How to

Surface Bream ‘Yak Style!

All keen estuary lure anglers know that bream respond well to a surface presentation. NSW-based kayak specialist ROBERTA PEARCE offers some tips to refine how you work the top and catch more fish as a result. Pictures by SHANE CHALKER.

RECENTLY I’ve been having success with topwater lures on bream in my home waters of Wallis Lake, Forster, using Luckycraft Sammy 65s and Bevy Pencils. I’d like to share my technique with other kayak fishos who have not yet mastered the dark art of “walking the dog” with pencil-style lures.  

It’s well known that kayaks allow stealth factor that traditional fishing boats just don’t have. ’Yak fishos can sneak into shallow bays and creeks and target fish that have rarely seen lures before. Boats zoom past the “skinny water” that I prefer to fish – which suits me fine.  

I’ve been focusing on topwater breaming for the past 12 months, and reckon I’ve cracked the code for consistent success. Hopefully the following information will help you in your local waters. 

First up, you need to fish the right type of water. Man-made canals with jetties, boats and oyster encrusted walls are a good place to start tossing top water pencils. The bream hide under the jetties and boats, whilst the shadows cast by the walls and jetties also provide shelter. Cast right under jetties and next to poles to increase the chance of getting an immediate hit. In these sort of waters, consider every pole as a “fish magnet” – a “must do” cast. If you miss some poles along an oyster lease fence on the first drift, go back and cast to the poles you missed. Fish the top of oyster racks when covered with water but be prepared to lose lures.

I also look for slow flowing shallows or flats, as the fish don’t have to fight the current and just wait for prawns and fish to float to them – an easy feed! Every estuary system has “shallows” at some time during the tidal phases. They may become “fishable” on the rising tide as fresh sea water covers exposed nipper beds or, conversely, on a falling tide, as bream take cover in the ribbon grass or try to find shaded areas under overhanging trees, jetties or other structure. On a falling tide, they also expect to find prawns and baitfish leaving the shallows for deeper water, so they may sit just out from the shore in wait of their prey.  Shallows where there’s a mix of nipper beds, sand patches and weed beds are ideal – the water can be as shallow as 30cm or less, which is ideal for ’yak anglers. 

Look also for the larger mangrove-lined bays and creeks. These are often unofficial “bream havens”. Some of these areas can only be accessed when the king tides occur – the Christmas and Easter king tides are great times to get out.

My Hobie kayak, being hands free, allows me to pedal away from structure while fighting a big fish. This can be the difference between landing or losing a trophy bream. When the bream takes a full circle around the ’yak, you need to lift the rod tip high over the other rods behind you to keep in control before netting it. Don’t panic. I use the fins to hold my position in the shallows.

Tackle

I use 2-4lb Berkley FireLine Crystal braid and about 1m of 6-10lb fluorocarbon as the leader (use 6lb or less in open water but stronger braid and 10lb leader or higher when fishing in and around the racks or other oyster covered structure.) Casting distance is sacrificed with heavier lines.  My current rod of choice is a Shimano Starlostix Pro Tournament Lite 7’ 2” model matched with a Shimano Stradic 1000 reel. The rod is very sensitive in the tip but strong in the butt region when needed for pulling in the big fish. On the flats, I tend to use lighter drags and hold the rod tip high to maintain pressure on the fish until it is brought to the net. Near structure and racks, you need to tighten the drag relative to the strength of the line you are using.

It is important when surface fishing for bream with pencil style lures to ensure that your rod of choice has a reasonably whippy tip section as this is what imparts the action to the lure. It’s also important to tie the lure onto the leader with a small loop knot, allowing the lure to “turn” more easily. To make it more attractive to the fish, you can cover the lure with any attractant you prefer. I rub Squidgy S Factor up the fluorocarbon leader to make it float as well. I cast the lure as far away from me as possible, to have a better chance of not spooking the bream (even in a ’yak.) Use the wind on your back to assist casting even further.  At my home waters of Forster, my “go to” lure is a Luckycraft Sammy 65 in Ghost Minnow – similar to a poddy mullet in colour although many other colours will work. 

