For anyone interested in the finesse side of angling, targeting and catching bream residing in man-made canals has become arguably the most popular and competitive options out there. Although bream have been residing in man-made canals since man began building them, the tournament fishing phenomena that has taken over Australia has really benchmarked this species as one of our top sporting fish. The amount of dedication and time tournament anglers invest in bream fishing has also insured a rapid increase in tactics, gear applications and theories pertaining to targeting these fish in this specific environment. I have been lucky enough over the past 12 months to fish with some of Australia’s leading bream anglers and during this article hope to impart some of the useful information I have garnered from them relating the bream fishing cult.
Finesse for the win
When targeting some species, the finesse option, while most probably also increasing your hook up rate, is an option chosen for the fun and exhilaration of the capture. When plastic fishing for bream, a finesse approach is an absolute must. Bream that reside in canals reside in some of the most densely human populated waterside locations in Australia. Due to their slow growth rate and cunning instincts this causes canal bream to be naturally cautious and thoroughly challenging to catch on lures. These canal locations experience high pressure fishing week in, week out from equally dedicated anglers already willing to refine their technique to max out their own personal advantage. This ensures you must do everything possible to enhance the edge you have over the fish, and your angling competition.
Your choice of rod, reel, line and leader are all important when planning a bream fishing quest. I remember when I first began lure fishing and a 2500 sized reel seemed like a small option! These days, for my bream fishing requirement my preference is by far and away reels in the 1000 size range. I have heard concern raised over line capacity for a reel of this nature, but the simple fact is, canal bream are not going to spool you. In any given fight, 20-30m of line is all you would require making any 1000 size reel suitable. If a bream does bust you off or brick you, this will usually happen in close proximity in the very structure you are casting into. Higher end reels are suggested if you want to take your bream fishing seriously simply because of the mechanical advantages they offer. A smooth drag is arguably the most important consideration. When fishing ultra-light lines an angler wants to ensure that line will peel of the spool precisely when required. A momentary hesitation of a drag system to dispense line in this manner can result in an extremely brief and extremely disappointing hook up. 1000 sized reels are also by nature very light. While not a critical concern, a lighter combo will be far more of a pleasure to cast all day long!
There are a couple of main reasons why such light main lines are beneficial when targeting bream in this way. First of all lighter line classes will ensure a more than suitable quantity of line, even on the suggested 1000 size reel classes. Secondly lighter line allows for lighter lures to be cast further and more accurately. Both these factors are important to consider and worth taking advantage of. As previously mentioned, canal bream can be cautious to the extreme. This often means an accurate cast tight into structure over a reasonable distance can be of great advantage as the fish has yet to be spooked by the encroachment of your boat.
While the mono vs. braid argument is often a can of worms best left to preference, braided lines are of extreme benefit in typical canal environments. Mono lines certainly have a place casting hard bodies over flats etc, but the zero stretch nature of braid makes it an ideal and essential part of an angler’s canal arsenal. As bream are often hooked mere centimetres from treacherous structure, braid can make the difference between turning the fish out of tight confines, or losing it to a pylon, rock or any of the typical canal mine fields. Further to this, if the fish does in fact wrap you temporarily around structure (a problem often resolved by simply free spooling your reel for a few seconds), braid will hold up against the abrasion of this trial far better than conventional mono.
When using braided lines, of course, a good quality leader must also be applied. Leaders allow for great flexibility generally when fishing as you can vary your front line without changing spools or reels. When attacking canal bream the general rule is to go as light as you can get away with. While I use a 4lb fluorocarbon leader, it is not uncommon for bream anglers to go as light as 2lb. Although risky, this essentially invisible option can be what it takes to fool a cunning adversary and does, as I have witnessed personally, dramatically increase your hook up ratio even if the occasional fish is lost.
Rod choice is one area that preference comes into play more prominently although a few suggestions can be made. I personally enjoy a slower action rod in a 6”6’ length and 1-3kg to 2-4kg weight range. Faster action rods are ideal for surface fishing, cranking hard baits etc, however I find a slower taper ideal for imparting the subtle to zero movement into a plastic that most canal bream find irresistible. With rod choice really coming down to “what feels right”, one decision I would strongly urge any angler to consider is the weight of the rod. As with the reel, a lighter option will be more enjoyable to use all day. The tackle market these days offers some great options with affordable rods weighing in well under 100 grams and a careful shop around will not be for naught.
Plastic and jig head choices
The range of soft plastic lures of the market these days is amazing and many are designed with canal breaming in mind. Unlike bream residing in more natural domains (bays, deep water, flats etc), canal bream are often more inclined to hit smaller offerings. My preference of plastic is usually anything in the 2 inch to 2.5 inch range in shrimp or creature bait patterns. Colour is less important (usually dictated by what an angler prefers or has had success with in the past), although the many brands featuring artificial scent certainly have an edge. Ideally with a small plastic, comes a small jig head. Canals do not often suffer from the extremely strong tidal flows of more open water which allows for extremely light weight jig heads to be a plausible option. 1/24th jig heads all the way down to 1/50th are ideal when it comes to presenting a small plastic as naturally as possible. Hidden weight jig heads are also an absolute favourite for me to create the most natural presentation possible. A combination of the already suggested gear will still allow you to send this extremely small and light morsel right into the desired location.
Tactics and tips
While fishing with some tournament anglers the most important lesson I learned was the concept of dead sticking. Usually when plastic fishing for general species, my approach has always been to impart a hopping, “shrimp like” action into a plastic, doing my best to replicate the action of a live bait. This however is not at all the best way to tempt a canal living bream! The most successful tactic hands down is casting a lightly weighted plastic hard up against a floating or fixed pontoon, pylon or any other typical canal structure and let the plastic slowly sink at its own pace. The idea is that this plastic then looks like a small crustacean or shrimp that has become detached from the structure and has commenced wafting down the water column. As this sort of prey is what has often attracted the bream to the structure in the first place, it becomes an irresistible target. As the boat slowly drifts past the structure post cast, a bow is formed in the line. After much practice, it is possible to detect by looking at this bow the moment a fish picks up the plastic and commences swimming off with it. This is the time to strike before the fish can carry your plastic deeper into precarious territory. This tactic can also be applied to rock walls and mangrove embankments, however a heavier jig head may be required due to stronger tidal flows.
Skip casting is another great skill to learn for this style of fishing. Skip casting is simply the practice of literally “skimming” your plastic across the surface into the intended zone. By skipping the plastic there is limited noise made when the plastic arrives at its location and thus less chance of spooking wary fish. Skip casting also allows you to place the plastic right up against the desired structure adding to the illusion of prey becoming detached from it. Once again finesse gear dramatically assists in both the practice and accuracy of skip casting.
The tournament scene
While certainly not for everyone the tournament scene for bream in Australia is well worth having a dabble in. Participating in a few events is hands down one of the best ways to learn and practice skills required to become an effective bream lure fisherman. The best thing about the various bream tournaments in Australia is their accessibility. There are events suited to serious pro’s and amateur recreational anglers. One does not even require a boat to get involved with half the field (except at teams events) being made of “non-boater” entries. With pairs drawn at random, there is a very real chance a novice angler may find themselves paired with one of Australia’s best, allowing for a steep and hopefully eye opening level of learning!
So if you have never targeted bream seriously before in the canals on plastics, give it a crack! Targeting such a staple species in new ways is often the catalyst to continuing any anglers love affair with this fantastic sport!