It has to be said that bream are not my favourite species and I rarely fish for them, but all are sweet, so they say, and when the mood takes me I spend a few days in their pursuit. For even though they are the slimiest of fish, and a keepnet or landing net left unwashed that has been used for them will let off the most appalling smell, I can still remember the time when I was pleased to catch even an 8oz skimmer.
Long ago while I was still at school and the rivers ran deep and fast, I caught my first decent bream from the Wallers Haven on the Pevensey Marsh, but not before I had lost a much bigger fish through inexperience and shoddy tackle.
Two pieces of garden cane with a bakerlite centre pin reel was loaded with green thick cuttyhunk line and a short length of gut. My hook was probably a size eight, though I cannot be sure since the event took place over 40 years ago.
I remember the float. It was cork, painted red on top and green underneath. There were only a few yards of line on the reel, certainly not enough if I were to have hooked a carp. Up until that time I had only caught very small fish and certainly wasn't prepared for what was going to occur after I had cast my flour and water paste bait into a swim between the two bridges at Middlebridge. I was with two friends and we had push biked the five miles from Sidley to fish the morning so it was a short session.
Somehow, with this crude tackle, I had managed to cast my bait to the far side of the river, where it remained for some time. Young boys rarely stayed in one spot for very long and the only reason it wasn't moved before a fish had a chance to pick it up was probably because I was busy chatting to my friends. Anyway, that's as maybe, I cannot remember for sure, but I do remember turning round to see the line pulling tight to the rod tip and the float a few inches below the surface. I struck, but forgot to keep my hand on the reel handle and to make matters worse it didn't have a clutch and the reel was spinning backwards. I walked backwards and the short length of line on my reel was soon down to the knot, but I continued on the same path. The fish was now on the surface, a real monster of a bream, not silver like the skimmers I had been use to catching, but a true bronze bream, the like of which I had only seen in books. My heart was thumping and I was in a state of panic as I continued to walk backwards. It never occurred to me to turn the reel handle and reel in a few yards of line. In the end, I walked back as far as I could without falling in the dyke that was behind me. By now the bream was half way up the bank, but not for long for it slipped the hook, dropped back in the water and was gone.
Looking back that fish was probably around 21b, perhaps only llb 8oz, but to me then it was a monster. More importantly it's loss taught me a little about angling. Always keep a tight line when playing a fish, keep hold of the reel and on no account allow it to spin out of control. Fish hard on the bottom for bream and don't keep reeling in and recasting.
From then on, I became a bream fisherman and it wasn't long before I had broken my bream record with a fish of 12oz. The following year I was to catch a bream five times as big.
Again I was fishing at Middlebridge, but this time just below the Bottom Bridge on the Star Inn side. My bait was a redworm and, although I was fishing with the same rod, my cork float was now a plastic one shaped like a quill, but with a red tip. The float was half cocked with my bait laying hard on the bottom. By now I was aware that patience, not my strongest point, was important and after casting in, sat down to await events. An hour drifted by, perhaps more, when without warning the float lay flat. I was tempted to strike, but resisted. A few seconds, which seemed like hours, and nothing, then the float returned to its original position. Had I missed the opportunity? No, it was now starting to glide away dropping deeper into the water as it went. Finally it disappeared from sight and I struck. This time I made no mistake, I held the reel handle and heaved the fish to the surface. A huge bronze slab lay there just waiting to be drawn to the net. A friend did the honours and we lay it on the bank scarcely able to believe its size.
My memory has faded since those days of the early fifties, but it weighed somewhere between 31b 12oz and 31b 14oz, a huge fish for someone so young.
Since that time I have caught many bream, most of them by accident when carp, tench or chub fishing and some of them have been larger, but to this day I have not seen a bigger bream taken from the same swim close to the bridge.
Over the years, even though I do not fish for them very often, I have learned a great deal about bream and the most important thing to remember is that they respond to groundbait, prebaiting in particular. I have also found that the groundbait need not be expensive; mash bread, sweetcorn and hemp will generally do the trick providing you are prepared to carry out the baiting over a period of several days or even a couple of weeks.
It is a different matter if you are fishing a match and the bream shoals have already been spooked by the other anglers dragging their trolleys to their swims. They are probably finicky, but respond to ultra light tackle and careful baiting with one of proprietary groundbaits on the market. This is not the situation I am referring to. Prebaiting is best carried out over a fortnight and in a swim which you know is frequented by bream the size of which you are after. This is most important since there are areas where bream just do not go, or so it would appear. Indeed this is the case with all fish.