Technique

I “jiggle” the lure a bit immediately it lands on the water. Any inquisitive bream nearby will race over and either look at it or attack it. I let it sit there for a couple of seconds, as if it lands on a bream, the bream will usually attack the lure immediately! You must watch the lure like a hawk. Is there any “abnormal” wave movement heading towards it, or any difference in the general shape of the top water around the lure? Is there a visible and audible “bloop” as the bream tries to smack the lure?  If yes, leave the lure absolutely alone until the attack ends in a strike or they lose interest and the action stops. Let the bream have a good go at it. It can take many hits before it finds a hook and then the fight begins! The hardest part of learning the topwater pencil discipline is to not strike at the lure while the fish is hitting it.  This is totally different from most lures. Striking the lure too early pulls it away from the fish and out of the strike zone.

You must feel the weight of the fish on the line before setting the hook. I lift the rod firmly (rather than jerking it) as the fish is usually well hooked. However, if you see activity and then it stops and you haven’t hooked the fish, keep your rod tip pointed at the lure and wind in the slack line again. To impart “walk the dog” movement to my lure, I keep the rod handle perfectly still by holding the butt of the handle against my chest/upper body, while turning the handle in half turns and stopping it reasonably crisply a few times before stopping for a pause.  It’s important to keep the rod handle absolutely still  to “walk the dog” efficiently. The half turn doesn’t have to be an exaggerated movement – just crisp enough to make the lure turn left and then right on the next half turn. You’ll notice the rod tip quivering with each half turn – this creates the “walk”. Any slack line is picked up by the crispness of the next half turn. If there are no immediate hits, stop and pause for 5-10 seconds. Watch for any aggression by a fish towards the lure. If there is none, wind in the slack again and bring the pencil towards you slowly for 2-3 complete winds, so it leaves a “v” trailing on the surface. This looks like a prawn trying to get away. Give another pause and then go into the “walk the dog” mode again. 

If you don’t get a hit within 20  “half-turns”, just wind it in and start the process all over again, broadcasting your casts like the face of a clock, to cover different water with each cast. Vary the speed of your retrieve – recently I had one aggressive bream race over when I was winding in to try again and it kept whacking the lure to within a rod’s length from the ’yak until he hooked up. Normally, they lose interest once they are that close! 

If you have a hit in an area and don’t hookup after a few casts – go back and try it again after an hour or so. Chances are you’ll get the fish to strike the next time you put the lure past it.  Sometimes I do what I call my “machine gun” retrieve (without waiting for the rings to fade) which gets the lure jerking quicker and more erratically, then slow it down to the normal “walk the dog” style if there isn’t a hit. My “machine gun” retrieve involves holding the line lightly onto  the front of the rod handle cork just below the reel spool … and winding in short bursts. It takes a bit of practice to master it without the line wrapping back around the spool – so just keep trying it till you get it right.  Similar to the “machine gun” retrieve, you can also  just loop the line over your forefinger, holding the finger tip close to the rod but not touching it – the line just taps it as it comes onto the spool imparting erratic action to the lure.

I take three rods when I chase bream from my ’yak – two in the rear rod holders and one in the front holder. Two are for topwater lures and the other for plastics.  In the Hobie, my net lies between the Mirage Drive with the handle facing me. The actual net sits over the front handle for stability when untangling line from the rod tip – I place the reel in the net and it can’t slip off. I also use the net instead of the paddle when I need a faster turn or need to stop suddenly, as it is easier to grab the net than the paddle.

Sometimes bream bite through hunger as they think it is a prawn or injured fish scurrying away – and other times through sheer aggression.  It may take a while to perfect the “walk the dog” action, but it will be worth it. 

Every time, cover each area well, by casting to the clock face.  In a yak, sitting down, you can cast from about 9 o’clock to  3 o’clock. By using a “stake-out pole” you can stay in one spot without the need for an anchor. I use old ski poles with the plastic base removed. With a stake-out pole on both sides of the yak, you can position yourself even better and can also stand up and cast.  

Time & tide

I prefer to fish for the last two hours of the rising tide and two hours afterwards. Acquaint yourself with the area at different tides. Some that are “too deep” on high tide may be “just right” on low tide. Whenever you spot any shallows, put in a cast and you may get bream, whiting and even flatties on the Sammys! 

Conclusion

If you are serious about wanting to learn “walk the dog” and other top water retrieve techniques for bream and whiting – don’t take any other lures out with you!   Only take pencils and poppers  Stick with it, and you shall reap the rewards.  It is a very visual form of fishing and incredibly exciting as you anticipate every hit. It is so addictive that once you get repeated hits and hookups, it may well become your primary retrieve for bream.

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