Most fish species have favoured areas – natural larders where they can usually be found, even when not feeding. Not so the bream – although it has set feeding routes and hotspots like other fish.
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, 2-5lb 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.
Locate the shoals
The small shoals containing the heavier fish need to be precisely located, and this is not easy unless one knows what to look for, as most bream waters are large and featureless lakes or gravel pits.
Typical are the Cheshire and Shropshire meres known for their large bream, where I fish. Here, specimen fish are not caught by casual anglers; 99 out of every 100 are taken by those who are passionately dedicated to their pursuit. The best location method 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, they are likely to be found regularly in the same area 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 adequate. The choice is partly a matter of personal preference, but I use maggots andor worms when the water has an abundance of bloodworm, and bread when the natural food is daphnia.
Notable fish lists include common bream weighing 8lb and over. This figure is over 1lb above 50 per cent of the current rod-caught record bream which weighed 13 lb 8oz, taken in 1977.
Glassfibre (test 1HP>) lift 4in (lflb test)
b.s. 3 lb-6 lb
10-16 (maggot, worm) 6-10 (bread, large lobs)
Maggots, bread, worms
Mixed white and brown bread; sausage rusk (in converted blockend feeder); particle baits, maggots, worms
Prebaiting should be done in the morning if you intend to fish through the day, or the evening for night fishing. Always bait as close as possible to that time. Prebaiting is simply brainwashing. It weans the fish away from natural food, teaches them that your offerings are safe and good to eat, and encourages the habit of looking for food at specific times.
Big bream rarely feed close to the margins, and the average distance you need to groundbait and cast is 30-40 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. I recommend an equal mix of mashed stale bread, ordinary crumb groundbait, and bran, liberally spiced with whatever hookbait you intend to use. You can use a swimfeeder while you fish, but this is not common in Northern waters, as threadlike algae can engulf bulky rigs, rendering them useless.
Best rig for weedy waters
The fixed paternoster is by far the best rig for weedy waters and for long range fishing. It consists of an Arlesey bomb, ?-loz, 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, 6-9in long, which carries the hook. The reel line is attached to the same ring at the opposite end of the swivel. I use tucked half bloodknots throughout for neatness and security.
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 long-shanked, eyed hook holds bread far better than a short-shanked hook, while for worms and maggots, a short-shanked spade-end, 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. I use a line of 4 lb b.s. And occasionally 3 lb when the fish are particularly finicky. On the rare occasions when I have to bring bream from an open swim past heavy snags, I use 5 or 6 lb lines.
My rod is an lift 4in, two-piece, hollow glass model, with a lflb test curve. It is right for long-range 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. Peter Stone’s ‘Ultralight’ is ideal. As for reels, the distances involved narrow your choice to one – the fixed-spool.
Bite indicators have been a source of many, sometimes heated, argu-ments among experienced anglers. Some swear by one that acts at the butt-end of the rod, while others prefer a swingtip or quivertip. Both are good, but I use a Betalight (glow-bobbin) at the butt-end for night fishing, and a swingtip by day, unless fishing at great distance, when a swingtip handicaps casting.
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 pro- duces most bites. Accurate, long-range casting takes practice. Straining for distance will not lead to accuracy – you need to develop a consistent, relaxed technique.
Let the bomb hang a little over 3ft below the rod tip, your rod at a 45 degree angle over your right shoulder (your left if you are left-handed). Your right hand should be curled round the rod-butt and the reel seating, which is ideally about 3in below the top of the butt, while your left grips the bottom of the butt. Imagine the rod butt is the diameter of a wheel, with the axle running at a point midway between your hands. Look at the spot in the swim where you want the tackle to land and point the butt-end at this spot. Now, with a push of the right hand, and a pull of the left, as though revolving the wheel, bring the rod tip over and release the line, which should be looped over the index finger of your right hand. Go over these points each time you cast and soon you will make long and accurate casts.
When there are no cross-winds, it is possible to let the tackle sink on a slack line, but with them, overcast by several yards and let the tackle sink on a tight line to ensure that a bow does not form. Then wind back slowly until the bait lies directly in the hotspot you have created.
Once the tackle is settled, lay the rod in two rests and set the indicator, allowing the fish at least 6in of free line. The indicator, of whatever type, should be just heavy enough not to register with the pull of the water. In a fierce cross-wind you will need a heavier indicator than when calm.
Bream are capable of giving many types of bite – from -Jin 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, slab-sided 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 resist- ance, 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 throw it off balance 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, or rely, as I do, on back-winding.
