I’ve just got off the water after some friends and I caught a feed of bream on hardbodied lures. I really enjoy pursuing topwater bream on hardbodied reaction baits; having to create a presentation that is instinctually irresistible to the fish.
I find that hardbodied luring is more successful in the murkier waters of spring, summer and autumn. The clear waters of winter are less successful, particularly when I’m targeting bream using my favourite form of hardbodies – topwaters!
There are two main sub-groups of bream topwater lures: surface lures, like poppers, and shallow running plugs.
Shallow running plugs are lures that run between the surface and a couple of feet down. Despite some of them having a bib they can’t dive at all; rather they are a true ‘wake bait’ and their action is to wobble along an inch below the surface with their back occasionally breaking the water.
Bibbed minnows and plugs that can shallow dive are often retrieved slowly. They are a true surface presentation as only a few turns of the reel handle and many pauses, they float back up to the surface. The Norman Quarterbacks are a version of this lure that has been in the Australian marketplace since before I was born.
Like most fishing, on the day you’ll never know what type of retrieve the bream will prefer. With poppers it could be a fast paced twitching that covers a lot of water and teases the bream into ganging up on the lure. Or it can be as slow as a single twitch with a very long pause that slowly allows a few bream to congregate in the vicinity of your lure, and from there it may only take one twitch to get one of them agro to eat your lure and then commonly all of the bream will fire up at once. And competition for your lure is what you want!
The object of fishing a surface lure for bream is to get a lot of bream competing for your lure at the same time and riling each other up until one of them eventually wins. A missed strike will often be heard as a kiss behind your lure.
It does pay to be able to tell the difference between the different types of strikes so that you know what species is behind your lure. The kiss most often means bream, a large splash could be a flathead, a flash is a yellowtail pike or tailor, a bit of a swirl is trevally, and a long tom will create a little whirlpool with its tail nearby to the lure. And sometimes the world will open up around your lure! But in my experience when all hell breaks loose then it usually points to impending doom as an estuary cod is likely to have eaten whatever just ate my lure.
A few years ago I favoured a variety of colours for my topwater poppers. I certainly found that on some days hot fluoro bright colours worked best and on other days subtle natural colours were the fish’s preference. From my analysis, it was more related to the brightness of the sunlight than any other influence. But then I started using clear poppers and I found they worked all the time; bright sun or dark night.
Also when using clear, see-through poppers I was able to go up to a larger size for the majority of my fishing without the fish having the need for a smaller option. Before going to clear poppers I would always carry some 50mm Sugois and some 70mm Sugois. My general MO was to start out with the 70mm lure and downsize to the 50mm model if the strikes weren’t forthcoming.
I have been using clear Rat-L-Trap Spitfire Poppers for the past few seasons on tailor, bream and all the other species that you can catch around the bay islands and coffee rocks. Some photos of these lures have appeared hanging out of the mouths of fish in my articles.
Clear lures lend themselves to customising, especially custom paint jobs. If you go down this path make sure you do a few in natural hues and also a few in the brightest pinks, reds, fluoro yellows and fluoro greens that your model painting kit can muster.
A favourite trick of mine is to run a very visible stripe down the back centreline of the clear lure. That way, when the colour disappears I can lean back on the rod knowing that the reason I can’t see the lure is that it is most likely in a fish’s mouth.
One of the best side benefits of running the clear lures is being able to run larger sizes, which cast more accurately and further in all situations, particularly into the wind. This can dramatically increase your success rate on bream in open waters on windy days.
Clear lures also work great for bream at night. And remember topwater night lures don’t have to be black, in fact some oversees anglers would rather fish white ones. However, in Australia black is the most popular colour and, if you must, the Spitfire can be given a quick spray of black spray paint and it should last quite a few fishing trips.
Spitfires are also a great freshwater popper for species like bass and saratoga, which is why they generally come adorned with premium grade bass-sized trebles. Therefore, you will have to convert the trebles to smaller chemically sharpened bream sized trebles of either size 10 or 12. This bit of customising is pretty much the most import tweak that you can give your lures.
