The Bemm has always been considered a bream fishing Mecca. At present it’s fishing as well, if not better, than most areas in east Gippsland. After living here off and on for over twenty years and fishing here for thirty, there actually haven’t been too many changes in how the average angler goes about catching a feed.
Bait fishing remains the most common method, and therefore the most productive, for catching most of the species on offer in both the river and the estuary. For me though, the big challenge is to successfully target the same species using lures. Hopefully, this article will help you lure chuckers improve your strike rate down the Bemm.
The Bemm River is a fantastic waterway and even looks fishy to a novice angler. It is heavily snagged on either bank but is navigable from the mouth to the first set of rapids, which is the natural barrier to the saltwater. There are also plenty of submerged logs in the middle of the river, which have claimed several outboards over the years.
Heading upstream, the last two or three kilometres are extremely treacherous and I recommend trimming your motor right up on idle or using an electric if you have one. The upside of course is that these snags provide great habitat for bream and estuary perch, which are the two main species to target in the river. The big problem is picking which snags to fish and what to throw at them. When it comes to what to use, there are a few things to consider.
In the warmer months I tend to work lures no deeper than about 5ft. There are a variety of hard-bodied lures that I’ve had success with, but more often than not they’re deep diving floaters. A slow retrieve seems to work best and you can even stop and twitch them for good results.
As far as plastics go, there have been some really good results using unweighted Squidgy Bugs and Juro paddle tails. The Squidgy Evil Minnow flick baits, when combined with the new resinheads, have also proved lethal on bream.
During the winter months the fish seem to hang lower in the water, and it’s really hard to get a diving type lure down deep enough without getting it snagged. This is when the plastics really come into their own. Because there are so many effective plastics on the market, it’s hard to pinpoint which ones to use. The DOA prawn is one of my favourites but other anglers do just as well with a plain single tail grub. The weight of your jighead will depend on the depth and flow of the water.
Your first time up the river can be a bit daunting because once you get around the first bend, on either side of the river for as far as you can see there are snags. It’s really just trial and error as to which snag you fish but the key is not to sit on the same snag for too long. Half a dozen casts in a few locations on a particular snag should be enough to establish if there is a fish in the vicinity that is interested in your lure. It would take you days to fish every snag so it’s a good idea to break the river up into sections of about 300m and fish a selection of snags in each area. This way you’ll cover more ground and hopefully locate more fish. Not every snag will hold a fish but when you find one it’s not uncommon to have multiple hook-ups. If the fish are finicky it really pays to stay as quiet as possible when approaching a snag that you intend to fish. An electric motor provides a huge advantage because you can cover plenty of water without making a sound. Oars are the next best option but it’s impossible to cover as much water unless you are Superman.
Tackle is pretty important when taking on the river. Barnacle encrusted snags make braided line, together with a fluorocarbon leader, just about a necessity. A day of casting lures can be taxing so a reasonably light rod with plenty of backbone is suggested. A Tackleback can also save you a few dollars in lost lures.
There is a resident bream population in the river for most of the year so I don’t think it’s really important to time your effort according to seasons. The one thing that can be a factor and make things difficult is water flow and clarity. The Bemm generally runs pretty clear but it always pays to keep an eye on rainfall in the catchments or contact one of the local business houses to check conditions. I know most trips are booked in advance and there isn’t much you can do, but thankfully, the estuary provides us with plenty of options.
The estuary probably provides more of a challenge because there is not as much obvious structure that will hold fish. On the upside, there are certainly more species we can target on lures.
The Bemm is not really known for its flathead but we consistently see specimens between 5 and 10lb every year. The biggest one I’ve seen caught was 14lb! As with all the other estuaries along the coast they are suckers for soft plastics and can also be caught on diving hard-bodied lures. They don’t really fire up until the warmer weather, with November to March the better months. The drop-offs and sandbanks down the channel are the best areas to try.
When the entrance is open, schools of salmon, tailor and trevally venture in from time to time and can be targeted with lures. Generally, they’re not too fussy and will just about take anything that shines or wiggles. The last couple of years, huge schools of salmon up to 2.5kg have provided plenty of great sport, particularly for the kids. The colder months from May to July are your best chance because the entrance is open.
Locating bream and perch in the lake can be pretty difficult these days. The shallowness of the estuary renders a sounder useless and the patches of ribbon weed, which usually hold fish, are getting smaller and in some places have disappeared. Once again, an electric motor comes in handy. Otherwise, drift over the patches of weed casting a hard body or plastic. The lures I use are pretty much the same as in the river although I’ve had good success with metal spoons as well. It’s interesting to note that 23 years ago all I used to catch perch was the humble silver Wonder Wobbler. Every now and then, to be different, I’d use a gold one. It would be interesting to tie one on for old times’ sake and see if they still work. The key to working spoons or hard-bodied lures over the weed is to retrieve them as slowly as possible without catching them in the weed.
Once again, stopping and twitching the hard body can produce excellent results. From time to time, the bream will school up in the channel, usually when the entrance is closed. A good sounder really comes in handy and will help you locate and stay on the schools. Once again, plastics are probably the best option with a selection of wrigglers, grubs and worms being your best bets. Colour can differ from day to day with pink, chartreuse, bloodworm and motor oil all popular.
The surf also offers up some great action for lure casters. There’s really not too much science to it as it’s usually just a matter of hurling a metal lure out as far as you can and cranking it back quickly. It’s great exercise and when the salmon are on, great fun. Heavy surf gear is not necessary and often a bream rod with 4kg line and a 35g Lazer lure is all you need.
There’s something about using lures that really gets you. I think it’s the feeling of expectation, and not really knowing when that hit is going to come. You can cast the lure and get smashed first turn of the handle or sometimes you can retrieve the lure all the way and get whacked at your feet.
Luring with Confidence
Having confidence in what you’re throwing is a big part of lure fishing. We all have our favourite, which always seems to catch fish when nothing else works. The fact is, because we have confidence in that lure, it will generally be the first one we tie on, either at the start of the day or when nothing else works. In the end, that lure simply spends more time in the water, thus increasing its chances of catching you a fish.
My Top Five Bemm Lures
Pink or silver Strike Pro Galaxia 2
DOA Prawn colour #305
Squidgy Evil Minnow flick bait
Min Min M50D
One for the Girls
Lure fishing wasn’t as popular 25 years ago but there were a few locals who were excellent anglers and a couple of them were women. When I was in my teens I spent most nights after school on the river and would always see Mrs Evans and Mrs Williamson rowing around the snags. Funnily enough when they saw me they’d stop fishing and I never really cottoned on to what they were up to. In later years, I learnt that they both fished with mainly lures, and in Mrs Williamson’s case, made all her own. The fish they caught are legendary and prove that casting lures isn’t just for the boys!