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Bream Magnets: Where Fish Live

While bridges and pontoons are great places to target bream with lures, MARK PHILLIPS likes to focus his efforts on “natural structure”.

OVER the past 12 months a crappy back has kept my offshore sojourns limited to days when the ocean is not going to give me a sciatic reminder of why I should’ve stayed on the lake. The upside of spending a lot of time on calmer water has been getting back to my fishing roots and spending an ever increasing amount of time pursuing the humble bream.
Most of the waterways I’ve been fishing have all had one thing in common – an abundance of natural structure and fish-holding habitats, rather than man-made cover and structure such as oyster leases, pontoons and moored boats.

Finding fish in a big open piece of water that looks every bit like a blank canvas – or in a river system where every inch of bank side detail looks like it should hold a horde of hungry bream – can create a puzzle of knowing where to start and what to cast.
But with a bit of preparation and a few natural options up your sleeve I’ve found you can quickly get into the game and greatly improve your results.

Preparation
If you look in any top bream comp angler’s boat the first thing you notice is a quiver of at least four rods, each of which is rigged with a different lure. These outfits look impressive and without a doubt cost plenty, but they are the tools that allow the angler to present a lure at any part of the water column without wasting precious time rigging up.

Don’t think for a moment you have to be a bream pro to set yourself up to fish like this. I’m three light years away from having the skill and dedication of the modern crop of bream top guns, but even when fishing in my kayak I fish with a similar tackle system. I always have three rods ready to go: one rigged with a top water lure, one with a hard-body minnow and one with a deeper presentation such as a plastic or blade. In some scenarios, I’ll have several casts with one; if I get no response I switch to the next. This simply helps you to work out what the fish are tuned into eating on the day or quickly select the appropriate tool for the job when you arrive at a new casting opportunity.

Before I go fishing I make sure my reel spools are full. This makes casting light lures so much easier and long casts catch fish, it’s that simple. Bream get to see plenty of lures these days so you need to have your tackle finely tuned. Light, small diameter zero stretch mainlines are the go; I use three pound Stren Microfuse for my bream work. I usually fish four-pound fluorocarbon leaders just under a rod length long connected via a five-turn Surgeon’s Knot. Many tournament bream guns, such as my good friend and Team Pflueger pro Mitch Birt, fish as light as one-kilo fluorocarbon straight through to the lure. Mitch reckons fishing ultra light puts fish in the live well on tough days in hard fished water. You just have to tie perfect knots and know the limits of your tackle. After fishing with him and watching him in action, there’s no argument from me on either score.

Rocky Banks
Rugged rocky banks that taper into the depths can be amazingly productive spots for bream and can be targeted with a variety of different presentations. Lots of different factors, including wind and tide, will dictate your approach on the day. These areas seem to work best when there’s current or tide moving past them, even when the water is moving quite fast. Bait is another key factor in the equation; baitfish will often school in the back eddies of large rocks out of the tidal flow and there’s nothing bream love more than an unsuspecting baitfish. If the water you’re fishing has limited tidal movement, look for areas where the wind has created a bit of wave action along the front of the rocks. This usually stirs the water up and lets the fish hunt amongst the rocks with confidence. Large rocks and steep banks will also cast shadows and as bream love shade on a sunny day this alone can tip the scales very quickly in your favour.

It pays to always keep your eyes and ears open, especially early in the morning and late afternoon. Bream will get right up in the shallows amongst the rocks, chewing, slurping and hunting bait. It’s not unusual to hear a fish or spot a fish long before you cast. For me, fishing doesn’t get much better than that.

Floating hard-bodies are a great presentation in this sort of country for a couple of reasons. The first and probably most important one is you can cover ground quickly and efficiently, especially if there is a bit of water movement – after all, you don’t want to miss a cast at the best looking positions. The second is that a floating hard-body will allow you to slow your retrieve, let the lure rise and swim over any snags you may encounter, at least some times. Snags are part of the game, however, so resign yourself to the fact that you will snag up a few lures. On the upside, you’ll also get plenty of bites.

Lures with longer bibs such as Berkley’s 3B Fat Dogs can have benefits in snag-ridden environments. The bib of the lure will sometimes scrape along obstacles as it swims; this helps to prevent the front treble from snagging.

Slow rising and suspending baitfish profiles are also highly effective around the rocky edges. Big bream find them vary hard to resist when they’re retrieved with a series of twitches and pauses through the gaps between boulders and weed.