Weigh the fish and slip it into a keepnet, or release it, as soon as possible. It is important to deliver a new bait to the swim without delay. Big bream rarely linger, and you must make the most of their visits.
Big bream are an enormous challenge. What they lack in fighting qualities is far exceeded in cunning, or whatever it is that causes so much difficulty in hooking one in the first place. I know of no angler who would describe them as ‘easy’, but many who seek them fervently year after year.
Bream are probably the most underrated of big fish. In reservoirs especially, bream fishing has the reputation of being a random affair, yet few really large fish are caught.
Bream over 9 lb are relatively common, but the more difficult to locate.
Many of the observations regarding the Cheshire meres can be applied to southern reservoirs, like those in Hertfordshire, but there are several differences. The water levels of the Cheshire meres do not normal-ly fluctuate violently in a season, so the bream adhere to identifiable patrol routes, that can be stabilized by heavy andor regular ground-baiting. But in the Hertfordshire reservoirs the water level can vary by up to 10ft in a year (especially as they now serve as a buffer for the nearby Grand Union Canal), discouraging the bream from establishing regular patrols.
Hertfordshire bream can be seen in May and June preoccupied with breeding in the shallows, but are less evident as the season progresses. Occasionally you spot them ‘humping’, rolling, or even leaping, but this suggests play rather than a prelude to serious feeding. Ironically, about 75 per cent of bream activity you can observe takes place in the middle of the reservoirs, well out of reach of even a champion caster.
Regular patrol routes
Locating bream in reservoirs should be based on the fact that the more regular patrol routes are controlled rather than influenced by anglers. Regular prebaiting is usually done near popular stretches of bank, and most of the groundbait accumulates in a belt 30-50 yards from the bank, where the bream carry out a mopping-up operation.
Choice of swim
Big bream keep away from the banks by day because either the water level is high and anglers can be seen and heard, or the water level is low and anglers’ movements on the stoney ‘beaches’ send out vibra-tions 100 yards or more. Towards evening, the fish are more confident and move in, feeding inside the belt of groundbait. This time has always been productive, whether in June, October or March. Dawn is also a good time in summer, but I have never tried in winter. The theory that fish gain in confidence with the diminution of the light can only be put to the test with experimental night fishing. Individual swims do not really ex- in reservoirs. It is more a matter of selecting a particular area, which will vary according to water level, weed growth, wind direction, and temperature. Other factors also in-fluence my choice. For example, when the water is at an intermediate level, I look for any useful cracks in the concrete base of the wall to take my rod rests.
The reservoir I fish is 60-70 acres, wooded on one side and surrounded by fields and marshes. You can hire boats or fish one third of the bank, variety on the market, but none, even the Feederlink, meet my requirements. All feeders are designed for use with maggots, which creep out fairly slowly, depending on size and temperature. My feeder is not restricted to maggots as I often want to distribute chopped worms, sweetcorn, or other large particle baits, and, more important, the offerings need to be ejected fast. I convert a regular blockend feeder to a special block-link feeder, whicrris an open-ended feeder attached to a swivel link. First fill the feeder about two- much of which consists of concrete walls. The banks shelve steeply to a maximum depth of 22ft at high water, 10-12ft at low water, and the angler’s cast will usually take him to a depth of 18ft. Although the bottom is mainly even and shingly, there are some algae patches, and here and there chunks of submerged concrete near the bank. Some non-fishing areas are reedy and make good spawning sites, but the >~ fishable spots are unaffected by jjj weeds during most seasons.
Regular groundbaiting is effec-£ tive, but a little in the right place often works better than a lot in the wrong place. Accuracy in placing the groundbait is preferable to a heavy, inaccurate spread over a wide area. Boats, when available, are a boon for accurate prebaiting.
A buoy, made with a plastic detergent bottle, string and brick will ensure your bait is deposited in the same area. I settle for a landmark on the far bank – a chimney, tree, or position along a reed bed. I would not be without my long-handled spoon, used for lobbing out ground-bait balls. Made by whipping a perforated kitchen spoon to a 5ft runner-bean cane. It places dollops of groundbait within 30-60 yards, and with hard groundbait, 80 yards. For a really stylish spoon, use half a glassfibre carp rod blank.
My groundbait ingredients are not quite the same as Graham Mars-den’s. I use a mixture of one part stale white bread, one part brown breadcrumb, and one part sausages rusk, but not bran, as it is not suffi-ciently cohesive. The consistency has to be just right; it needs to break up within a few minutes. Too hard and it takes ages to disintegrate, too soft and it breaks up in mid-air. Lob an experimental lump into the water as a test.
