Bream in the Suburbs

Alex Roy joins the dots on Gold Coast bream

After a rewarding time fishing bream competitions around Australia my passion for the sport had waned. Many years of fishing under high pressure to perform for sponsors, and my own competitive ego, had driven me to build resentment towards the sport. I made the decision to give it away and to take on some new challenges. Fly fishing felt like a natural progression and, just like that, the training wheels were back on and a spark had ignited. I travelled to New Zealand, North Queensland and other far-off locations to scratch this new itch but then Covid-19 put a stop to all of that. This forced me to look at what was avail-able on my doorstep, and I soon realised my past life left me with some great skills to target bream around my local waterways on the Gold Coast. While this article will focus on the observations I have made while targeting bream on fly, I hope the techniques and tactics will be found useful in most watersheds. A BIT ABOUT BREAM Yellowfin bream (Acanthopagrus australis) can be found along the entire East Coast of Australia. They are quite at home in habitats including rivers, bays, saltwater lake systems, surf beaches, sand flats, shallow reefs and rocky headlands. Along with their ability to adapt to almost any environment, bream are opportunistic feeders and will eat a varied diet: baitfish, crabs, worms, prawns, yabbies and molluscs along with any domestic food thrown in the water. Their wide range and adaptable behaviours have made them one of the most common fish species up and down the coast. THE GOLD COAST Just north of the NSW and QLD border, the Gold Coast is known for its pristine beaches and exciting nightlife; it is also a fishing mecca. While mangrove jack and trevally are two of the main drawcards, anglers can also expect to tangle with anything from whiting to mulloway. Diverse fish life and ease for both boat and shore based anglers has made it a popular fishing destination; this isn’t to say it’s over fished. The vast manmade canal systems maze their way through the city, offering all kinds of structure for the myriad of fish life. Along with pontoons and jetties, the area is scattered with bridges, concrete walls, rocky reefs and weed flats as you move out into the Broadwater. BREAM YEARLY CYCLE As a broad statement, when targeting bream on the Gold Coast, summer fishing is done in the rivers (Coomera and Nerang, through the canals and main rivers) and winter fishing is done in the Broadwater — bream spawn on the new and full moons in the deep channels close to the Gold Coast Seaway from early June until late August. It’s at this time that the lower reaches of the rivers and the Broadwater hold the highest concentration of bream and fishing should be focused in this area. As the weather warms, bream will spread throughout the river systems gathering in areas that offer both sanctuary and an abundance of food. Finding where bream are more numerous plays an important part in converting. A solo bream is a tentative bream and will rarely fully commit to a fly, so it’s important to find areas within the system that have the highest concentrations of bream. More fish means more bites and in turn means more hook-ups. When multiple fish are fighting over a fly, takes are much more aggressive and will result in more fish landed at the end of the day. BREAM GEAR When targeting bream it’s important to have finesse, both in the presentation and approach, especially in clean water. Taking time to approach likely bream-holding-water, whether you can see them or not, is crucial. While the pack mentality can give a group of fish more confidence, alarming one fish by lining it, or with a splashy fly landing, can very quickly scatter every fish on a pontoon. Light tippet and long leaders reduce impact, but casting accuracy can make or break when fishing around pontoons and bridges. It doesn’t matter how perfect your fly pattern is — if there are no fish when the fly lands you’re not going to catch much. Short range (20–30 feet) accuracy practice on the grass into a cup will get your flies into most spots on game day. A 9-foot, 6-weight rod and reel suitable for saltwater fishing is perfect for most situations. A minimum of 9 feet as a leader with a maximum of 8 lb tippet is a good start, but when fishing in clean water closer to the river entrance, dropping down to 4 lb tippet will make a big difference. A weight forward floating #6 line is suitable in most cases — it’s easy to cast accurately at a short range and performs well with surface and just-subsurface flies. When fishing surface flies, a nylon leader with fluorocarbon tippet allows for longer pauses if fish are being fussy. For subsurface presentations, swapping to a full fluorocarbon leader and tippet will aid as it sinks faster and fares better against rocks and oysters. FLIES AND PRESENTATIONS Bream are opportunistic feeders and most of the time are happy eating a varied diet. In saying that, when it comes to flies they need not only represent what the fish is likely eating at the time but also be presented to the depth that the fish is feeding. Bream have great eyesight and will move relatively long distances to take a fly, but by far the best results are when flies are presented to the fish’s nose and a reaction bite can be triggered. If bream can be seen flashing on the side of pontoons and bridge pylons as they pin down crabs and twist off oysters, small crab and shrimp flies with weighted beads have proven to be the most effective patterns. They can make a splashy entry due to their weight, but sink into the strike zone quickly. Making an accurate cast reasonably close to feeding bream can result in a fish peeling off and crunching the presentation with a reassuring ‘doonk’. Casting to areas where fish can’t be seen can be more difficult. It doesn’t mean they’re not there but could mean the fish are feeding a little deeper. Looking for small eddies and current breaks can aid in sinking the fly; they also work as a conveyer belt bringing food to the bream. Making an up-current mend to the fly line will give the fly a natural sink, but make sure to keep an eye on the leader to fly line connection for any indications of a bite. Setting the hook can be difficult as bream bite down on their prey to crush it. How the fish has taken the fly will determine whether a hook will stick. I tend to do a long slow strip if I watch a fish follow the fly down, and strip strike as soon as any weight is felt. Not to worry if you miss a bite; sending the fly right back in there can result in a better reaction as the school is stirred up and they don’t want to miss out on a meal. When bream are less obviously feeding, surface flies like gurglers, boobies and shrimp poppers work extremely well and will attract fish from further away. This technique is a very effective way to find fish, as popper-style flies draw in and attract bream, with the gurgling noise simulating the commotion of a feeding fish. After making a cast, a series of short fast strips to get the fly working, followed by a pause, will at times draw the attention of a few bream — they can often be seen lurking a foot or so below the fly. Soon enough their curiosity turns to competition, and a strip here and there to remind them their meal is about to get away can be all that it takes to elicit a hook-up. TIME AND TIDE During certain stages of the tide, different areas of a river system will be affected by changing water flow. The volume of water moving will not only be affected by the phase of the tide but also by the landscape of the river system. For example, a sheltered bank at low water might be protected from current by a sandbank, but as the tide rises and the sandbank is covered, the water flow will increase on the previously sheltered edge. The importance of understanding flow speed and how it affects different areas is a crucial part of the puzzle. As the velocity increases, bream will still feed but often move deeper or further into snags to where the water flow is considerably slower. This can make them much more difficult to target with a fly rod, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. Slower flow encourages fish to feed in areas that would otherwise mean them expending too much energy. Capitalising around the top and bottom of the tide around bridges that rarely get a reprieve can make for some great fishing, not to mention some interesting close quarter battles. The caveat on all of this is that as the tide slows to a complete stop, bream, like most salt water species, become a lot more wary of noise and movement, making them even more switched on to potential predation. It has been my preference to fish the hour either side of the high and low as flow rate is slowing down and bream become more visible, whilst not being too flighty. CLOSING REMARKS The fishing can be technically challenging, but connecting the dots and landing a few nice bream on a fly rod amongst the hustle and bustle of ‘the GC’ can be truly rewarding. Focus your efforts in areas that hold numbers of bream, approach the water with finesse but get the fly to the fish, look for spots that are less affected by the tide, and practice your close quarters casting. My bream on fly journey has not only opened my eyes to a fantastic new fly target but has also taught me some great new skills to use on a variety of other fish species. Whether you’re a seasoned fly angler or picking up a fly rod for the first time, the humble yellowfin bream ticks all the boxes.

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