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Surface Fishing for Bream - 2021 Update


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Hi Everyone,

It looks like my old post on surface breamin' has helped a few folks so I thought - since I've been fishing for bream solid over the past year with lures - I'd post a little update with some stuff I've learnt.  I've broken it up into sections to make it a little easier to digest however it's a bit of ramble, so bear with me. 

Just a note that this is what works for me.  I'm no oracle and I don't necessarily fish where you fish so take these words with a fistful of salt.

WHERE?

No this isn't a spot give away.  Honestly if you need help finding bream in the harbour you're not looking hard enough.  They're absolutely everywhere.  

I live in the inner west and I get a weird kick out of fishing more urban environments, so I like to fish the various bays around the city side of the harbour.  This means boat hulls, pontoons, man-made rock walls and just about any structure you see that's providing shade or darkness.   

With this type of fishing it's absolutely crucial that you're casting at new water all the time.  Pretty much one cast and the bream are onto you.  Very rarely do you get a hit after multiple chucks.

With this in mind, choosing spots should therefore be about having a lot of ground to cover.  On a typical 3-4hr session, according to my phone,  I'll walk 15km+ while casting.  That means you're gonna want to have a big space to explore with lots of structure. Get on Google Earth and you'll find heaps.

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40cm taken off a pontoon.

WHAT GEAR?

In order to throw and successfully work most of the small/light surface lures on the market you're going to need a pretty light rod with a soft tip. ¬†I've had a few over the past year as I've had some mishaps with breaking rods (ūüôÉ) but anything in the 6 1/2' to 7¬†1/2' range should do nicely. ¬†The lighter the rod is in your hand the better as you're going to¬†need to control the fine movement of the rod with ease. ¬†There's actually quite a wide array of rods that will work - it's mainly a matter of adjusting your technique to suit.

1000-3000 size reel seems to work fine.  The lighter it is the better really.

I haven't experimented with using mono for its floating capabilities but I can see the appeal.  It would be nice to have something strong, stretchy and floating.  I've also heard of people using pre stretched co-polymer - seriously strong stuff that I may well try soon. For the moment I use 8lb fluro as I like to be able to change to other lures without having to tie a new leader.  It's also gotten me out of a few sticky situations recently and I've been glad to have upgraded from the 4lb I was using last year.  It's definitely not necessary to go that light.

4lb braid on the other hand is my ideal.  Use whatever brand you like.  They all have pros and cons and I pretty much change brands every time I replace mine so I don't have any real preference apart from thickness.  4lb just casts beautifully - I can't get enough of it.

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Very fat 42cm taken on the Splash Prawn early morning over a big mudflat.

LURES

It's no secret that the Bassday Sugapen is the dominant force in most people's surface bream arsenal but there's a lot of options, a lot of which I haven't tried so I'll try to be general here.

Surface stickbaits like the sugapen are ideal as the walk the dog action just seems to interest bream in weird way. It's interesting seeing a bream approach your lure while it's walking then spook off if you pause and do a more irregular twitch.  

While the Sugapen has a unique splashing action due to its' tiny cup face, some lures have a smoother more snakelike action that doesn't cause as much splash.  This can be an advantage on those days when a Sugapen is spooking more fish than it's calling up.  Look for lures with a more pointed end at the front tow point to get this more subtle action.

I hadn't really been a fan of poppers until recently but I've definitely become a convert over the past few months.  I find the ones that work best need to have the ability to change from a large splash to a more subtle nudge with ease.  Some poppers are small but for whatever reason make too large a splash.

An ideal popper for me would be either the MMD Splash Prawn or the Jackall Chubby Popper.  Both are quite different in size but they have the requisite prawn-like shape and are able to go from mini splash to tidal wave with the flick of a wrist.  Basically anything in the 30-100mm range should see you right.

Poppers have a big advantage when it's windy.  Because you don't need slack in your line to work a popper (in fact it's less than ideal) it's possible to work them effectively in even heavy wind.  You'd be surprised how many bream will hit a surface when it's howling.

Bent minnows are great but I don't do the OSP ones as I just think they're just a bit too expensive.  I lose plenty of lures and I feel like losing a $35 lure to a pole or a cast off would end in a blowup of such embarrassing proportion that it would haunt me for life.  $25-$30 is where I top out on lure prices.

I also think there's a bit of a psychological effect with expensive lures that makes them a disadvantage.  I find with a lure over about $30 I won't cast it in certain places for fear of losing it.  That's the wrong attitude in this game.  You need to be willing to cast into some really quite stupid places to get the bites.  There are plenty of bent minnow-a-likes out there.  I'd love to know some cheaper models that are working for people in the comments.

I've managed a few on cicada-type lures recently which was a huge buzz.  I can't see them working as consistently as other lures mentioned but I suppose whenever you can hear cicadas in the trees it's worth having a throw.  Don't think you need to be in or near freshwater either.  The few that I've caught have been in the pure salt.

