The freshwater bream is common in most parts of England except the western extremities. It is also plentiful in Ireland, where the average run of fish is larger than elsewhere. It is less common in southern Scotland, and absent north of Loch Lomond.
Throughout their range, bream are as much at home in lakes as in rivers. They prefer sluggish waters and in swift large rivers tend to be found in the slower reaches. They attain the best sizes in stillwaters, but fight better when taken in faster waters such as the Thames, Trent or Great Ouse, where they turn their broad flanks to the current when hooked. Some of the best bream waters are in the Norfolk Broads waterways, and in the Lincolnshire and Fenland drain systems. Traditionally, too, the Arun, Nene, Welland and Witham are noted for bream. Some of the best specimens in the last few decades, however, have been taken from the reservoirs of Walthamstow, Tring, Staines and Marsworth, close to Tring.
Bream are travellers, often covering large distances when following established beats, which can be likened to railway lines with stations where they stop to feed.
Small, 25 lb fish, which gather in large shoals, need to cover several hundred yards to reap sufficient natural food, whereas big bream of over 8 lb feed less often and will therefore need to travel only a short distance. It is for this reason that they are more difficult to catch.
The best method for locating bream is simple observation, based on the fact that bream have a peculiar habit of rolling at the surface as a prelude to, and during, feeding. Bream usually feed in the late evening or early morning, when you should look for their hump backs cleaving the surface. You may have to spend many hours over several weeks before you spot them, but once located, the same greedy shoal is likely to be found regularly in that part of the river for a number of years.
Prebaiting for success
Prebaiting for bream pays handsome dividends, and the longer and more often, ,the better your chances of success. Unusual baits are not necessary; maggots, bread and worms are perfectly adequate. The choice is partly a matter of personal preference.
Big bream rarely feed close to the banks, and the average distance you need to groundbait and cast is 3040 yards. Very often, much greater distances are involved, and to throw the groundbait so far demands a good arm and a mix that will not break up in flight. You can use a swimfeeder while you fish, but this is not common in northern waters, as threadlike algae can smother bulky rigs, rendering them useless.
Best rig for weedy waters
The fixed paternoster is by far the best rig for bream fishing in weedy waters and for long range fishing. It consists of an Arlesey bomb, jloz, depending on distance required, tied to 3ft of line. A swivel is tied at the other end, and on the same ring of the swivel you tie a shorter line, 69in long, which carries the hook. The reel line is attached to the same ring at the opposite end of the swivel.
The fixed paternoster casts long and accurately because the ledger weight is at the extreme end of the rig. It also sits well on top of soft weed and mud, as the hook is on a short link set well up the line.
Hook sizes depend on the bait— maggots and small worms on hooks 16 to 10, and bread and large lobworms on 10, 8 or 6. A longshanked, eyed hook holds bread far better than a shortshanked hook, while for worms and maggots, a shortshanked spadeend, forged hook is ideal. Whatever hook you use, it should always be honed to a fine point, and the barb reduced slightly to give better penetration.
Big bream are rarely found in snaggy swims, much preferring the freedom of open water. Nor are they renowned for their fighting abilities, so it is not necessary to use heavy lines. Nylon of 4 lb b.s., and occasionally 3 lb when the fish are particularly finicky, is adequate.
Rod and reel
A good bream rod is an 11 ft 4in, twopiece, hollowglass model, with a lflb test curve. It is right for longrange fishing, for you need the length to pick up the long line when striking. For the same reason the rod should not be sloppy, but neither should it be stiff or you risk breaking on the strike. As for reels, the distances involved narrow your choice to one—the fixedspool.
Bite indicators have been a source of many, sometimes heated, arguments among experienced anglers. Some swear by one that acts at the butt end of the rod, while others prefer a swingtip or quivertip.
Accurate casting is essential. Not only are you endeavouring to place a bait in a relatively small area, but there is always one particular spot in a bream swim which produces more fish—a hotspot within a hotspot. Only experience teaches you how to find it. Every time you cast, note where the bait lands, and after a while you will know which spot produces most bites. Accurate, longrange casting takes practice. Straining for distance will not lead to accuracy— you need to develop a consistent, relaxed technique.
Bream are capable of giving many types of bite—from £in twitches to fast pulls, but the more usual response is a slow, steady lift that straightens the swingtip or pulls the butt indicator to the butt ring. Strike just before it reaches the ring.
The range involved requires a powerful determined strike, with the rod sweeping back over the shoulder. Your reflexes should be attuned to the resistance of a big, slabsided bream. If the strike is not under control, and you do not ease off at the moment of impact, a broken line is inevitable.
Your first big bream
When you first hook a big bream, you encounter almost solid resistance, and will be glad there is some stretch in the line to act as a shock absorber. This is followed by several powerful thuds. All you can do, on a 4 lb line, is hang on to the rod and wait, which will not be long, because the bream is not built for sustained fighting. You can soon move it into open water and bring it to the net, but always be ready for the odd fish which will fight like a tench. To give line before breaking point is reached, set the slipping clutch.
Twilight and dusk are good times to seek bream, which take advantage of the failing light to enter the shallower marginal waters in search of food. Sometimes they give themselves away by gently moving the marginal reeds, and a bait presented on the edge of the margins will often take fish.