The Lure of Bream

Part 1: The Great Makeover

In the first part of an ongoing series sure to please Kaydo Fishing World bream luring fans, Starlo examines the whole bream-on-lures phenomenon that has taken this country by storm over the past 20 years or so, one that shows no sign of abating any time soon.

Very few other species of fish have undergone as dramatic an image makeover as the humble bream has over the past few decades. When I was a fishing-mad kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, Aussie bream were very much the ‘bread-and-butter’ table fish.

Back then they were normally targeted on bait, typically by anglers using fine hand lines, and almost always kept and eaten – often by the sugar-bag full! Today, by contrast, bream are revered and highly sought-after sport fishing targets.

Starlo with the sort of bream capable of raising the heart rate of modern sport fishers. Consistent lure fishing success on bream of this caliber requires the application of a high degree of finesse and know-how.

Starlo with the sort of bream capable of raising the heart rate of modern sport fishers. Consistent lure fishing success on bream of this caliber requires the application of a high degree of finesse and know-how.

The subject of countless magazine articles and video or TV segments, modern bream fishing (especially using lures) supports several highly competitive tournament circuits and is one of the fastest-growing and healthiest segments of our recreational fishing industry. There are also more than a few modern day bream luring fanatics who’ve never kept and eaten a single one of these fish, nor caught a bream on a natural bait.

So, what happened in a few short decades to completely transform our attitudes towards a relatively small, abundant and widely distributed fish?

A solid, blue-nosed bream patrols its natural habitat. These fish spend a great deal of their time hunting and foraging over sand, mud, gravel and rocky bottom strata in water from half a metre to about six or seven metres in depth.

A solid, blue-nosed bream patrols its natural habitat. These fish spend a great deal of their time hunting and foraging over sand, mud, gravel and rocky bottom strata in water from half a metre to about six or seven metres in depth.

Cynics might argue that it has all been the work of a clever marketing campaign by tackle companies and fishing communicators like myself. Personally, I find the notion that such players have that much power — or that Australian anglers are so gullible and easily-led — completely laughable. Truth is, both the tackle industry and the fishing media have actually struggled to keep up with the growth of interest in bream fishing. This angling boom, like most others, has come from the bottom up and been driven by grass-roots recreational fishers themselves.

Without doubt, one major catalyst fuelling this particular angling revolution was the advent and widespread take-up of ‘finesse’ tackle through the 1980s and ’90s. Light, sensitive graphite or carbon fibre rods matched to vastly improved spinning (thread line) reels spooled with ultra-fine but incredibly strong braided and fused ‘super lines’ completely transformed the sport over that period.

Coupled with this came a surge of interest in lure fishing, particularly for species that had once been regarded as almost the sole province of bait fishers. Bream were high on that hit list. Add to that the explosion of soft plastics onto the Australian angling scene at the turn of the new millennium and you come up with a ‘perfect storm’ of factors driving the ongoing bream boom.

Bream are a handsome and sometimes enigmatic target species.

Bream are a handsome and sometimes enigmatic target species.

Today, I’d make a strong case for the argument that bream have effectively become this country’s number one sport fishing icon, filling exactly the same niche as largemouth bass in North America, carp in Britain, trout in Scandinavia and snapper in New Zealand.

I’m sure there are many who still don’t get it, and would disagree with me, instead nominating glamour fish such as barramundi, Murray cod or Australian bass to fill our premier sport fish niche. But each of those admittedly wonderful targets has a relatively narrow geographic distribution, often covering areas with sparse population densities. Bream live right around our coastline, including those regions where numbers of residents are measured in the millions.

By contrast, barra are confined to the sparsely-settled north, bass to a crescent sweep of the south east, and Murray cod to the inland. But bream are everywhere, even on the doorsteps of our big coastal cities! So, while many anglers may dream of chasing big barra and save up their bucks for that tropical trip of a lifetime, or drool over the images of bruiser bass and mega cod gracing the pages of fishing publications, it’s the humble and readily accessible bream that most of us actually head out to catch each weekend.

 

 

Meet the extended bream family

The group of marine and estuarine fishes known in Australia as bream belong to the family Sparidae, which also contains the pink snapper and tarwhine, as well as a host of similar species from other parts of the world, such as the Japanese madai, the European dentex, the South African steenbras and the American porgy.

