Targeting Bream with Soft Plastics

In the last ten years or so, the humble bream has turned from a bread and butter species that was predominantly targeted by anglers using baits such as shrimp, prawns, crabs, bass yabbies/nippers, blood worms, sand worms, etc, into a highly prized sports fish that is now being targeted with great success by anglers using lure and fly. With more and more mainstream anglers becoming interested in bream as a serious sports fish, we are now seeing National fishing tournaments, books, videos, magazines, internet sites, television and radio programs popping up all over the country that are dedicated purely to the capture of bream on lure and fly. Tasmania to some degree has escaped the majority of the hype that has been created on the mainland in relation to targeting bream on artificials but with Tassie having some of the best trophy bream waters in this country, I believe that things are set to change in this regard in the near future. At this point in time, soft plastics are the lure of choice for the majority of keen bream anglers and they have been responsible for more bream tournament wins than any other lure. I have been targeting bream on bait all of my life and on lure and fly for over ten years now and would have to admit that they are my favorite target species at this time. What follows below is a detailed description of the lures and techniques that I have found to be successful when targeting bream in Tasmania and other states of Australia.    

Sustainable Catch & Release approach
In the hands of a competent angler soft plastic lures can at times be a deadly method of targeting bream and I have had several occasions where in a normal days fishing I have caught and released over forty nice bream using the methods I describe below. Black Bream (Acanthopagrus Butcheri) are a relatively slow growing species with growth rates varying markedly depending on the locality/system that they come out of but a big black bream has the potential of being over 25 years old. With this slow growth rate in mind, it makes good sense for us anglers to adopt a sporting "catch and release" approach to targeting this species. In my opinion and the opinion of most keen bream anglers, bream are a fantastic sports fish on light tackle and are too good to be caught just once for the purpose of a feed. I ask that you please treat the information contained within this article and the mighty bream with the respect they deserve, by adopting a catch and release attitude or limiting your kill and not killing your limit, as the on going future of bream angling depends on it.

Challenging Days
Fishing for bream on lure and fly is a real finesse game that at times requires pin point lure placement, subtle and delicate rod/lure work, good powers of observation and a willingness to adjust and adapt to the fishes reactions or to the conditions you are faced with on the day. It is not an easy game to play at times and catching a fish or two on a tough day can be extremely challenging and sometimes just damn right frustrating and even when you think you have them all worked out they can go and change the rules of the game on you. It is not a game that everyone likes to play but if you enjoy a challenge and can accept the fact that even the best bream anglers can struggle to pull a fish or two at times, then the rewards can be fantastic when you do manage to pull things together and win the game more times than you loose.
Equipment Used
The rod, line, leader and knots that I would recommend for targeting bream with soft plastics do not vary greatly from that which I have previously recommended for targeting trout on soft plastics. So rather than repeat the same information here, please refer to the following sections of the article I have written on "Targeting Trout with Soft Plastics" also located within this edition of "Tas Fishing and Boating News" as the information contained within the "Rod Selection', "Mainline Selection', "Leader Selection', "Leader Knot', "Terminal Knot" and "Jighead  Selection" sections of this article also apply to targeting bream. Typically, the only difference between the set up that I use for targeting trout and that which I use for targeting bream comes purely down to my drag setting and the breaking strain of my mainline and leader. For targeting bream I typically fish with 6lb, 8lb and sometimes 10lb mainlines and leaders instead of the 4lb that I typically use for targeting trout. In addition to this I fish for bream with a much heavier set drag than I do for trout because they are a much dirtier fighter than trout and are renowned for heading for the closest snag when hooked and need to be stopped in their tracks quick smart.

Target Areas
Black bream are predominantly an estuarine species that prefer brackish (i.e. a mix of fresh and salt) water but they have been known to move into fresh water reaches of rivers at times and out onto nearby ocean beaches on the odd occasion, particularly around times of heavy flooding. They can be a very weary/spooky species and tend to spend a great deal of their time within close proximity to some form of natural or man made structure for protection. Some of their favorite haunts are under/amongst riverside or underwater snags such as fallen trees, around bridge pylons, jetty's, rock walls/rocky shorelines, weed/reed beds, around boat hulls and moorings, channel markers, oyster racks, and any other structure that may create some shelter/shade or an ambush position from which they can attack their prey. I have even caught bream from around an old barnacle encrusted shopping trolley in the heart of the Melbourne Docklands precinct. So if you find some good structure within the brackish water zone of rivers, estuary's and bays on the East, North/East and mid north coasts of Tasmania, you can bet you will find some bream living in close proximity to it. When it comes to locating big bream, I find that the biggest bream will typically occupy the biggest and best looking structure within a chosen system.

