How to catch gummy sharks
GUMMY sharks are an interesting creature. I don’t know of any other species of shark or bony fish that can adapt to such diverse environments than what gummies do. They’re comfortable in water as shallow as just a metre or two, right out to a depth of 400 m and everything in between.
It’s not just the variation of depth that makes them interesting, but also the differing environments in which they’re found, which ranges from high energy surf beaches, to sheltered bays and offshore shoals. Considering the varied habitats, you’d assume gummies would be easy to find but that’s not always the case. If anything, their varied distribution can make them harder to locate in numbers.
In the southern half of the country where gummy sharks are found, they are a legitimate target and have amassed quite a following. Granted they’re not powerful fighters, but they’re still good scrappers on light to medium gear, and they’re fantastic on the table. The bigger gummies, say above 15 kg, put up a reasonable fight especially in the surf or where there’s a bit of tide or current running.
I think of targeting gummy sharks more akin to targeting a species of fish; no wire required and the tactics employed for demersal fish work well when targeting gummies. Below we’ll take a look at some different scenarios where gummies are found and will offer some advice on how best to target them.
Deep water gummy fishing
Here in my home state of SA, most of our biggest gummies are pulled from deep water; it’s out here where genuine +20 kg sharks are caught. When we’re fishing deeper water, we’re concentrating on depths between 20 to 60 m, which is often several km or further offshore. Out here we’re looking for systems of reef or raised shoals, but interestingly we don’t pull our gummies from off the reef proper.
Once we have found an area of raised reef, we usually motor away from the peak of the reef, and fish the plateau of flat ground around the edge rather than on the hard substrate itself. We often find the gummies feeding on the flat ground adjacent to reef, and the smaller picking fish typically aren’t as bad so our baits last longer. A good area to try is between two raised reefs if the distance is quite short, focussing on the flat ground between the two.
If we have slow tides we’ll look to fish at anchor and drop a berley cage to the bottom, otherwise we’ll drift fish through these areas, slowly dragging baits as we go. Because gummy sharks feed on or near the bottom, we want our baits to hit the bottom, and preferably stay there. This often means fishing quite heavy leads in areas of strong flow, or you may need to target your fishing around the turn of the tide when the water has minimal movement.
In the deeper water I prefer to use a single 8/0 Octopus pattern hook for our gummies, with a 50 – 60 cm trace line of 80 lb mono leading to two swivels set around 15 cm apart. In between the two swivels I have a Kwik Change running sinker clip, which allows me to switch from a heavier sinker to a lighter sinker if the flow is slowing, or vice-versa if my bait isn’t hitting the bottom. Having the second swivel in place prevents the running sinker from dropping too quickly and leaving the bait flailing behind. We use 6oz of lead on an average day but will increase or decrease as required.
We use squid heads or strips of squid when targeting gummy sharks in deeper water. Having a tough bait like squid or even octopus lasts well if there are a few undesirable species around such as wrasse or sergeant baker.
Shallow water gummy fishing
From one extreme to the next, gummies are just as happy feeding in calm shallow water as they are around the deeper drops of open water. Here in SA, we see gummies move in the shallows of select bays during the cooler months, feeding once the sun has set.
We concentrate on fishing around areas of depressions or channels within these bay systems. A bottleneck of deeper water is always a good place to look, as are deeper holes within an otherwise flat bay. Gummy sharks like a bit of water movement and don’t mind feeding around areas of high tidal flow.
Here in my local area we’re mainly fishing in water between 3 - 6 m, so it’s quite shallow. Gummy sharks are quite mobile, and by setting a berley bag on the bottom, you’ve got a reasonable chance of a gummy picking up the trail if you’re willing to invest a bit of time.
We see most of our gummies moving into these shallow bays around the full moon to feed. We don’t see many big females in our shallow bays – it’s mainly smaller males of around 4 to 8 kg, but over the border into Vic quite a few big females are caught from their shallow bay waters.
