Familiar right across the UK, the common bream is a net-filling catch for match, pleasure and specimen anglers alike. Here, Dom Garnett provides handy tips and advice on how to catch them.
Of all the coarse species you might find in your local waters, bream are perhaps the most common “net-sized” fish of all. They bite well and grow to a good average size; and while they have a reputation as weak fighters, they are a different prospect on light tackle.
There are, of course, different sorts of bream, but for our purposes we are dealing with Abramis brama, the common or bronze bream of freshwater. This is occasionally confused with the silver bream, which rarely grows much more than a pound and looks rather like a young common bream or “skimmer”. However, the silver bream is less widespread, has darker fins, and a proportionally larger eye.
I guess you could say the bream is a bit of a love or hate fish. They’re lazy, lolloping things. They seem to live half their lives in slow motion, and enjoy stealing baits intended for carp. But I have always appreciated them. As a kid, they swallowed up whole summer evenings, and a good one was a fish to be prized. Catching a really big one is a great challenge – and those over ten pounds take on a whole new majesty.
The habits of bream
Common bream are fish with very specific habits – useful to help us find and target them. Firstly, they are bottom dwelling fish- as you can see from their body shape and downturned mouths. They are also a fish that form shoals of anything up to a hundred or more strong, meaning that they can be caught in great numbers. Where you find one you may well find many, and as even modest adult bream weigh three to five pounds, there could be a large catch on the cards.
Most of the time the bream is a fish of deep, slow water. On rivers, you can expect them in slacks and gentle currents with good depth. On stillwaters such as lakes and reservoirs you will often find them further out from the bank, in the deepest water. They’ll feed over both silt and gravel, where they’ll grub for bloodworms, snails and other natural food.
Bream are fish that patrol regular feeding routes in order to graze. Not that they eat all the time; dour, overcast days tend to be most productive. You may even see them rolling at the surface late in the day, and night fishing is also a good plan for the really big ones. The trick is finding where and when they feed, because once you do they can be easy to catch in numbers.
On more open waters, another good tip is follow the wind. Breezy conditions are ideal for bringing them onto the feed. On large lakes you will often get a good catch by fishing with the wind in your face – a deep bay with the wind blowing into it is the ideal spot to catch bream.
Tactics and tackle
Since they don’t fight especially hard, the angler who targets bream will want to use sensibly light tackle to get a decent bend in the rod. Various tactics work.
You could use pole or waggler tackle where distances aren’t too great, but the most common method for bream is probably the swimfeeder. A large open-end groundbait feeder or method feeder is ideal. A quivertip makes ideal bite detection, although specimen tactics with two or three rods can also be employed if the fish are large and there’s a long wait between bites.
Just occasionally, other tactics work too. Clear summer rivers can make for exciting stalking tactics. It’s lovely watching them feed, and simple baits like corn and bread are easily spotted on the bottom as you watch the fish home in.
Slightly stranger tactics have also been known to work. I’ve had accidental bream on lures, as well as some (by design) using sinking flies! Again, rivers are the best place to try this, where the bream tend to be more keen-sighted and active.
Bream can be finicky on occasion, but you’ll get plenty of bites on sensibly light tackle. Typically, hook sizes from 10-14 are used, although you could go a bit larger for the biggest specimens, or finer for skimmers. Main lines are typically 5-10 pounds, with hook lengths from 4-8lbs as a rough guide. As I’ve said, bream are not incredibly strong or line shy and your main reason for fishing heavier could be the risk of hooking a big tench or carp.
Baiting for bream
Bream don’t tend to be super fussy about what they eat and lots of baits will work. But you do need to feed plenty if you are to catch a good net of fish. Bream can eat a lot; and if you imagine that even a modest shoal of bream could be a dozen strong and average four or five pounds, you need plenty of food to keep their interest for any length of time.
Groundbait is a must. You can bulk this out with plain brown crumb to stop things getting expensive, but several kilos may be required for a serious session, and prebaiting is also an excellent idea.
You should try to include a variety particle baits in your mix, too. Frozen sweetcorn, or bulk items like buckwheat and rice are nice and cheap, should you want to bait up for a really big catch. If you’re settling in for a day session, you can use less feed. A couple of kilos of groundbait would still be a good idea, along with three to four pints of free offerings to get them used to your hookbait.
Hook baits for bream are varied, but don’t feel you need expensive or special kinds. Sweetcorn is excellent and avoids tiny fish. Maggots are good too – and for bream, dead maggots are often better than live. Four or five on a size 10 hook is a cracking bait. Worms are also excellent, especially redworms and you can use two or even three, broken and tipped with a caster. I almost always add chopped worms to my groundbait too, because they attract bream like nothing else.
Aside from these, several alternatives are also worth having. Bread works brilliantly in clear water or anywhere you might be lucky enough to stalk the fish. Pellets and boilies are also now part of the bream fishing scene – and anywhere that sees lots of these baits introduced for carp is likely to produce good bream on them too. Double 10mm boilies have worked very well for me, as have cocktails such as a boilie tipped with a worm.
Patience and preparation
Bream fishing is often a waiting game. If the fish are around and hungry, sport can be hectic. But until they move in, you must wait. It is usually best to bait up accurately first and then fish over the top, rather than feed on top of the fish.
Prebaiting is often a good idea too, and accounts for some of the really huge bream nets of a hundred pounds and over. Go for cheap feeds, be positive and accurate, and you could have a truly memorable session on your hands.
Once bream are in your swim, you will often get line bites. These can be a funny sideways movement on the float, or a sudden bulge and then drop back on the feeder. With practice, you can spot most of these and wait for a true bite. Usually deliberate and unmistakable, you will see the float plod under decisively, or the quiver tip wrap right round. With specimen gear, the bobbins will lift and hold – although you may also get repetitive little lifts or ‘funny business’ if a fish tries to rid itself of the hook rather than charging off. If in doubt, lift and feel for the fish.
The joys of bream
It’s fair to say that not everyone loves bream. On heavy tackle, they don’t do a lot. But on a light rod, or in a river current, they put a nice bend in your gear and are lovely to catch.
Other things about bream are less appealing. They are one of the slimiest fish going and will really skank up your nets! This slime can also clog up your hook length, so do clear it off after each catch.
Bream are quite docile on the bank, but deserve respect like any other fish. Do treat them to a well dampened unhooking mat if you don’t want to find out about their legendary sliminess, and if you are retaining them in a keepnet, pick a large model and stake it out fully. They can suffer in hot weather too, so do be mindful of how long you retain them.
The size of a true “specimen” bream really varies. For those fishing large pits and reservoirs a double figure fish is the challenge, and these are amazing looking creatures. Across many of our rivers and smaller waters though, a six-pounder is a good fish, and one of seven or eight could be a really ancient specimen, so don’t be blinkered into thinking that only a “double” is a big bream – it depends on the venue.
Wherever you find bream though, enjoy them because they are one of our classic coarse fish. And while they’re not as fashionable as carp, they will give you some great sport on lighter tackle. Happy bream fishing!
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Regular Fishtec blogger Dominic Garnett is also an Angling Times weekly columnist and author of several books including Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide and his most recent book of angling tales Crooked Lines. You can find more of his words and photography, along with signed editions and fishing gifts at dgfishing.co.uk.