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Southern Steam Trains

July 16, 2011

Written by John Cahill

Appears courtesy of Fishing Tips & Techniques magazine.

It was February and prime Gummy Shark time. The gummies as we love to call them had been a little patchy for us and over previous weeks and we had hit and missed on successive trips. Heading out pre dawn from the ramp at Sorrento, we were met with favourable light southerly winds. Arriving at a favourite bank in 15 meters of water on the edge of the South Channel we dropping anchor on the 6 meter Cruise Craft and came to rest beautifully in the strong flood tide. We hastily fixed sinkers, cut fresh strips of Salmon and Trevally and cast a spread of rods - setting them in holders parallel to the water. We were filled with anticipation for good reason - the reports had been hotting up this week and some quality gummy sharks in the 12 to 25 kilogram bracket had been taken over the previous days, it seemed that the annual movement of the big girls had commenced where the migrate from Bass Straight in order to give birth to their pups. Having commenced the wait for the waft to attract the attention of out chosen species, we were fortunate we didn’t need to wait long; a rod tip commenced the familiar bounce before the rod tip pulled down hard and the drag screamed in protest. 15 minutes later and some mind blowing runs later, 16 kilograms of solid gummy shark slid in the net. High fives all round and a few photo’s later, this big girl was released to swim, immediately another rod loaded up and we were on again – this was southern sports fishing at its best!


The author, John Cahill, with a dawn steam train.

The setting

Port Phillip Bay is an expansive water way covering 1,950 square kilometres.
With the busy Port of Melbourne located on Melbourne’s city fringe in the north, the bay spreads around to the infamous fast flowing opening to Bass Strait ‘the rip’ which is the entrance to Australia's busiest port and is one of Victoria's most popular recreational destinations. The bay is a large expanse of water that is surprisingly shallow in many places. Nearly half the bay is less than 8 metres deep. Its greatest depth is 24 metres. Port Phillip Bay is a self sustaining ecosystem which is healthier and cleaner than comparable bays near large cities. The top half of Port Phillip comprises a predominantly mud and sand bottom inter spread with weed beds and reef patches with slow moving tides The southern half of the bay is very different. Typified by the beachside locations of Mount Martha to Portsea, or Indented Head to Queenscliff on the west side of the bay, in this neck of the woods the water either barely covers shallow sand banks or is fast moving through deep cut shipping channels, a perfect environment for gummy sharks to hunt for food. It is not just a great environment for these amazing scavengers; it has become a haven since restrictions were placed on the netting and long lining of them within three nautical miles of shore, resulting an a relative expansion of their numbers and size. Port Phillip Bay and its nearby cousin Western Port have become gummy shark havens. The great thing about this fishing is that it isn’t rocket science, the best locations to intercept gummy sharks in this area are any channel edge. You don’t need deep water, 10 or more meters is ample in day light and you can get away with shallower at night The edge of any channel such as the South, Symonds or the Pinnacle channel are the key locations especially in the vicinity of the South Channel Fort or Mud Island.

Photo of the Fort on South Channel

Some GPS marks to get you started in the area include these proven fish takers
1) 38 21 979, 144 46 656
2) 38 21 985, 144 46 654
3) 38 15 001, 144 45 717

The method

Becoming consistent with catching gummies has a lot to do with working out how they hunt and scavenge. As gummies have an awesome sense of smell, and a voracious appetite a well presented oily bait set in the current to not spin has a great chance of getting inhaled as the gummies scour the channel edges in their search for spider crabs prominent in the area. Whilst it is quite difficult to source these crabs for bait, and even harder to fish one as they spin profusely, the method we favour is that of intercepting the sharks when they are on the move by placing good oily baits in a likely location. Combined with patience, this usually equals a chance at a gummy or two. By trial and error, my crew have worked out that gummies can be caught on any tide however the success rate and lack of unwanted by-catch decrease dramatically on the flood tide, especially the last two hours up to slack water. Other factors that can work in your favour to spectacular results include concentrating your efforts on the days leading up to the new and full moons where there is usually a stronger tidal flow which really fires the sharks up. We often fish at night on the full moon but restrict ourselves to day time only on the new moon due to the plague proportion of sea lice that ravage baits in moments during the night on that moon.


Brendan Cahill with perfect eating size gummy.