Casting accuracy
Due to the locations that bream like to inhabit, casting accuracy can play a big role in an angler's success or failure to temp a fish into accepting their offering and it pays to first become a proficient caster if you wish to become a proficient bream angler. At times your lure will need to be placed within very close range of likely looking structure to have any chance of tempting a bream to strike at your offering. Being a tournament caster myself, I know that good casting accuracy makes a huge difference to my results and I see this as a vital part of consistently successful bream fishing, so I have included some accuracy casting tips below. Please ignore the casting section below if you can already consistently land your lure within a 300mm radius of your target at cast distances ranging from 5 meters up to say 25 meters.

Accuracy Casting Tips
1. Accurate casting begins with a proper grip onto your rod/reel and this is done by placing two fingers either side of your reel stem and locating your thumb directly on top of the rod as shown in image 1 below.

2. Next wind your lure all the up way to your rod tip and position the bail arm roller so it is facing up and is positioned directly under your rod. Now pass your index finger in underneath the side of the bail arm and press the tip of your finger onto the lip of the spool before flicking the bail arm into the open position. You will notice upon opening the bail arm that your lure will drop down from the tip of your rod and the line will stop against you index finger that is now pressed firmly against the lip of the spool.  If you practice doing this every time you go to make a cast, it will ensure that you always have the same distance of line between your rod tip and your lure before each cast. Personally, I find that this small amount of line drop between my rod tip and my lure is just perfect for making accurate casts. If you prefer to cast with a little more drop then you can accurately adjust the amount of line between the rod tip and your lure buy just pulling one revolution of line off the spool at a time from under your finger until you have the desired lure drop.

3. The next step is to hold your rod out in front of you with the tip of your rod slightly below eye level and pointed directly at your intended casting position (i.e. you line your target up by looking directly over your rod tip to the target cast position in the distance)

4. To carry out the cast, begin with a relaxed arm and by bending at the elbow smoothly raise your rod with an upward and backward forearm motion passing your rod tip directly through your line of site to the target and accelerating the rod straight up to beside your ear into the twelve-o-clock position, stopping the rods upward movement at this point.

5a & b. The momentum of your lure will continue to load the rod tip backwards into a casting curve and when it is fully loaded (i.e. a split second after stopping the upward rod movement) start moving the rod forward using a karate chop type arm action and by flicking your wrist forward and down like you are throwing a dart at a dart baord.

6a. When your rod tip is pointing outwards but slightly above your intended target, lift your finger from the lip of the spool releasing the line from under it and letting your lure fly towards your target. To accurately control the distance of your cast "feather" your line with your finger as it is coming off the spool. "Feathering" line is when you use your index finger to smoothly control the line as it travels off your spool, you do this by lightly touching the line with the end of your finger as it peels over the lip of the spool. 

6b. When your lure has reached its intended target you stop the lures travel by placing your finger back down onto the lip of the spool effectively stopping the line/lure from further travel.
Remember, a good casting action is like a good golf swing and accuracy and distance comes down to a smooth well timed forearm/wrist action and not from puting to much shoulder and body movement into your casting action.  With a bit of on the water and in the backyard practice (i.e. practice casting into a bucket or washing basket) you will soon be able to land your lure softly and accurately on your intended target which will definitely help you to catch more bream.

Favorite Soft Plastic Bream Lures
I have five basic soft plastic patterns that are my favorites at this time for chasing big bream and they all catch some nice bags of fish on any given day in different situations. In no particular order of preference, the lure patterns that I use predominantly for chasing bream are minnow patterns, crab patterns, nymph patterns, single tail grub patterns and thin profile wriggler/worm patterns.
My favorite minnow patterns at this time include "Berkley Bass Minnows', "Lunker City Fin-S fish" and "Berkley Gulp Minnows" in 2", 2.5", 3" and 4" sizes.

My favorite nymph patterns at this time include the "Berkley Bulky Hawg', the "Lunker City Helgies" and the Berkley Micro Nymphs in 1", 2" and 3" sizes.

My favorite crab patterns at this time include the "Berkley Gulp Peeler Crabs" and the "Ecogear Tanks" in 1.5", 2" and 2.5" sizes.

My favorite single tail grubs include "Berkley Tournament Grubs', "Atomic Fat Grubs', "Mojo Grubs', "Strike Me Lucky Quad tail Grubs" and "Ecogear Para Max" in 1", 2" and 3" sizes.

