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Night Fishing for Gummy Sharks

June 11, 2010

Appears courtesy of Victorian Fishing Monthly magazine.

Written by Dan Lee.

Targeting Gummy Sharks by night is not everyone’s cup of tea. It adds a number of challenges to what can already be, a challenging and, at times, frustrating sport. The simple fact that it is dark can make everything from baiting-up to monitoring the lay of your lines, quite difficult. It almost certainly means more tangles as you inadvertently cast lines over each other. It can be cold and the ride home can be bumpy as you push through unseen chop with bleary eyes. So why do it? Well, the rewards can be significant! For those hunting trophy fish, there is almost certainly an advantage to using the calm of night to target a big Gummy Shark. As the sun goes down, there is little doubt that the big, wise elders of the species come out to play!


Jay Furniss with a 30kg behemoth taken from the south channel.

The advantages of night

Conversely, there are some big advantages to fishing at night. And the first is the element of stealth. To my mind there is little doubt that Gummy Sharks can be spooked. This, anecdotally, is evidenced through my own experiences where I have found that during January my catch rates drop when targeting Port Phillip Bay gummies during either the morning or the day. December fishes well, January fishes well, so what is going on with January? I can only attribute this change to the huge amount of boat activity, jet skis, and disruption occurring at this time of year through the peak of summer. Having said that some of the best captures I have been involved with have taken place during January – but by using the cover of darkness, fishing at night when all is quiet. It would seem that the fish do not disappear they simply shy a little during this period of heightened activity!
Furthermore, it could be argued that the biggest gummy sharks, the oldest and the wisest, have managed to succeed in life by being wary. Avoiding placing themselves in danger, they almost certainly will have used all elements to their advantage. And this, would definitely include using darkness to cover risky biologically necessary activities such as feeding. There is little doubt that gummies love scavenging the shallows and it is reasonably logical to assume that sticking to the deeper water by day and foraging in the shallower water by night, minimises the risk to which a gummy shark may be exposed. And this provides a brilliant window of opportunity for an angler to target these magnificent sharks.


Sean Callaghan enjoys a quality pre Christmas gummy shark.

Fishing the Banks

Almost every single gummy shark that I have ever kept for the table, has had a stomach full of crabs. And while some of these crabs live in the deeper water the vast majority will be found in relatively shallow areas. The banks along the edges of the channels, sand flats, mud flats etc. all hold this vital food source. By fishing on the embankment of a channel it say 5 – 15 metres of water, you place yourself directly in the path of a Gummy Shark which, hopefully, will be moving by night out of the deeper water to forage for food. Both Port Phillip Bay and Westernport offer myriad examples of these areas where you can find these conditions. And although we all love a good GPS mark, don’t be afraid to use your own senses and say, “this looks like a good area.” Drop the pick and give it a go, otherwise you will never know!


The author, Dan Lee, ecstatic with a southern Port Phillip Bay gummy shark.  This fish was released to swim another day.

Fishing by Moon light

The full moon phase plays a big role when fishing for gummy sharks at night. And there are two major reasons. The first is the effect on the tides, where the gravitational pull means that we have pretty significant highs and lows to the tides of the day. In the tidal areas of Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, picking the bigger of the two tides for the day, where you have pretty significant water movement with high flow rates is valuable. For me, this provides the best window of opportunity to target the species, because at either the end or the start of the tide while the water is moving slowly, gummy sharks are given their best opportunity to feed, and we are given the best opportunity to catch them! The converse is also true – if you are fishing tides with small movements, you probably should fish the entire tide, as the window for feeding is much larger.
The second significant reason to fishing the full moon is the fact that sea lice are less troubling during this moon phase. By no stretch of the imagination do they disappear but they are certainly not as thick as they can be during the new moon phase. This is important simply because you need baits in the water to catch a night gummy shark. And when the sea lice are thick this can be a very difficult, such is the ravenous nature of the pest!
While some anglers are happy to leave the deck lights blaring while fishing at night, to some degree this does compromise some of the advantages that you are trying to gain by fishing in the darkness. The simple fact that night time usually means less boat traffic, less noise and less disturbance is something that I value while fishing at night. There is no point to my mind then, losing that element of stealth by leaving your deck or spotlights on. Although I am not often too concerned about the sounder, I generally do turn it off at night, along with the radio. Do yourself a favour, fish by moon light!


John Cahill rapt to land another Port Phillip beauty!


While there is no need to specifically change your baits when fishing for gummy sharks at night, some people do like to ensure that you have a couple of hardy baits out to withstand sea lice. Fresh salmon, trevally, calamari, octopus and for hardiness, eel, all make excellent baits. The real key is simply to check your baits regularly. I would be hard pressed to leave baits longer than about half an hour at night. Unseen pickers that may have had your rod tip bouncing but you didn’t see in the darkness, sea lice and other by-catch are all good reason to check your baits regularly at night.

Special Techniques

One of the few significant differences that I employ to my technique for fishing for gummies at night is to include a series of glow beads above my hook. Glow beads have become quite commonplace in the fishing scene. Rigs for all sorts of species are starting to include this helpful little luminous rubber beads. Many modern whiting rigs, snapper rigs & flasher rigs feature these green beads and I have also found them effective on Gummy Sharks. And while you will certainly catch fish without them, any advantage is worth a look. I simply place four or five on my leader above the hook. Other than that, the standard ‘Western Port’ rig stays the same.


A typical whole fish bait pinned through the nose using a Black Magic KL circle hook.  Note the glow beads used as an added evening attractant.

Targetting gummies by night can be a lot of fun. And as we move into Autumn, where we can start to enjoy those still days, yet without the frosty bite of winter, it can be a very pleasant and rewarding experience. Keep in mind however, that the big female breeding stock often encountered at night, are not the best table fare. Take a snap, throw them back, and keep the smaller models, if you are after a feed! Good luck!

GPS Marks – Port Phillip Bay South



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