What Lures When For The Iconic Bream

  The southern half of Australia endures a reasonably cold winter, particularly when compared to our tropical northern parts. While our winter may still be considered quite mild by those living in much colder countries, the average temperatures impact on waterways, often sending fish down deep or slowing their metabolism. From an angling perspective, winter is generally a poor time of year for those who crave the visual and often exciting side of lure casting, which is surface fishing. Sure, there are times and places when a lure on the top may still attract interest, but deeper presentations or reverting to good old bait is often a much more reliable way to go.
Robley Surface 03

Bream aren’t always easy to fool, but they’re a great certainly great fun to target with surface lures through the warmer months. Remember to mix up retrieve techniques and concentrate more early or late in the day, rather than when the sun is high in the sky.

  Now though, as we’re moving well into spring, water temps around southern estuaries, freshwater creeks and impoundments are rising. Although things are going to get a lot hotter down the track a bit, right now this warming trend has a major influence on fish and their feeding habits. Bream, bass, whiting, flathead and other species are keen to get stuck into their local food supplies, which are also coming to life. Prawns, shrimp and small baitfish are all in the firing line, as are insects ranging from ants through to cicadas. While some of these fall from above, most live in the water and attempt to find safety right on or near the water’s surface. So now and over the coming months fish with any sort of predatory disposition really focus on what’s above them.

Lure Selection

The perpetually increasing amount of surface lures available these days is almost mind boggling. While the majority of these lures will interest fish to some degree, some of the more important aspects of choosing suitable lures are to go for models that are of a similar size to your target species food source, brand names that are familiar and to avoid skimping out by buying some of those cheap and nasty lures that are often seen online. While some cheapy lures are quite ok, many will let you down. Some simple or inexpensive lures actually work really well, but come fitted with poor quality hooks. Once these hooks are upgraded to much better Owner, Gamakatsu, Vanfook or similar high grade versions, these lures may catch just as many fish as models costing three times as much. Being a seriously keen kayak angler, who casts surface lures somewhere around 100 days per year, I’m constantly changing hooks. Regardless of their quality, all hooks eventually go blunt or suffer some form of damage. Bream are particularly harsh on small hooks and it’s not uncommon to fit a new set of trebles to a lure and have a bream destroy them within minutes of casting. So on top of the expense of buying lures, it’s every bit as important to be prepared to buy new hooks and invest in some small spilt ring pliers.
With such an enormous variety of great surface lures available these days, deciding which ones to buy or tie on the end of the line could be confusing. The truth is they all catch fish, but they all require some though and effort on the angler’s part in order to bring about success.

With such an enormous variety of great surface lures available these days, deciding which ones to buy or tie on the end of the line could be confusing. The truth is they all catch fish, but they all require some though and effort on the angler’s part in order to bring about success.

Bream On Top

From October, through the middle of summer and right up to the end of the following autumn, bream are one of our most common and reliable topwater lure targets. I’m particularly lucky, living and fishing around a number of shallow lakes which thrive with prawns, shrimp, small baitfish and truck loads of bream through the warmer months. Surface lures are extremely effective in this sort of environment, but other coastal waterways right around the southern half of the country all offer good bream surface fishing. As a general rule, the further south you go, the slower and more subtle the lure presentation needs to be. So those casting lures in Victoria need to tone things down, while up in northern NSW or Queensland you can get away with faster, more aggressive retrieves.
This black bream took a Maria Pencil 55 in a well-known Victorian lake. In general, lures from 45 to 55mm long are a good size for bream.

This black bream took a Maria Pencil 55 in a well-known Victorian lake. In general, lures from 45 to 55mm long are a good size for bream.

 

Where To Start

As a starting point, it’s important to be fishing an area where numbers of bream are inclined to be looking for a meal. Overall, this means the shallow margins, around weedy flats, mangroves, shaded banks or rocky points, rather than out in the middle. Low light periods early or late in the day are also better than trying to fish through the brighter midday period. Let’s say an average prey item like a prawn is around 50mm in length, so it makes sense to select a lure of a similar length.

Best Bream Lures

The majority of my best performing bream lures are from 45 to 55mm. When casting from a kayak, as I do, it’s possible to fish quite close to bream without spooking them. So long casts aren’t necessary. From a larger boat though, it can be a good idea to opt for the largest lure you feel comfortable with, so greater casting distance can be achieved. When in the mood, bream will smash big lures up to 100mm or more, but whether fishing from a kayak, boat or on foot, try to tie on a smaller, rather than larger lure to begin with. Some of my personal favourites include the Maria Pencil 55, Ecogear PX45 and PX55, Viking Lures Pop’n’Crank, Jackson T-Pivot, Jazz Lures Zappa 55 and Lucky Craft Sammy 55. Other experienced bream anglers may have a completely different list of favourites.
Beautiful looking glassed off water like this may seem appealing, but the truth is it’s often easier to fool fish into hitting surface lures when a light breeze is blowing

Beautiful looking glassed off water like this may seem appealing, but the truth is it’s often easier to fool fish into hitting surface lures when a light breeze is blowing

 