Attention to detail
With terminal tackle, it is the finer points of selection and attention to detail that make all the difference between hit-and-miss ‘splodging’ and proper bream fishing. One cannot beat a terminal feeder for accurate groundbaiting. There are a thirds full with maggots or other hookbait samples, then top-up with a cup of groundbait. Do not attempt to ‘flick’ cast the feeder as it will either come off the line or eject the contents. Instead, make a gentle, but positive sweep-cast, starting with the rod back at 45 degrees rather than vertical. When the feeder hits the water, let it sink naturally and let line run off the open spool until it has bottomed. Do not engage the clutch when the tackle hits the water, because, depending on the depth, your feeder may come to rest well away from your baited hotspot. If there is a strong side wind, either sweep in a small section of the bow in the line before tightening, or, to compensate, step a few yards sideways before casting.
When your feeder has come to rest, tighten up very gradually, with the rod tip pointing at your terminal tackle, until you can just feel the resistance of the feeder. Then, before placing your rod in the rests, jog your tackle a few inches. This should dislodge the groundbait topping in your feeder, and the juicy offerings will spill out around your hookbait. Repeat this procedure every four or five minutes to ensure the feed is distributed. If you feel resistance, it will not have emptied.
Rod and line
I use a home-made lift 6in glassfibre rod with a test curve of 1 -12-lb. My line is generally 5 or 6 lb b.s., but even though the reservoirs are fairly snag-free, and you could use a 3 or 4lb line, the newcomer is advised to stick to the heavier line until he has the feel of casting a block-feeder.
For fishing from the top of the reservoir wall, I have a special pair of ‘low profile’ rod rests mounted into a 3in x 2in block of wood. This reduces the otherwise excessive length of line between the rod top and water, and with special 18in back rests I get a nice indicator ‘drop’ of about 1ft.
Bite indication is a problem on Hertfordshire reservoirs as one invariably has to contend with wind, drift, or both. On rare still days, I use a small dough bobbin between the reel and butt ring as a secondary indicator, but watch the bow in the line for any positive movement. Otherwise I use a dough bobbin just large enough not to be broken up by either wind or drift.
I always take great care when attaching my dough bobbin (or other bite indicator) for the bream sometimes take the bait as soon as it reaches the bottom, possibly just before. I cannot over emphasize the need to tighten-up carefully. Leap to action if you feel any movement as you attach the bobbin. Should this happen often, the bream are feeding in earnest, so dispense with the indicator and just watch (and feel) for promising tension in the line.
In the dark, I prefer an audible indicator to glow-bobbins, as these start playing tricks with my eyes after a few minutes, and lead to a headache. But I am not keen on electric bite alarms, and my method employs a strip of aluminium foil looped over the line, with a swan-shot clipped to the bottom edge. Lodged on my wooden tackle box lid (or a plastic flower pot tray), it is loud enough to indicate a bite. I can then sit back and relax rather than hover over a bobbin. It is no good for registering slack bites, but then, what method is?
Once your have located feeding bream, apparently confident ‘sail-away’ bites can still prove almost impossible to hit. Nobody knows why we get this frustrating sort of run but a common theory is that the bream is feeding vacuum-fashion off the bottom, so the hook misses the closed mouth, enters the nose instead, and usually tears free.
To lessen the risk of nose-hooking a bream, scale down the size of hook and offering. Hooks for maggot fishing are usually sizes 8 to 12, so try 14 or 16. Anything smaller will not hold a 10 lb bream. You can also fish as for carp, with an aluminium foil indicator (weighted if necessary) and the pick-up of the reel left open. Let the bream run and take several feet, perhaps yards, of line before risking a strike.
In the dark, I flip off the indicator, hold the rod, and feel the line peeling out between forefinger and thumb. On two occasions, I have had to let the bream peel off about 10 yards before I made a positive connection. If neither method works, try combining the two – scaling down hook size and letting the fish run.
Lion’s share of bream fishing
There is little doubt that the paternoster rig described by Graham Marsden (or the ‘fixed-link’ ledger to us Southerners) and the blockfeeder, account for the lion’s share of bream today. If fishing with two rods, you could even experiment with both methods – particularly if you wish to use a big bait like lobworm or mussel on one tackle. After all, when bites are coming regularly, two blockend rigs are too much to cope with.
I rarely fish a cast for more than 15-20 minutes. Fishing with two rods in this way will work-up a swim quite naturally, and every hour or so the swim is boosted with half a dozen dollops of groundbait.