Getting there

This area of Victoria, the beautiful Mornington Peninsula is approximately 75 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD and 100 kilometres from the Tullamarine airport. It is a popular spit of land that has wild Bass Strait on one side and the bay on the other. It is an excellent location to take the family with plenty of things to see and do as well great fishing. The peninsula is well serviced via the sea side towns of Rosebud, Rye and Sorrento for all facilities and accommodation. A call to local guru Dan Lee at Peninsula Total Tackle will put you in touch with the latest reports, charter boat operators, advice and gun baits


Keen fisho Dave O'Brien with a neat little gummy.  Whatever the size they're great fun!


Good sized gummy sharks are capable of long powerful runs however the biggest opposition you will find in Southern Port Phillip Bay are jumbo sized stingrays and skates and other less desirable biteys of behemoth proportions. For this reason, your gear is best a compromise between ideal equipment and that needed to get the job done quickly. Overheads and thread lines in the 4000 to 6000 class are a perfect match on a 7 foot 10 – 15 kg fast taper rod. Another factor is line and I strongly recommend braid for its thinner diameter to combat the strength of the tide in this region. Usually 15kg will take care of anything accounted unless you run into something from the deep! Leader material is usually in the 30 – 50 kg class – as gummies don’t have teeth they wont bite through leader, however their brute strength when they roll will easily snap a moderate leader if it gets wrapped around anything. The classic rig to use in this area is what we call a ‘standard Westernport rig’ which is a fancy running sinker rig. It comprises the mainline (braid) with an ezy rig fitted, tied via a blood knot to a quality swivel then tied with a uni knot to your leader material which should be at least a meter long. Perfect hooks for these sharks are Black Magic KL circle hooks or Gamakatsu circles in sizes 6/0 to 8/0 depending upon bait sizes. These hooks are ideal for pinning your trophy gummy in corner of the jaw to aid an easy release if you choose and they also give a good chance of a hook up not resulting in a bite off should you attract a 7 gill or school sharks which are also common in this area. I find snelling my circles instead of tying a knot actually sets the circle correctly to aid a hooks set in the jaw – right where you want it!


The westernport rig.


The number one baits for gummies are oily fish flesh baits. I personally favour trevally or salmon fillet or whole baits if they are too small to cut a decent fillet from. I usually cut these baits into a long triangle up to 20cm long depending upon the size of the fish I have available to cut baits from. I simply pin the hook through the narrow end and check the bait doesn’t spin in the current before casting out. If using whole fish baits use a two hook snelled rig with the top hook through the baits nose with a stinger hook protruding below the dorsal fin, trust me hungry gummies have no trouble wolfing this bait down! Other baits that produce good results include squid presented as strips or whole heads as well as other cut fish flesh baits such as barracouta or at a pinch the humble pilchard on a two hook rig.


A squid strip on a two hook snelled rig ready to be cast out.


I usually don’t use berley in this area as it can attract so many unwanted species such as numerous small flathead, banjo sharks, skates and rays. My view is that the gummy sharks have a superior sense of smell and have no trouble finding a quality bait. My only exception to this is when things are extremely quiet on the water I feel compelled to add some berley to the equation but it must be on the bottom due to the speed of the tides, to do this I use a ‘secret weapon’ berley bomb filled with chopped up fish pieces every 15 minutes or so. I have found that using a weighted cage or bag with fish frames or chopped pilchards invariably will get taken by a large 7 gill shark or bronze whaler – I have lost count of the number I have lost!


A Secret Weapon burley dispenser loaded with chopped up fish pieces ready to be deployed.


Gummies can be caught year round in this area however to maximise your chance of a big girl (males don’t seem to get heavier then about 12kgs) is to fish this region between late December and May with variances season to season. During this period numbers of gummies have entered the bay from the ocean entrance and they feed veraciously whilst getting ready to give birth to their pups. On that point, a strong culture has developed over the recent years in Melbourne of releasing these larger females to breed and fight another day as they are a species vulnerable to over fishing and the big girls are the breeders, giving birth to up to 50 live pups. Most sharks under 8 kilograms or so have not yet reached sexual maturity and when the first do they only have a few pups every couple of years. Most anglers prefer to keep the sharks less then 12 kilograms or so to eat and why not, they make awesome flake!

Plan a trip and get amongst it!

If you are the travelling type of angler, considering planning a trip to the region either by hitching up the trailer boat for the long haul to Melbourne, or better still pack yourself on a cheap flight and book a local charter. The area is well serviced by quality operators who have a great reputation for putting you onto some great fish.


Another successful release.

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