CATCHING a gummy shark from a kayak is a feat that took some time to accomplish. My early attempts in Port Phillip Bay and the south end of Westernport Bay were fruitless and it came time to explore new areas.
Given the limitations of kayak fishing, my first thought was that my first capture would be a chance encounter involving plenty of luck. Now that I’ve put in some research and plenty of practice, I can now launch into the top end of Westernport with supreme confidence that I’ll track down a decent gummy – no luck required.
Locations and Tides
Success in fishing so often comes down to being in the right place at the right time; this was particularly true of my quest to catch a gummy shark in the kayak. Internet research is what led me to explore the top end of Westernport Bay and what I found was a very unique patch of water that is teaming with small to medium sized sharks. I’m not going to be cryptic about the exact locations here, Lang Lang and Grantville boat ramps are the two spots where you can most easily access the water. I have no precise GPS marks in these locations, only a game plan in what to do with the tides, mud flats, and channels.
Tides are always an important in the planning of a successful fishing trip but in Westernport Bay the stakes are much higher. For spots like Lang Lang and Grantville the main consideration is that you will not be able to launch or retrieve your kayak for a couple of hours either side of low tide. If you do find yourself stranded at low tide and surrounded by mud, you’ll be better off to keep fishing than to try to cross it. Exiting your vessel at this point will almost certainly leave you waist deep in muck and dangerously bogged!
These locations can seem daunting to newcomers but in terms of the tides you have two simple options. Option one is that you launch three hours before the low tide and focus your efforts on the channel until the tide allows you to come back in. The best argument for this approach is that the resident fish will be more concentrated in less water. Option number two is that you launch two hours before the high tide and make sure that you are off the water by two hours after the peak. At this point in the tide cycle you can fish the channel or the shallow mud flats that will be in about two metres of water all around. This is my preferred option as I find that gummies are often actively feeding on the mud flats at high tide. It seems counter-intuitive to be fishing for sharks in two metres of muddy water rather than in the deeper channel, but I assure you that this is where my best fish have been caught.
Baits and Rigs
It seems that everything is different when you fish the top end of Westernport Bay and the bait that I use to catch gummy sharks follows suit. The old favourites like fresh slimy mackerel, fresh squid or cured eel might go okay but the greatest bait by a country mile is a big old prawn. There is a good reason for this madness. There is a healthy population of mantis shrimp in the area that juvenile gummy sharks are constantly feeding on. Gummies hunt with their noses and this is clearly demonstrated in their ability to sniff out a particular type of bait in dark and muddy waters. The big banana prawns that you can pick up at the local supermarket work fantastically as top end gummy bait and the only thing better would be an actual mantis shrimp, if you can get your hands on one. It amazes me how tuned in these fish are to the local prey animals of an area. Banana prawns will catch gummy sharks all day in the top end of Westernport but if you try for them further south towards the entrances, slimy mackerel fillets will win every time.
The rig that I use for catching gummy sharks is a simple one. It’s a basic running sinker rig with two hooks tied at the end in a double snell configuration. The double snell set up consists of two hooks that are tied in line with each other (roughly 50mm apart) using snell knots. This is a great rig for presenting large baits and it gives you a double chance to hook hesitant fish that might be nibbling at one end of your offering. A lot of experienced gummy fishos would recommend that you cover your hooks with heat shrink due to a shark’s ability to sense, and be deterred by, the presence of metal. I would never use a wire trace for this reason but have never had a problem catching fish with hooks straight out of the packet. A fairly heavy sinker is sometimes necessary to ensure that your bait is on the bottom when the tide runs, especially if you are casting into the channel. Sometimes I will fix a heavy bomb sinker to my swivel with a clip if I am really worried about keeping my prawn down on the mud. Twenty-pound breaking strain leader is what I tie on to fish in these spots. Gummies don’t tend to be leader shy and twenty pounds should be enough to land most fish that you’ll encounter at the top end of Westernport Bay.
Most anglers know that the best time to fish is whenever you get a chance, but I’ll tell you about my ideal situation anyway. I would launch at Lang Lang or Grantville about an hour before sunrise and a few hours before high tide. Time of year is not a consideration for me in this area; I find that juvenile gummies are feeding here all year round.
I peddle all the way to the channel even when I don’t intend to fish in it, because I like to have a back-up plan if I’m getting no bites in the shallows. I have a sounder in my kayak which helps me to find the channel but it’s not a necessity for this kind of fishing at all. Great gummy sharks are caught at many land-based locations around the top end of Westernport which proves that the fish will spread right over the mud flats at high tide, even in one metre of water. Once I have decided on a spot, I will drop anchor and get baits out as quickly as possible. Gummy sharks are going to smell these baits and will potentially track them down from a distance so the longer your baits spend in the water, the sooner you’ll be hooked up to a shark.
In most scenarios I fish one rod at a time but when bait fishing for gummies, I always fish with two. I like to picture an imaginary ring around each bait that symbolises the range at which a gummy shark can smell it from. If I cast my baits out at 45 degrees from the front of my kayak on opposite sides, the imaginary rings overlap to form a large area surrounding me. Once the baits are set it’s time to settle in for the waiting game. It is very unlikely that you’ll mysteriously lose a large bait on a double snell rig so unless you miss a significant bite, just let those prawns soak.
When you start getting a nibble, resist the urge to strike at it quickly. It is very easy to get over excited and jerk a bait right out of the shark’s mouth when you’ve been sitting still for an hour. I find that most bites in this scenario result in a hook-up so be patient and wait for the fish to fully commit. Once you have a decent gummy hooked, all that is left to do is to get the shark onboard. A large net does the trick for fish that are under a metre but when they are bigger than that, it can be easier just to lean over and grab them by the tail. The battle is not quite won at this point; gummies are well known for the manic death roll they perform once being plucked from the water. Remove the hook and clear the line as quickly as possible or your gummy will wrap itself tight in a fishing line cocoon!
Catching gummy sharks on the shallow mud flats of Westernport Bay is a unique undertaking when compared the more common blue water experience. It adds an intriguing insight into the habits and lifecycle of an amazing species.