You won't fish with bait for too long before you catch a bream. They are abundant and diverse species so it doesn't matter whether you are fishing in the freshwater reaches of the Hawkesbury or around Sydney Heads, you are in with a chance for a bream.
At certain times they will feed in 20cm of water and during their Autumn spawn run they will show up in the deep holes on the lower reaches in anywhere up to 30m deep.
They will accept almost any bait and in the right situation, they are common lure captures. So as you would imagine, with this diversity it shouldn't be hard to catch one.
Catching one is easy but to consistently catch quality bream is another story. Just like any fish, a specific approach is required if you intend to catch them as a target species rather than a one-off catch while general fishing.
In Sydney we are blessed with some of the best bream habitat in the country. My favourite systems, Sydney Harbour and the Hawkesbury, provide the opportunity to sample virtually every style of bream fishing available.
While the Hawkesbury offers large numbers and arguably the biggest bream in the country, the Harbour provides consistency and unbelievable lure fishing.
Bream are opportunist feeders that will have a go at anything. To what extents they will go to find food and what they accept or reject basically depend on two things, hunger and timing.
A really hungry bream will eat anything, anywhere, any time.
The second condition assumes that they are reasonably well fed. When bream have plenty to eat they are most likely to get fussy. Furthermore, well-fed fish are more likely to go off the bite for periods and when they do feed it will be in prime time.
Prime time is the period that most suits the fish in respect to light levels, tide movement and accessibility to the food source.
If bream have been working an abundant worm bed it is less likely that they will accept a less-than-fresh cut bait. You will probably need top-quality baits like live worms, nippers or live prawns.
Bait selection also depends on the area and time of year. It is wrong to assume that quality worms and nippers are always going to be the best producers.
I was fishing with a mate who had bought along some live bloodworms. The water was deep and murky and the bottom was rugged. To our surprise, we couldn't lose a worm and caught all our bream on mullet gut.
Obviously, in this situation the fish were feeding on smell rather than sight and the gut put out much more odour than the worms.
I have found that smelly baits like mullet and chicken gut and skirt steak work much better in cloudy water than in clear water. This becomes very evident after floods where the water is dirty and turbulent.
Smaller fish are more likely to accept any bait. Growing fish simply require more food per body weight than slow-growing, mature fish.
So if your target is big bream you are going to have to pay more attention to bait selection. An examination of a big bream’s teeth and gut content usually reveal that they are accustomed to cracking shellfish and crustaceans.
Gut content nearly always contains shell of some description. Black crabs and estuarine mussels or pipis, live or at least fresh, would be the obvious choice.
If you choose packet bait then prawns, mullet or chicken gut, skirt steak and chicken fillet are good options.
If you want to go to the trouble of catching your own bait then pipis, mussels, worms, yabbies, black crabs, prawns and pistol prawns would be good. If you can work out how to get oysters to stay on a hook, I imagine they would also be top bait.
Most of the abovementioned live baits are creatures of the intertidal zone. Accepting the fact that these are a bream’s favourite food, it becomes obvious that the intertidal zone is where bream do a lot of feeding.
Access to these spots occurs only at high tide. Given that the bream will be working the shallows, they are going to be spooky. A quiet approach is necessary.
If you can get a high tide early morning, late afternoon or at night, then all the better. If you have to fish daylight hours, look for heavily shaded areas.
There are a couple of methods for fishing the intertidal zone. You can fish from a boat back towards a deep shore by setting one anchor out in the deep and one up on the shore.
With this method baits are usually presented unweighted or at most very lightly weighted. Because the boat is in deep water you can fish much closer to your target.
Fishing up on the flats requires a different approach. You must anchor the boat fore and aft to stop it swinging. With the boat anchored in only 1m of water you will not be able to fish close to the boat for obvious reasons.
In this situation I suggest a heavy sinker to enable you to get the bait well away from the boat. It is critical with this method that the sinker run free on the line.
Once the bream move off the intertidal zone, at low tide, they school up in the deep holes. Depending on how much feed they got at high tide, they are still catchable at this time.
I find they come on the bite around the turn of the low tide. At places like The Vines on the Hawkesbury, this is often the only time you can fish due to the otherwise strong current. In this situation berley can be very effective.
At spawning time, usually early Autumn, bream will congregate in deep holes and channels around the mouth of the system. They can be caught in large numbers at these times so self-regulation must be exercised.
Fisheries regulations allow a bag limit of 20 per person but obviously if you have three people fishing on your boat then 60 bream would be quite an obscene catch.
Because of the deep water, a light approach is not always possible. More often than not you will have to use large sinkers to reach the bottom. Just how much weight you will need depends largely on the strength of the current.
With large sinkers I recommend a leader at least 1m long to keep the bait away from the sinker. The deep water can be successfully fished throughout the day, especially on an outgoing tide.
The Parramatta River, Lane Cove River, Middle Harbour and much of the upper Hawkesbury and its tributaries have, over the last few years, developed into a Mecca for bream spinning.
Surprisingly, the murkier locations have proven to be far more productive than the spots with clear water. This is very apparent on the Lane Cove River, where the upper reaches are clear and deep and the lower reaches, mostly discoloured and shallow, outfish the upper reaches 10 to 1.
The best fishing occurs right on the shoreline in the deep water or over the extensive mud or sand flats. Rock bars and boat moorings also produce very well. The very best spinning happens in less than 1.5m of water
There's no doubt that bream spinning in the above areas is a high-tide proposition. The vast mud flats of the Parramatta River, where the best fishing occurs, are inaccessible at low tide. Trolling around the moorings and in close to some of the deep shores can have its moments.
Casting is usually directed at structure, mostly at anchor or drifting with a little help from an electric motor or oars.
Trolling a pattern over the flats can produce some incredible fishing at times. We've had triple hook-ups and even lures sitting stationary in the water have been taken while playing another fish.
Trolling is a good option once the tide recedes off the flats or when conditions are unfavourable for casting. Trolling is a good method of locating fish on the slow days.
The Storm Hot-n-Tot and Wiggle Wart are so far ahead of any other lure it's not funny. They are lightweight lures but with light braid can be deadly on the right tackle. Tiny soft plastic lures and vibrating metal or polycarbonate blades have also been taking the bream-spinning scene by storm.
The great thing about bream is that they are just so accessible to everyone.
They are great to eat and, on light spin gear, are sensational sport around the snags. But best of all, they are no pushovers, requiring skill and patience to catch, making them worthy opponents.
Tackle for bream remains pretty much the same whether you are fishing the flats, the depths or even with lures. I prefer a threadline reel because it allows you to flick light baits and lures more effectively than most baitcasters. This becomes even more obvious at night.
A reel capable of holding about 150m of 4kg line is adequate; 4kg is a good average but you could go as low as 2kg or as high as 6kg, depending on what weight you are casting and the type of terrain you are fishing in.
Obviously, if you were fishing around oyster-covered rocks then 6kg would be more appropriate. If you are fishing over a clean sand flat there's no reason you couldn't get away with 2kg.
There are two types of rods that I like. For flicking lures or in situations where baits need to be cast some distance I prefer a light spinning rod of about 5’5” to 6’. When I'm fishing the deep water I find the quiver tip-style rods of about 8’ to be most effective.
Whether I'm spinning or bait fishing, I like a nylon trace of about 4kg to 6kg. The length varies with the style of fishing.
To join the trace to the main line a No 14 swivel is ideal. The sinker always goes on the main line and the swivel stops it from running down to the hook. I prefer a VMC baitholder-style hook from about No 4 to 1/0. The hook is selected to suit the bait size, not the fish.