Canal Bream on Fly
THE BREAM is one of the most readily available species throughout the south-east. Bream are available all year round, inhabiting inshore estuaries as well as many offshore shallow reefs. This species is probably targeted more actively by inshore anglers than any other species due to its willingness to eat a wide variety of baits, lures and flies.
The bream is a scavenger – an opportunistic feeder that will eat whenever it can. These fish will peck away at flesh baits but will also savagely attack live baits, lures and flies.
Around the canals of Southern Queensland, bream will readily engulf a fly and make worthy opponents on lighter fly rods. In this article I’ll take a look at the techniques, tackle and tactics for targeting bream in the canals.
There is one thing that all canals have in common: rock walls. These man-made structures provide habitat and food for an array of fish species.
The crevices and gaps between the rocks harbour baitfish, prawns, crabs and molluscs, and you’ll find the bream along the walls as they hunt and eat these morsels. The beauty of using flies to target bream is that you can more closely imitate these food sources than you could with lures or dead baits.
Selecting suitable flies for bream in these areas is important. For one thing, the fly needs a relatively short tail because bream are notorious for grabbing the tail of the fly and missing the hook. The fly should also have a fair bit of action in the water, even with a very limited retrieve. For this reason many bream flies contain marabou, zonker or other soft materials that waft around in the water.
Your fly also needs to be heavy enough to get down into the strike zone around the rocks where the bream feed. The fly can’t be too heavily weighted though, because it will sink too fast. A fast sink makes the fly appear unnatural, and will also put you in with a high chance of snagging up. The placement of weight in the fly affects the action of the fly, so this needs to be considered as well.
Some proven patterns include Gotchas, Crazy Charlies, crab patterns, shrimp imitations, Mini-Puffs, MOEs, and worm patterns. One of my favourite patterns is a cross between a worm fly and a knobbler.
Here’s how to tie it.
1. Wrap the length of the hook shank with pink or orange flat-waxed nylon thread to just before the start of the bend in a No.6 Mustad Pro-Select hook.
2. Tie in a small tuft of marabou, usually the same colour as the thread, and also a piece of clear Larva-lace, Nymph Rib or Minnow Body material.
3. Wind the thread back towards the eye of the hook and tie on a set of medium black bead-chain eyes to the back of the shank.
4. Wind the Larva-lace (or similar) forward so that each wrap is next to the last and finish off behind the eyes and whip finish.
This pattern is quick and simple to tie, and it’s a very effective bream catcher with plenty of action in the water. You can experiment with different colours and you can also substitute chenille for the Larva-Lace. Make sure the hooks are razor sharp because bream can have quite hard mouths. Use natural colours in clean water, fluoros in dirty water, and dark colours on overcast days or in the evenings.
A lightweight fly rod, similar to that which you would use for trout, will suffice. A high modulus #5-weight is my choice because it is effortless to cast, delivers the flies easily, and has enough power to stop most bream. Heavier rods can still be used to good effect and may actually be required around some of the meaner territory.
A floating line will suffice for the shallower walls. However, in areas of fast current flow or deeper water a slow sinking fly line may be required to deliver the fly to the strike zone.
Leaders are best at around three metres because they are manageable to cast but will still allow the fly to sink down a good distance. A bit of distance between the fly and the fly-line will also avoid spooking wary fish. I use fluorocarbon leaders for this reason, and also because they are nearly invisible in the water.
Flies should be attached with a small perfection loop, which allows them to have more action in the water. Leaders between 2kg and 4kg will handle most bream you’ll encounter, as well as some other bycatch species.
GET IN THE ZONE
The important thing is to get the fly into the strike zone, which is usually close to the rocks or jetty pylons. The bream lurk and feed around this structure and usually can’t bear to allow a tasty morsel to pass by. You might have the best fly in the world, but if you can’t put it in front of the bream there is no chance that you’ll get a hookup. The tide also plays a part, because the bream rely on it to bring them various food items.
Bream shelter behind rocks and pylons and dart out to grab food items when the opportunity arises. For this reason it’s important to get the fly near the structure where the bream can see it. Quieter patches of water (such as eddies) are well worth a cast, as are any calmer areas beside fast flowing water. Locations where pipes or drains flow in, especially if there is a colour change, are usually hot spots.
When casting to standing structure such as pylons, cast the fly close to it and allow the fly to just sink adjacent to the structure while you encourage a strike with the occasional twitch. The fly will often get eaten on the drop, so be ready to strike at any time.
The shaded areas under jetties and docks are usually prime areas, especially in the middle of the day when they provide shade. If there is a gap between the structure and the water, try to cast with a side-on approach to get the fly into the gap and into the strike zone. When there’s no gap, as with a floating pontoon, cast the fly close to the structure, upcurrent of it, and allow the current to sweep the fly under the structure as it sinks. A small strip occasionally will often entice a strike, especially with prawn and shrimp patterns.
The way you strip your line is important because it affects the action the fly has in the water. I usually find that a few short, sharp strips, followed by a pause (which allows the fly to sink again) is a good technique. At other times a slow, long strip followed by a pause is a winner.
The type of fly you use will also determine which stripping pattern you should employ. Prawn and shrimp patterns should appear to dart off before stopping and slowly sinking again. Baitfish patterns should be tried at a slow constant speed, and crab patterns usually work effectively when short slow strips are used. Experiment with different variations, but keep in mind that how you strip the line affects how natural the fly pattern looks in the water.
Fly fishing the canals in this fashion is a great way to catch a bream or one of the other species that lurk along the walls. This method will entice pike and moses perch, and perhaps a cod, flathead, trevally, tarpon or jack. These species all produce great sport on a light fly rod and, best of all, they are accessible to everyone, whether you own a boat or not. Most canals have areas accessible to shore-based anglers where you can get a few casts away. While you’re fishing from the bank, casting adjacent to the bank will allow you to keep the fly in the strike zone longer.
If you’re in a boat, remember to be courteous to the people who live there because you’re probably in their backyard.
There are many good canal estates along the coast and all contain healthy populations of bream and other species. Get out and give it a go – it’s a lot of fun.