Understanding when to grab which lure from your box can be the difference between catching and just casting
You’ll find a plethora of lures at any tackle store that have been designed or marketed as bream lures. Crankbaits, jerkbaits, all manner of soft plastics and a huge range of surface lures are on offer. You do need to have a lot of options when you hit up your local estuary chasing bream, but what’s most important is knowing what lure to use in the varying weather and environmental conditions you may experience on your chosen fishing days. This article will hopefully help you choose the right lure for the right conditions and situation, so you’re casting with confidence rather than doubting your choice.
Windswept Shallow Banks
Windy days are always inevitable and if 2021 is anything to go by you can count on them as a regular occurrence. When I’m fishing any system and the wind picks up, I head for shallow banks and tie on a deep-diving crankbait. Using hard-bodied lures is my favourite way to target bream, regardless of the time of year, and they’re fun to use as they can be retrieved in a variety of ways. The warmer months from summer into early autumn offer the prospect of targeting big bream on shallow sand flats and it’s something all experienced bream anglers look forward to.
A technique that I have adopted with great success is fishing deep-diving crankbaits in shallow water in windy conditions. Most people associate shallow water with shallow-diving lures, but I take a different approach. I like to fish lures that dive to a depth of around two metres in water less than one metre deep. A lure that hits the bottom, stirs up the sand and makes some noise gets the fishes’ attention. Bream are almost exclusively hunting and eating in water less than one metre deep when the wind is blowing onto a bank as they have cover from overhead predators thanks to the turbulent water and the bait is being washed around by the rough conditions. This is a simple and effective technique that anyone can use when targeting bream, by working those flats with a simple steady retrieve. So next time the wind picks up, don’t head back in, work those flats with a deep-diving crankbait and wait for the strike.
Calm Days Midwater
Contrastingly, I think that bream in depths between one and two metres are often ‘cruising’ or ‘staging’. By this I mean they aren’t necessarily hunting or schooling up, instead cruising around waiting for the wind to pick up. I often find bream sitting a few feet off the bottom in these slightly deeper depths and they’re quite opportunistic. By fishing a lure that swims above a fish’s eyeline, you might draw their attention up and possibly tempt them to strike. Jerkbaits such as Lucky Craft Flash Minnows and Nories Laydown Minnows are jerkbaits that dive down to a few feet and have proven themselves highly effective in this scenario.
Baitfish often don’t swim directly along the bottom, especially in the shallower depths, and that’s why a shallower running lure better represents the prey. Jerkbaits are also excellent at imitating a fleeing prawn that will often dart out of the sand and swim along or below the surface to escape predators. Getting the hang of twitching or jerking a jerkbait takes a little practice but you’ll pick it up quickly and enjoy the process.
Calm Day, Shallow Water
Sight casting bream with hard-bodies can be a very challenging yet rewarding target method, watching a fish home in on your lure and then strike is about as exciting as it gets. I find silent (as opposed to lures equipped with a rattle), shallow-diving jerkbaits are the most effective at tempting bream in shallow, calm water. Targeting bream in shallow water is hard at the best of times and when you factor in glass-calm water, it can be nigh-on impossible. Even though the bream are often in the shallow water feeding, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily want to eat your lure. Silent lures provide the subtle approach that is required to tempt these fish. A silent jerkbait that suspends is your most effective choice if you want to spend the time chasing these fish.
The visual experience
Using topwater and surface lures is an extremely enticing and exciting way to catch bream. However, weather conditions often influence an angler’s decision to pick up or put down the surface lure.
I’ll fish surface lures almost exclusively in the warmer months of the year. When the water temperatures are warmest and prawns and baitfish can be found flicking about on the surface, I will typically fish surface lures in depths just less than or around 1.5 metres deep. I think the deeper depths are more productive in more of a sandy or silty bottom. Sometimes, I’ll find that I will get a lot of ‘boils’ or follows in water less than a metre deep. But as soon as I find that half a metre of water, fish won’t hesitate to come up and smash the lure. This is especially the case in clear, sunny conditions. Contrastingly, if I’m fishing my surface lure above weed, I feel as though the depth of water I’m fishing in has less of an impact on my ability to catch or entice fish. The weed acts as the perfect cover for the bream to come out and chase that lure when they see it skipping, walking or darting just above the weed-line.
Weather conditions, especially cloud cover, can over-influence a fisherman’s decision whether to use a surface lure. Personally, I do think the amount of cloud cover has an impact on my surface catch rates, whereby I catch more fish in lower light and overcast conditions. But I see the difference in the amount of fish and ‘boils’ or follows I get from smaller fish, mainly because I believe that smaller fish are less likely to rise one metre off the bottom to eat a lure – as distinct from a bream, which is bigger, braver and more confident. So, yes, I think you will catch fewer fish in sunny, brighter weather conditions off the surface, but I think I catch fewer small fish and more big bream.
Additionally, in systems where there is a lot of prawn or garfish activity, using surface lures are the best chance I have of catching a fish, because the bream are naturally looking up, actively chasing prey off and around the surface. Therefore, if the bream are chasing prawns, instead of burying their heads in the sand digging for crabs, you should be fishing a lure that covers the same water column as where the bream will be hunting.
