How to

How to catch bream on bait

Bream on Bait

COL ALLISON believes bait is great if you want a bag of bream for the table – or a blue-lipped wrestler for the photo album.

THE red-and-white bobby cork was disappearing in the distance amid a slight chop on the lake as it drifted down the current with the berley trail, over a line of reeds to a deep drop-off. I glanced at the spool of 2kg Crystal FireLine  and noticed that
my little Shimano was rapidly running out of braid.

Just on 125 yards were wound on the spool and I reckoned only 30 remained. I was about to flip the bail and wind it all back when the float took a nose dive. Counting slowly to five, I lifted the rod tip and gently wound up the slack. Bang! Fish on.

“Wow, look at him go,” said my mate, Bob Penfold, owner of the 5.49m Clark Condor we were bobbing about Lake Macquarie in.

Bob was one of the world’s foremost big-game hunting guides for almost 30 years. He used this tough alloy boat exploring hunting (and fishing) opportunities off the coast of the Top End, navigating rivers, estuaries, offshore island and big Arnhemland billabongs full of saurians. The Newcastle resident retired three years ago to a busman’s holiday of fishing and shooting for the table with his many friends.
He was plainly excited by my hook-up.

With the dramatic rod curve, you’d swear I’d nailed a tuna. The fish screamed wide to port, then back to starboard while I gently pumped in line. I was having the time of my life, as you always do when you know you’ve got a good fish well and truly hooked.

“There’s no rush,” Bob said unnecessarily, “He can’t get away unless you try to skull-drag him on such a light rig.”

I was in no hurry whatsoever and let him scream all over the place, taking in line when he slowed briefly or changed direction, giving him his head when he torpedoed. But in no time at all he was behind the boat, under and around it. Bob and I ducked and weaved around each other in that zany piscatorial dance – me with the rod tip high, he with the net ready to pounce.

Eventually I finessed the beauty from the transom towards the bow, puzzling for the moment at the golden bronze colour of my catch-to-be. It looked like a snapper under water. Bob tailgated the brute midway along the gunwale and brought him up, saying, “What a beauty! What a monster!” (I smiled to myself, thinking the old pro guide can’t drop the showmanship, habit of half a lifetime).

But he was right. It was a bloody big fish. An ancient blue-lipped bream 42cms long, thick as a brick and weighing 1.6kg. We took the obligatory photos of what was to me, a personal best  bream, and slipped it back over the side. Within seconds it flicked the rudder and was gone.

No point in killing breeding stock when we already had quite a few good eaters swimming in the catch box or already stiff on ice. The really huge old stagers are seldom as sweet tasting as smaller fish and they’ve got many more young to sire. Hanging in my trophy room is a raft of photos of big lake and river fish caught around the world and mostly released. The photo of a beaming moi with this nice bream will join the rogue’s gallery. It won’t be shaded by the rest. Okay, plenty of people have caught bigger bream than this, but not me. I figured even mugs can get lucky sometimes.

I was pretty chuffed when I rounded up three others to 35cms from this spot; Bob chiacked me mercilessly about my tin-arsed run. As it happened I did catch the biggest handful of the day, but it was all down to Penfold and his well-refined gear and technique.

Bob learned his stuff after 30 years as a keen spearfisherman. When I first met him and introduced him to hunting, he took me snorkelling for bream after swimming out to a reef way offshore on the mid-North Coast of NSW. He scared the living daylights out of me; I felt like a swimmer accidentally abandoned in the wide blue briny by the charter skipper.

Bob found bream close to cover, weed beds, rock shelves, and close to or under white water in the shallows. Rarely in the deep and never in wide open areas, except when travelling beaches where they could hide under the foam. He put his memories to good use when he hung up his outfitter’s cap and picked up his lightweight rods.

With a big family who like to eat fish fillets – and many inexperienced friends who like to fish nonetheless – Penfold pretty much gave up spinning for flathead, bream and whiting. He found it hard yakka and not as surefire as using baits. He wanted a technique that gave his kids and grandkids plenty of entertainment and a feed at the end.

Fitting a “muncher bucket” to the Condor, he experimented with berley. Cheap white bread at a little over a dollar a loaf mixed with chicken pellets from produce suppliers worked on bream with unweighted baits floated down the current with the berley trail. But not lizards. So he varied the mix. Adding cheap bran or pollard to the mix, then chopped up fish scraps brought flathead closer to the boat.

Fresh and salted and frozen bonito were the favourite bait during winter, but Hunter or Hawkesbury River peeled prawns were the best bait to use during the summer “prawn run” months. Figures if you think about it. Other mates use chicken fillets smothered with garlic and parmesan cheese for equally good results.

Adding sight-fishing to the technique, mostly for his grandkids’ sake, he fitted a light foam float to the rig, making it adjustable to easily slide up or down the line to change the depth. The kids loved it.

“They could pay the line out of the back of the anchored boat and watch the tell-tale float disappear when a fish grabbed the bait, “ Penfold said. “It was easy to get them to count to five slowly, then flip the bail and gently lift the rod to hook up.”

When fishing towards rocky reefs, he ups the ante to 4kg FireLine. The 2kg line simply didn’t have the grunt to stop the brutish bream from dashing straight to the rocks. He uses a dropper under a bigger float when casting into white water close to cliffs from the boat.

With a berley trail, it takes just a short time to entice bream out of their hiding spots in deeper water or from the weeds. They smell the berley, pick up pieces of ground up fish and “melted” pellets and then take on the peeled prawn floating down in the trail. The bigger fish jostle the smaller ones aside to take the bait.

Goliath bream don’t get that way being dumb. They pull the float holding the bait with their teeth testing for weight or resistance. But with lots of free-floating line laying out on the surface – “whipped” there constantly as the line runs out – there’s nothing to feel.

Okay, this is not a new, but rather a refined technique for tight lines. You’ve probably tried something similar on pelagics from your boat, or even – as I do – berleying gutters off the beach or off the rocks. But it’s a simple method that works in filling the larder. No matter where you are.

A little thought and observation really can save you a lot of guesswork and time-wasting – and pack the ice box at day’s end.

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