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Delving the Depths
  |  First Published: September 2005



Many Victorian anglers like to target specific species such as snapper, whiting, gummy shark and the like. These species can be fantastic fun and a good challenge. To consistently come up with the goods, fishers need lots of variables on their side such as weather, moon phases, tides, locations, feeding habits and a myriad of other factors that no one can predict all the time.

For anglers with suitable boats, Bass Strait offers a diverse range of top fighting and great eating fish to tide you over until the next session at your favourite haunt closer to home. As a charter boat skipper it’s imperative that I have a range of fishing options at hand because, as we all know, fish can be fickle creatures. And with eager clients on board, expectations of good fishing are standard.

It’s at these times that bottom fishing or ‘bottom bouncing’ as it’s commonly referred to, in the deeper waters of Bass Strait is my preferred method. Whether it be drifting over gravel patches for snapper and gummy sharks, anchoring on the edge of a reef or even doing a flathead drift over sandy ground, the quality, variety and sheer numbers of fish that can be had amaze many anglers.

Each of these styles of fishing has their own techniques and idiosyncrasies that I will endeavour to discuss in this article, starting with the deep water anchoring adjacent to reefs.

You may notice that I mention ‘adjacent to reefs’. This is very important if you wish to get the best quality species from a reef system. Although lots of fish can be caught setting baits directly on top of a reef, plenty of small and undesirable fish, such as wrasse and perch, are likely to plague you. But these species are reluctant to move far from the cover of the reef itself and prefer to stay closer to their main food sources, weed, urchins and small crustaceans, such as shrimp. All of this tucker is more abundant on the reef than in the surrounding areas of open gravel or sand. Of course, there is also the added frustration of snagging your gear on such reef structures.

ANCHORING

A sounder is almost essential to define the reef edge. A clever angler, drifting over snag free sand or gravel, will mark spots of harder bottom. And for those less astute, there are always the obvious snags or reef dwelling species to distinguish the different terrain below.

For those without a GPS or radar, take note of your angle of drift and motor back along that route to anchor up, leaving plenty of distance from the reef to allow for anchor slip and the effect of current. It’ll take some getting used to, especially in deeper waters of 40m or more, but persistence will pay off.

If you find that you’ve overshot your mark then try shortening your anchor rope until snags and junk fish are no longer a problem. If this fails then pull the pick up and try again. Once you’re happy with the position of the boat the fun begins.

Rigs for bottom bouncing can be quite simple. Firstly, if fishing baits hard on the bottom then use a twisted dropper rig with two suitably sized hooks and sufficient lead to hold your rig vertically under the boat. The use of berley bombs can be effective although too much invites those undesirable reef species.

The other technique is to drift unweighted or very lightly weighted strip baits back down a surface berley trail. This can produce but the number of anglers on board needs to be considered, as does water depth. Apart from your typical quarry such as snapper, morwong and red fish or nannygai, species such as ‘couta, pike and yellowtail kingfish will all respond well to drifted strip baits.

DRIFTING

Drift fishing is probably more popular for deepwater bottom fishing because it’s often done while shark fishing or, as described above, while looking for reef. A lot of ground can be covered when drifting which helps to spread a long berley trail for sharks. And during spring, summer and autumn you can catch a great feed from Bass Strait’s fantastic flathead fishery.

Factors that affect this style of fishing are wind strength and swell height. A lack of wind may find you parked in one spot for a long time. This is good if you’re on a reef fringe but if you want to cover ground then it’s frustrating at best. On occasion, when winds are strong, drifting isn’t appropriate because your boat moves too fast to hold bottom. Sometimes, even the largest of leads will not be enough. A sea drogue can be deployed to slow the rate of drift. These contraptions can vary from a simple bucket on a length of rope to an elaborately set up parachute with radiuses as large as 6ft for large trailer boats.

In certain areas, such as close to Port Phillip Heads, tidal current has the same effect and there’s not much that can be done about it. Moving away from the tidally influenced area is about your only option.

A GPS is very handy for bottom bouncing once a productive patch is found. It’s a simple matter of backtracking each time the bite slows to get back onto the fish. Keep track of your good drifts for future reference because they can be hollows or trenches that will hold good numbers of fish time and time again.

Berley is not generally used for bottom fishing when drifting but surface berley is essential for those chasing sharks.

Rigs

I use the twisted dropper rig almost exclusively unless I’m chasing gummy sharks. They feed primarily on crabs so baits fished across the sand or gravel are more likely to get nailed compared to one suspended above the bottom. Snapper, nannygai and morwong (jackass or blue) all tend to feed slightly higher in the water column than gummies and flathead. As such, baits suspended up to 2m off the gravel are likely to attract larger specimens. This is not to say these species won’t nudge the bottom for fresh bait but it’s generally the smaller fish that feed lower.

TACKLE

I’ve been getting better hook-up rates with wide gape circle type hooks, such as the KL Series by Black Magic. They come into their own in the really deep waters of western Victoria where hooking fish in up to 250m is tricky. Other popular patterns are suicide, octopus and O’Shaunessy, and the offset of the suicide and octopus does have its merits when using larger baits.

Hook sizes really vary depending on the size of the fish you’re chasing and the type of bait being used. For our standard sized pilchards, 4/0 through to 6/0 are big enough. But if you’re using squid heads then hooks as large as 8/0 and 9/0 are warranted. Whatever the bait, it’s imperative to have very sharp points well exposed from the baits to get good penetration.

Sinkers should range from 4oz up to 12oz for very windy conditions or really deep water. Most of the time snapper leads are used because they drop straight down and don’t tangle with adjacent lines.

For the really deep stuff (100m+) additives such as glow bait can be used. Lumo beads or light sticks in various colours can increase your catch rate too.

GEAR

Outfits should be strong enough to cope with the necessary lead. It’s no good having a 4kg outfit and sending a 12oz sinker down. You just won’t be able to set the hooks!

Ideally, rods should be of a medium to fast taper in the 6 to 7ft range and rated between 8 and 12kg. Value for money rods include Shakespeare Ugly Stiks, Silstar Power Tip and ABU Sonar Tips.

All major reel manufacturers cater for specialist deepwater fishing. Some of the better ones are Shimano Toriums, Penn Spinfishers, and for those who can’t help getting the best, Saltigas and Stellas from Daiwa and Shimano respectively.

Your reel should ideally have a medium to fast retrieval rate and hold at least 400m of line. If you are serious about getting some quality fish from the deep then spool up with braid! For the really deep stuff I use 50lb XP TufLine. If you are fishing shallower than 80m, 30lb will be sufficient.

For terminal rigs I use 24kg Tortue because it’s a stiff line with good abrasion resistance. Line colour is not really a factor to consider.

LOCATIONS

Victoria doesn’t have very deep reefs compared to other states, with the exception of the waters off Portland, Port Fairy and west of Cape Schank. Depths in Bass Strait rarely exceed 75m and consist mostly of sand.

Shipwrecks and ‘grave-yards’ of scuttled vessels are great. There are some good wrecks off Barwon Heads marked on charts and better GPS chart plotters.

When searching for new deepwater ground it pays to consider bluffs and headlands that have reef extending on similar angles. Quality sounders show this type of bottom, not always as shallowing reefs but also as grooves or cracks in the bottom.

Bottoms up

So next time you’re scratching your head wondering where to fish now your local hole has gone quiet, head out onto the wild blue yonder and delve the depths with some ‘bottom bouncing’.

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