How toTips & Techniques

Big winter bream

I LOVE chasing bream in winter. While most pundits will tell you there’s nothing better than seeing cicada-obsessed bream slurp a lure off the surface, I get the same feeling when I detect that subtle bite that only comes when your fishing super-slow presentations in super-deep water.

Over the past few winters we’ve had the opportunity to crack a pattern in my local river which has yielded some of the best bags of bream I’ve seen in decades. The abundance and quality of fish has been a real surprise considering how slow bream grow and amount of commercial pressure on our river. The last time I’ve seen this quality of fish was 30 years ago when we used to target them on live black crabs fishing the nastiest terrain we could find in the deepest sections of the river.

It’s easy to forget the old lessons learnt too especially when they we’re garnished using not-so-trendy bait. While we’ve been fixated on chasing big bream around boat hulls, jetties and over flats with some of the innovative and modern techniques that most bream fishos employ these days, it wasn’t until we merged the two disciplines together of new school presentations with old school locations did we start to see results that once resembled our catches from years past when the river was less pressured.

The Winter Theory

First off, I will say there’s elements to this pattern we are still to work out. We may find this is really a year-round big bream fishery however early indications are it works better for size in the cooler months and better for numbers in the warmer months.

Essentially, the theory is during winter, the cool water slows down a bream’s metabolism and they sulk in deeper water and are far less active. Now this doesn’t mean they don’t eat but the window in which they are active is reduced. It’s a about preserving energy and this preservation comes with a reduced need for food. During these times, bream, who have a vast diet from terrestrial insects to baitfish and crustacean’s to shellfish, focus their diet on molluscs such as oysters and in particular, mussels. The river we fish has an abundance of deep mussel beds which flourish on the hard-rocky bottom of certain stretches of the river and when they’re turned onto this food source it’s game on for the big dogs. The interesting part of this is while the majority of their diet at these times is mollusc-related, the predatory instincts of big bream will still make them attack baitfish while they’re in the feeding mood.

The Technique

The technique we use to catch these brawlers in the cooler months is virtually the same as the warmer months, that is bouncing lures down steep rock walls in jagged reefy country, but the lures we use and the way we use them varies.

When approaching our fishing in winter we tend to use darker lures and smaller profiles to resemble the molluscs the bream is feeding on. Yep, sounds weird right, that the strategy for catching big bream using lures is to resemble a mussel when the norm using lures is to imitate baitfish, prawns or some kind of invertebrate.

As you can appreciate, if the intention is to mimic a mussel then the whole premise of the retrieve is to go slow. Slow hops, long pauses, minimal contact with the lure. Most of the time we’re letting the current do the work and let the lures roll across the bottom similar to how a mussel would look when it has dislodged from a rock.

What has been interesting is the best fishing comes when the water has some kick in it. When you think hard about it, it makes more sense for a bream to be foraging for food on ebb tide, not having to combat the current to feed. However, we think the reason why this works better with some water flow is because, at heart, bream are opportunistic feeders and if they see food sweeping past they’ll hit it out of instinct. The water flow also reduces their decision-making time which elicits a reaction bite. When the current is still, it allows bream to inspect the lure and have time to refuse it. While all this sounds like bream are highly conscious animals, based on what we are seeing and how the fish are reacting, it’s difficult to think of them as mindless hunters without any discretion on what and how they eat.

Lures & Locations

As I have alluded to, the best areas to catch big winter bream is deep rock walls that have mussel growth. These areas are typically ones that are scoured out by current and allow mussels to colonise on hard bottom. It can be a tricky predicament as your fishing small presentations in deep water with high water flow in reefy country. It goes without saying the attrition rate on lures is very high. It makes staying in contact with your lure vital for not only feeling bites but to prevent mass casualties.

To effectively execute this system, the best lure for the job are small metal blades such as Ecogear VX35s & VX40s. The beauty of a blade for this technique is all in the design of the lure. The thin profile allows the lure to sink rapidly, it’s a small profile making it an easy meal and for its size has enough weight to combat current and depth. Really, when the fish are deep in 40+ feet of water and fishing in decent current, there are very few other lure options.

The presentation and how we deliver the lure though is a critical component. When we’re drifting along a rock wall, we will cast forward of the boat on a 45-degree angle to the shore. While most times bream will hold wider, the benefit of casting close shore on a 45-degree angle is to get the lure to the bottom instantly, so you know exactly where your lure is in the water column. From here, it’s really a matter of finesse imparting small hops of the blade as you let the lure bounce and roll down the rock face. The trick is work the lure with small rod lifts so that the lure barely has enough speed to get it vibrating. The actual vibration of the lure at times is not critical to its success. This can be counter intuitive as vibes lures are designed to vibrate so this retrieve can be a leap of faith in many ways. The lure flashing on its side as it rolls down the face is exactly the optics we’re after when we’re trying to imitate a mussel. To help in the deception, the best option is to use dark lures that resemble dislodged shells with my favourite VX’s being the classic 445 Black Knight and the new favourite 443.