Now having found a swim where the bream are known to visit you have now to decide how you are going to fish for them and what bait you are going to use. It certainly makes sense to groundbait with the bait you intend to use on the hook, or at least add some hookbait samples to the groundbait. As I pointed out earlier, sweetcorn and hemp make an ideal mixture. Bread and sweetcorn can be used on the hook and the hemp will help to hold them in the area. You may have other ideas and I am sure there are many combinations that will be equally as effective.
The next point to consider is how much to throw in at a time and what sort of area should you cover. Obviously, you want to concentrate it as much as possible, but at the same time be sure that the fish find it and become used to feeding in that spot. If you decide to carry out your groundbait over, say a period of a fortnight, it would probably pay to scatter it over a fairly wide area, even laying trails of it in all different directions, but heaping most of it in a fairly small area. Gradually, the baited area will be reduced day by day until a few days before you are going to fish, by which time it will all be going in a very small area. By this time, if your hard work is to be r
ewarded, the bream will have become used to feeding on it and will be visiting the spot daily, or even hanging around all the time.
When fishing for bream, you will often pick up other fish, such as tench.
The amount you put in will, of course, relate to how big the bream shoal is, so you must give this a lot of thought. Too little and all the bait could be eaten by smaller unwanted fish, but too much and the bait is left rotting on the bottom.
Now, on some waters the bream shoals can be measured in hundreds, but others may only number a dozen, or even less, so you have consider which you are likely to encounter. To help you make a choice, let me say that it is my belief that most anglers who fail after ground- baiting for bream do so because they do not put enough in rather than the other way round. For instance I have watched anglers baiting for bream with a tin of sweetcorn a day and then completely fail when they finally fished the swim. The reason for their failure was probably because by the time the bream passed by the halted area all the bait was already eaten.
Eels can be a real nuisance when baiting with sweetcorn especially if it has to lay there, at night, when they become active. A small tin of corn would soon be eaten and that doesn’t take into account other small fish such as rudd and roach. No it needs much more bait than that even to attract a fairly modest sized shoal. For a start, you need something that cannot be eaten quickly by small fish and this is where mashed bread comes in. It won’t get eaten by eels, and if you squeeze it fairly tightly so that it is more like a pudding, it will not be readily taken by small fish.
If a large saucepan of hemp is added then, because there are thousands of particles, it will take a bream shoal a fair while to clear it up and while they are rooting about on the bottom, you have a good chance of catching them. So, if you think your shoal of bream which weigh between 31b and 61b, is say fifty strong; five leaves of bread, four tins of corn and a saucepan of hemp will not be too much to bait with every day and it could be that double that wouldn't do any harm. Obviously, it will depend upon your circumstances as to when you throw the bait in, but most working class anglers are more likely to be free during the evenings. This means that you are encouraging the bream to feed at night and early morning. If that is the case, there s little point in arriving at the waterside at 9.30 in the morning when in all probability they will have finished feeding and perhaps even moved on. Of course, if you groundbaited at 8am before you start work, the opposite is the case. You have encouraged the fish to feed during the day and they may not be around at night. This is not always the case, but generally it is, so you should think very carefully before you embark upon a prebaiting session that could so easily go wrong because you are not at the water at the right time. If you are a long stay angler who is willing to sit it out for several days, then you can't really go wrong, for sooner or later if you have baited the right spot, they will come onto feed. But I can remember some of my early prebaiting sessions, which friends and I put in a lot of energy into with very little reward. On one occasion, we fished all day and all night for a few fish, but two days after we left another angler had the catch of a lifetime in the same swim. He wasn't aware he was fishing in a prepared swim and spent the next few weeks bragging about his catch. So you can see it could so easily go wrong if you are not careful.
Never the less, I have since got it right and caught fish with remarkable ease after carefully and correctly assessing how much to use, when to bait and when to fish. Mistakes aside, prebaiting does work, mark my words, and just because you may fail for one reason or another on one occasion don't give up. If you really want to catch a big bream, prebaiting is the way to do it and if you don't get it right first time try and work out what went wrong and get it right next time.
Another point to remember is once the fish are feeding and you are catching, be very careful not to put them off. Very often bream are not put off by groundbait being thrown into a swim before they start to feed, but they will not tolerate groundbaiting over their heads once they are. It is then best to pile in plenty of bait before starting to fish and just keep it topped up with a swim feeder. Finally, don't tell anyone where you are prebaiting and try to pick a swim which is not usually frequented by other anglers, otherwise you could arrive at the water to find someone sitting m your prepared site.