Another idiosyncrasy of mine is that I like to run a smaller number 12 treble on the rear hook hanger of the lure and, when there are big bream around in good numbers, a number 10 treble on the lure’s underbelly. The smaller tail biters get hooked on the smaller treble and therefore, since the belly area of the lure has a larger diameter, the bigger treble is more effective up front.
I also like to run the rear treble on a chain of two linked very small split rings. This lets the treble wave around more and gets it further way from the body of the lure so that it can hopefully hook-up better. I run the same trick on bibbed hardbodies as well, especially the larger varieties. On smaller lures, including small poppers, this chain isn’t so important.
A lot of bream anglers tend to upgrade their lure’s trebles regularly (especially before tournaments). This is necessary because the treble wire is so fine that is corrodes or rusts quickly and the fine points are prone to dulling. To ensure better bream hook-ups it is important to use trebles that are small and sharp enough to fit in their small jaws and penetrate around those peg teeth.
Likewise, it is not the lure size, it’s the treble size that is important. In warmer weather active bream can often have a bully attitude so they’re prone to strike aggressively at large lures. I’ve successfully used large poppers up to 13cm long and 2cm thick to catch bream.
When running poppers the next most important bit of fine tuning is to consider running traditional mono as your leader. Mono-type lines float (fluorocarbon sinks) and the floating mono leader helps your topwater to work better. I carry 10lb mono for dull overcast days and murky water. For clear days and clearer water I’ll change down to 6lb Platypus Super 100. I always hope the fish are active enough and the water not too clear so that I don’t have go down thinner than 6lb leader.
My rod and reel is a basic spin outfit. A 7’ graphite spin rod matched to a small spin reel that is loaded with 2lb Platypus Super Braid for maximum casting distance.
Productive structure includes rocks and coffee rocks, dead coral walls, weed beds, mangroves, wrecks, timber structures and even sand flats. I’ve always had more confidence around rocks that appear to have been ‘scavenged’ clean by marine life rather than have lots of moss still over them. Bream have peg-like teeth and so many of the ones I catch around the rocks have worn teeth from scraping the rocks clean.
Just about every part of Moreton Bay should have a bream topwater hotspot that is handy to bayside readers. Up Bribie way there are the flats inside the passage and also Cooks Rocks. The Peninsula has a plethora or areas; the coffee rocks from North Reef all the way around to the Wells at Clontarf. There is an out of the way spot in nearly all wind directions (just be aware of the no go Green Zones).
The wrecks over at Tangalooma are pretty good as well. As with most of the bream topwater spots, the latter half of the rising tide is one of the best times to find the hungry fish. Terrain that is exposed at low tide and covered at the top of the high tide is my preference. If the fish are moving in as the tide floods then they are most likely there with eating on their mind.
In southern parts of the bay, the islands are a great playground in which to cast clear topwater poppers for bream. The mouth of the Brissy River, Macleay Island, Coochiemudlo, Green Island, Mud Island, Goat and Bird are all productive locations.
Mud Island is possibly the best spot to learn topwatering for bream when you are just starting out. This is because the island offers 360º fishing and a whole variety of different types of terrain to explore (including behind the coral walls and a few hidden creeks). I have caught a huge variety of species on topwater at this location. By quick count I run out of fingers and toes before I’ve exhausted the list of separate species that I’ve caught on topwaters at Mud Island.
When on the water, it is easy to get distracted; make sure that you have a plan of the areas that you want to fish and at what stage of the tide you want to fish them. Keep an eye on the tide levels as you can be caught out with water moving in or out faster than you anticipated.
Boat positioning and your casting direction is the key to success as bream can be easily spooked by vibrations, such as electric motors, bumping rocks with your boat, stamping feet, etc. Shadows from anglers with the sun behind them can even be a problem in the shallows, therefore your casting distance also becomes a factor. Make sure that your boat never drifts or travels over the areas that you wish to fish. Always watch your topwater!
Single bream will often stalk behind your lure, often without eating it unless another fish comes on the scene and competition becomes a threat catalyst. Naturally your eyesight is also a factor, prescription sunglasses will help you see more and you will increase your catch rate.Reads: 5392