Surface Whiting

Many of the lures mentioned above are also excellent when chasing whiting over shallow flats. There are however, a few things which separate targeting whiting rather than bream. Firstly, whiting really like a sandy or silty bottom more so than mud, rock, gravel or a lot of weed. An ideal place for whiting consists of large sandy areas, with some scattered structure like weed, oyster covered rocks and in tidal areas, nipper, soldier crab or worm colonies, indicated by numerous small holes. Depth is also important, with knee deep water being pretty good in most cases, but whiting also like getting right up in the skinny spots, where water barely covers their backs. Such spots may be easier for the kayak or wading angler to reach, as larger boats can be a bit restricted in water less than 50cm. While a wide variety of retrieve techniques can be successful on bream, by far the best approach for whiting is to keep the lure moving at a steady constant pace, without stopping. An average human walking speed is probably the best way to describe it. This can be done with poppers or stickbait style lures where a ‘walk the dog’ retrieve is required. Both lure types attract whiting.
While casting a small surface lure over really shallow areas for whiting, the occasional flathead is also likely to be caught. This was one of several hooked one morning during a hot whiting session, where bream and long toms also got in on the action.

While casting a small surface lure over really shallow areas for whiting, the occasional flathead is also likely to be caught. This was one of several hooked one morning during a hot whiting session, where bream and long toms also got in on the action.

Finding Flatties

A few years back, the concept of catching flathead with surface lures was starting to catch on, with varying degrees of success. This came about simply because more anglers were casting surface lures around estuaries for bream and whiting, so the odd flatty began to feature in catches. What I believe was the main turning point is the fact that the same, constant retrieve technique that works so well on whiting ‘occasionally’ appealed to shallow water flathead. Despite a few magazine articles dedicated to the idea and the best efforts of anglers, specifically chasing flathead with surface lures has never really taken on. I put in plenty of time and soon discovered a few semi-reliable spots around my local waterways where a few flathead could be caught, but overall I feel this is more of a novelty than a serious way of catching fish. If fooling a flathead into smashing your surface lure is a goal, the best bet is to cast over the shallowest areas, less than 20cm deep, with some current flow. So the shallow edge of a deeper creek or river channel may have the necessary ingredients. As is the case with whiting, keep the lure moving. Resist the urge to pause or stop if a fish is seen moving up behind the lure. Some of the surface hits from flathead are quite explosive, so yes, it’s worth trying just for a bit of fun.
 This flathead smashed a Jazz Lures Zappa 55 in the backwaters of a NSW South Coast lake. Although flathead do hit lures on the top, realistically it’s more of a novelty than an effective way to target the species.

This flathead smashed a Jazz Lures Zappa 55 in the backwaters of a NSW South Coast lake. Although flathead do hit lures on the top, realistically it’s more of a novelty than an effective way to target the species.

Fun With Bass

As we move further up into the freshwater reaches, bass are the primary surface lure target and unlike flathead, taking food off the top is completely natural to bass. The good news too, is that bass are one of the easier species to fool with topwater presentations. As is always the case though, a number of things can help the cause. Firstly, bass are the type of fish that can easily switch on or off, according to the weather or other environmental factors. In general, the hotter it is, with a high or rising barometer, the more bass are inclined to smash lures, surface or otherwise. If a cold snap moves through or barometric pressure begins falling bass can certainly still be caught, but sometimes it may be better to swap over to a spinnerbait or diving lure, rather than persist with a topwater. So it’s a matter of analysing things on the day and if results aren’t great, then consider going deeper.
Bass are actually one of the easiest fish to fool with surface lures over the warmer months. This little fish took a PX55 in a shallow, rocky creek.

Bass are actually one of the easiest fish to fool with surface lures over the warmer months. This little fish took a PX55 in a shallow, rocky creek.

 

Breeze Can Help

Some breeze can be good as it helps shake insects from surrounding trees and bass certainly know it. In fact, it’s quite common for a bass to smash a lure the instant it lands. They sit high in the water, under some overhanging foliage and can see objects in the air before, so they are ready to grab the meal before one of their mates does. So it pays to try and be ready for a hit any time between the lure landing and when it reaches the rod tip. Retrieve techniques can be almost anything at all. Generally though, the best tactic is to allow a lure a few seconds to sit there before beginning to crank it back in. A slow to moderate pace, with the occasional pause along the way should do the job most of the time. Bass will also hit a lure that’s been sitting in the one spot, motionless for a very long time. In fact, you could leave a lure out there for half an hour and it will still be in the running if a fish spots it! It would probably be foolish to state what ‘the’ best surface lure is for bass, as there are so many that work well. I’m a big fan of the Megabass Sigletts, large and small sizes, as well as pencil style lures like the Maria Pencil 55 and Ecogear PX55. Another one that I often tie on first is the Aussie made Viking Lures Pop’n’Crank. Of course, there are a number of other species, ranging from mullet to mulloway that will take a swipe at surface lures through the warmer months. Most of them respond to the lures and techniques outlined above. Good luck and enjoy this exciting form of fishing!   Robley Surface 01a
Jamie Robley

About Jamie Robley

Based on the New South Wales Central Coast, less than two hour’s drive north of Sydney, Jamie Robley started fishing around his local lakes at an early age. Bream, flathead and tailor were the main source of entertainment for a young Jamie but of course, like many other kids who’ve been bitten by the bug, he quickly became interested in other species and more advanced styles of fishing.

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