In most cases the bite is very subtle. It’s unusual to feel a classic “tick” through your line as you do with most lure bites. Most of the time all you feel is a pressure difference. If you fish with heaps of slack line on the drop, then you’ll never feel the take. We like to run tight line to the lure, and this gives us a few benefits. The first, as mentioned, we can feel the slight pressure difference up the line when a bream has hit the lure and we can strike faster. The second benefit is knowing where your lure is on the retrieve. While we like to roll the lure across the bottom, if you leave it to roll unchecked, it will snag up and you’ll be forever re-rigging. As it rolls, every so often we hop the lure so it remains clean and we can see where it is down the rock face. With tight line though, you don’t want to be so tight that your lure is swinging back to the boat mid water. You want to keep contact with the bottom as much as possible. Regularly we click the bail arm over to feather out line, so we get a vertical descent as we’re sinking the lure down the rock wall. Once you tune in to this pressure feel of the bite, it becomes easier to detect but be ready to strike at anything abnormal at first.

There’s a caveat to this technique though. While Ecogear VXs have been the standout fish producer using this technique, the real big girls are coming on another lure. It’s no secret to switched on Lake Macquarie bream guru’s the 70mm Samaki Vibelicious soft vibes have been accounting for some monster bream. The same applies here. While we don’t see the same activity in terms of bites, the bites that do come are from XOS fish. Add to that countless flathead and the odd sneaky jew to keep the scoreboard ticking over. It seems the bite window on soft vibes is narrower than VXs, and again, we believe it relates to tides. We tend to see the larger 70mm lures work better the faster the water moves so the middle part of the tide works better. Again, we believe it’s a reaction bite due to water speed. The other observation is wider the better. If you can find where the rock wall meets the mud bottom, this line holds good fish. This is one of the borrowed techniques from our old bait days where we would always cast a speculator bait wide and let the line drift around with the tide. When the bait rolled off the mud bottom near the rock structure, we would hook up to some monster bream. It seems the technique still works, and the larger lure is triggering the bite. Usually it’s the deepest part of the rock wall too so the soft vibe at 9gms gives us the opportunity to explore the mega-depths for big fish.

Some other things we have noticed are where bream are located on the rock wall at different times. Towards the bottom of the low the bream move wider and deeper and tend to shut down. Towards the top of the high they’ll move up the rock wall and be more active. At these times, if it’s a spring-type high, the bream will move to a crab bite and Cranka Crabs will be deadly. Again, during winter, the crab bite is very specific and will only last a short time. Once the tide turns you’ll need to pull out the VXs again and start working deep.

While all these learnings relate to winter fishing, the warmer months still produce decent fish on the same walls. The major difference is bream will sit shallower and higher and hit a wider variety of lures. We don’t see the same quality as winter but nonetheless it’s still nice to go out and get a 3kg bag.

If your looking for a place to start in terms of gear, really any nice 1-3kg or 2-4kg rod will be fine. I have been using the new Samaki C12-V3 spin sticks over the last few months and the 1.5-3kg 7’ rod is ideal for casting small metal blades and doubles as good soft plastics rod too. The stouter 2-4kg 7’ C12 is good for working the heavier 9g Vibelicious vibes.

Line doesn’t need to be anchor rope either even though your pulling 45cm bream out of less-than-desirable terrain. 3lb braid main line is fine with my current preference Power Pro Bite Motion. When fishing deep, hooked fish tend to play fair and rarely dust us up on the snaggy bottom so for that reason I don’t use anything other than 4lb Yamatoyo Chinu Harris. It ties great knots, seems quite resilient to snags and has good straight-pull strength if you need to straighten a treble to free a lure.

The last note is on scent. When practically dead sticking a lure to entice a fish, I think it makes scent vital. I’ve been a long-time advocate of Shimano’s S-Factor and I haven’t used anything that I believe works better to be honest. I’ve used Sax Scent at times and it does work but does it work better than S-Factor, I’m not sure. However, whatever your poison, my advice is scent is a must-have with this technique.

Winter bream. It’s a magic approach if you want to catch big blue-nose brawlers, and really, it’s not massively hard to execute if you stick to the basic principles above. If you can learn to fish with current in deep water and understand where your lure is during the retrieve the results will follow. The outcome will be bigger and better bream you’ve seen in years.

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