I really like lures that have a bit of weight. You can cast them further and a lot more accurately than some of the really small stuff that’s on the market. Berkley Fat Dogs and Puppy Dogs, as well as Ecogear SX43s, 48s and even the SX60s have all proven to be solid performers around the rocks at different times.

Make sure you’re wearing polaroids when fishing these environments. Watch every retrieve and throw in a mix of pauses and twitches, rather than just slow rolling blindly, until you work out a bite pattern on the day.

Weeds & flats
Shallow weed beds with scattered sand patches are one form of structure/cover that many anglers will snub their nose at and drive past to something of a grander scale. The reality is weed beds offer fish, bream in particular, somewhere to hunt and forage. Weed is home to many forms of bait such as prawns, shrimp, small crabs and a multitude of baitfish species, so it makes sense to focus on these areas when targeting bream.

On a rising tide or when there’s water over the weed, poppers and walk-the-dog style lures are an exciting and highly productive way to lure hungry bream to the surface for a game of twitch and slurp. Long casts, low vis lines and light leaders are the secret to success in this sort of country. I like to fish smaller profiles like Berkley Scum Dogs, Zip Baits Skinny Pop Jnr and Lucky Craft NW Pencils across the top of the weed beds when the water is smooth. Once the wind picks up a little it’s time to let Cultiva’s Zippen Ziggy loose. Ziggy’s a big mother at 80mm, but don’t be afraid to fish bigger topwater lures for bream. They’re far from shy, especially once there’s a bit of a ripple on the water. The Ziggy is one lure that has really impressed me over the past 12 months; I’d go as far to say old Ziggy holds pride of place in my tackle box at the moment because of his consistent fish raising abilities and solid bite-to-hook-up ratio.

If you’re not getting any action keep moving until you find it. Drift with the breeze and cover ground by fanning your casts in the direction of the drift. Watch every retrieve and don’t be afraid to stop your lure when a fish is hammering it and missing the mark. Pause and watch the lure as quite often the fish will grab the rear treble when the lure is spinning head up in the boil the fish made on its previous swipe. If it doesn’t get eaten, give it a few twitches then keep walking the dog, keep watching and play the game until you hook up or run out of water.

Timber Snags
Fishing timber can be a blast, but it can also be frustrating. I like to fish barnacle-encrusted timber with good horizontal branches early of a morning and late afternoon when the sun is low. Bream will be out chewing on the timber and barnacles with confidence in the low light. During the middle of the day I like target the brushier timber or snags that provide some shade. Bait and a little water movement are always positives to look for. You can throw a variety of different presentations at the sticks and all will produce on the day.

In warmer weather you can easily wake up the neighbourhood by casting a topwater lure amongst the branches and working it out. This has the benefit of having the fish eat the lure on the surface, giving you the upper hand to extract him from his timber labyrinth. Twitching suspending lures like the Cultiva Mirra Shad along the bottom of outside branches is another technique that has worked well on Captain’s bream quest.

During cooler parts of the year I have been using two and three-inch plastics with success, although I’ve been rolled by some good fish that have played the game well in their half of the field. Once you cast a plastic into the sticks and let it sink, pay close attention to any movement of the line. The slightest twitch is more than likely a bite, then it’s up to you to muscle the fish out. Some battles you win, some you lose – you’ll also get plenty of deep snags. I still like to fish three-pound braid and four-pound leaders because it casts sweetly and you get so many more bites than if you’re rigged heavier. Gulp Jigging Grubs, Craws and Shrimps have all scored plenty of runs for me in the snags. I use a combination of light jig heads (down to 1/24th of an ounce) and worm hooks to avoid snagging the lure in the timber.

Drop Offs
The back edges of flats where they drop into deeper water can be highly productive spots to target bream. Deeper presentations such as blades, vibes and plastics all work well in this situation. Cast up onto the flat and let your lure sink off the edge with the current into the turbid deeper water. If the tide is running hard the fish are usually held up a fair way back from the edge, as the tide slows the action will move closer to the flat. I found the fishing in these sort of areas can be as good as a fish a cast when the planets align. Once again, it’s a very nondescript natural form of structure that many anglers will drive straight past.

Bream are a fantastic species to hone your skills on. Be warned, however, casting lures for them is highly addictive. The best part is of this fishery is that bream are so accessible – you don’t even need a boat. Bream can easily be caught out of a well set up kayak or by simply walking the shoreline or wading inshore shallows. However you fish for them, luring bream is challenging, bloody good fun and a never-ending learning curve.

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