Words & Images: Jason Linardos
Hitting the estuaries in winter can offer some spectacular fishing. While it may be cold and the days are shorter, glassed-out days, amazing light reflecting off the water and solid bream are all on offer. Yes, summer provides the best that bream fishing has to offer – a strong edge bite, sunset surface fishing on the flats, and shorts, T-shirts and thongs – but winter spells low boat traffic, no skiers, huge sections of water to yourself and a whole different approach.
What’s different in winter?
It’s often thought bream, whether they be yellowfin or black bream, move into deeper waters and sulk in a big school and reject any offering you present. While there is some truth to this, it is far from an absolute. Yes, targeting bream on the flats and in the shallows is more difficult, but it’s far from impossible. Anyone who has spent time in estuarine waters where bream reside knows they are most certainly there, but the often gin-clear water that winter brings and the slower metabolism from the cool temperatures make the bream fishing that little bit harder. Is it impossible? Hell no! Is it challenging? Yes, but it’s not that hard and you don’t need to be a tournament angler to get onto some quality fish. It’s all about reading the water and having the right lures and outfits in your arsenal to get them to react. While the bream are definitely not feeding as actively in the winter, they are still there and still have to feed and this makes them a viable target species.
The edge bite
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, fish will always be along edges where there is structure. In summer there are days when you can work 600 metres of sandy or rocky shallow edge and consistently spot and catch fish; you can do the same in winter but heavy structure is imperative. Pontoons, moorings, overhanging trees, moored boats, fallen trees and submerged logs all provide shelter and a food source. While they may look scary to any angler not wanting to lose a lure, they will hold bream. Your casting needs to be spot-on and you will inevitably lose a few lures, but it makes for exciting fishing. While deep-diving hard-bodies are effective in this situation, the twin trebles tend to snag up that little bit easier and they are more often than not the more expensive option. If you’re not worried about losing lures, then go for it, it’s fun and it works. However, for those a little more budget-conscious there are some great alternatives. Soft plastics are the obvious alternative as they are a lot cheaper per unit and you’ll probably cast them a little better as you’re not so worried about losing them. When choosing a soft plastic look for something that doesn’t need a lot of angler input to impart action. Curl tail grubs are a great choice as the tail gets moving as soon as the lure hits the water and starts sinking. Those first few moments are crucial when casting into structure. You want the lure to land and fall in front of a fish that’s sitting deep in the structure and to resemble something it wants to eat. If it sinks lifelessly until you begin your retrieve, it’s probably too late. So look for lures that have a great action on the drop. Rigging soft plastics weedless greatly reduces snagging, but diminishes casting distance and your plastic has less action with less weight. Staying with jig heads around 1/32-1/8 of an ounce enables you to cast well and remain fairly snag-free. Cranka Crabs are another great option as they have a great action while falling and bream absolutely love them. Edges with heavy structure are best fished from halfway through an incoming tide until the start of the falling. The higher the water is around the overhanging trees and structure, the more fish there will be among them.
Secondary edges are a prime holding ground for winter bream. A secondary edge is a second depth and more acute change after the gradual depth changes you’ll see coming from the bank. For example, the very edge of the water you’re fishing may be only 40cm deep and will gradually get deeper to about a metre, but what you’re looking for is where it drops off more dramatically – these features are easy to find but often overlooked. You need to use your sounder to find them and the best way is by moving out from the bank and sounding for where the depth drops off again. Alternatively, move slowly towards shore from a fair distance and wait until you see that change in depth. You can use your electric motor to slowly steer along these edges and keep casting into the shallower water and bring it along into the deeper water. In most cases sinking lures will be your only option for getting down there so plastics and vibes are your best option. I prefer to fish these areas on the start of a falling tide. The fish lie in ambush waiting for the baitfish, shrimp and other food sources coming down these secondary edges as the tide falls.
No man’s land
You know all those deep and wide open expanses of water you usually just drive over at breakneck speed to get to the next little harbour, edge or oyster rack? They hold bream and lots of them. It may seem daunting knowing where to begin, or hard to imagine what would keep bream out in the middle of an open expanse of water, but they’re there. Depths may range from five to 12 metres, and in some places more, but these areas are always worth slowly sounding over. I still remember the first time I came across huge numbers of bream on my sounder in what seemed to be nowhere. I was in Mallacoota and had only stopped from running at speed to secure a tackle bag that had fallen over. I happened to glance at my sounder and saw it lit up like a Christmas tree, with fish holding at 4.5 metres of water in six metres. Although I recognised the marks as bream I didn’t believe it until three casts in when I got a solid hit on my blade. Since then these deeper and more open expanses of water have always been a go-to for me in winter and summer.
The unfortunate part of finding bream in these open waters is that you’ll have to spend the time sounding around for them, which can get boring. The use of a sounder with side imaging is highly advantageous as it greatly broadens the scope of what you can see. You can make things a little more exciting by trolling a deep-diving hard-body behind the boat. This will also help you in your search as bream will readily hit a trolled hard-body if it’s getting down into the strike zone. Once you’ve found the fish, be sure to mark them on your GPS and you can either just drift and cast or use your electric motor to follow the fish. You’ll need to keep watch of your sounder and your GPS to make sure you’re over the fish and not drifting off them. While many will assume vibes are the best option for this style of fishing – and they are good – you can use any other sinking lure. I personally hate vibing; it’s effective, but I find it boring and my vibe box will attest to that – it rarely gets opened these days. I have always found most success using soft plastics such as Berkley Minnow Grubs and Turtleback Worms, Squidgy Wrigglers and Pro Prawns, and Cranka Crabs. I always use a scent if it’s not already on the lure and tend to opt for lures with a larger profile. Larger lures can be seen from a distance and in open expanses and deeper waters the fish aren’t as easily spooked as in shallower water, and don’t tend to shy away from them.
Lighter and quieter
Winter fishing for bream requires stealth, and focusing on the “one percenters” will go a long way. Slowly cruising towards your intended fishing area, as opposed to motoring in at speed and quickly backing off the throttles, will greatly increase your chances. Fish as light as possible. That includes your jig head, your line and your leader. If you can, try spooling with straight through fluorocarbon and make sure all your lures are presented well. Even little things such as noise suppressors on your electric motor can help in keeping you as stealthy as possible. Take the time to refine all your gear and focus on a finessed approach and you won’t find it too challenging.
I love targeting bream in winter. Hot days in an open boat on an estuary don’t really do it for me and there’s something about the foggy mornings, still days and bigger fish that appeals. I also love how quiet it is and how much of the waterway you have to yourself. With a bit of change in tactics I’m sure you’ll also enjoy it and get on to some great winter bream.