One of my earliest fishing memories is hassling my father to catch a gummy shark. It’s no secret is that I still find them one of the most intriguing species in Melbourne to target. Quite simply, I love them!
My initial fancy for skinny water gummies was twigged when I heard a report of people sighting gummies feeding on top of the shallow mud flats in Western Port. For an avid gummy angler in southern Port Phillip, this raised a couple of interesting questions.
I had noted that many of my marks in 12-16m were only 100m or so from sand bars or, more pointedly, the sand flats surrounding the Fort and Mud Island. Was it possible that you could catch gummies from on top of the sand rather that sitting at the bottom of the channel edge? That was a question I was willing to explore – and here is what I learnt along the way.
There has been a lot of talk about gummy sharks using contour lines, or the edge of channels, to navigate both Western Port and southern Port Phillip Bay. While this is clearly true, demonstrated by the large numbers of gummies caught by anglers fishing the edge of channels or drop-offs, there is more to it.
I believe that gummies, as active scavengers, roam up and down the embankments and, in the right conditions, up onto the sand flats looking for food. With the tide rushing over the shallow 1–2m sand flats, crabs and other tasty morsels are regularly swept off to the deeper edges where they are consumed by these scavenging sharks.
Anchor on the sand flat between 10–20m from the embankment. You will be in roughly 1–2m of water, which gives you some options. You can keep a couple of rods in short, up on the flat, and cast or ‘roll’ a couple of baits out deeper onto the embankment. Either way, you will not have baits deeper than 8m, which certainly provides for an exciting tussle once you hook-up. Look for the steepest embankments you can find. You really want a distinctive drop, where the water depth changes dramatically within casting distance.
Gummies are generally thought of as best targeted between January and June. While this is true, they are also one of Melbourne’s true all year round species and can be caught at any time – including August.
The difficulty with fishing shallow water is that it demands an element of stealth and in the peak of summer there is a lot of boat traffic and other noise on the water. My recommendation for skinny water gummies is to focus on the quieter months of winter and early spring. Put simply, this is a covert affair and quiet days on the water will heighten your chances of a fish.
I fish two styles while hunting gummy sharks in skinny water, using a total of four rods. The first style employs the common ‘Western Port Rig’ consisting of an Ezi-rig sinker clip, appropriate tear-drop sinker, 1.5m of 60–80lb Jinkai trace and an 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook.
The second style, I term the ‘Roll the Ball’ method, which employs the use of a large ball sinker situated between the swivel that connects the main line to the leader and the hook at the other end of your leader. This means that it is not a true running sinker rig as the ball sinker can only move the length of the leader.
I usually fix two 5/0 hooks at the end, with one snelled at a length suitable for the size of the Californian squid found at most tackle stores. The reason for this particular rig becomes apparent once you understand the technique.
Firstly, I either cast or lower my bait to the sea floor behind the boat – but not further than the edge of the embankment. Over the next half an hour or so, I frequently ‘roll’, or let out line, for a period of 30 seconds at a time. The current will roll the bait and sinker along the sea floor. I continue this frequently in order to mimic a dead squid being washed off the flats. Be sure to use a ball sinker large enough to keep your bait on the bottom. Once the bait has gone a suitable way down the embankment you can leave it sit or retrieve and start the process again.
In this particular style of gummy shark fishing I am an advocate of berley. Having said that, I like to use fresh berley – which usually consists of the fish frames I am using for bait. In my experience you just cannot go past Australian salmon. It is absolutely my bait and berley of choice.
Fishing the skinny water of Port Phillip Bay means that you will not need to put your berley in a cage on the sea floor, which would usually be the method I employ in deeper water. Given that the boat sits in only a metre or so of water, the berley will reach the bottom fairly quickly if either dispersed by hand or mashed through a berley pot.
While fishing the Mud Island and Fort sand flats the tides play an important roll. The key factor is whether you fish the north side of the Island or Fort, or the south side. This will largely be governed by which tide you fish.
Keep in mind that you are sitting in only 1-2m of water and you want the transom of your boat, your fishing platform, facing the drop-off or embankment. Remember, we are counting on the fact that gummies will approach and move up the bank scavenging for food as it gets washed off the sand flats. This means that on a flood tide you will most likely find an appropriate drop-off on the north side of Mud Island or the Fort, while an ebb tide will see you fish the south side as water flows off the sand flats back into the South Channel. Clearly, you will need to align the wind direction with the tidal flow, so planning your trip with some attention to detail is a must. You do not want to be confronted with wind-against-tide, which will make this process nigh on impossible.
Personally, I prefer to fish the last couple of hours of the flood tide. My simple reason for this is that gummy sharks are active scavengers, they are not lie-in-wait predators. I believe that gummies come further up the embankments under the cover of flood tide. This gives them an extra metre of water to hide under.
The best time to target skinny water gummies is dusk, and there is one very practical reason for this. When fishing on top of sandbars and mud flats, you do not want to be scooting around in the darkness. By fishing at dusk, you can launch your boat while there is still daylight. You can scout out your area with the convenience of daylight and little risk of running aground. Drop your anchor, set your baits and wait for the sun to go down.
Without doubt skinny water fishing requires silence. When you’re sitting in 1–2m of water, dropping a sinker on the floor will sound like dynamite to a feeding gummy. Remember sound travels a lot further in water. Having said that, a 10–15 knot wind will create an ambience of natural water sounds and offer you some cover.
Be wary of loud talking, the radio and accidental banging in your boat. If you use an anchor winch make sure you anchor a good hour prior to the peak fishing period. That way you don’t scare away any potential customers who might just be lurking on the edge of the deeper water, waiting for their chance to venture up onto the sand flat.
There has been a strong groundswell in Melbourne fishing circles encouraging the release of big female gummy sharks. While no one denies an angler the choice to take home their prized catch, it is an equally satisfying feeling to release a fish if you already have a freezer full at home. Skinny water fishing for gummies is an exciting variation to the addictive pleasure of targeting southern Port Phillip Bay gummy sharks!
GEAR FOR GUMMIES
You don’t need to be a tackle fanatic to catch a gummy shark. Coupling a Shimano Charter Special overhead reel with 50lb Finns braid and a 10–12kg Ugly Stick is almost the accepted norm in Port Phillip and Western Port. Combining an economical price with durability, this outfit will see you quickly control unwanted by-catch as well as comfortably tackle the biggest of PPB gummy sharks!
There is no secret mark when targeting skinny water gummies. The following three locations, however, will put you in the vicinity of some serious banks – your perfect target ground.
1) 38 21 979, 144 46 656. Fish on a flood tide with a southerly wind.
2) 38 21 985, 144 46 654. Fish on an ebb tide with a northerly wind
3) 38 15 001, 144 45 717. Fish on an ebb tide with a northerly wind.
BEWARE THE FALLING TIDE
While the shallows around Mud Island and the Fort in southern Port Phillip Bay are generally covered by at least 1m of water, should you choose to employ this style of fishing in Western Port you may very well find yourself grounded if you fish an ebb tide!