Bream on Fly
Tasmanian Bream are a fantastic sports fish that offer the Tasmanian angler a challenging and rewarding day on the water. Black Bream, in Tasmanian waters, have been able to grow to impressive sizes due to the limited angling pressure they receive and the healthy estuary systems they live in. Bream up to 2.5 kg are not uncommon in our waters and these very old fish are often seen and caught amongst schools of bream in the upper tidal reaches of a river during the spawning season.
As spring approaches and the flood waters subside, bream begin to school up and move further up the estuary systems towards the river or rivers that feed an estuary. During this time bream are actively feeding in preparation for the up and coming spawning season. This is good news for the angler and is evident with the popularity of bream fishing at this time of year.
Once the bream have reached the upper reaches of tidal influence where fresh meets salt, the school will hold there until the optimum spawning conditions are met with salinity, dissolved oxygen, water temperature and the all important presence of zooplankton for the young bream lava to feed on.
The research undertaken on Tasmania’s Black Bream by Dr James Haddy has been extensive, and reveals some interesting facts about the life cycle of our local Black Bream. Most bream spawn between spring and early summer in Tasmania. The timing of the spawning run can be affected by prolonged floodwater due to its influence on the water temperature and salinity. Research has shown that bream spawn for about an hour at dusk each day and that females will spawn more than once during the spawning season. Although Black Bream have been known to reach sexual maturity in 2 to 5 years, it is the much older and larger fish of say 50cm in length that really have an impact to the number of eggs released. A fish this size could release between one million and three million eggs in a season while a smaller 25cm female may only produce three hundred and fifty thousand eggs a season. Research such as this is so important to the recreational angler because it offers a wealth of knowledge that can be used to make more informed decisions on when, where and how to catch them.
This research also puts into perspective how long it takes for our large bream to achieve their massive size. For instance Dr James Haddy’s research has shown that our bream only gain approximately 100 grams per year, after reaching maturity. Do the maths and that 2 kg trophy bream could be 20 years old, or more. Keeping a fish of that size for the table just doesn’t seem right to me. I’d much prefer to keep the smaller ones for the table and release these big breeders so that fish of this size can be seen in our estuaries for many years to come.
Fly fishing, why do it
There are many productive methods used to catch bream with the use of bait being the most widely used in Tasmanian waters. Soft plastics and hard bodied lures are a great way to actively fish for bream and are now a proven and exciting way to target bream. Of the last two methods, fly fishing for bream would have to be the least effective method.
So why would you want to change to a method where you would catch less fish? Well I think it’s for the same reason people are drawn to fly fishing for trout. It starts out as a method to catch fish that are very spooky and selective under certain conditions and becomes a very challenging and rewarding way to fish that never looses its appeal once you have mastered some basic casting skills. Catching one fish can feel like a major milestone, just as it was when you caught your first fish on a lure.
The other appealing thing about fly fishing for bream is that they can be sight fished to, just like a trout. You may be lucky enough to find them tailing, as they move in on an incoming tide. But the most reliable form of sight fishing will be polaroiding them amongst the snags and the clear shallow waters of an estuary, lagoon or river. Above all, it is just another fun and rewarding way to catch a few fish.
Spring had arrived and I was eager to once again feel the power of a hooked bream on fly. My good friend Simon Hedditch had recently moved to Scamander on the east coast and was keen to get to know this famous bream water at his back door. I don’t usually need too much of an excuse to wet a line and the fact that I needed some more video footage for my Tassie bream DVD, made it even easier to make the time to head to the east coast.
We launched the boat at the upper Scamander River boat ramp. A quick look under the small jetty at the boat ramp revealed several bream stacked up along the pylons. By this stage they were obviously spooked but seeing fish this early was a good start. It just goes to show that bream are drawn to the safety of structure and that by using a jetty such as this as merely a fishing platform to cast a line out into the middle, you could well be sitting on top of some thumping bream stacked up beneath you.
The scenery on the upper Scamander River is truly spectacular and you can get carried away traveling up rivers such as this, just to see what the next bend has to offer. We made our way up the river to the clear shallow riverbeds and could see bream holding on every snag as we motored past.
This was bream sight fishing heaven, but we were about to realize that these spawning bream are not always easy to catch. From here we utilized the electric motor for a stealthier approach. These fish were very spooky and ignored most of our offerings. We had the occasional heart stopping moment where a big bream would move over to the fly, but then spook off the moment the fly was moved. This was frustrating stuff, so many fish, with no results. I was steadily going through different presentations and flies in an attempt to find something that worked. My foam patch I use to dry used flies was rapidly running out of room.
The river deepened as it ran along a rock wall. Simon had replaced his fly rod with a spinning rod and began casting a small hard body along the rock wall. Success came relatively quickly as the light spinning rod buckled over under the weight of the first bream of the day. Simon had a grin on his dial as he slid the net under the bream. Here we go I thought, I am about to get a lesson in why use a fly rod to catch nothing when you can use a lure to actually catch a fish. I was happy for his success, but I do like a challenge and changed tact once again in an attempt to take one on fly.
