How to

Shallow Water Speed Bream

Southern Flats Action

Victorian angler OWEN PIERCE recounts a cracker session on big Gippsland bream in ultra shallow water. Anyone interested in stealth fishing will find this article a minefield of info!

THE fish came barrelling back towards the boat faster than I could wind. As he tore past us, ripping line from the spool, I said to my mate Deano: “That can’t be a bream, not at that speed!”

We were fishing the shallow flats of the river and lake edges in Victoria’s Gippsland and had discovered a patch of fish that were on the attack.

We’d already bombarded all our favourite snags and drop-offs and managed a few good bream and perch, but to avoid the wind we moved into some nondescript water. We went into crystal clear shallows comprising an area of about 500m in length. Out to about 300m offshore the depth only fell away to around a metre. There were no rocks or snags so we were using the lightest tackle we had.


Bream are usually very skittish under these conditions and getting a go at them before they take flight presents some challenges. Stand up casting is a good way to shut the fish down. A couple of 90 kilo anglers silhouetted against a bright sky are going to be seen by every fish in the area. Frantically waving the rod about in an effort to gain maximum casting distance is another trap to avoid. However, long casts are a necessary part of flats fishing and the further you can fling your lure the more chance of success you have.    

My first cast had got a nudge and the second speared back at the boat, past us and as far as I know is still tearing off for parts unknown. I couldn’t believe a bream could move so fast but we were soon to find out why flats fishing in the shallows has such a dedicated following. This first hook up soon spat my soft plastic and while we discussed what it could have been we realised what was going on. Small prawns were being herded to the surface and as they flicked and hopped about on top of the water, massive bream were slamming them. Every now and again, over a couple of acres of water, prawns could be seen clattering about before disappearing with a “thwack” into a swirl of water. Small platoons of fish could be seen meandering around in half a metre of water and they monstered every morsel they could find.

Getting to see the fish before being seen by them is one of the problems to overcome. Polarised sun glasses are a necessity, as is keeping a sharp eye on any shapes and swirls in the water. One way of identifying when bream are likely to be feeding over the shallows is to examine the estuary floor. Small depressions of around a fish length in diameter are made as they nose and fan the bottom uncovering shellfish. If the action is recent the craters will be a lighter colour than the surrounding sand and indicate a likely place to start fishing. The surest sign, however, of feeding fish and the chance of catching them are prawns being taken from the surface. Usually we glide in quietly under electric power, keep low and hope we can get a cast in before they sight us. Often one or two shots are all you get before they spook and head to safety. On this day they were feeding with abandon and the sight of a boat and two frantic anglers had not altered their zeal.

A prawn bailed out of the water a long cast from the boat. Into the swirl left behind went a Gulp Craw and a Squidgy Critter. The Gulp streaked away fast to a yellowfin bream as this knock-kneed angler steered the electric away from the main body of fish. Drifting into the area being fished is a mistake that’s hard to avoid, especially when a big fish is on. If someone on board remembers to steer the boat away the bite will last longer.   

The yellowfin flew across the flats as I pulled the boat into deeper water. The little rod was getting a hiding and did not have enough grunt to put a quick end to this battle. We tried to minimise the noise and length of the fight so as not to spook the rest of the fish. We landed him a good way from where he was hooked and we released him quickly so we could return to the fray. If anything the bream seemed more aggressive than they had been and they and we  were racing about in a state of high anxiety.

