It’s during the summer months, just after Christmas, that the snapper run in Port Phillip Bay starts to slow and attentions turn to another greatly sort after species of the Victorian waterways: the big gummy sharks of Western Port.
These monsters require a fair degree of planning and a totally different approach to targeting other fish such as snapper. Like any angling pursuit, if you pay attention to detail and put the time in the rewards will speak for themselves.
Western Port, situated southeast of Melbourne, is made up of a maze of shallow banks and deep, fast running channels but with the right electronics set up on your boat, finding productive areas is a lot easier.
To be really successful at targeting big gummies, two pieces of electronic equipment are a must. Firstly, a quality sounder. This is imperative for finding drop-offs and areas where shallow water rapidly moves away into deeper water, a favourite haunt for a big gummy looking for a meal.
Next is a GPS. While some basic models are okay, the extra money spent on a GPS plotter with a C-Map of the area is worth its weight in gold. It allows you to observe contours on the screen’s map and determine areas that are likely to hold fish. These GPS plotters are remarkably accurate and are a great tool for assessing likely fishing areas.
Having fished for gummies in Western Port from the top of the Bourchier Channel to the bottom of the western entrance, this is my general summation: the bigger fish seem to prefer the faster water of the lower reaches. Now I know that gummies in the 10 to 20kg range are caught all over Western Port but I’m speaking about what myself and Neil, my fishing partner, have found to be true.
We have had sessions in the upper reaches of Western Port, catching and releasing a dozen plus gummies, but rarely do they reach that magical 10kg mark. Most fish in this part of the Port seem to be in the 3 to 5kg range. It’s like a small shark nursery. As you move west towards Joe’s Island and the Tyabb Bank, the sharks start to get bigger. Every year big gummies are taken in these areas but there are many smaller ones mixed in amongst them.
Over the last couple of years we have caught a stack of gummies south of Sandy Point, which is where the port really starts to open up towards Bass Strait. I keep detailed records of each fish landed, and when you do the math on XL Western Port gummies, it points in one direction, southerly and towards the open ocean.
It is fairly well accepted that most species of shark respond best to bait fishing around the full moon. This is also true for gummy sharks. So, when looking for the best time to hit the water, consult a fishing almanac and head out on those days around the full moon. As with most fishing styles, early morning or evening is the best time of day. However, by far the most important factor is tide. Always look for the start of the ebb tide, which will run for about six hours and fish as much of that tide as possible.
Earlier this year, at one of our favorite spots, Neil and I fished the same run out tide on three consecutive days landing a gummy each day between 10 and 20kg. They were all hooked right in the middle of the ebb tide. As the water starts to slow it’s time to pull the anchor and head home. We have caught fish on the rising tide, but rarely. Nowadays, we don’t bother fishing the flood tide at all. It’s all about maximising your time on the water and being in the right spot at the right time.
When targeting these thumpers good quality gear is a must. Personally, I love threadline reels. If you use a cheap one for big gummies then these guys will make you pay!
I use a Daiwa Saltiga Z4500 for most of the sportfishing I do in other parts of Australia and find gummies in the 10 to 20kg range worthy of such hardware. They run hard, deep, and long and their fighting style is right up there with the best of them. Now I’m not suggesting every reader needs these sorts of reels for big gummies. I mention it only out of the respect I have for the big fish of this species.
A cheaper alternative is a high quality overhead reel. There are plenty on the market that are well suited to this type of fishing. Look for one that is well constructed with a smooth drag and one that can handle 15kg braided line.
These sharks are powerful. A 10kg gummy would pull a 10kg snapper backwards at about 20 knots. When choosing a rod, a length of 6 to 7ft is ideal, but select one that is fairly stiff and has plenty of low down grunt. You’ll need it.
Looking at lines, there really is only one; gelspun/braid. Ripping tides are experienced when chasing these fish and these thin lines create less drag in the water, getting baits to stay down. They also have limited stretch aiding hook up rates.
Over time and with some trial and error, one hook makes up the mainstay of our rigs used for gummies. It’s a Black Magic KL 5/0 circle hook.
