The Bream Hunter

Bream as a species, I guess, were bigger in the 1960s and ‘70s than they are now. Then they were more seriously targeted, now they are a bi-product that comes along by chance, by ill-chance most bream sceptic carpers would say. My love goes deeper. Here i look at how to target specimen Bream ( in my book that is a fish of 10lb+) and indeed a majestic creature.

My PB as a youngster was a 7.07 fish caught in 1975 and I never thought I’d better it. In 1977, I simply gawped at a river bream fishing pal of the time, John Judge, caught at a massive 9.01. I never thought I’d see anything bigger but I did. In 1980, I joined the Wilstone Reservoir night syndicate and had a couple of scraper doubles, largely thanks to the help and advice of Essex match man Tom Boulton. It was Tom that helped me integrate match and specimen hunter methods that did so well for me on that legendary water.

But that was getting on for forty years ago, would you believe? Since then, we’ve all witnessed the death of estate lake bream populations and the highly prolific enclosed Norfolk Broad venues have, too, disappeared. What bream I’ve had since Wilstone days have been largely random occurrences, coming along unexpectedly. My best river bream at 15.06, is a perfect example. I saw it, mounted a short campaign and caught it. More of a fluke than a well-fought campaign I’d say. But now I’m seeing something different. I’m aware that nationwide there are a big number of big bream once again. It’s baffling but it’s brilliant. The question is how do I, how do any of us really profit? Bream are back but that doesn’t mean to say they will be back forever.


As I’ve said, big bream are pretty much a species of the past in Broads, estate lakes and smaller, shallower waters. In my fishing world, I have twelve, probably thirteen pits that now hold big bream, in my language that is fish over ten pounds in weight. They are generally over eight acres in extent and they generally have depths reaching to twenty feet. They are not pushovers but big bream waters never have been.

All these pits are rich in natural foodstuffs. Moreover, this century, there has been a dearth of small silver fish competing for these food stuffs. Bream, therefore, have got big fast once they’re reached the three or four pound mark. There is no doubt, too, that despite the Beast from the East, we have seen a spate of warmish winters. I have no doubt that bream this century have fed every month of the year and that helps explain their dynamic growth rates.

Let’s not overlook genetics. Virtually all the bream I’m talking about, bar one population, are magnificent fish. Forget slime. Forget pale, anaemic bodies. These fish are vibrant, mahogany brown, no more slime-coated than tench and, what’s more, they fight harder than tincas, too. In short, I find them simply breathtaking, infinitely desirable. My mates and I first started seeing these fish some four or five years ago, when they weighed anything between four and seven pounds. Since then, their growth rate in all these pits has been steady and impressive. Some of the fish have reached upper doubles and there might be twenty pounders now or in the near future. Some have come my way or the way of my friends but I’d never say we have anything like a handle on the situation. For the last couple of years, big bream have come out of nowhere and disappeared back into nowhere just as quickly. Breamy Bailey has been baffled repeatedly.


It’s traditional to talk first up about location whatever species you are pursuing. This is has always been the case especially with bream. Back in the day, we all liked to talk about bream patrol routes but I had a feeling then it was a bit of tosh and I’m not completely convinced by the concept now. I’m well aware bream like some areas of pit more than others but I suspect, like most species, they’re infinitely flexible. To think of them stuck in rigid behavioural patterns I’ve always suspected is wrong.

I have generally observed most bream over the last years in areas of pits that are between seven and twelve feet deep and usually have cleanish gravel or sand bottoms. I know that’s pretty generalised and I apologise. I suppose what I’m saying is that I think you can discount shallow, marginal, over-silted piece of most gravel pits. Bream might drift into these places to sunbathe but I don’t see them feeding hard here.

Of course, bream do enjoy feeding on the food that weed beds hold but I’ve got a feeling that they target caddis grubs above most other food items and caddis tend to favour clean sand and gravel. But that’s what I think and what do I know? I am sure, however, that you catch bream either by being the hunter or being the trapper.


