Freshwater bream

Colouring water or the stirring of reeds may mean that a shoal of bream are grazing at your feet. But do you know enough about the species to capitalize on those first tentative signs?

Like sheep cropping grass. Fortunately, when the bream have passed, other small bottom-living creatures soon take up residence.

When feeding in earnest a large shoal will stir up a great deal of mud. Gases are released which carry the colour of the mud quickly to the sur-face, even in quite deep waters. Anglers seeking bream should be aware of this, and keep an eye open for both the bubbles and the muddy colouring. In stillwaters this is in-

The freshwater bream, Abramis brama, has a dark green or brown back, but in older fish it may take on a slate grey hue. The flanks of the bream are olive-bronze and their white or creamy underside is often marked with scarlet streaks. The body is heavily covered with a thick layer of slime, which sometimes gives the fish a blue appearance. The bream is deep-bellied and full-backed. The tail is asymmetrical, the lower lobe being longer than the up-per lobe. A long anal fin extends almost from the middle of the belly to the tail.


The body shape of the bream gives some clue to its habits. Not only is the shape suited to bottom living, but also enables the fish to swim easily through the closely-spaced stems of reeds and sedges common in sluggish and stillwaters. This in-creases the potential feeding grounds for the fish as well as pro-viding ready shelter from predators.

Normally bream are bottom feeders, and as shoals may contain as many as 50 fish they must cruise continuously to find food. They feed extensively on algae, plankton, in-sect larvae, crustaceans and molluscs, also grubbing among the bottom debris for the many micro-organisms which live there.

Once feeding, the shoals move slowly along the bottom rather like a flock of sheep working its way across the meadow when grazing. The comparison is apt because the fish soon denude the bottom of food, valuable in locating feeding fish. In rivers some judgement is required to decide how far the current has washed the colour from the feeding place, and whether or not to fish up or downstream. Fortunately bream also like to roll about, playing on or near the surface prior to feeding.

Twilight and dusk are good times to seek bream, which take advan-tage 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.

Spawning occurs in May or June. After a severe winter anglers will sometimes take bream spawning as late as the end of June and even after the season has opened. The males can be recognized by the tubercles on the head and shoulders, typical of cyprinoids during spawning. The fish usually seek wide reedy bays and margins, and sometimes enter the tangles of waterside tree roots which extend below undercut banks. Once spawned they move into deeper water, remaining there throughout the summer, cruising when feeding, or lying motionless.

When frost sets in they seek out the deeper gullies and holes in the bottom, moving out at intervals to feed, and remaining quite active, especially at night when the water is warmer than the air, or by day during bright sunny spells. In still-waters, bream tend to become comatose during winter, moving only when tempted out of their sleepiness by warmer weather.

Bream growth

The freshwater bream generally attains a length of 3-4in during the first year. During the second year it will probably double its length, and weigh up to 2oz. This is the angler’s typical ‘tinplate bream’. In the third year the body fills out and the fish attains 9in, and by the time it is four to five years old it is 12in long. A specimen of 7lb is probably 10 years old, and fish in the record class of approximately 12lb may be between 12 and 15 years old. In Britain this is probably close to the maximum life span of the bream.

The search for big bream has con-tinued for many years. Before the war the British Record Fish lists noted many fish over 12 lb, and during the war a 13lb 8oz record was set by Mr E. Costin fishing at Chiddington Castle lake.

These older records were abandoned when the new British Record (rod-caught) Committee was set up. The current record is a 13lb 8oz common bream taken by A R Heslop from a private water in Staffordshire in 1977. Ten pounders are listed from both the Thames and the River Lea.

The freshwater bream is common in most parts of England except the western extremities. It is also plen-tiful 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; it is found throughout Europe north of the Alps and the Pyrenees, except in the west and north of Scandinavia, and in the south and west of the Balkans. Anglers on holiday in Europe have a chance of good bream fishing.

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 such faster waters 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.

Confusion with rudd Bream are not easily confused with roach, but may be mistaken for large rudd. The short anal fin of the rudd should separate them. Unfortunately, bream spawn in similar places to those sought by roach and rudd, and the species occasionally interbreed accidentally when fish on the edge of shoals intermingle. Eggs from one shoal are sometimes fertilized by milt from the other, and the resulting hybrids are fairly common.

In England the common roach bream hybrid was once believed to be a separate species, and called ‘Pomeranian bream’. It even war-ranted its own specific title, Abramis buggenhagii, which is still found in older text books on fish. Now it is known to be a hybrid which is nevertheless popular with anglers. Sharing the characteristics of its parents it sometimes attains good weights. When it exceeds three or four pounds there is a danger of wishful thinking, and the fish is put up as a record roach, or at least as a specimen. No angler should make such a mistake because the anal fin of each fish is distinctive, bearing a specific number of branched rays. True roach have 9-12, true bream 23-29, and the hybrid 15-19. This is a very simple count to make and if the branched rays are counted at the outside edge of the fin they cannot easily be confused with the unbran-ched rays at the foreedge.

The ruddbream hybrid is not often found in England, but is common in Ireland, where, to complicate matters further, the native true rudd has traditionally been called ‘roach’. Such hybrids are fortunately easy to recognize if the anal fin ray count is carried out. True rudd have 10-13 branched rays and the hybrid has 15-18. If your specimen has more than 13 branched rays in its anal fin it cannot be a rudd. If more than 12, it cannot be a roach. Almost all roach baits will take bream, but usually bream like a good mouthful. The bait must therefore be bigger and presented on hooks up to size No 8 or No 6. Good baits are bread derivatives, sweet-corn, worms, swan mussels and gentles. A bunch of gentles will often work, and a large lobworm will often take the better fish. When fish are coy a maggot or a brandling may tempt them to bite.

White bream

The white or silver bream, Blicca bjoerkna, is only found in a few slow flowing rivers and stillwaters in the east of England. It is similar in shape and colour to the common freshwater bream but the pale flanks have a silvery sheen. Other distinguishing features are the two rows of pharyngeal teeth and a ‘V’-shaped pattern under the ab- domen where the scales he back to back along the ridge.

White bream are similar to the common bream in habitat and diet, but tend to be more selective in their feeding and are less confirmed bottom-feeders. Bream caught in midwater are always worthy of a close scrutiny. White bream are small, reaching a maximum length of about 15in and the current British Record (rod-caught) is open at lib, and will perhaps be surpassed by the first angler who can correctly recognize the species.