With all emphasis on catching bream on soft plastics, JAMIE ROBLEY goes back to still one of the most effective methods – fishing cut bait.
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Let’s face it, we all go fishing to catch fish. Some say it’s nice just to be out there with a line in the water, soaking up the environment or getting away from work or the routines of domestic life. Yes, those things are all part of the enjoyment of going fishing, but if you didn’t have a realistic chance of catching something, would you still go fishing?
Because the catching of fish has always been my main driving force, I don’t mind missing out on some of those other ‘by-products’ of the game if it means catching what I’ve set out to catch. For that reason, I’ve spent many dark and cold hours soaking baits in the pursuit of bream, flathead and jewfish.
My passion for soaking baits after dark started many years ago at Toukley Bridge, near where I grew up on the Central Coast.
A night’s fishing didn’t start at a nice, cushy time like after dinner or after a bit of idiot box watching.
Proceedings generally got under way when it suited the fish, not me. That meant from about 1am through to sunrise at the latest. I wanted to catch fish and the peak time for bream down at Toukley bridge was in the deadest period of darkness between 2am and 4am.
I also soon worked out that the best bait for big bream around those bridge pylons was very fresh tailor flesh. By fresh, I mean still twitching!
This was back in the days when there was no legal size limit on tailor. As Tuggerah Lakes have always been chock-full of little choppers, they would gather under the lights of the bridge to feed on small baitfish and prawns.
It was pretty easy to cast and retrieve small metal lures through the illuminated water and quickly catch a couple of little tailor for my bream bait. As soon as the bait supply run low, it was a simple matter of a few casts with the lure again to replenish the supply.
A hook would be waiting and as soon as a chopper was caught, it would be chopped up for bait and sent back on the bream hook, still warm and twitching. Sounds gruesome? Not really, fish eating other fish are just part of the natural world and anyone who reckons that’s gruesome is either living on Mars or as detached as those extremist PETA people.
Anyway, the fresher the tailor bait was, the faster a big Toukley bridge bream would latch onto it.
I’ve seen people use live prawns around those bridge pylons and I’ve also tried other baits there like mullet gut but never did any bait produce the goods like the super-fresh tailor flesh.
To this day, all of the biggest bream I’ve ever caught bar one took those fresh tailor baits at Toukley bridge and that big bream took a fresh piece of garfish at Toukley bridge.
Bream have always been a major player in my fishing life and many regular readers would be well aware of my passion for throwing lures at them, in Tuggerah Lakes as well as many other areas up and down the coast.
I’m not one to separate or discriminate the skills of fishing with baits or lures. I reckon they can both be skilful forms of fishing provided you get right into it and give it your best shot.
Using top-notch baits like fresh tailor or garfish is similar to using the best bream lures available. You still have to work things out and fish at the right times to get the best results.
Fish-flesh baits are tops for rock fishing, too, and it’s also possible there to spin up your own fresh bream bait. Through the warmer months some deep-water rocks are good spots to spin for bonito or frigate mackerel, both of which make highly prized bream bait.
From late Summer through Autumn and into Winter there can be enough tailor cruising the wash zone just out from the rocks to spin up a couple as bream bait.
When times are tougher and bonito, frigates or tailor are hard to come by, there is another fish which is easily caught that also makes good bream bait and that’s the pike.
Pike like to swim very close to the rocks, especially in areas with thick kelp growth, and they respond well to tiny metal lures or brightly coloured soft plastics cast and retrieved just prior to sunrise or in the last hour of light as the sun sets.
In most places I’ve fished, pike can be nearly impossible to catch through the middle of the day. These fish are often overlooked as bream bait but they work very well at times.
If possible, I always prefer to use bonito flesh for bream off the rocks with fish like frigate mackerel or striped tuna a close second.
The skin texture, blood content and flavour of bonito seems to appeal to bream the most. Another aspect I like about is that bonito are a whole lot of fun to catch when using appropriate, light, high-speed spinning tackle.
So you can spend the first hour of the morning spinning up the bonnies, then cut up one of them to fish for bream in the washes as the tide rises.
Take the two fillets off a fresh bonito, leaving the skin on. Then cut each fillet into cubes about half the size of a matchbox.
Keep the head and frame because that now becomes your berley. You’ll need a length of thin nylon rope for that. After cutting the eyes out, thread the rope through the eye sockets and tie it securely. The bonito carcass is then lowered off the edge of the rocks so it’s left hanging just under the water and the rope is secured to the rocks away from the edge somewhere.
