How to

HOW-TO: Offshore Gummies

Most anglers from the northern half of the country just don’t understand the obsession southerners have with gummy sharks. This article by JACK MONKIEWICZ helps put the sportfishing appeal of gummies into perspective.

THE pursuit of angling is a deeply personal experience. Whether you’re hunting a trophy fish which signifies a private achievement, catching bread & butter species to supplement your household’s dietary requirements, or perhaps just escaping the monotony of the office, all fishos dedicate time and effort on the water in the hope of producing a target species. For many who fish the cool waters of southern Australia, gummy sharks fit the bill. They’re a hard fighting trophy species which make great eating and require many hours spent in beautiful places to work out and catch.

Traditionally, anglers who target gummies work strong tidal bays and ports, with many theories and anecdotes regarding how to improve the success rate. Everything from bait selection, moon phase, tide cycles, season and fishing pressure can influence whether a prospective angler will hear their reel scream as an angry spotted shark runs for cover. However, gummies aren’t penned in the bays and ports, and there’s a fantastic fishery, especially for large fish, out in the ocean.

Sometimes it can feel like every bit of coast has been explored and fished. Spots which consistently produce fish are heavily targeted by those who aren’t confident about exploring and finding their own little patch. However, there’s a lot of satisfaction in moving away from the familiar and beginning the process of finding new ground and new opportunities. Sometimes that may mean coming home empty handed, but if you persist in scouting and methodically working new ground, the benefits can be considerable.

Although a lot of Bass Strait is sand, there are areas of patchy reef and rubble offshore. These fish-holding structures often have minimal pressure from anglers who tend to drive straight over them on their way to the 50m-70m line where mako slicks are common throughout summer. In 40m-50m, our cold Victorian waters support unique soft coral beds which provide ideal hunting grounds for a variety of species, including some monster gummies.

Specifically targeting fish on deep ocean reefs does require a slightly different approach to working the fast moving water on the banks of bays and ports. Out on the wild side of Bass Strait anglers need to be mindful of swell, wind, current, passing yachts (I personally had to cut the anchor line just before a silent moving yacht ploughed straight through my boat) and big mammals which like to breach in season and aren’t expecting a boat anchored up in 50m of water.

Deep on the ocean floor, where the light struggles to penetrate, gummies work gutters and reef edges seeking their next meal. Even large fish will confidently swim through tight kelp beds while on the prowl for a snack. As most Victorian anglers know, sending down a bait over heavy reef is futile due to the aggressive and prolific bluethroat wrasse; however, not all is lost when these seagulls of the underwater world are on a bait picking rampage.

Jack Monkiewicz with a 30kg+ school shark which was quickly photographed and then carefully released. Big schoolies like this are a prized catch for southern sportfishermen.

Snagging one of these large scaled slimy fish equates to some brilliant bait. Using a bluethroat as a swing/chunk bait has proven to consistently tempt big gummies. The longevity of wrasse over squid is incomparable. Squid is soft, subtle and food for almost everything in the ocean. It’s hard work constantly checking if the picker fish have liberated the squid strip without actually hooking up. Wrasse, on the other hand, has tough skin, firm flesh and plenty of bones to assist it staying where it’s meant to. There’s still bycatch when using wrasse, which includes various shark varieties as well as snapper, but I haven’t found tiny pickers, such as flathead, capable for damaging the bait enough for it to fall off the hook. And in turn this means the bait is doing its job more consistently.

Every angler has “their” hook. They believe that their chosen brand will ensure the best hook up. For me, I look for a hook which is strong, has a distinct circle and is ultra sharp – that means a Daiichi Mutsu in a 5/0. Gummies have a tough mouth and getting a hook up even with a single circle is generally fairly easy. After considerable testing of both running sinker rigs and three-way swivels it appears both will get a result, however, for ease of use, the three-way swivel wins hands down.

Checking on bait in 50m of water is inconvenient at the best of times, add to that twisted droppers, and your patience will be sorely tested. If, however, the current is running hard and heavier sinkers are required, my preference is a running sinker rig, which allows the bait to be taken without the resistance of heavy lead.

Adding a fluoro bead does jazz the bait presentation up a little as it stands out in the gloom where the gummies hunt. It should be noted that gummies do have reasonably good eyesight and will actively hunt baitfish. That said, don’t be overly cautious of heavy leaders. Sixty pound is the norm for the ocean side and through summer even 80lb is advisable, just in case a thresher or school shark beats a gummy to the bait. Even worse is getting hooked up on one of those heavy, lazy seven gill sharks, aka “gorillas”.

Join your trace to a Bimini twist to 40-50lb braid and you have a lethal combination. The braid assists in minimising drag in the deep water and allows for lighter sinker weights to be used. Some people subscribe to the belief that mono is better for rigs using circle hooks due to it having some stretch, but so far the braid is performing just fine for me.

A medium overhead reel or a 5000 sized threadline teamed with an 8-10kg rod completes the tackle requirements. You can go much lighter but remember the ocean is a big place and if you happen to hook a serious fish, a light outfit might not be up to it. I’ve been caught out a number of times fishing too light and had the reel at mach 10 and almost spooled before the leader gave way.

New ground
While gummy shark – aka flake – is great eating, many anglers elect to release trophy sized specimens.

