Southern Port Phillip Bay Gummy Sharks
January 9, 2009
Appears courtesy of South East and West Fishing magazine.
Written by Dan Lee.
There is a serious debate raging in some fishing circles. Is Southern Port Phillip a better Gummy fishery than Westernport? Well, for those in the know there is now a pretty good case mounted to suggest that Port Phillip is just as good as Melbourne’s traditional Gummy fishery! But even so, many of us still find it hard to find consistency with these elusive silver ghosts. I know that this was certainly my story. It became a regular ‘long-trip home’ to the Rye boat ramp, empty handed and disappointed once again. I spent hours on the water, often scratching my head wondering what I was doing wrong!? I trawled not only every written resource I could find but the minds of other accomplished fishos in my attempts to finally snare one of these magnificent piscatorial prizes. In truth my breakthrough came when I finally pinpointed the thin slice of time when Gummies bite during a day’s tides.
This exciting turning point came one December morning on the edge of the Symmonds Channel. We had worked our way through what seemed like a biblical plague of Banjo Sharks, when finally a reel screamed off. Another eagle ray? Perhaps… but then the characteristic, and now familiar, head shakes of a solid Gummy shark. When the fish appeared boat side we didn’t know whether to gaff it, net it or grab it? With the adrenaline pumping, some clumsy seamanship and a couple of tense moments, the fish finally hit the deck. Not a monster fish in Gummy shark terms but a quality fish by any anglers’ standards. I looked at my fishing partner, Luke ‘Tassie’ Taylor. In our moment of triumph, we shook hands, did the high five thing and waisted no time re-rigging to get another bait back in the water.
The author displays a quality southern Port Phillip Bay gummy.
The south of Port Phillip is unlike any other section of the bay. Big Tides, dips, rises and channels feature prominently to form a sea scape more similar to Westernport than the northern end of Port Phillip. Specifically, my target area when searching for Gummies in Port Phillip’s south could be roughly described as a triangle stretching from the Rye Boat Ramp to the top of Mud Island and down to the Rip. Both the South Channel and the Symmonds Channel which feature in this area, offer banks which fall away from only a couple of metres to 14m – 16m in no time. It is the perfect territory to start your hunt for a Gummy Shark! The South Channel offers a second drop-off which goes down to below 20m in depth, but this is often quite close to the shipping lines so watch out! Personally, I prefer the slightly shallower banks between Mud Island and the fort. In this area you will find smaller channels such as the Pinnace as well as quick access to the “mud” flats to the North, which are home to Spider Crabs and other food sources washing off the Great Sands. As the name would suggest, Gummy sharks have no teeth, so it is almost unbelievable that the hard, spiky shells of large Spider Crabs form a large part of their staple diet. So take note – if you can find the crabs, you’re in the right area to find Gummies!
There is no need to go to the extremes when fishing for Gummies. I like to keep it fairly basic and affordable. I use four rods which enables me to fish a variety of baits. This in turn, gives me a better chance of getting a hook-up. My setup consists of two Penn Powersticks rated 8 -10kg and two Custom Ugly Sticks rated 8kg – 12kg. Keep in mind that when fishing the bottom of the bay you will often use large sinkers, 4 – 14oz, so the extra grunt in the rods is important. I have the Ugly Sticks coupled with Shimano Charter Specials which have become quite the standard in Gummy tackle. These I have loaded with 50lb braid. The Penn’s are mounted with Abu Big Game 7000’s and are loaded with 30lb braid, I like to bring these out for some real toe to toe light tackle battles.
TackIe and Tactics
I suggest you keep your rigs simple. I use a single 8/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook on a long Jinkai trace usually 80lb. It is imperative you purchase an expensive leader material that is very abrasion resistant. If not, you risk losing your prized catch. Gummies might not have teeth but the constant rubbing of their strong gums can wither away leaders in no time. An ezy rig sinker clip is also required in the setup to clip your sinker onto as well as a strong ball bearing or rolling swivel. Refrain at all times from using brass swivels; in fast tidal areas brass swivels don’t spin quick enough and you’ll end up with line twist, this can weaken your leader whereas rolling and ball bearing swivels don’t.
Personally, I like to keep the traces about 1 - 1.5 metres in length, this keeps them manageable when casting.
Fresh bait is very important when seeking a Gummy however, if you’re anything like me you probably don’t have hours to spend chasing fresh calamari or salmon. If this is the case then market-bought baits are the go. I can’t go past Australian Salmon, Silver Trevally and Snook (often sold as Pike). Others, like Cured eel, are also effective and don’t ever under estimate the value of the humble pilchard!
Along with good quality baits and good terminal tackle I also use fresh berley whenever I can which usually means when the tide slackens off (about 2 hours before the turn). I place my berley concoction (consisting of the market bought fish frames and a couple of pilchards) into a cage and lower it down to the sea floor. Once the cage hits the bottom I pull it up a foot or two, so that the berley is forced out with the current. The down side to berleying in this manner is the risk of your berley cage being damaged by larger sharks, such as Seven Gillers. So far, we have lost half a dozen cages but this is a small price to pay for the thrill of a Gummy!
Stylistically, I fish in a similar fashion to how you may fish for Snapper in northern Port Phillip. All four rods are setup in snapper racks level with the water. The ratchet is set and in gear with approximately 2kg of drag pressure. Perfect for setting the hook when a fish takes off with your bait!
Gummy fishing is a waiting game, once you are set-up, all you need to do is sit back, be patient and enjoy your surroundings and company. When a Gummy hits you will certainly know about it!
When you finally manage your first fish to the side of the boat, it pays to have a plan. I like to use a hand net when boating Gummy Sharks. To the untrained hand, a gaff can be difficult and dangerous and will often result in a lost or injured fish. Having said that, if you choose to net Gummies you will need something that is strong and properly reinforced. The weight and power of these fish is simply phenomenal and will easily bend and break cheap nets.
Luke 'Tassie' Taylor with a fine eating keeper from Port Phillip Bay.
Fishing the last two hours of the flood tide has been a proven success on my trips. I have spent countless hours fishing the full run-out tide and simply never found any consistency. I have heard that people also experience success in the last two hours of the run-out although to date, my results during this period are a little sketchy. As an added benefit to fishing the flood period, you will catch far fewer ‘rubbish’ fish such as Banjos, Skate, and Rays etc. However, if you’re not catching them at all, then you are probably fishing the wrong ground as they tend to inhabit similar areas.
Gummy Sharks really are a brilliant sports fish, catch rates peak sometime during the warmer months from February through to May, but their availability continues throughout the year. Whilst there is no key to guaranteeing results, putting in the long hours and hard yards will see you experience these beauties as a magnificent winter option. As they say, ‘time on the water will yield results’, if you haven’t got baits down, you don’t have a chance of hooking the big one!
With all the hype about big Gummies in Western Port and Port Phillip I urge anglers to only take what you need. We do not want to waste this precious resource. It has been a liberating experience for me to see a big Gummy swim off to the murky depths, confident in the knowledge that she is out there - free to burn-out my drag washers another day! I’ve been practicing C.P.R, Catch, Photograph and Release. It’s better to see a photo on the wall then to see off fillets in the freezer.