weigh less than one pound just about any rod and reel combination can do the trick, and they are often located so close to the beach that even some of the most entry level equipment can provide hours of fun for adults and children alike. One thing is for certain, these fish have saved many anglers from going home empty handed even if they were not the intended target for the day.

About Whiting

As mentioned, the name "Whiting" is not the official name for the fish we refer to as such, nor is it specific to a single species. In fact, it is a catch-all name for three different species of fish here in the United States.  In no specific order these are the Gulf Kingfish, Southern Kingfish, and Northern Kingfish. As you may have noticed, they're all a type of Kingfish, and not so coincidentally they're all very similar in size, weight, and diet, and they can all be caught using the same rigs and baits.  All 3 of the species are bottom feeders, with their diet consisting of clams, small crabs, various invertebrates and pretty much whatever else they can scavenge along the bottom of the surf. The vast majority of the Whiting caught weigh under one pound, and a very large fish would be in the two plus pound range.  The Florida state record Whiting is 2.4 pounds, and was caught on April 18th, 2021 off of Pensacola Beach.

Whiting spend almost their entire lives directly in the surf, and are rather tolerant of cool water, so they can be caught year round in many places, including here in the Northern Panhandle.  Fall, Winter, and Spring fishing for Whiting is actually better than Summer fishing in this area. Since Whiting are a schooling fish, once you catch one, you should be able to catch many more in the same area.

Rods and Reels for Whiting

Whiting are oftentimes the first fish caught by beginning surf anglers, and it makes sense since there are really no special gear requirements to catch them. Since the fish are known to frequent shallow water, oftentimes hanging out right in the breaking waves or just past them, most standard spinning and casting rods can easily reach the fish.  About the only time you will really need any form of dedicated surf equipment is when the surf is rough, as they will be hard to catch without a more powerful rod that can throw a heavier weight. 

When targeting these fish the main reason for using heavier equipment, aside from casting distance, is that there is a good chance you will catch something other than Whiting, and you may want a little extra horsepower to bring in a larger fish.  Pompano, Redfish, and Whiting will all eat the same bait, and many times frequent the same locations so it's entirely possible hook a number of different species. If you're looking for a primer on surf fishing gear, you can read our introduction here:  Surf Fishing Gear 101.

The downside to using actual surf fishing equipment is that it is almost guaranteed to be far overpowered for Whiting, and it reduces the thrill of the fight.

Whatever you end up using, make sure to diligently rinse off your reel after each use if it is not rated for saltwater.  A single day in the surf and sand will destroy just about any freshwater reel if it is not cared for.

Fishing Rigs for Whiting

It's probably safe to say that the majority of the Whiting caught off the Florida coast are actually caught by anglers targeting Pompano, and more often than not it'll be on a Pompano rig tipped with shrimp.  Clearly they can be caught this way, but if you're really chasing Whiting, you will want your bait right on the bottom, and a Fish Finder Rig (a.k.a. Carolina Rig) works perfect for presenting your baits in this manner.

A typical Whiting Rig Tied up With 20 Pound Fluorocarbon Leader and a #2 Circle Hook.  Beads provide optional color / flash.
 Typical Whiting Rig With #2 Circle Hook and 20 Pound Fluorocarbon Leader

Whiting have very small mouths, so downsizing tackle will result in more consistent hookups.  When fishing for whiting we typically tie on a small #2 or #4 circle hook with a short leader of 10-20 pound test fluorocarbon or monofilament leader. Using the heavier leader is only for insurance purposes in case something bigger takes the bait, and to help deal with the abrasion from the sand and shells within the surf.  

We will occasionally use a few very small glass beads near the hook to provide a little extra flash, and to help keep the bait down.  Whiting are primarily bottom feeders, and keeping your presentation low will help them find your bait.  

One of the few times we don't use heavier pyramid weights while surf fishing is when we're targeting Whiting.  Our rigs typically use a small egg sinker around half an ounce since we are generally only casting short distances, and holding our rods to react to the light bites of Whiting.  Using a simple rig like this helps to get your bait back in the water after catching a fish as well, allowing you to take advantage of the schooling nature of Whiting.

Best Baits For Whiting

Small pieces of fresh peeled shrimp are probably the most often used baits for Whiting and just might be the best at producing bites, but it does have a disadvantage in that it is easy for Whiting and other creatures to pull your bait right off of your hook. Whiting are well known bait thieves and they have a relatively easy time leaving your hook picked clean when you are fishing with shrimp.  Squid is also a very popular bait for Whiting, and it stays on the hook much better than shrimp, giving you less trouble with stolen bait, and also allowing you to get your rig right back in the water after catching a fish since it will oftentimes still be attached to the hook. 

A small Whiting caught on a combination of peeled frozen shrimp and a small piece of Fishbites.
 Typical Whiting Rig With #2 Circle Hook and 20 Pound Fluorocarbon Leader

Overall, Whiting are not overly picky when it comes to their next meal, and small pieces of cut bait work as well.  One surprisingly effective bait is small pieces of Bonito.  Bonito has a powerful scent, and it's tough skin keeps it on the hook well.  Even if the flesh is stolen, the skin will usually stay on the hook and that alone is enough to catch whiting.  

A word of warning: When it comes to using Squid in particular, there is a relatively decent chance you can hook into a small Blacktip Shark as this is one of their favorite foods. By-catch such as this is the main reason we advocate leaders a little heavier than you actually need for Whiting. 

In terms of fresh, and frozen baits, previously frozen shrimp is even harder to keep on the hook than fresh shrimp, so Whiting may have a field day stealing your baits.  Squid is pretty much as good frozen or fresh, and cut bait works just as well either way provided the skin is intact.

One of our favorite tactics is to mix small pieces of fresh or frozen shrimp with squid.  Doing this, you can get the best fish-attracting qualities of shrimp without getting picked clean in an instant.  It helps to put the squid on after the shrimp but when the bite is on, just getting your bait in the water is more important than anything else.

We have heard many anglers suggest either replacing or supplementing natural bait with Fishbites, an artificial bait that has kind of a leather-like texture and stays on the hook well.  This product comes in different flavors / scents such as Shrimp and Squid, and some anglers actually prefer this over natural bait.  We have had good luck using this product for other species such as Pompano, but solely using artificial baits for Whiting has not produced exceptional results for us.  Your mileage may vary.

No matter what bait you choose, just make sure you keep your bait and hooks rather small since Whiting are small fish with relatively small mouths.  A good rule of thumb is to keep the combined size of your hook and bait smaller than the fingernail on your thumb.  

When To Fish For Whiting

In Pensacola and the surrounding areas around the Florida Panhandle such as Destin and Mobile, as well as the bulk of the Northern Gulf Coast, Whiting will be available year round.  You won't find many anglers targeting them during the Spring and Fall Pompano Runs, or when other species such as Spanish Mackerel are around, but they can be caught during those times as well.  During the winter months, many more anglers target Whiting since there are aren't as many "more desirable" species around. 

As an unregulated species in Florida, Whiting can be caught year round in great numbers, and many anglers fish for Whiting when they are looking for almost guaranteed action.  Whiting have often filled the cooler when nothing else was biting, and they are delicious to boot.