The Derwent River and its magnificent black bream create one of our countries best estuary fisheries.
Locals and visitors alike can be somewhat daunted at their first attempts on this incredible waterway given the vast range of available water and shores to try.
In fact there are few locations between the city and the upper estuarine limit that don’t have great fishing at times. Breaming on the Derwent can be both exhilarating and frustrating even for the accomplished local angler. It’s all about the challenge.
The river has some of the best land based options for black bream available in Tasmania and also offers a mix of boating opportunities. Plenty of boat ramps and sheltered bays can provide good options on the nastiest of days.
In general, the mid reaches between the Tasman and Bridgewater bridges are the homeland of the Derwent bream. Within this range, the bream can move over large distances during seasonal changes and therefore the concentrations of fish constantly vary. On top of that, bream can also move on a daily basis, accessing food in the intertidal zone.
Luckily they are creatures of habit, and knowing some of their favourite structure and feeding traits can make it a little easier to find them.
Black bream tend to push higher in the system during spring on their spawning run. The schools search out a mix of salinity and temperature to suit their breeding needs. Fishing at this time therefore can be a bit on/off but does provide some memorable bags of bigger blue noses.
The real highlights of the season are the summer and autumn months where pods of feeding bream redistribute throughout the system and begin to feed aggressively.
Last autumn the Derwent provided some spectacular and very consistent angling. Weather conditions remained stable allowing plenty of clear water sight fishing days over shallow water.
This is champagne breaming, and if you are planning a trip on the Derwent then this is your best time of year. Depending on rainfall, winter can still turn it on. Slower techniques are needed in the cooler water but prospects still exist apart from times when heavy rain discolours the river.
Rock structure throughout the river is diverse and widespread. Most of the banks in the mid reaches are basically rubble and solid rock. Bream love to crunch away at mussels, scour the bottom for crabs and ambush baitfish when possible. Prominent ledges and bouldery sections that stand out on any shore offer both cover and an ambush position for the fish to hold on.
These major outcrops are good places to begin looking for bream in the Derwent.
Points and reefs often produce not only the best of this rough territory but also form calm backwaters or undercurrents that conserve energy for a lurking bream.
The calmer areas can allow good weed growth that enhances the appeal of a likely location. Find a spot with a combination of these assets, add a gentle gradient between 0.5-2m of water and you’re half way there. Pylons, weed channels, timber snags and steep rocky shores also provide cover but the flatter undulating rock zones around points and reefs can often harbour better groupings of bream.
While the tidal influence on the Derwent is usually a subtle affair rather than strong push. Bream are very influenced by changes in current caused by both the ebb and flooding tides. I try not to fall into any solid forms of thinking when attempting to understand tides and bream. That can really send you nuts at times.
Bream are most interested in the available food often revealed by current changes. Calm rising bays and backwaters are great for crabs feeders. Fast flow changes around structure force baitfish to find new cover, making them an easier target.
Many of the thick strapweed beds come alive with action as the weed strands flop over during a change in flow temporarily allowing bream to feast on river shrimp.
A tide chart won’t be much help when working out where to find these current variations. Just watch the water carefully and you will begin to notice these slight but significant changes.
I do however use the presence of foam lines, up-wellings and back currents to help decide on exactly which part of a shore might be worth a few casts. High water does of course bring into play new ground and bream will use the extra depth to access favoured shallows.
Much of the time with all the other available subsurface structure on the Derwent, bream aren’t totally dependant on a high tide to provide access to food.
In saying that, shallows zones or flats are the one terrain type that does require a higher water level to fish well. When out breaming, it can therefore be worth ear marking those very shallow zones for the period around the high tide.
Later on, a falling tide can be a useful tool for anglers as well. Often bream are forced to move behind outcrops to escape the flow and hence become more concentrated. Less water on a large shallow area also compels the bream to search for gutters, depressions on the bottom or a nearby drop off.
Angled banks or any other depth change contours always create good bream habitat. Methodically working lures around these zones is a popular routine.