There are also a number of variables that influence lure choice. Hypothetically, if I know that there are a lot of garfish in a system, the OSP Bent Minnow is a lure that mimics a garfish exceptionally well. Contrastingly, if I know prawns are flicking around and running thick in the system at the time, I’ll opt for a lure that ‘walks’ along the surface, such as a Lucky Craft Sammy or a Bassday Sugapen.
So not only will surface lures provide the unparalleled experience of seeing a bream eat your lure, they can be the most productive lure in your tackle box – and not just the most appealing to use.
Soft plastics are probably the most popular type of lure used across the county. Whether you’re fishing in one metre or eight metres, soft plastics simply catch fish. I love to fish soft plastic lures when targeting fish on edges. These edges will typically fish well in transition periods between seasons, when fish move up onto an edge pre-spawn in late autumn and post-spawn in spring. When targeting fish with soft plastics on edges, I’ll look to fish water depths between two and four metres, but I won’t just fish any random edge. When I’m looking for a productive edge, I will look for edges that have snags, weed lines or rock walls. These types of banks will typically hold bait that pre-spawn and post-spawn bream are looking to eat. Fishing soft plastics along these types of edges gives me the ability to actively fish different water depths whilst remaining relatively snag-resistant.
Alternatively, soft plastics are also effective in deep water. Fishing soft plastics in deep water in winter is an extremely effective method for not only catching big numbers of fish, but also really big fish. I’ve always had great success catching big bream that have schooled up with soft plastics. Whether it be up a river or in a main lake basin, I’ll usually find big numbers of fish schooled in water deeper than three metres.
When it comes to the style of soft plastics, I really don’t have a preference. Curly tail and paddle tail profiles are the styles I use 90 per cent of the time, and I always have two soft plastics rods rigged up. However, unlike most I tend to fish two different colours in a similar profile or same model, mainly because my choice of soft plastic will depend on the location and time of year. As an example, if I know there are a lot of baitfish in a system or I am sounding up bream underneath tailor or bait, when bait is being chopped up, I’ll fish a paddle tail. However, I’ll fish curly tail grubs in winter, where the fish might not be looking to actively chase bait and are feeding on worms and invertebrates.
There is certainly a time and a place for creature bait plastics that imitate a prawn, shrimp, yabby or insect. Although I rarely cast these lures, they are styles that I love to fish on shallower edges when the fish are actively feeding. These different styles of soft plastic also provide a point of difference. If the bite has slowed down on one of the more traditional shapes, tying on something completely different on can often tempt a bite.
It’s The Vibe
Vibes, blades and sinking stickbaits all fall under the category of sinking hard-body or metal lures. However, I believe there are two distinct situations when you would use them: stickbaits during the warmer months of the year and vibes/blades in winter.
Using stickbaits under boat hulls and around jetty pylons is an extremely effective way to catch bream. When bream are suspended mid-water or high in the water column, they can be very difficult to tempt. This is when I would look to tie on a stickbait. The slow, hypnotic shimmer of a stickbait can be highly effective in this scenario. When fishing sinking stick minnows, it is imperative to fish them on a relatively slack line as it enables the lure to sink straight down without being pulled out of the strike zone or sink backwards. When I say relatively slack, you don’t want to have direct contact with your lure because otherwise you can pull the lure from the strike zone and not allow it to have a straight freefall. You want to have enough line laid out on the top of the water so the lure can sink uninterrupted.
Using vibes and blades in deep water is an extremely effective method of catching bream. Whether it be in a river or open water, vibes and blades are a good way of covering a lot of ground and catching a lot of fish. Blades and vibes enable the angler to make long, prospecting casts that allow you to fish your lure along the bottom when the fish are schooled up close to the bottom. The perfect scenario for fishing blades or vibes in deep water is fishing open water, on a mud or silt bottom – although this scenario isn’t one we can often choose, because bream will school up wherever they like. But if they are schooled up over a silty or muddy bottom, when the vibe or blade hits the bottom, a puff of silt will occur. This will often draw fish in, especially on a barren bottom.
For this reason, I will always look to fish the heaviest blade I have in my tackle box. While blades and vibes are extremely effective in catching big numbers of fish, I find I catch a lot of small fish using this technique. Yes, everyone is different and has different experiences using lures, but I tend to catch a lot more small bream when using vibes and blades in deep water when compared with soft plastics in deep water for bream.
Structure can be submerged plant life, fallen timber and branches, and even fallen trees. They’re commonly referred to as snags as they can snag your lure. This kind of structure can often hold a lot of bream – or a single large bream – and while it may claim some of your precious lures, casting at snags is not only effective but extremely exciting fishing. I predominantly fish hard-bodies such as jerkbaits and shallow running crankbaits in snags. I will throw hard-bodies in snags that are shallower than three metres as I can get my lure into the strike zone and keep it from fouling on the snag.
You need to judge the depth of the snag against the lure’s dive depth to make sure you’re not getting it down too deep. For deeper snags that are submerged in depths of more than three metres, I use soft plastics as they can get down deeper into the strike zone, and the single hook or even weedless presentation has less chance of fouling up.
While there is no set rule book when it comes to what lure you choose to target any fish, hours of experience in south-eastern estuaries with consistent results gives confidence in these recommendations. There is nothing worse than casting a lure in doubt, so give some of these ideas a go and I’m sure you’ll find some success.
Words: Sam Leys Images: Sam Leys & Kosta Linardos