My favorite thin tailed Wriggler/Worm patterns include "Berkley Gulp Grubs', "Berkley Pulse Worms" and "Squidgy Wrigglers" in the 1-3inch size range. (picture not shown)

Fishing the snags (Stealth and Pinpoint Lure Placement)
Any snag or manmade structure that diverts the current slightly or creates a shady ambush position for fish to sit in, or is located on the edge of the current adjacent to deeper water or has oysters/barnacles growing on or around it, is a prime piece of bream real estate and should be approached by the angler with stealth so as to avoid spooking fish or making them aware of your presence. An electric outboard can be a real advantage in this situation and will allow you to get right up close to a snag/structure and position yourself for a well aimed cast without the bream even realizing that you are there. With the aid of a good pair of polarized sunglasses you can sometimes get close enough to watch the bream feed on the barnacles and oysters that tend to grow on the surface of most long term structure found within the tidal zone. A well placed cast that sees your lure drift ever so slowly and enticing past the fishes nose, will in all likelihood evoke a positive response. If you cannot see any bream on the snag then a good starting point is to land your lure as close as you possibly can to the face of the snag/structure but on the slightly up current side of the snag and let it sink/drift enticingly down and across the face of the snag. It pays to cover a good snag with casts from all directions making sure you work your lure hard along the edges of any horizontal sections of the snag/structure as bream just love to sit directly under these horizontal sections in the shade created by them. Big bream can be notoriously finicky about what they will try to eat and anything but the most natural looking presentation presented in the way that the bream expects to see it, will be rejected at times. I always find it rewarding to continually remind myself that a big bream can be an old fish and that they did not get that big and that old by being reckless about what they eat. I always try to make my first cast count by landing it in very close proximity to the most likely looking fish holding position within a given snag and I try to keep my lure in the strike zone for as long as possible, without getting it snagged up and spooking the fish.

Fishing the mud/sand flats
Shallow mud/sand flats within the tidal zone are home to a wide array of marine life such as crabs, marine worms and shell fish which all happen to be some of the breams favorite food sources. At times (typically in low light conditions) bream will venture out and away from there favorite snag/structure to feed in water that can be so shallow that it barely covers their backs. You can typically find fish in this shallow water in the first and last hours of light and throughout the night but at times it can also occur throughout the day when conditions are overcast and you have a high tide pushing water up over these shallow grounds. Some of the tell tail signs to look for when trying to locate likely looking shallow mud/sand flat areas are; small crab/worm holes in the mud/sand, oyster/barnacle incrusted rocks and logs along the high water mark, broken pieces of shell on top of the shallow mud/sand bottom, round sink type holes in the bottom about the size of a large egg (this is where bream have been digging for food in the mud/sand with their noses) and reed/tangled tree roots along the high water mark. Sometimes you can find shallow mud/sand bank areas that have several or all of the above listed tell tail signs and these can be great areas to fish on a high tide in low light conditions. These areas are best fished from a boat that is positioned a cast distance out from the water line or if land based and the river width allows you, you can cast to these areas from the opposite shore. The fish will move up onto these shorelines as the tide rises and the light levels fade and they will be facing head on and hard into the shore, so for your lure to be seen by the fish it needs to land right on the waters edge and then be slowly twitched/tweaked out past their noses. If the shoreline allows it, it can be a good tactic to cast your lure up onto the shore and then dribble it down into the water. Be very weary and ready for the take as bream can be right onto your offering as soon as it hits the water and if you have any slack line between you and your lure you will in all likelihood miss the strike. This can be a deadly technique in the right area/right tide and combined with low light levels so, let your powers of observation take control and give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised at just what comes out of this very shallow water.

Retrieve or Not?
To retrieve or not to retrieve that is the question?
When targeting bream on lure and fly, I believe the answer to this question should be dependant on the interest/aggression level of the fish that you are trying to catch on the day. A memorable example of the wide range of retrieves that work best on bream at times goes as follows:
One day while fishing the Scamander river on the East coast of Tasmania, I came across a school of fish that were feeding on baitfish and busting up the surface. Thinking that I had come across a school of salmon or tailor, I cast out and started a fast, erratic, jerky type retrieve (i.e. just what tailor and salmon love), only to come up tight to a nice bream (to my complete surprise). I repeated the same retrieve and pulled another four nice bream from the school before putting the fish down and off the bite. On this same day further up the river, I polaroided some nice bream sitting under a snag and after watching my first cast land and spook them to the point where they just tucked themselves further back into the snag and refused everything I threw at them. I returned to the snag later in the day and caught a nice fish off it by gently casting my lure up current of the snag and letting it just drift down with the current to sit stationary on the bottom in front of the snag. Having given this example, I must say that "surface busting bream" are a rare occurrence and more times than not bream do prefer a slow retrieve incorporating smooth, subtle rod movements to entice a strike.

