One of the most popular destinations for boating anglers is the Middle Spit, located along the western shore of French Island. Regarded as a whiting hotspot, it’s just a matter of knowing where to go and the tide to fish.
Hastings is a popular launching point for anglers wanting to work the spit, and the shallow banks and deeper channels of the western arm of the bay. The harbour is sheltered, and a deep-water ramp enables large trailer boats to be launched without difficulty.
Leaving the harbour is another matter. The channel snakes in from a long way out, the channel markers looking more like a forest than a navigational aid. One channel marker was knocked over on a recent trip, and I’m not surprised. The markers lack lights, relying on reflectors about as big as those on a child’s pushbike.
If fishing these waters for the first time, try to have someone on board who knows the location of the fish and the shallow banks. I fished the Middle Spit with Colin Tannahill, who was taught how to fish Western Port by the legendary Bill Copeland.
Colin says he always tries to fish with wind and water in the same direction. The first rule of Western Port whiting fishing is to ensure your bait is on the bottom. Start with heavier sinkers, and then adjust when required weight is determined. When fishing deep- water marks, always pump fish up with the rod and wind, otherwise you will wear out the reel.
Finding fish may mean moving about. Some areas produce best at different times of tides, either flood or ebb. The window of opportunity for a hot whiting bite may be only 30 mins, so it is good management to shell baits all the time, and to be about 30 baits ahead for when the fish come on. ‘The last thing you want to be doing when the whiting come on is shelling baits,’ Colin said. ‘Try to work in with your fellow anglers to ensure a bait is always in the water at the strike zone – this can be critical on shallow marks.’
When looking for whiting, Colin suggests a good rule is to fish in 4–6 m of water along the bank drop-offs. ‘Try along a bank every 50–100 m until you find fish. I often move 20 or 30 times in a session to either find fish or find fish of a size that I am after.’
Weed is a common problem. If you can find clean water, you will improve your chances. One trick is to use a brass ring to start the leader. The ring will catch most of the weed that works its way down the line and help keep your baits clean. Always remove any weed from terminal tackle and baits before putting baits back in the water. Berley is important, use shells at slack water so that they sink to the bottom and have less chance of being swept away when the tide flows. Ideally, put the berley in a weighted bucket on the seabed, and tie it off at the anchor spit so the berley comes back under the boat in fast water.
Tanna Shallow (GPS: S38.22.392, E145.15.376) is a shallow water mark of 3–6 m, at the bottom of Middle Spit, on the French Island side. You can fish right along this bank north towards the Cut and Middle Spit.
Tanna Special (GPS: S38.20.969, E145.16.094) is above the cut on the French Island side, with a depth range of 3–6 m. Another shallow mark is Tortoise Head Bank (GPS: S38.25.060, E145.16.140) around the southern end of Tortoise Head, although you’ll need to move towards Cowes or Rhyll until you locate the fish.
Stony Point (GPS: S38.22.352, E145.14.005) is a deep-water mark of 12–13 m with a strong tidal flush. It is best fished in the last 1–2 hours of tide.