Rising to the occasion
  |  First Published: February 2005

It’s taken me over a year to put this story to paper. Just when I thought I’d discovered all I could, another amazing experience sent me back to the drawing board. I know there’s still more I’m going to learn, but it’s now time to tell the story so far. I’m talking about surface feeding bream and how to catch them on lures.

It’s still hard to put into words just how visually exciting it is to see a 44cm bream crunch a lure, slowly twitched across the top of the water. When this happens a dozen or more times in a short fishing session, you know you’ve found angling heaven!

One of my very first experiences with rising bream was at Bemm River. I was on the lake at first light, on a very still morning. Within casting distance of my boat, a small baitfish was jumping out of the water every few seconds, obviously with a larger hungry predator hot on its tail. I sent my plastic lure out just in front of where I reckoned the panicked fish looked like jumping again.

After my lure hit the water, the little baitfish stopped jumping. At first I thought I’d spooked both fish and I cursed myself for casting in too close to the action. That little fish had a very good reason to stop jumping though, because he was no longer being gunned down by his attacker, who was now peeling line off my reel! It all happened in a split second, and I thought a tailor or salmon was now being steered back to my boat.

When I finally lifted a fat 38cm bream onboard, my brain quickly went into overdrive.

First of all I tried getting my head around the fact that this bream was actively hunting and trying to eat a fish! I’ve heard stories about some bream taking small fish fillet baits and the odd live poddy mullet intended for flathead, but here was proof of a real predatory bream in action. As I admired that handsome bream before release, another splash caught my attention near by. It was another little fish swimming for its life.

As I moved in closer to make a cast, the baitfish bounced out again, but when it landed the water boiled over as its attacker obviously moved in for the kill. I cast my lure about 2m ahead of the wash, let it sink a little and slowly started tweaking it back. The line stopped dead for a second with that certain ‘tap’, which meant a bream was probably about to steam off with my soft plastic. A short time later I was releasing a 32cm fish-eating bream.

Lighten up

It wasn’t long before I took the lead weight off my hook and fished the soft plastic on top of the water. There were baitfish jumping, surface splashing and rising going on right across the lake.

Surely the bream would take my lure off the top, thinking it was a wounded or fleeing fish. The trouble was, I had to constantly move around to get within casting distance of the nearest rising fish. No sooner had I caught up with the action, then nothing.

I then decided to cast blind and hopefully target a rise if it was close enough. I worked the plastic across the surface, nervously watching the bow wave it made and the wake it left behind. All the time expecting it to disappear down the gob of a marauding bream. Then, on the third cast, it happened.

It wasn’t really the snout of the bream that broke the surface that really surprised me, but it was the loud sucking slurp that shocked me frozen! I was soon giggling like a little kid, while pulling the hook out of another bream, just over 40cm.

This action went on for about another hour. I landed six bream and missed at least six others, before a breeze rippled the water and seemed to put the fish off. From that day on, I’ve been obsessed with fishing surface lures.

Time flies

That was nearly two years ago. I now find myself trying to tempt all sorts of fish on the surface – but bream remain my favourite.

I’ve seen bream chasing baitfish many times now, not just at Bemm River. I’ve seen it at Marlo, Mallacoota, and the Gippsland Lakes, even a few small local estuarine creeks. I’ve also seen them sipping down all sorts of insects like flying ants, midge and caddis moth.

Quite often I hear bream slurping in the snags, while taking shrimp very close to the surface. But I think the ultimate in sight fishing, is casting to tailing bream on shallow sandflats. I’ve only seen this action three times, but, boy, what a sight! It has always been at first light, with very calm, flat conditions. Their tails are actually out of the water, almost waving me down, and saying: “Hey! Cast over here!” The fish must be digging for worms and shell, and when I twitch a small soft plastic next to them, they quickly drop their tail down and eat my lure. The only downside to this action is I don’t see it enough!

Tips from the top

Here’s how I fish the surface, and what I use.

Firstly, because a soft plastic lure being used to fish the surface is so light, very fine braided lines are essential to get any sort of distance casting. A leader of about 1.8-2.4m should also be small diameter to create the least disturbance on the water. Ideally, a long rod to even 2.7m would help for long casts and for the retrieves. Because nearly all my fishing is from a kayak, I use only 1.8m rods – and they do just fine. When working the soft plastic back, you can hold the rod up high and this helps the lure to skip or skate across the surface, while winding as slow as you can.

There are plastics on the market now that are quite buoyant, like the Squidgy Bugs, and these are very deadly surface lures. Using a small, lightweight hook also helps the plastic stay afloat. But the trade-off is less hooking power and, regardless of what surface lure you use, missing fish that strike your surface offering is very common. In fact, I’ve found it downright frustrating, and if I land three fish for every 10 takes, I’ve done well. Part of the problem I’m sure, is small fish snapping at something way to big for them to eat.

Just recently, I’ve been putting floating foam at the front of my hooks. This little innovation is a bit of a hang over from my flyfishing and fly-tying days. I actually tie in some ‘dry fly foam’ to a small section of hook just behind the eye. My soft plastic lures now actually stays afloat, and I can work them very slow indeed, just like when I flyfished for trout at night, using Muddler Minnows or black foam beetles, like Night Stalkers and Oil Tankers.

Now that my plastics always stay afloat, I can twitch and pause the retrieve, and even give them short, hard jerks to make noisy plops and splashes! This slower and noisy sort of action has given me some unbelievable action, mainly around dusk, and well into dark. The real eye opener has been that there doesn’t have to be any surface feeding going on at all, to get fish to rise to the surface. Clear shallow water to about 1.2m is probably ideal, but I’ve caught plenty of bream and perch in water as shallow as 15-20cm, too.

First and last light are definitely the hot times to try surface lures, but on three occasions this year, I’ve seen plenty of fish sipping insects in the middle of the day, and I was able to trick those fish with my surface plastics. In one session I got nine bream ranging 26-36cm and a 35cm estuary perch, all around lunchtime. Other finned critters that have taken my plastics off the top, are salmon, tailor, and I once missed a big fish that looked every bit of a 2.5kg flathead.

Try the top

It’s fair to say that on many days my surface lures just don’t work, and many an evening session has seen me fail to stir a fish. But when certain conditions prevail, and with some dedicated perseverance, I find that watching and hearing fish take my lure is about as good as it’s ever going to get!


1.Michael Fennessy with a 35cm bream falling to a tiny soft plastic, caught in less than a foot of water.

2.Greg Jerkins with a 46cm estuary perch.

3.A toothy predatory bream that ate a surface lure after chasing down a small baitfish.

4.Flathead are my next challenge on surface lures. This fish took my lure as soon as it hit the water.

5.Smaller bream are suckers to lures fished on top of the water. This little fish had its tail out of the water while feeding in the shallows behind me.

6.Salmon also love smashing surface lures!

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