Lots of people use assist hooks on their lures.  For whiting I think they're great and necessary but for bream I'm not so sure.  Definitely they increase hookups but I think you also drop more on those little hooks.  Tailor also have a habit of biting them off.

All the same I prefer to refit my lures with No12 size Decoy Y-S25 trebles.  Most of my hookups with these are in the corner of the mouth and usually two hooks buried in there.  Don't discount the ones that come on the Sugapens though - they're sharp-as and work just fine until they're rusty or bent.  A lot of surface lures for the Australian market seem to come with decent hooks these days.

An interesting side note about hooks is that I'm finding the fish are actually targeting the hooks of the lure when they strike - maybe they're mistaking the hooks for legs or antennae?  They'll often come up beside the lure and grab the front treble.

Whether or not lure colour makes a difference is a huge debate that I won't get into here.  I've caught a lot on plain black and white lures but the overall consensus seems to be that transparent lures with prawn patterns seem to work best - I can't really argue with that.  However I wouldn't discount a lure based on colour alone.  Action and profile are far more important for me.

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44cm model taken off pontoon over about 8m of water.  Very deep.  Fake Sugapen ftw!

WHAT CONDITIONS?

This one is a little bit contentious and I know people have a lot of strong opinions on what does and doesn't make fish bite on any given day.  The truth is that there are ideal conditions and tides but these are highly dependent on your target species and your location.  There is enormous diversity in Sydney Harbour and the surrounding systems - blanket rules do not apply.

So with this is mind, my advice here is simple - Go fishing anytime you can.  I know that's almost a cliche now but it's as good a piece of advice as it ever was.  You won't learn much about the area you're fishing if you only fish high tide, or sunny days or overcast days etc.  Fish, and particularly bream, are scavengers and opportunists.  If a lure looks like food and moves like food, I don't think there's any question that a bream is going to hit it regardless of the atmospheric pressure or the moon phase.  I've had my two best days in almost opposite conditions.  One was stinking hot, early morning it had been dry for a couple of weeks straight.  Another was pissing it down and almost in the middle of the day.  

There are however, some things you can bank on giving you an advantage when it comes to conditions though.  The main one is obvious - fishing early in the morning.  There's no question that I've had more success fishing before 8am.  However I'm not so sure this is down to it necessarily being darker.  I'm much more convinced, given the areas I'm fishing, that it's down to it being quieter.  As soon as all the footsteps and noise of the day start - the bream are heading for cover.  I'm not sure this applies as much to the afternoon though - makes sense as there's a hell of a lot more people stomping around at the water's edge in the late arvo than in the early mornings.  Morning's are therefore the best for me - usually less wind and hell of a lot quieter.

The only variable I would say is a guaranteed indicator that the fish will be on is how warm the water is.  I've caught them on surface in the dead of winter but this game is unquestionably a spring/summer/autumn game.  For this reason it can be excruciating waiting for the time of the year when it really switches on for surface bream.  Typically it starts around November and stays good till April sometimes May.

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Nice 42cm model.  Sugapen.

GENERAL STUFF TO CONSIDER

In my experience bream can be very aggressive on the right day but more often than not are very susceptible to spooking through even the smallest of mistakes on the angler's part.  For this reason there are some (perhaps obvious) things you can do to increase your chances.

- Don't stand too close to the edge of the water or cast from too close to the structure you're fishing.  Bream can feel/hear your footsteps and if you see them, they can see you.  I've also observed that bream appear to know that fishing rods = danger.  I was watching someone feeding bream by the waterside the other day and walked over, rod in hand, for a chat.  As soon as the fish saw my rod they were gone, where they were happily eating off the surface moments ago with this person right above them.  Don't underestimate how smart or how skittish they are.

- If you have to stand on the edge exposed to the fish's line of sight then make sure you're pumping out big casts to give yourself a chance to get hit before the lure is too close to you.  It's easy to understate how sensitive bream are to things that are above them (ie YOU!).

- Practise your casting accuracy.  You're definitely going to get a lot of practice when you're searching out bream as they are typically holding tight to structure and a cast anywhere within a few metres of said structure has the potential to call them up to the surface.  However the closer you can land your lure to the edge, the better chance there is of fooling them.  I've definitely noticed a big increase in my hook-ups this year and I put it down mainly to my casting accuracy getting better.  Most of the time if you come up to a spot and your first cast misfires, you're done.  You've spooked them.  This is another reason I don't use assist hooks on my lures - too often I cast and find the lure won't swim because the assists have become tangled during the cast.  You won't get another chance at most spots.  Can be very frustrating when you know there's fish there. 

Definitely don't be afraid to cast to places where you might lose a lure - there's only two possible outcomes for a lure in my world.  It either gets taken by a fish or by a snag - I don't believe in "retiring" lures to a trophy wall or otherwise after a significant catch.  Keep throwing the bastard till it breaks, catches or is lost.