When fishing around the lower estuary snags are less of a problem and the KO style of fishing seen further upriver gives way to lighter gear and longer fights. Two kilo rods and line are more than adequate. We pair this gear with 1500 to 2000 sized reels. I still use three or four kilo leader to prevent any wear throughs and because I just can’t stand losing a big fish. The lures we used were shrimp/nipper imitations and this was because they were the closest thing we had to the prawns that were being crunched around us. Jig weights were two to three grams and hook sizes two to four. In hindsight this seems like fairly robust tackle for bream but the heavier jigs cast a good distance and a No.2 hook with a bit of shank on it gives better coverage in a three-inch craw. Slow retrieves are usually effective and on most occasions the take came on the sink or after a slight jiggle on the bottom. Surface lures like poppers and Towadis are deadly on the flats and after a while I tied a home grown one on. Well-known Victorian bream enthusiast and Fisho writer Brett Geddes has invented a cheaper alternative to some of the imported poppers and plugs that are around. His is a floating soft plastic dubbed the “Plapper” and I made a few at home to try out on this trip. (Plapper-making details are available in a lot of Brett’s writing, including back issues of Fishing World). The ones I made were quite heavy and I cast it out a long way from the boat. It hit the surface and was chugged straight down by a large bream that was last seen decamping in a westerly direction.  


The fish were concentrated across an extensive area of shallow water. They were in water from a metre down to stuff they could barely stay upright in. Fish this shallow often ignore any offering and become aware of us long before we see them. A half dozen careered into casting range and we flicked our soft plastics past them. The braid landed just in front of their noses and cast a clearly visible shadow. We left the lures dead still but the bream took off as if a sea-eagle had landed. They were aggressive fish, all right, but they were still bream and still retained their ultra cautious nature. I first became aware of the dangers of line and line shadow falling across fish after watching the Graeme Williams’ DVD Images in a Northern Estuary. In this the cast is made so the fish never crosses the line. If the cast is poor or the fish changes direction and heads to the line, the lure is left dead still until the fish has moved on. The lure is always placed in front of the fish on the near side so the fish won’t cross the line. We aim to achieve that but our accuracy is not always as good as Graeme’s.

Another group of fish were foraging just beyond casting range and we each strained a long cast in their direction. The soft splash of my lure ignited them. The whole squadron turned and bolted toward the intruder. A largish one picked up the softie and raced away. This was the “fightinest” bream I have ever caught. He tore drag. He careened and crashed this way and that. His dorsal broke the surface. He towed the boat around. All in a foot of water.

Deano slid the net under one of the “four bream of the apocalypse” and we admired another ripper yellowfin. Only trouble was the amount of commotion had scared everything in a five kay radius. When braid is wound onto a reel under load it tends to bite into itself and bind up when the next cast is made. My next cast travelled about three metres – testament to the force this fish applied.

We motored a short distance away, hoping to find fish we hadn’t scared yet. The water was slightly deeper and no fish were immediately visible. I thought the bite was probably over. Often our fish seem to come from an hour or so of activity accompanied by long hours of fruitless casting. I thought we had now entered the latter phase. As we started grinding out casts about 1.5kgs of bream surfaced near the boat and slurped a small prawn down. Deano’s next cast was taken and a black bream tore off with the Squidgy Critter he was still using. This fish fought with the same gusto as his yellow-finned brethren and was one of the best I have seen.

This fish marked the end of our flats fishing experience. The wind changed direction and conspired to keep us away from any open water. The snags in these Gippsland Rivers always produce bream and perch to the persistent angler and we managed a few of both. We up the ante when snag fishing and use 3.5 kilo braid, 5.5 kilo leader and at least 3 kilo outfits. We seldom keep our lure caught bream and never keep the big ones. Growth rates suggested by tag returns indicate that it would be incautious at the very least to go out and stack up a pile of large bream so while the odd bait caught one still ends in the pan all the lure caught biggies go free.

We have fished the flats on many occasions but this was the most aggressive the bream have been and the duration of the bite lasted the longest. More frequently, flats fish are super wary, requiring ultra long casts and keeping movement to a minimum. Once a couple are caught the rest become spooked and moving on becomes necessary. An abundance of bait size prawns encouraged these ones to abandon their usual fastidious habits and crash around like an unruly mob. Sight fishing adds another element to angling. Straining to make the cast long enough, biting the nails as the offering is inspected and then watching as the fish charges off adds an extra dimension to the experience. For us, luring the shallows has moved up the ladder from being just another technique to try to becoming the main game.


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