In short, there’s no perfect tide or structure for bream but instead there are many stages of a tide or likely nooks and crannies that provide the bream angler with the opportunities he needs on the day. Getting your lures to work effectively in the required depth is the next challenge.
First and of most importance is your casting outfit. Be sure to have a well balanced rod, reel and line set up as this will make easy work of the amounts of casting you will do on some days.
Light (1-3kg or 2-4kg) carbon graphite spin rods in the 6’-7’6” range are well suited to flicking just about any bream lure. Light braided mainlines of 4lb gelspun or 6-8lb PE are a popular choice here. You can of course go a little lighter or heavier with your braid if need be.
Leaders of around a rods length are ideal.
As a rule, go for the best reel you can afford. This will in time cost about the same as going for a cheaper option as the added expense caused by line tangles soon adds up. Reel sizes such as 1500, 2000 and 2500 are best.
Good quality fluorocarbon leader is very important for these very fussy fish. Choosing the lighter 3-4lb leaders will help you to tempt more bites, particularly when fishing in shallow clear waters.
You may occasionally need to use heavier leaders of around 6lb or even 8lb when targeting pylon or snag dwelling bream. Once hooked, most blacks play very fair, so try to fish with light leaders whenever possible. In general, the strike rate benefits of going light tend to out-weigh the safety offered by a heavier option.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to lures for Derwent bream. Both soft plastics and hardbodied lures work well at different times. A good rule of thumb is to use hardbodied lures in the presence of aggressively feeding bream and go with a slower and more subtle soft plastic approach when action is quieter.
Although both styles will work throughout the year, hardbodied lures are excellent when water temps and fish activity increase during summer and autumn.
Hard bodied lures fall into two main categories and usages for the Derwent. Shallow running slim profile minnows imitate the local baitfish and are able to be worked about the edges of the river in a similar fashion.
Deeper diving style minnows and jerkbaits are better for the slightly deeper 5’ to 10’ zone. Jerkbaits are best described as a lure equipped with a big enough bib that is able to be easily jerked or twitched below its normal operating depth. This feature produces a lure more suited to reaching bream holding on drop-offs and reefs.
The operating depth of a lure needs to hug the shape of the bottom when fishing over open shores or flats. There not much joy to be found when your lure is swimming several feet above where bream are actually feeding.
Having two or three rods rigged with various lures is a tactic employed by many breamers as they probe different depths. Being set up and ready to cast lures that will operate at these different depths is a much more efficient and successful way to search out and catch more bream.
Retrieves with hardbodied lures need to have plenty of extended pauses and flicks of the rod tip. The pauses are important, as this is when you will attract most bites. When fishing a tournament I often write something like “count to six” on my hand to make sure I keep the pause long and distinct. In between the pauses it can be worth mixing up the type of movement imparted on the lure. You never know what might work on the day.
Colours choices for hardbodies are often based on imitating baitfish and are therefore mainly a mixture of olive, black, brown, silver, pearl or white. Trigger colours like a dash of yellow or orange help lures to stand out.
Jigs weights for soft plastics can be wide ranging but normally a size 1/0 hook is needed to reach behind the wall of teeth inside a large bream’s mouth. Only on days when the bite is really tender do I opt for a smaller size 2 jig and go for a lip hook-up.
Slow hopping, or lift and drop retrieves are the norm for deeper water, whereas a draw and rest style is better when casting lighter offerings into the shore.
Once again experimenting can be the difference as with all breaming techniques. What works one day might not the next. Natural tones and dark greens are good colours for the shallower areas but when fishing plastics in the deep and often dark Derwent waters, bright colours make the bait much more visible.
The Derwent is a superb but still under utilised fishery.
Many anglers still drive past the river to fish other areas as perhaps they still see the Derwent as being somewhat polluted or maybe see bream as a complicated fish to target.
Don’t make that mistake as the rewards become obvious once you have hooked your first solid Derwent bream.Reads: 2660