- If possible always cast parallel to structure rather than perpendicular or any other angle.  This might seem obvious, but casting parallel to structure will keep your lure in the zone for longer.  Not always possible but you will learn to cherish those spots where you can throw a nice cast and walk it alongside a pontoon or a rockwall for 10m-15m.  They're few and far between but you'll catch a lot of fish on them.

- Don't be bothered by structure that sits over very deep water - some of the bream pictured here were taken in 5-6m of water on surface.  Surface hits will definitely happen a little more frequently in shallow water, but you can bet that if you land a nice cast at a pontoon over 8m of water there'll be a bream or ten sitting under it just waiting for something to come splashing along beside it.

- You will inevitably come to a situation where a bream has followed your lure all the way back to your feet.  This can be the most frustrating scenario of all.  Perhaps the bream has struck a few times already and missed (happens all the time).  The only real thing one can do at this point is try to stay as still as possible and definitely don't move your rod tip.  Sometimes they'll feel safe enough to bite but in my experience they mostly spook off.  The exception would be when a group of fish has chased the lure all the way to your feet.  Competition often gets the better of them and one will throw caution to the wind and strike.  Gets the heart pumping for sure.

- The by-catch opportunities with this technique are plentiful.  I've lost many lures to oversize kingfish and tailor that have taken a liking to my offering.  Not always welcome (especially the tailor) but equally they can turn a boring session into a bit of a heart racer.  I had a recent occasion where on a single retrieve I had a hit from a King followed by a Kahawai followed by a Tailor before a big Bream finally nailed it.  Exciting stuff for sure.  I even got my first Mangrove Jack (and my second and third) recently up at Nambucca Heads using the same technique.  If you're fishing with a friend I've found a surefire way to hook up to a Kingfish is to catch a tailor first then cast another lure at the hooked tailor while your reeling it in - I haven't caught a single tailor recently that didn't have at least one king following it trying to steal the lure out of its' mouth.

 

That's about all I've got for now.  Hopefully these pointers put a few people onto some fish.  Feel free to add anything you like to the comments below.

Tight lines!

 

Niall

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The inevitable tailor.  Good soize though!

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8 minutes ago, DerekD said:

Awesome write up Niall.

Can see myself re-reading this multiple times.

Thanks Derek.  Knew you'd be straight into this.  It's a lot of words I know, but there should be some good stuff amongst the rambling.

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Also one last pic - this was my first 40+ bream landed pretty deep into winter last year.  Was an amazing day.

 

IMG_1497.jpg

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Incredible write up! Thanks so much for this.

Niall one thing you mentioned is often the bream will come up on the side and take the front trebles. I often get splashes next to the side but no actual bite. 

What’s your theory on what is happening there? Are they just investigating or is that them missing? It often happens with a stationary lure.

I see the same with top water whiting but the whiting keep trying and will hookup whereas with bream I get a little splash with no follow ups (even with scent).

Is that them having a look and losing interest do you think?

thanks, Mike

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Hi @Mike Sydney

I was watching a YouTube channel called sandflats fishing Australia and he had a theory about why he gets so many hook ups on the belly hook. He pointed out he is fishing a prawn imitation and prawns have a spiky head and a spiky tail and by hitting the prawn/lure in the middle the fish are avoiding the pointy bits while still incapacitating their prey.

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1 hour ago, DerekD said:

Hi @Mike Sydney

I was watching a YouTube channel called sandflats fishing Australia and he had a theory about why he gets so many hook ups on the belly hook. He pointed out he is fishing a prawn imitation and prawns have a spiky head and a spiky tail and by hitting the prawn/lure in the middle the fish are avoiding the pointy bits while still incapacitating their prey.

This is definitely part of it I reckon.  I think also because they have relatively small mouths and no sharp teeth they aren't able to just inhale a lure or nip at it.  With bigger lures especially I'd say this is the bream trying to incapacitate the lure or prey item whilst avoiding the sharp bits.  Had it happen today on a 95mm sugapen going for kings today - a crew of bream all came out and started attacking from the sides.  No interest in the rear treble assist hooks.

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4 hours ago, Mike Sydney said:

Incredible write up! Thanks so much for this.

Niall one thing you mentioned is often the bream will come up on the side and take the front trebles. I often get splashes next to the side but no actual bite. 

What’s your theory on what is happening there? Are they just investigating or is that them missing? It often happens with a stationary lure.

I see the same with top water whiting but the whiting keep trying and will hookup whereas with bream I get a little splash with no follow ups (even with scent).

Is that them having a look and losing interest do you think?

thanks, Mike

Splashes with no hookup usually means it's a small fish, they've lost interest or they've seen you when they came up to look.  You'd be surprised how big a splash a 15cm bream can make.

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