While the humble gummy shark does venture into our bays, the largest numbers of gummies are found offshore between the surf beaches and the edge of the continental shelf. Here gummies are in great numbers as they roam Bass Strait and our southern coastline. Fishing for gummies in this offshore ground anywhere from 20m deep out to 200m is a highly effective way of catching quality gummies and in great numbers.
Finding somewhere to fish for gummies is easy; you want to pick any hard reef edge where it drops away to sand. The other preferred bottom environment is light rubbly reef. These two habitats provide the perfect ground for offshore gummies as they hunt the reef edges or patrol the rubble patches searching for food. Ideally on your sounder you want to be marking signs of life such as smaller fish and bait. You may mark the odd bigger fish or gummy but as a general rule the gummies will come to you as you drift, you don’t have to drop right on top of them. As long as you have good bottom ground such as rubble or reef edge with some active reef fish, the gummy sharks won’t be far. Bycatch of pinkie snapper and nannygai are a great sign you’re in the right area. Preferred depths of water to fish are 40m to 60m depth. However, in summer the fish will push in shallow to the back of surf beaches in as shallow as 10m but it’s usually an early morning or night bite in this shallow water. Out deeper – 40m plus – the fish will bite all day. During winter, lots of fish can be found out deeper on the edge of the shelf in 100m to 150m of water. As a general rule, 40m to 60m depth is not too far to travel offshore and generally holds good numbers of gummy sharks.
Gummies are nomadic and are always on the move so it’s best to try a number of areas until you find some fish. Then, if you catch a gummy, stick it out here and more fish should show up. While the gummy sharks do not school as such, they are often travelling with other fish in large broken-up patches of fish. The reefs located off the large rocky capes of the Victorian coastline are hot spots for gummies and are great spots to start looking for ground. Cape Conran, Cape Schanck, Cape Otway and Cape Bridgewater are all great spots for Victorian offshore gummy grounds.
Gummies in these offshore waters are best targeted on calm days where you can get a slow drift in the boat and keep your baits on the bottom. Large paternoster rigs with a 10/0 circle hook are the best to use. Use a sinker that will keep your bait on the bottom as you drift and you may have to change the weight of this as the wind or tide varies. Fish one rod per person on the boat and really concentrate your efforts on keeping a bait on the bottom at all times. Gummy shark will eat absolutely anything but – as always – fresh is best. If you can catch bait on the way out, this is ideal and any fish will do – just cut it into big fillets or cutlet baits. If you don’t have time to catch bait frozen squid, salmon or yakkas will work fine. Big baits are ideal as they help keep the smaller fish from destroying your bait. Instead, the smaller fish pick away at this bigger bait and create a small berley trail coming off your bait that will help attract the gummies. If there are lots of picker fish about and they destroy your baits too quickly, try something tough and hard like an octopus tentacle or Aussie salmon head. These big hard baits often last a lot longer if soft baits are getting destroyed within minutes.
You really want to make sure you have a big bait on the bottom at all times when gummy fishing. Sometimes snapper and smaller fish can strip your bait in a couple of bites so if you see the rod bouncing from smaller fish hitting the bait, it pays to check baits every 10 to 15 minutes. Big gummies can be a serious handful on the gaff and have a speciality of rolling off them, so a big landing net is ideal. If you don’t have a big net you can fight the gummy right out on the rod until it’s nice and calm on the surface, then you can grab them by the tail and lift them in the boat. Gummies are great eating so many come home for a feed – just make sure they are well bled to get the best eating quality.
10 to 15kg spin rods with 10000-size reels are perfect for this fishing. Spool the 10000-size spin reel with 50lb braid and this will give you at least 300m of main line so you can fish any depth from 40m right out to 200m of water. The braid cuts through the water much better then mono and is essential for drifting in deep water to keep your bait on the bottom. Run the 50lb braid down to a long 80 or 100lb leader. This long leader prevents the gummies rubbing their rough skin on your braid and cutting you off as they roll up the line during the fight. I then tie the rig from 80 or 100lb leader depending on the size of the gummies you catch. Tie a single dropper paternoster with a sinker for your desired depth and large circle hook. This set-up is perfect for offshore gummies on the drift as you can put the rod in the holder and let the fish hook themselves on the circle. If you’re snagging on the bottom constantly and losing rigs, you’re fishing over the top of hard reef, which isn’t ideal for gummies. Try and move out until you’re on the edge of this reef. Aim for where it drops to sand or rubble and your sinker catches the bottom on the odd occasion but generally you can pull it out. If your sinker is not catching the bottom at all, you’re often out on the sand or mud and this is also no good.
Keep moving spots every 30 minutes or so if you haven’t received a bite from a gummy. It’s easy to wind up your rods and shoot over to a new spot to try for another 30 minutes. If you get a gummy bite in the first 30 minutes of drifting an area, keep drifting in this area as the chances are there will more fish. Keep an eye on the sounder and if you drift away from the reef edge or rubble patch and don’t receive any bites, simply repeat the drift where you caught the fish.
Snapper and big school shark are a common by-catch when drifting for gummies but you will also get blue morwong, flathead and nannygai – all tasty. These fish all hang out in similar areas to the gummy shark so if you catch these fish but no gummies it’s still worth marking the area and returning another day when the gummies may have moved in. Baitfish schools such as yakka and slimy mackerel are also a great sign, and if you find these schools of bait on your gummy ground catch some fresh baits and send them back down for a gummy on the bottom. It’s also worth having a heavier rod with a wire trace rigged in the boat as mako sharks often turn up out in these areas for a look at the boat.
Once you spend a couple of trips drifting offshore from your local area you will begin to build up a range of spots such as reef edges and rubble patches that you can have marked and try for 30 minutes each over the next few trips. Another handy tool to have when drifting is a sea anchor as this will slow your drift if the wind gets up. An electric motor can also be used to help slow your drift and spot-lock when you receive a bite. Once you find a reef edge or rubble patch holding good numbers of gummies the fish will often hold in this general area for a few weeks before moving on. Take note of the size of tides and the time of year so you can return to fish the same mark when conditions are similar again. The gummies seem to move in big waves of fish and travel large distances so if you’re unsuccessful at one spot, don’t be afraid to move a long way down the coast or out deeper before you try again.
You will find gummies from a couple of kilos in weight right up to the 30kg monsters offshore. As a general rule, the smaller fish are more common over summer while the big females move in over late winter and spring but there are no set rules – a monster can turn up at any time. Time of year is much less important when compared to some of the seasonal southern species and the gummies are caught in good numbers offshore all year. So get some nice big baits and head offshore for a drift whenever you can because the offshore gummies are always a great option!