Despite all the hype surrounding soft plastics, good old-fashioned bait is still the best way to catch bream and float fishing may just be the most effective form of bait fishing there is.
In the latest edition of QFM, Jamie Robley explained just how effective float fishing can be for a range of species and I’d like to expand on some of the ideas he mentioned.
Float fishing with bait is drawn directly from English coarse fishing techniques and was first shared with me by one of Australia’s foremost coarse fishing specialists, Glenn Nicholls.
Glenn is not just a good fisherman, he’s a bloody good fisherman and despite being born and bred in England, he saw the light and moved Downunder. Since swapping hemispheres, he has used the coarse fishing techniques he learned in his homeland to twice represent Australia in the world freshwater fishing championships. He has also won almost every coarse fishing competition in this country including the national titles four times, so he knows a thing or two about fooling fish with bait.
Glen has adapted English freshwater coarse fishing techniques to suit Australian saltwater species. Because it worked so well, he also made an instructional video, Advanced Techniques for Estuary Blackfish, to share his knowledge. If you’d like a chance to see this highly efficient method of bait fishing in action you may be lucky enough to find it in the hire section of your local tackle shop.
Like most coarse fishing techniques, the basic components are berley, bait, small chemically sharpened hooks and a float. That sounds simple enough, but it’s the way they are put together that makes it all work like magic.
First, let’s look at each of the pieces in more detail.
I’m not talking about the most common types of berley like mashed fish frames or squashed up pilchards. For this sort of float fishing to work, you need a very specific kind of berley, which is more correctly called groundbait.
The basic ingredient in all good groundbaits is breadcrumbs, and I buy them from the supermarket in kilo or half kilo bags. You will also need a tin of tuna or seafood-based pet food and a dash of tuna oil if desired. Simply pour the bag of breadcrumbs into a bucket, and then add the pet food and a slurp of tuna oil. Now comes the fun part as you use your hands to mix all the berley together so that there are no big lumps in it. You may need to add a little water to the mix as well, but not too much. It is a little like making a cake; you want a mix that you can mould into a ball in your hands, but it has to be dry enough to break up when you toss it in the water. Once that is done, set your berley aside and rig your rod and reel.
Coarse fishing rods for this type of float fishing are usually pretty long, with twelve or fourteen foot the norm. My float rod is a specialist lightweight twelve-foot matchfishing rod from Silstar but you don’t have to buy a dedicated rod to give it a go. All you need is a long, lightweight rod and anything from a very light beach rod to a blackfish rod or even a 7- or 8-weight fly rod can be pressed into service if you don’t have anything else.
As far as reels go, most coarse anglers prefer centrepin reels, but I’ve seen small spinning reels and the smaller Alveys all used with good effect. My own reel is an Alvey Luderick Special centrepin and it works perfectly for the very modest outlay required to own one. Spool your reel with a fine-diameter nylon like Platypus Platinum. Around 2-3kg is about right.
The business end of the line is where it all gets a bit specialised. First you will need a float. I use Middy coarse fishing floats, which are available from better tackle shops in southern states. The reason I use coarse fishing floats is because they are much more precise than your standard ‘blackfish’ or bubble floats. They are very finely balanced and can be weighted so that just the tip of the float is above water and minimal resistance is felt when the fish pulls it under.
Beneath the float you will need some split shot. I use Dinsmores Super Soft Shot because it is very soft and doesn’t damage the line when you crimp it on. Because it is available in a large range of sizes, you can use the exact amount required to balance your float so that only the tip is above water.
I like to use what coarse anglers call a bicycle chain shotting pattern. Put simply, it means that I spread a number of small split shot out along the line beneath the float. The advantage of spreading the weight out like this is that the bait will sink slowly beneath the float as the individual split shot sink, rather than being dragged straight down by one big lump of lead.
On the very end of the line is a small, chemically sharpened hook. My preference is for a Middy hook called a Black Bug, but any small, chemically sharpened hook can be used, depending on the size of the bait and the fish you are chasing. I normally fish with a small section of peeled prawn tail, so select a hook that will fit comfortably in the bait.
The only thing left to do now is to cut up some small pieces of prawn and mix it in with the ground bait. Once it’s well mixed, grab a small handful and toss it out where you are going to fish. When the groundbait hits the water, it should break up and the breadcrumbs should form a nice ‘cloud’ as it sinks.
Then cast your bait out directly over the top of your berley and immediately toss in another handful of groundbait, right on top of the float. The idea is to get your bait sinking along with the pieces of prawn in the groundbait. Don’t be discouraged if there are no bites straight away, as it often takes a few handfuls of groundbait and a couple of casts to get the fish looking for the feed of prawns.
Once the smell of the groundbait and the tuna oil starts to work its magic however, it usually doesn’t take long to attract any bream in the area. Before too long, they should be grabbing your bait almost as soon as it hits the water.
Soon you will get into a rhythm of casting, tossing in a handful of groundbait, hooking and landing a fish, and tossing in another handful of groundbait. It can be a super effective technique and it is possible to catch large numbers of bream in a very short time. Don’t get carried away however, and remember that bream are a slow growing species that take a long time to reach legal size. With that in mind, handle the fish carefully; a hook disgorger will make releasing fish in good condition a relatively straightforward exercise.
It all sounds too simple but it really works: nothing I have ever tried comes close to being as effective at catching large numbers of average-sized fish. If you fish where bream are, you will probably catch them in far greater numbers then you ever have before. Give it a try and you will see that bait is still great, and floats are fantastic for bream fishing.
Coarse fishing floats can be divided into two different groups.
Stick floats are attached to your line by float rubbers at the top and bottom of the float and are normally used in running water or strong currents.
Waggler floats are attached at the bottom of the float only, and are ideal to use in still or calmer waters. They are probably the most common choice when float fishing for bream, as they are less affected by wind.
Instead of normal sinkers with a hole through them, coarse anglers traditionally use split shot beneath their floats, so that the weight can be spread out along the line rather than lumped in one spot. Split shot is classified into different sizes and is commonly available in sizes ranging from SSGs (about the size of a pea) down to tiny number 8 shot which is hardly bigger than a grain of sand.