After watching the weather, a small high moved over Bass Strait and quickly flattened the seas. My fishing buddy Chris George and I had been discussing sounding over a stretch of new ground to try and pin-point some fresh deep water reefs. After the standard beach launch, my small centre console was making its way to deeper water, when a bubbling mass of Australian salmon rose to the surface. Never one to pass up fresh bait options, we jumped up the front on the casting deck and threw slugs and plastics as the voracious salmon obliterated the vulnerable whitebait. It was all over in a few minutes, however, three salmon had been landed and were now in the esky.

As we reached the 40m line hard reef was evident on the sounder. Our preference is to work the edge of structure so we continued zigzagging, closely watching the zoomed in sounder screen for signs of intermittent weed or rock. I believe in spending as much time as necessary sounding. It is better to fish an hour less in the right spot than all day in the wrong place. Chris and I continued slowly edging along and circling on larger sand patches to see whether they looked suitable.

After some time we had made a discovery that the reef edge stopped back towards the shore in 37m, and anchored off the edge of the structure. The day was warm, with a light cross shore breeze. The birds looked lazy as they unhurriedly picked themselves up, flew towards the boat, did a customary water ski landing and begun bobbing behind our lines. Everything looked good, and we were about to settle in when the first rod went, then stopped – bloody bluethroat. After donating all our fresh salmon to the wrasse community, we rigged the circles with chunks of bluethroat – which felt entirely fitting!

As much as fishing is about catching your target species, it’s thoroughly enjoyable exploring new territory and waiting to see if it will produce a result. Time seems to naturally tick away without constant checks of phones or Facebook. The silence was interrupted by Chris’s spin reel humming with a run. Chris had positioned himself in the portside corner and frantically reclaimed as much braid as possible. The fight was lengthy, and the drag eventually backed off as Chris felt the tail kicks hitting the leader. Coming up we could see it was a gummy, a big gummy!

The deck was cleared and camera prepped as we negotiated how to land a fish this big into a small boat. Grabbing her fins we both hauled the shark in and pounced. Gummies are notorious for going mental once landed and a fish of this size would be a test in the confined space. With the hook removed, Chris wrestled the fish while I snapped a few shots. We both noticed her girth and estimated the gummy to be at least 25kg. On her head was a distinctive white marking, which appeared to be a healed wound. If we were ever lucky enough to catch her again, we should be able to identify her by the blotch. Holding her dorsal fin, Chris gave her plenty of time to recover before letting her swim out of his hands. It looked like scouting a new spot had paid dividends.

We had more big runs which only resulted in bust offs. Whatever was down there was tougher, faster and harder to land than a 25-odd-kilo gummy. We immediately planned our return, although for this next trip we’d be prepared with beefed up gear.

I decided I wouldn’t take any more chances and chose a whole new outfit: A Samaki offshore rod, 6000 Tica Talisman loaded with 50lb braid and 80lb Strike Pro fluorocarbon. I also upgraded to a 6/0 Mutsu hook. At least now the fight would be a little more even.

Finally a weather window opened and Chris and I were chafing to get back and even the score. We had both thought that the runs we experienced last time were indicative of school sharks. These are tough fish to catch, sensitive to wire and elusive to many anglers.

After launching from the beach, we beelined to our new mark and set up with fresh bluethroat. I looked at my new outfit willing it to go. The Talisman boasts 20kg of drag, enough surely to stop most things from doing a bullet train run into the abyss. The 80lb fluorocarbon trace was a better choice with a 6/0 which would hopefully end up in the corner of the schoolie’s mouth and away from its rows of sharp teeth. Feeling quietly confident, I relaxed and thought of what size the schoolies would be – 18, 20, maybe 25kg? Generally a school shark the same size as a gummy would pull it backwards with its huge sprints at blistering pace. However, I wasn’t prepared for what happened next…

My bait was taken and the run began. It just kept going and going and going. I cranked the Talisman’s drag up, then a little more, and more again, finally slowing the fish down. Next we entered the stage where we’d lost so many fish previously. I could feel the directional changes, and suddenly the whack of a tail against the fluorocarbon. Working the rod and keeping the pressure on I eventually saw colour – it looked big. Catching an 18kg school shark is considered a great fish for Bass Strait, but this fish appeared to be in excellent condition and in peak fighting fitness. Once next to the boat Chris and I brought the fish aboard. We estimated it to be around 32-33kg.

Photos were taken and the fish successfully released. The IUCN classifies schoolies as “vulnerable” on the threatened species list. They’re a particularly old shark which are wonderful sport fish and should be respected.

Some anglers from northern states and territories can’t seem to appreciate southern anglers’ obsession with gummy and school sharks. In the north, sharks are considered a nuisance at best. Unfortunately for Victorians, we don’t have access to fish like GTs and queenies, so gummies provide that reel burning sound we all love.

Fishing is a dynamic sport, with endless numbers of available species and equally as many methods to target them. I can honestly say there isn’t a fish I don’t want to catch. I hope anglers in the northern states reconsider gummy and school sharks as being worthy of attention.

Even though gummies don’t have teeth, the “gummy bug” can bite hard, so watch out, you northern boys could soon be sitting on a channel or reef edge actively chasing these fantastic sportfish, wondering how you got addicted to fishing for the angry spotted sharks!

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.