            A good number of the big bream that I’ve caught, or guided clients to catching this past few years have been bream stalked on the shallows. There is no doubt that in warmer weather, in the mid to late afternoon, bream will often come onto clean-bottomed shallows to sunbathe but also to feed spasmodically. Their big, dark shapes are an awesome sight and it’s thrilling when you see the puffs of silt that they throw up when they feed. Scatterings of bait introduced here and there, will often pull down groups of fish and it is possible to pick up one, two or even three biggies before the rest spook and head off back into deep water. I like fishing a float and I am happy to use small boilies, maggots, corn or perhaps best of all, lobworms. I discuss tactics a bit further here.

When I have failed, it has been with bream swimming in the surface layers, often when late afternoons have become sultry, when there is a menace of thunder up above. It’s very common to see big bream milling around in large groups during these conditions. Over the past three years, I’ve seen bream to well over mid-doubles and in some numbers behaving like this and they completely thwarted any attempt of mine to catch them. Clients and I have tried slow-sinking lobs, pieces of drifting flake, curtains of maggots and slow-sinking caddis, all to no avail whatsoever. If there is a way of catching these fish, I’d like to know what it is.


The majority of big bream I’ve seen banked this past two or three years have come on the tail of big tench campaigns. Often, it takes two or three days of baiting big for tench before the large bream begin to move in, albeit half-heartedly. It’s like the tench will suddenly ease off and two, three or even four bream will be caught before the shoal ambles away.In my blog the Big Bream Bash i talk about my baiting and rig approach.   I’m always pleased to see bream caught like this because they are spectacular but I never feel that I’ve really cracked the challenge, or got close to understanding the species. Quite obviously, the rigs, baits and approaches that we use for tench also work for bream but I have this niggling feeling that we are not giving them what they really want. My mind goes back to Tom Boulton, to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and I feel that I could do better by turning back the years.


Early September is my next real window for a proper bream bash, my chance to nail a big fish or two that I feel might be truly deserved. August isn’t a bad month either. Dawns are getting later and dusks are coming in sooner. The weather, of course, is the crux. If August is steaming hot and spookily still, bream will be a hard one. If the wind is from the west, though, and if the days are mild, overcast and even misted with drizzle, then big bream will be very much a worthwhile target.

I have my eye on two or three swims in particular, the Back Bay being typical. Here, I know that bream like to congregate. It’s a steady eight feet deep, the bottom is largely uniform, clean and caddis infested. My plan is to relive the Boulton Approach. If I remember his words aright, I’m going to target an area forty yards out with a bombardment of casters in light ground bait. I’ll try to achieve a curtain effect, to have a shower of bait going down hour upon hour, attracting in any group of bream passing in the vicinity.

I’ll go back, too, to the gear that Tom advised for those days. This could well involve quiver-tipping instead of the usual bobbin set-up. I foresee using feeders on a link rather than in line, with longer  tails and hook sizes of perhaps 16 loaded with two or three floating casters to counterbalance the weight.

I’ll work hard, as Tom advised back then. I’ll keep the bait going in and I’ll keep refreshing the feeder. With two rods on the go, it will be like fishing an eight hour match. I’ll only choose weather conditions that I feel will be on my side and when they do occur, I’ll go for it hell for leather. I guess I’ll have fishing mates or fishing clients alongside me so, hopefully, we will be able to explore more water than I could possibly do on my own. 


On the last two or three year’s achievements. There is, of course, John Gilman’s 16 pound fish and Richard Blake’s 14 pounder, too. My records show that between us all, we’ve landed in excess of fifty doubles in the last three years, with an average weight of around eleven and a half pounds. There have been scores of back-up fish between eight and ten pounds, too. That’s not bad, not bad at all. Still, the fact remains that the majority of those fish – though not all – have rather wandered along by mistake. Fish that come like this are never to be scoffed at but for me, they’re not the real deal. The true satisfaction in catching big fish comes from identifying them, strategising an approach and then seeing the whole thing come together. Will that happen this September, 2018?


  • Never think a big bream is not a worthy target fish. They are beautiful, hard-fighting and incredibly difficult to deceive.
  • Big bream are coming back to pits countrywide. Now is the time to target them.
  • If you’re lucky in bright summer weather, you might physically see big bream down and feeding. Get after them.
  • Lobworms are an overlooked bream bait.
  • Don’t neglect a match angler’s approach to big bream. Maggots, casters, long hook lengths and small hooks can work wonders.