The idea is that the bonito carcass is left to be knocked around by the wave action, banging into the rocks here and there. This slowly breaks it all up, leaving a constant stream of flesh particles and flavour dispersing through the water, attracting the bream.
You can certainly use this idea with fish like tailor, pike or even salmon but it really does work best with bonito.
Beach fishing is similar to rock fishing in that bream like to cruise close in under the wave action looking for a feed. While other baits like pipis and beachworms are popular for beach bream, a decent chunk of tailor, bonito or mullet generally attracts a good class of fish, particularly after dark.
Some of the bigger bream I’ve caught in recent years have scoffed down a large slab of tailor or mullet that was pinned to a big 10/0 hook aimed at jewfish.
Beach bream will quickly take other fleshy baits like strips of yellowtail, slimy mackerel, pilchards or pike, but my preferred flesh baits in this environment are mullet or tailor. There are two reasons behind that; one is that both species are common along the surf zone and so I feel that the scent is a bit more natural to beach bream. The other is that tailor and mullet have quite firm skin and the flesh is a bit more resilient to pickers and sand crabs than some other softer baits.
There’s no doubt that fresh flesh makes a more appealing option than the frozen variety. If I’ve caught a couple of tailor, mullet or pike I prefer to put them in a plastic bag and chuck them in the fridge if they are to be used within 48 hours, rather than freeze them and thaw them out.
There’s also no doubt, though, that having some freshly frozen bait in the freezer is a good idea because it’s not always easy to simply catch your bait and use it on the spot.
Some fish flesh freezes better than others. Mullet and garfish seem to handle the freezing and thawing process OK. Tailor become a bit mushy once frozen, as do pike and yellowtail, but they will still catch bream if that’s all you’ve got to use.
I get the feeling that not too many anglers salt their own baits these days but if you like catching bream off the rocks and beaches and like to catch your own bait, it’s a good idea to learn how to salt fish flesh.
Any type of fish flesh can be salted, but the best flesh to salt seems to be bonito and the other small tunas.
Firstly, you’ll need a bag of rock salt. I used to have a 20kg bag that I scored from a butcher’s shop but the last few bags I just purchased at a supermarket. Then you’ll need some newspaper and a few plastic bags. Oh, and of course, you’ll need the bonito or other fish to salt down.
Here’s the procedure: When you catch the bonito, frigate mackerel or whatever, keep it in a cool place until you get home. Lay out a few sheets of newspaper on a bench or table and lightly sprinkle a handful of the rock salt over the paper.
Then cut the fillets off the fish and cut them into bait-sized cubes. Spread the two fillets’ worth of cubes over the salty paper and then sprinkle another half-handful of salt over the whole lot. Mix it around a little and then wrap it up in the newspaper and stick it in a plastic bag. As you’re doing this, don’t wash off any blood from the fish flesh because you’ll simply be washing off extra flavour. Keep proceedings nice and dry, otherwise you’ll end up with soggy newspaper and things can get a bit messy.
A bag of salted bonito can be left in the fridge until you’re ready to go fishing or it can be stored in the freezer. From the word go, the salt starts to toughen up and preserve the fish flesh and it will never truly freeze, even in a deep freezer.
Keep in mind that if you’re just leaving it in the fridge the flesh will continue to toughen and the longer you leave it, the tougher it will get.
Generally, I find a week is the longest you would want to leave it in the fridge and after that it can become a bit too tough and smelly. As the salt extracts moisture out of the fish flesh, you can end up with a pool of salty, bloody ooze in the fridge if you’re not careful and once that happens, other members of your household will never allow it back in the fridge again.
A few sprinkles of rock salt can also be added to bait that you buy, like a block of pilchards. Occasionally I break a block of pillies in half and wrap one half in newspaper with salt as with the fillets of bonito.
As the first half thaws, the salt starts to react and toughen up the fish as they thaw out. Some salt is also thrown in with the other half-block, which is then wrapped up and chucked in the freezer until I’m ready to use them. When they start to thaw out, the salt is already there to do its job. You’ll find that salted pilchards last longer on a hook than unsalted.
There are many different ideas you can come up with as far as flesh baits go. Go fresh if you can but try salted fish flesh if you haven’t before and you may be pleasantly surprised. Enjoy your bream fishing.