Refreshing Bream

Tom Jarman makes the connection to bream in South Western Victoria

Targeting bream on the fly was never on my to-do list. Those that know me understand how trout-obsessed I am, and that during my time off and travels I always gravitate to fishing for any species of trout. However, one year ago I moved to South Western Victoria, placing me within a 30-minute drive of some beautiful estuaries full of black bream and a mix of other species including estuary perch, Australian salmon, mullet and mulloway.
I now also had a good friend, fisheries biologist and keen bream angler Scott Gray, living near me and encouraging me to fish some estuaries with him. To draw me away from the rivers in the Otways and crater lakes he would remind me that, ‘the trout will always be in the rivers and lakes for you to catch, so why not enjoy and learn something different?’ His words of wisdom worked, and I dived headfirst into the world of bream on the fly.
The fisheries I have been spending time on vary in size greatly. Some are very small freshwater creeks with a short section of brackish water where they join the sea. Others are larger, more well-known systems like the Hopkins River in Warrnambool. What I have found to be most interesting is the wide variety of food in these waterways that the bream and other species feed on.
Crabs and shrimps are quite standard, but what has surprised me is the huge populations of baitfish in these systems. It is, ironically, very similar to many of the trout fisheries in the area, which are loaded with baitfish such as common galaxias. It has been amazing to spend a day on the water with Scotty, going from watching bream cruise along the sand and mud flats with their noses pinned to the bottom searching for shrimps and crabs, to seeing groups of big angry bream bow-waving around the grassy edges of the river chasing baitfish.
The type of structure in these rivers is also diverse. There are many small wooden jetties, docks, big rock walls and cliffs featuring a combination of rock and fallen timber. Weed beds are plentiful and Cumbungi and native grasses line the edges. Around the mouth of a river, you can find sand and mud flats as well as reefs and rocky outcrops. The variety of structure, food and species in these rivers makes for fascinating fishing, and it’s soon apparent that a few different approaches are required, depending on the type of water you are targeting.
Seeing a fish before you cast and catch it, is one of my favourite ways to target any species. I have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of sight fishing for bream I have been able to enjoy this year. Clear water is so important, and rainfall can quickly dirty up the rivers. If it has rained heavily, the best chance for clear water will be near the mouth of the river where the salt water pushes upstream on an incoming tide.
Bright blue-sky days will give you the best visibility, and in these conditions it is great fun to slowly walk or cruise along sandy flats or shallow edges of the river, looking for bream that are feeding on shrimps, crabs or any small food near the bottom. When the light isn’t great, I have found the best place to sight fish is along the rock walls, cliffs and edges of the rivers where there are tall trees. You can use these high banks to cut out the glare and still see into the water.
Bream in this shallow water can often be very spooky and require a stealthy approach. Fishing a single unweighted or lightly weighted fly that lands gently is important. I have found that an unweighted clear/olive shrimp pattern is effective. It is small, simple and visible to the angler.
Being able to see your fly is helpful, because a lot of the time you need to present the fly and leave it static, waiting for the fish to pick it up. Take detection becomes more difficult when you are not retrieving the fly and are just managing slack, so seeing when the fish eats the fly, and then striking, is far more effective.
Black bream in South Western Victoria love holding on hard structure such as fallen trees, rocks, reefs, docks and jetties. These are places where bream will feed, but also places they use as cover, or to get out of the current. If I can’t find any sight fishing, I like to target some form of structure. Even on a new fishery, it is quite easy to find some snags, a jetty, a dock or a rocky point to focus on.
If you fish a few different types of structure, the odds are that you will come across some active fish. Bream and other species such as estuary perch will sit quite tight to the structure they are holding on. For this reason, I like to fish in a way that keeps my fly as close to the structure as possible. This suits shrimp and crab patterns that work well when retrieved slowly.
When fishing this type of water, I try to focus on two core stages of the presentation. The first is the drop. This is when the fly sinks through the water column, and ideally, you want this to be as close to the structure as possible. Many bream will eat your fly as it is falling slowly down the edge of the snag or rock ledge you are fishing.
The second stage is the retrieve, and most of the time slower is better. This allows you to fish with great line control and also keeps your fly in the zone for longer. A slow figure of eight mixed in with the occasional long slow draw is my standard retrieve.
The best weight of fly to use will depend on the depth of the water and conditions such as tide and wind. I like to fish a lightly weighted shrimp or crab to allow a nice long drop, but in a strong current or wind, you will need to compromise and fish a heavier fly to stay connected to it and ensure it gets down and fishes tight to the structure.
If sight fishing or fishing to the structure is not an option due to conditions, or the bream are being moody, as they can often be, then it is nice to know there are other options. I was amazed when Scotty first told me that you can catch big bream in the southwest on big streamers, but having now seen the amount of bait in the rivers, it is not surprising.
In overcast conditions or low light when there is a nice breeze, fishing blind over the flats, weed beds or through the deeper channels produces bream and estuary perch. In these conditions, the bream tend to be more aggressive and willing to chase a larger food item. You also tend to pick up the better quality bream when fishing in this way.
It is so similar to fishing streamers for trout in lakes that I sometimes forget what species I am targeting.Fishing in 1 to 3 metres of water is perfect. I like to retrieve streamers such as a Gold Humungous, Shrek or Orange Beaded Magoo, although any fly with movement and a bit of flash and colour will work nicely. Varying the retrieve as you would when trout fishing will help, as some days the bream want the flies fished fast and on other days they want it slower. If I encounter dirty or off-coloured water, this is my go-to way to cover large areas and find those aggressive fish that are willing to chase and eat a fly in these conditions.
One of the easiest things about getting into bream on the fly has been the seamless transition, gear-wise. All of the rods, reels, lines and leaders I have been fishing are the same ones that I use for trout on rivers and lakes. I have mainly been using my 9’6” 6-weight or 10’ 7-weight with a floating line and 10-foot leader.
When fishing an unweighted fly, I am using a tapered leader to help turn the fly over, accurately. When fishing with a weighted fly I have just been using straight fluorocarbon to help improve contact with the fly. For streamers I have found my clear camo intermediate to be very efficient, both in casting and fishing. I will fish one streamer, or two, on straight fluorocarbon.
Bream can be very fussy, so using tippets that will help your fly behave naturally and move freely will ensure more positive takes. Where possible, it is worthwhile fishing light tippet, and I have had success with 5x or 4x fluorocarbon.
There have been a few times when I have chosen to fish a 4-weight rod, so I can use even lighter tippet when sight-fishing to particularly frustrating bream, and this did make the difference. So, if bream are refusing your fly, or the takes are not hooking up, it is worthwhile trying to fish as light as you feel comfortable.
Change of Pace
Targeting bream in southwest Victoria has been refreshing for my fishing and a nice change of pace. Learning and building a process and approach that works for me has been one of the most enjoyable parts of fishing for bream on the fly.
Many skills we learn through trout fishing, on rivers and lakes, apply to our estuary species. Hopefully, with these insights that have achieved success for me, you can experiment and develop your own process suitable for bream waters near you. Maybe you will find enjoyment in a new species to target on the fly, just as I have done.

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