An incoming tide after sunset is a good period to fish. After setting a berley trail, we flick a couple of baits away from the boat and right back into the trail. As usual, try to get away with the lightest weight possible given prevailing conditions. My rig for targeting shallow water gummies is very simple. As most of the gummies are smaller I use a single 6/0 Octopus hook on a 60cm leader of 50lb mono, with a swivel separating my leader from mainline. I use a Kwik change running sinker clip so I can easily swap sinker size as the tide dictates.
Baits can vary from squid to fish fillets or even whole pilchards, depending on how many smaller pickers are in the area. If there are a few small fish ripping into the baits, then we’ll go with the tougher baits like squid.
We quite often target King George whiting around these same bay systems during the day, and it doesn’t hurt to set a bigger bait back in the berley trail as you will pick up the occasional gummy during daylight hours.
The only downside to fishing around these shallow bay systems and around the fringing channels are the stingrays. Expect to catch a few eagle rays or smooth rays as bycatch when targeting gummies from shallow water. Some areas are worse than others, and they can be a nuisance.
Surf fishing for gummies
Because of the number and quality of surf fishing beaches we have in my home state, targeting gummies from the surf is very popular. Gummies are largely nocturnal feeders in shallow areas, which includes the surf line. You can still catch a few gummies during daylight hours, but your strike rate increases exponentially when you focus on the building tide during the night.
Most of our surf-caught gummies have been during the warmer months between October to April. Having said that, we have caught the occasional winter gummy from the beach, but it’s usually more difficult with bigger swell and side currents, and generally colder conditions. Standing on a beach on a balmy summer evening is a cool way to spend a night.
First you need to select an obvious gutter or hole along a surf beach; the chosen water needn’t be super-deep, but clearly deeper than the surrounding water. Gummies are opportunistic feeders and respond well to a berley trail, so I usually set some berley before the sun sets; preferably while the tide is low. This can be as simple as berley buried under a thin layer of sand, or a bit more involved and include a berley cage or basket of some description.
Best baits from the beach are usually fresh fillets of baitfish such as salmon, mullet, silver trevally or mackerel. Any oily and firm fleshed fish will do the trick. Pre-loved fillets of salmon that are several months old and have been dug out of the back freezer won’t cut it. Fresh fillets are best.
My preferred rig from the sand is pair of snelled 6/0 Octopus hooks on a 70 cm trace that leads to a combination crane swivel, with a short mono dropper and star sinker off the free eye. Surf casting tackle is mandatory, with an 8 – 10kg rod of around 11 ft in length about the minimum in the surf. The longer and slower taper the rod is, the easier it will be to lob a bait and a 6 oz sinker into the surf.
I try to fish with two rods at night for gummies if the conditions allow. If there’s a bit of weed floating in the gutter or there is big swell I usually just run with a single rod to save complications. Sand crabs can be a nuisance along some surf beaches at night, however they form an important part a surf-roaming gummy sharks diet so don’t be perturbed if some sandies are attacking your baits. It may mean you’ll chew through more bait in the session, but you’ll still have a good chance of hooking a gummy shark or two. Most of the gummies we catch from surf are mid-sized sharks in the 5 to 10 kg bracket, with the occasional larger shark.
Looking after your catch
Gummy sharks are fantastic on the table and are regarded as the premium species of shark to eat – and hence the commercial pressure. There’s nothing wrong with taking a gummy shark home for the table, but you need to look after the flesh to ensure it’s in premium condition come fillet-time.
If we land a gummy and we intend to eat it, we’ll dispatch the shark pretty quickly with a blow to the head. We’ll then ‘trunk’ the shark by removing the head, guts and fins. I like to leave the tail fin attached to make it easier to carry. The quicker you can ice the trunk down the better. If we’re fishing in a shallow bay we won’t dump any offal over the side of the boat until we’re finished our fishing session.
If we catch a big female which is obviously full of pups we’ll slip her back into the water asap. It’s pretty obvious when you see a big girl bearing young; her belly will be huge.
Gummies are a cool southern target; they’re fun to catch and make great eating. They’re not like targeting other species of shark, so if you haven’t scrapped with a gummy before, why not give it a go?