These fish have tough mouths and need an ultra sharp high quality hook to penetrate the tissue for a solid hook up. The circle hook allows the fish to get the bait in their mouth, then as it speeds off, the hook nails him in the side of the mouth. I can’t over emphasise the effectiveness of this type of hook; they’re dynamite!
In order to get a large bait to stay down in the strong run out tides of Western Port, heavy sinker weights are often required. This can mean using lead between 6 and 8oz.
One of the best purchases that I’ve made for this type of fishing was a pair of Scotty downriggers. These are mounted on the gunwales of the boat on either side. Baits can be lowered to the sea floor with the enormous downrigger bombs, then via a clip, the bait releases when a fish takes off with bait.
Downriggers also allow you to mix things up a bit. When fishing solo with four rods targeting big gummies in the conventional manner, heavy sinkers hold all of your baits down. If a shark strikes, by the time he is boat side, chances are he’ll have collected and tangled up the other lines in the water.
Downriggers on either side of the boat put your lines directly down then straight back and along the bottom in an L shape. This means that you can fish two rods with traditional sinkers and two straight to the bottom. Tangles become less frequent and you will land more fish.
When it comes to terminal tackle, the setups vary slightly. For the downrigger, a 2 to 3m length of 30kg shock leader is attached to the main line, and runs directly to the hook. For lines that use traditional sinkers, a shock leader is again used, but the end is matched to a rolling swivel with an ezy rig clip just above it. A 60cm trace of 30kg then runs directly to the hook. Using the ezy rig clip allows you to vary the weight of lead according to the strength of the tide.
Just because you’ve been fighting one of these monsters for 15 minutes doesn’t mean it’s all over when you have him next to the boat. This is the time that things really start to get interesting and cool heads are required.
These blokes never seem to run out of steam. I know people who, no matter what size gummy, use a fixed gaff and in one action, pull them into the boat. From experience, big gummies don’t like being hit with a gaff. In fact, it sends them ballistic!
An alternative method is to keep him at the side of the boat and when he settles down, grab him as hard and as fast as you can around his tail and pull him into the boat. Their skin is like sandpaper, so grip isn’t a problem. You just need a really firm grip and some courage! On 15kg plus gummy, this can be hair-raising stuff.
A far better method is the use of a noose. Once the shark is next to you swimming in the current, back the drag off on your reel, clip the noose over your line, then let the current carry it over the shark’s head. Once it’s in position, pull back and set the noose. Like gaffs, gummies don’t fancy being noosed either, so once that noose is solidly set, get ready to cut the fishing line and make sure the other end of the noose is secured to a bollard on the stern.
Whether you use a gaff, grab them by the tail or use a noose, the end results are much the same. Gummies don’t like being touched, so be prepared for a tantrum.
Before you bring a big gummy into the boat, make sure the deck is clear because they really thrash around. If you intend to keep your quarry, dispatch them swiftly.
One misconception about any sort of shark fishing is that they aren’t fussy when it comes to food. Gummy sharks can be highly selective when feeding and quality baits need to be used. Fish fillets and strip baits of salmon, mackerel and trevally make excellent offerings. Whole or strip baits of fresh calamari are also fantastic options.
When it comes to frozen baits, oily fish such as sauries and pilchards are also very effective. To make some of these oily baits last longer and hold their shape in the water, products such as Bait-mate allow you to secure the bait to the line and maintain optimal hook exposure.
When rigging baits destined for waters with fast running tides, it’s worth spending the extra time ensuring they’re secure. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile snooding a smaller octopus pattern hook above the main hook to help a bait swim properly.
Berley is always effective but can be a difficult to get down into the strike zone, particularly during the middle of a tide. A berley pot with a stack of lead in it will be needed during these times to get anywhere near the bottom.
We attach the berley pot to one of the downrigger bombs. This allows it to stay in the water for the entire fishing session.
Berley made up of pellets and fish frames will bring gummies in the area towards your baits.
So if you fancy a tussle with a grey torpedo, plan ahead and prepare for heavyweight action. Catching and landing big gummies is an exhilarating experience and one that will make you popular with the family and neighbours. Fresh flake and some hot chips from the corner store are a tough combo to beat!Reads: 3106