Slow fishing = Slow Retrieves

I firmly believe that sometimes you can not retrieve a lure too slow for a bream and that the slower/more subtle your retrieve is, the more chance you have of catching a fish or two when the going is tough. Bream tournaments have been won with what has been termed the "do nothing" retrieve which involves casting to a likely looking area, letting your lure sink to the bottom, giving it a couple of tiny twitches and then letting it sit for up to 3 minutes before retrieving your lure and repeating the process in another location. In my opinion, when the fishing action is slow, it is always good to keep reminding yourself that bream have no problem with striking at a lure that is sinking slowly or just sitting stationary in mid water or on the bottom but can be spooked by a lure/lure sink action that is too fast or jerky.

A beautiful dark Derwent River Bream caught using a slow/subtle/twitchy retrieve

Recommended Approach / Retrieve
The approach and retrieve that I have found to work well on bream (most of the time), involves both slow/subtle and fast/erratic lure movements incorporated into the one retrieve and it goes as follows:
1.I like to slowly motor up stream/into the current using my electric motor to approach a likely looking snag/structure or shoreline. I position my boat a short cast distance (10-15 meters) from the shore/structure I am wanting to fish.
2.I like to cast upstream and at about a 45 degree angle towards the shore/structure as this gives my lure a natural down current drift and keeps your mainline from drifting over the strike zone and potentially spooking fish.
3.Make your first cast as close as you possibly can to the most likely looking fish holding area of a sang/structure or shoreline. Feathering the line as it travels off your spool so as to accurately control the cast and eliminate any slack line between your rod tip and your lure.
4.As soon as you lure hits the water, flick you bail arm over by hand (this stops you winding your lure out of the strike zone as happens when you crank it over)
5.Allow your lure to sink on a taught line down the face of the snag/structure or shoreline by lowering your rod tip down at the same rate as your lure is sinking. Allow your lure time to sink to the desired water depth or into the strike zone.
6.Watch your line as your lure sinks (were it enters the water)  for an unnatural line movement (i.e. a pause in its sink rate, a slight twitch or any sideways movement) If unnatural line movement occurs smoothly/instantly lift the rod to set the hook into what will more than likely be a fish. Remember that they can be right onto your lure at times.
7.With your lure at the desired depth, and you rod tip pointing directly at your cast position, start your retrieve by giving your rod tip a small, subtle, lift/pause/lift action so as to move your lure about 400mm or so in total, in an upward/forward direction. Then drop your rod tip back down again and take up the slack line with a half turn of your reel handle while allowing you lure about 3-4 seconds to sink (if snag/water depth allows) and again watching intently for any line movement/strikes.
8.Continue the retrieve by making a longer (about 900mm), smooth rod tip lift, then drop your tip back down again smoothly taking up the slack line as you drop the tip by turning you reel handle about 1.5 revs.
9.If you are not already connected to a fish by this stage, then continue the retrieve  by repeating the 400mm rod tip lift/pause/lift action again only this time make the move faster, more jerky/aggressive in action and then again drop the rod tip, take up the slack line and wait another 3-4 seconds watching for hits.
10.Continue retrieve by repeating step 8 above.
11.Continue retrieve all the way back to the side of the boat and watch for dark shadows/following fish. If you do not see any fish behind your lure, re-cast to another area and repeat process. If you see a fish following, open you bail arm and feather the line as your lure sinks to the bottom as soon as you lure hit the bottom engage you bail arm and wait for anything up to a couple of minutes with your lure sitting stationary on the bottom for a strike. If no strike, give it a couple of little twitches and let it sit again.

Like any other form of angling, to become consistently successful at catching bream on soft plastics takes some perseverance and practice from the angler. I hope that the techniques that I have described above work as well for you as they do for me and I wish you all the best on your journey to become a consistently successful soft plastics angler. If you find you are having trouble mastering any of these tequniques or you require some assistance to help select appropriate tackle for the job, then do not hesitate to come in or call and have a chat with me on Friday's at the GOTONE Tackle store located at 144-150 Hobart Road, Kingsmeadows, Launceston, Tasmania and I will be only too happy to help you out!

Good fishing to you all!- Steve Steer    
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