The supreme challenge of specimen bream

Graham Marsden has caught hundreds of big slabs over the years and rates them as the specimen hunter’s supreme challenge. Double figure fish are now a realistic target if you use the right tactics, says Graham.

Fishing for big bream has a flavour all its own which compels committed anglers to try again and again for an elusive prize.

Big bream may not be the fiercest fighters but they are wily customers, rarely caught by casual anglers.

Moderately sized fish under 8lb (3.6kg) often come in large shoals and are easy enough to catch in decent numbers. On the other hand, you get bronze giants, usually in small shoals, which are often extremely difficult to catch. But if you make the effort first to find them and then to hold them in your swim, you could savour one of coarse angling’s most deeply satisfying moments -as your net yields to the bulk of a dark bronze colossus.

Choosing a water

Although there are one or two rivers that hold specimen bream, stillwaters are the best places to find them. Large lakes, meres, reservoirs and gravel pits are typical bream havens.

As a rule of thumb, any water with a reputation for producing big nets of bream, made up of individual fish weighing less than 6lb (2.7kg), is very unlikely to hold bream of more than 8lb (3.6kg). So if you want to target the big fellers, look for a water known to hold specimens. If only the odd fish of size has been taken don’t be put off – big bream are rarely caught by accident. Such a water may be waiting for someone like you to come along and set out your stall for the big fish.

Choosing a swim

Once you have found a water that holds specimen bream, the best way of selecting a swim is to visit the water at first light and watch for bream rolling at the surface. Take note of each rolling spot, join the dots together like a child’s puzzle, and a pattern normally forms. You’ll see the surface is being broken in a clear line or arc. This route reflects the path the bream are taking along the bottom – anywhere along this route is the swim to fish.

On some waters you hardly ever see the bream. In this case the best way to select a swim is to plumb the depths, preferably from a boat, or as best you can from the bank. Look for features that are attractive to bream – such as ledges, bars and basins -and start there. If there is one, choose a feature that lies closest to the downwind bank. The vast majority of big bream are caught at least 25m (27yd) from the margins.

In summer and early autumn big bream tend to adopt nocturnal habits, feeding some time between dusk and dawn. From late autumn onwards they begin to feed more during daylight hours. Early morning to around mid day is usually the most productive period at this time of the year.

Baits and prebaiting

The most successful baits for big bream are maggots, casters, lobworms, redworms, bread and sweetcorn – but not necessarily in that order since bream in different waters have different preferences.

Before you wet a line, bait your swim with hookbait samples for several days or for as long before as you can manage. Two baits is the norm – a holding bait and the main hookbait. For instance, a bed of casters may act as the holding bait, and a handful or two of maggots as the main hookbait. Other combinations include: sweetcorn/lob- worm; groundbait/bread; squatts/maggots (or casters); casters/redworm. Quite a few permutations of these baits are worth a try. Many anglers often add another holding bait to the main one. Hempseed, rice and stewed wheat are the most popular.

It’s difficult to judge how much bait to put in when prebaiting, since this varies from one water to another. A pint of maggots, two tins of corn, 3-4lb (1.4-1.8kg) of dry weight groundbait, and similar amounts with other baits, should be regarded as about the minimum. The maximum is about twice as much. These amounts serve as a rough guideline until you learn from experience what is the right amount for your water.

Try to prebait at the same time each day, preferably at the time you intend to introduce bait on the night you fish. Place the bait in exactly the same spot each time.

Tackle and technique

Rods are largely a matter of personal preference. However, for big bream it’s a good idea to combine stiffness in the rod with a supple tip. The stiffness enables you to cast accurately at a distance and gives you the power to pick up a long line on the strike. The supple tip is the shock absorber you need to play big fish on light fine, and gives a safety margin on the strike.

Graham Marsden favours a 12ft (3.6m) rod with a 1.25lb (0.57kg) test curve. It has a supple action for the top third, while the rest is fairly stiff- a fair choice for the job.

Fill a fixed spool reel with 4lb (1.8kg) fine and use hooklengths of SVAb (1.6kg) when fishing open water (almost always the case for big bream).

A14 is a good hook size when using maggot, caster and redworm. But be prepared to go smaller when the bream are being fussy. A size 12 upwards is better for bread, sweet-corn and lobworm.

A fixed paternoster rig serves well as a big bream rig. You can attach a swimfeeder in place of a bomb.

You don’t want to miss a bite, so set up some audible and visual bite indications. Try a bite alarm at the front of your rod or rods and any type of bobbin indicator which hangs on a loop of line between the butt ring and the reel. Don’t use a monkey climber as it creates too much friction, making a wary bream drop the bait.

Big bream bites tend to lift the bobbin steadily and you should strike after it moves 13-15cm (5-6in). If you use a bolt rig or a short hooklength you can expect drop backbites.

Keep your landing net, bait and torch within easy reach and have a keepsack ready in case you wish to hold on to a fish for photographing in the daylight.

Plan to arrive at the water at least an hour before darkness so that you have plenty of time to bait up, tackle up and settle in. Make sure you cast to the swim several times before it gets dark, so you get a feel for it. Take note of tall trees, telegraph poles or similar objects on the far bank. Their silhouettes can be very useful in giving you something to aim for when trying to cast accurately in the dark.