I was fishing with a clear floating fly line at the time so I tied on a small 1/22oz green and white buck tail jig head fly to get down to the bottom in the deeper water. These flies have the same fast sinking attributes as weighted soft plastic. I think many fish species that feed on small fish and crustaceans see this as a natural instinct for prey to flee down to the bottom and hide in amongst the sand and stones. This fast descent to the bottom often provokes a strike before the suspected prey, being your fly, escapes to the bottom of the riverbed.
Prior to tying on the jig head I had lengthened the leader out to fourteen foot to allow the fly to reach the bottom and to search more water beyond the end of the fly line. As the fly sank down I watched the leader and fly line for any signs of a take, before retrieving the fly back in slow deliberate strips to make the fly rise and fall close to the bottom. Simon had just hooked up again on the lure, when I noticed the tip of my fly line being pulled down. A quick strip strike produced a solid hook up as a bream powered off up stream. Black Bream can certainly put a bend in a 6wt fly rod. Their first initial run can feel like it is unstoppable. Get past the first run and the rod will buckle over as they use their deep profile to stubbornly slog it out midway through the fight until they roll on their side and come in quietly to the net or hand.
The deep rocky bank continued for another 200 metres. A stiff breeze rippled the water, which only helped the presentation of the weighty fly. The quick descent of the jig head fly was doing the trick with four more fish taking the fly. Some would pick it up on the sink while others would follow the undulating fly until the thought of this prey escaping to the bottom became too much, triggering an instinctive nip.
The river changed once again with long shallow rocky runs and fallen timber scattered along both sides. Every snag seemed to hold bream and in this crystal clear water they were very spooky. These bream were holding hard in along the edge and needed a light presentation in this shallower water. Simon decided to switch back to the fly and tied on a size 10 green Woolly Bugger. The small trout fly dropped in amongst the bream and hung there until it was teased out past the snag with short pulsing strips and long pauses. In the clear water we could watch the body language of individual bream as they reacted to the presence of the small woolly bugger. Knowing when to move the fly or let it hang motionless mid water was guided by the interest shown by the bream on each snag. Some would spook off on the first strip while others would move over to the fly for a halfhearted look, before returning to the snag.
As it is with fishing, sometimes you just have to find that one fish that is willing to go to the next stage and mouth your offerings. The refusals continued until one bream moved to Simon’s fly then stopped as it flared out its pectoral fins to size up the small woolly bugger. Simon waited and waited until he finally twitched the fly back to life. The bream lunged forward and engulfed the fly. Simon struck as the fly disappeared, and was on. Extracting this fish from this fallen tree was never going to be easy but Simon managed to coax this one out into the open without getting broken off in amongst the snag. After a short fight a typical Scamander River bream was landed and quickly released. Needless to say, Simon was more than happy to have caught bream on both lure and fly.
Deep Water Jig Head Flies
If you can get accustomed to casting these heavy flies they can be a valuable option to cover fish in deep water situations, especially if you are limited to fishing with a floating line. Having this ability to easily switch from a shallow running fly to a fast sinking jig head fly enables you to quickly adapt to the changing depths throughout a river or estuary.
These jig heads let you fish depths of up to three metres of water quickly and effectively with a floating line. Flies tied on jig head hooks can be allowed to rest on the bottom where a bream will quite often pick them out from between the rocks just as they would with some of their natural prey. In the clear waters of the Scamander River, Simon and I have watched bream moving rocks the size of your fist in search of food.
After the success of the jig head fly Simon had came up with a nice compromise to my 1/22oz rod busting jig heads, by tying up some size 8 black and red marabou cone heads. These flies were tied just like a Dog Nobbler with a body of chenille and a black marabou tail, but instead of using lead split shot at the head Simon used an extra large gold cone head. Dog Nobblers have been used on trout for many years and were one of the first fast jigging trout flies I can ever remember reading about some twenty five years ago.
Simon put his cone head flies to work on our next outing with some positive results in the overcast conditions. The black and red cone heads had a steady run of hook ups along the edge of the deeper water and their slightly lighter presentation also took fish from the shallower water closer to the edge. Having a good range of flies that will cover a wide range of depths and situations will always give you a better chance of finding something that will work on the day.
Casting Heavy Flies
Many people shy away from using heavily weighted flies because of their rod busting reputation. For the average caster such as myself, trying to cast a heavily weighted jig head using the traditional overhead casting action would no doubt see the heavy fly striking the rod at some stage. This impact could easily fracture a graphite fly rod and is something that I personally want to avoid at all costs.
The safe way to cast these rod busters is to tilt the rod to the side on the back cast and then roll the rod overhead on the forward cast. This casting action will keep the fly well away from the rod at all times. The other thing to consider is the wind direction. Always use the wind to your advantage by laying the rod over on the down wind side during the back cast. This will ensure the wind will always blow your line away from your rod. Once you have mastered this simple casting stroke you can then safely add some seriously heavy flies to your bream box to finally achieve that fast descent that may just do the trick when all else fails.