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Off-season breamin’
  |  First Published: February 2008



The shrill of cicadas is almost deafening as you flick the small lure close to the fallen she-oak tree. In the bath-warm green water the lure drifts closer to the timber and with a few subtle twitches it’s dancing on the surface sending out seductive shock waves.

Through your polarised sunnies you spots a shape appear, cautiously suspended below yet poised to strike. Another small twitch of the rod tip and the bream comes to life, striking the minnow lure midships.

It’s a noisy, boisterous affair and somehow it misses the lure. Another twitch of the rod and it’s back, this time showing even more conviction, and belts the lure hard dead centre.

The loose braid pulls tight and you know the fish has taken a firm hold; it’s time to lift the rod tip and set the needle-sharp trebles.

There’s something immensely enjoyable about chasing bream on lures. No doubt all the hype from the recent ABT events has raised awareness of bream as a serious lure proposition and inspired many newcomers to actively chase these great little fish, but for many more seasoned anglers, the love affair of bream on lures stems a lot further back.

I first began targeting bream on lures at the age of 15 and as I fast approach 40, I still look forward to the next spinning session. I know keen anglers in their late 50s who have been catching bream on lures for well over 30 years and they still excitedly recall their last session and eagerly await the next.

I guess what I’m saying is that bream on lures is nothing new and those pursuing them for the pure enjoyment may find themselves spending a huge chunk of their life dedicated to these great little sport fish.

Many folks think of bream as a seasonal species, often regarding these wily fish as largely a Winter species. In part this is quite correct. There’s certainly a good run during the cooler months, with bright silver and bulked-up fish inundating the lower reaches of many east coast rivers and lakes.

But many forget these same silver bream are available all year around and are particularly active during the Summer. The so-called ‘off-season’ for bream is one of the most exciting times of year to chase these terrific little fish; it’s all a matter of changing your fishing locations and slightly modifying your methods to get in on the action.

MOVING UPSTREAM

As the weather warms, many bream slowly make their way up-river, inundating the mid to higher reaches of tidal rivers and the many feeder creeks and weed-lined lake systems.

This upstream movement is largely food-driven and the most eagerly-sought food item is the prawn. Warm weather, or more importantly warm water, means masses of these tasty morsels spring from the mud and make their homes around nearby mangrove roots, logs and rocks before making their move downstream during their run over the new moon.

As you can imagine, in many tidal estuaries a run-out tide around the new moon during the warmer months spells pretty exciting times for keen bream anglers.

It’s interesting the see the change in attitude bream have when they switch from forage feeding to actively pursuing prawns. The casual, pick-here, shuffle-through-that method of feeding is thrown out the window.

PRAWNOGRAPHY

Prawns are hunted with a passion, chased aggressively and belted anywhere they foolishly decide to swim. It doesn’t matter whether they try to sneak up on a shin-deep tidal flat or erroneously end up midstream in 13m of water, bream will enthusiastically chase them down.

Those swimming sub-surface are usually snipped in two and those thinking it’s safer on the surface are usually slurped down with a series of audible ‘kisses’. If you’re a prawn during the Summer months, life is pretty miserable and quite often very short indeed!

All this talk of prawns doesn’t mean you have to use live prawns to be successful. In fact what it really means is the bream are simply far more aggressive.

This increased aggression means they become even keener to belt lures and flies, particularly those worked close to or on the surface. The Summer months are prime time to fish small poppers, fizzers and other surface offerings.

Casts made tight to cover and slowly worked out in a series of subtle twitches will usually draw the attention of any nearby bream.

These fish can be funny feeders when it comes to surface offerings. Clumsy mistimed strikes, cautious plucks and prolonged periods when the fish are simply analysing the lure are all part of the fun when using small surface plugs.

The strike to hook-up ratio is seldom higher than 50% but to may anglers surface luring is more about pure entertainment. Don’t for a second think it’s ineffective because you can get dozens of strikes during a session, equating to good numbers of fish landed.

For a higher conversion rate, start looking at small minnow lures. While not as spectacular as the topwater offerings, sub-surface minnows are certainly very effective during Summer. Again, cast tight to cover, allow the lure rest for a second or two and then begin a slow, staggered retrieve.

More often the not the lure will be belted within the first few metres, although more cautious bream can follow the lure right back to the boat before deciding to strike.

If the structure you’re fishing looks particularly exciting, make at least a few casts before moving on. Some overhanging trees and rocky points are quite deep and the bream may be schooled up close to the bottom so make sure you give the fish a decent chance of spotting your lure before edging your way to the next likely spot.

On more open country, say a mud bank or fringe of ribbon weed, one cast every 2m or so is usually enough.

GOING SOFT

Last but not least is the use of soft plastics. As we all know, softies are super-effective and when you’re targeting bream that are largely focused on near-translucent prawns, it’s hard not to get excited at some of the current crop of plastics.

There are all sorts of prawn-type plastics available but you don’t have to represent a prawn to be successful. More important is to use plastics that roughly match the size of the bait present.

Some creeks I fish are full of tiny jelly prawns, small translucent prawns that hang in large groups and hug the shoreline whenever possible.

Other systems are alive with greasybacks and larger school prawns. For these systems I try to use larger plastics.

If you can roughly match your lure size to that of the local prawn and baitfish supply, you’re half-way to success.

OR FLY

Fly-fishing for bream can be loads of fun, particularly during the warmer months. In Winter they tend to sit deep and frequent the clear, cold lower reaches – certainly not the most productive zone for fly-fishing.

But as the weather warms they become ideal targets, frequenting zones that are ideal for the keen swoffer. Now is the time to start tying up various prawn patterns in sizes and colours to suit the local conditions.

A good mix of weighted and unweighted patterns and a good selection of surface offerings will work.

This season I’m committed to tying up a prawn popper. I’m not sure just how yet, but I plan to tie one that actually hops out of the water with sharp strip. Conventional surface flies like Dahlbergs and Gurglers work but there’s something more satisfying about using a fly that looks near identical to the prey.

If you’re keen to chase bream on lures during the warmer months, make sure you move a little further up your local estuary system and concentrate your efforts around areas that are likely to hold good populations of prawns and other small baitfish.

All those smaller tributaries that are often gin-clear and seemingly lifeless during Winter come to life as the water warms and the bait supplies move in. Banks of ribbon weed in the more open lake systems are prawn Meccas well worth lengthy exploration as the water warms.

So too are rock retaining walls just below the brackish zones of the big tidal systems. So don’t solely think of bream as a Winter species in good numbers in the lower reaches because many of those fish simply edge their way up-river and become even more responsive to well-placed lures and flies.

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