Here in Australia, the bream branch of this extensive Sparidae family is represented by the genus Acanthopagrus. The most common and widespread members of this genus are the eastern yellowfin bream (A. australis), the southern black bream (A. butcheri), the pikey bream (A. berda), the north-west black bream (A. palmaris), the western yellowfin bream (A. latus), and the tarwhine (Rhabdosargus sarba).

Light, sensitive finesse tackle based on graphite rods, sophisticated spinning reels, fine-but-strong braided lines and fluorocarbon leader materials have changed the face of bream fishing. The good news is you no longer need to spend a small fortune to set yourself up with this caliber of equipment!

Light, sensitive finesse tackle based on graphite rods, sophisticated spinning reels, fine-but-strong braided lines and fluorocarbon leader materials have changed the face of bream fishing. The good news is you no longer need to spend a small fortune to set yourself up with this caliber of equipment!

Between them, the geographic distributions of these half dozen or so similar-looking species take in the entire coastline of Australia, with some types (like A. butcheri) ranging upstream well into fresh, non-tidal waters, and others (such as A. australis) extending offshore to coastal reefs and islands in ocean depths of at least 20 to 60 metres. In other words, these are incredibly widespread and highly adaptable fish.

Our Aussie bream are a relatively small, slow-growing species. Any bream measuring more than about 40 to 45 centimetres from nose to tail fork and weighing over 1.4 to 1.8 kilos is rightly regarded as an exceptional specimen. It’s also worth noting that most bream over a kilo or so in weight are likely to be at least 12 to 20 years old!

Nonetheless, bream weighing more than 2.5 kilos are still landed every year, and the all-time records for the two best known species (A. australis and A. butcheri) stand at weights close to or in excess of 4 kilos (9 pounds).

When it comes to dietary preferences, members of the bream clan thrive on an eclectic mix of molluscs (oysters, mussels, clams, pipis, octopus, squid and so on).

Crustaceans (crabs, prawns, shrimps, marine yabbies and the like), various marine worms, and also small fish, especially juvenile mullet, herring, whitebait, hardiheads, anchovies and sprats also form part of a bream’s diet.

But these fish are opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of whatever food sources are available. They’ll scavenge on a range of decaying animal and vegetable matter, and also rise like trout or bass to falling insects such as flying ants, termites, beetles and cicadas whenever these morsels are in abundance.

With such a wide geographic range and incredibly diverse diet, you could be forgiven for thinking that catching bream must be as easy as chucking a line in the water with almost anything tied to the end. Often, however, this is not the case!

 

 

Highly strung, always suspicious

The aspects of bream physiology and behaviour that make these little fish such uniquely challenging targets are based around their keenly developed senses – particularly their sharp eyesight. Along with this they show a propensity for swimming and feeding in relatively shallow, clear water where they’re regularly exposed to danger. This combination of factors produces a target species that’s highly strung, nervous and incredibly suspicious of any potential threat.

Bream spend a significant portion of their potentially long lives evading predation from larger fish and sharks, birds such as pelicans and cormorants, as well as nets and anglers. As a result, those bream that do survive to adulthood are remarkably switched-on and situation-aware animals. This makes them hard to fool with any tackle, and doubly challenging to deceive with an artificial bait made from plastic, timber or metal. For me and many other fans, it’s that high level of challenge that makes the regular capture of bream — particularly larger bream — such a richly rewarding pastime.

Over the course of this series, I plan to share my 20 years or so of intensive bream luring experience with you. Along the way we’ll look at tackle, tactics, the lures themselves and successful strategies for consistently fooling these tricky little customers into striking man-made hardware. Even more importantly, I’ll shine the spotlight on a style of angling that has changed the entire face of Australian fishing in less than a generation, with ramifications that reach far beyond our temperate bream estuaries… I hope you enjoy the ride!

NEXT TIME: Modern finesse tackle for successful bream luring.

Returning a stud bream to its oyster-encrusted home.

Returning a stud bream to its oyster-encrusted home.

This big bream succumbed to a lightly-weighted soft plastic fished in shallow, relatively clear water. New age soft plastics have revolutionized bream luring.

This big bream succumbed to a lightly-weighted soft plastic fished in shallow, relatively clear water. New age soft plastics have revolutionized bream luring.

On the sort of lightweight, single-handed spinning tackle needed to regularly fool them, bream are spirited opponents.

On the sort of lightweight, single-handed spinning tackle needed to regularly fool them, bream are spirited opponents.


 

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