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Species

Black Bream

Black Bream

Black Bream

Black Bream
Acanthropagus butcheri

Bream are wily, hard fighting adversaries and
are plentiful even within 1km of the city centre.

A lot has been written about black bream over the years and it’s not hard to see why. They are easy enough for almost anyone to catch but even anglers that have specifically targeted them for over 15 years say that they will never be mastered.

They can be caught any time of the day or tide and on almost any type of bait, throw in the fact that they can be successfully caught on, soft baits, lures and flies and it’s easy to see why they are so popular. Really, bream are a specialist species that need to be targeted with unique fishing methods and, once you’re hooked on bream, well there’s no escaping them.

Through sportfishing tournaments, bream fishing has exploded in popularity and there’s even a store that just specialises in selling tackle for bream fishing using lures. Last month we looked at baits, this month Sean’s done a lure fishing article but we’ll also look at how this fish spends it’s relatively long life.

About The Black Bream

Black bream prefer to live around mussel encrusted rocks, snags or pylons near bridges and, when hooked, will try to put you under any snag in the area. They can be very timid and are attracted to lights.

They are hermaphroditic, which means that they can have both female and male gonadal tissue. They can and do spawn more than once during each breeding season which is in late spring early summer. Bream have slow growth rates considering how long they live.

They grow relatively quickly for their first few years (which is still slow by other fish standards) but then slow down in their latter years only growing about 1cm a year. A large bream of 35-40cm is about 15 years or more of age. They can take anything from 5 to 10 years to reach legal size and they can reach a maximum age of over 25 years. Seeing as they are so slow to grow, it makes good sense to take care of the larger breeding bream as they are vital to ensure future populations.

Bream are a tough fish. They are built to handle salinity and temperature changes, which would kill oceanic fish species, but even they have their limits. If rainfall is low for several years, salinity may increase to such a level in some of the smaller closed inlets that the entire population of black bream dies.

We’ve also seen large fish kills in the Swan for other reasons in recent times, be it pollution or lack of rainfall or even algal blooms. Having said that, bream are making a comeback but their slow growth rate makes them especially susceptible to overfishing.

Black bream belong to the Family Sparidae. They are a good looking fish with a touch of green and silver, a deep, strong body and powerful tail. Their bronze colouring, and long second anal spine, separate them from silver bream (tarwhine) and juvenile pink snapper.

Marine biologists have identified significant variations in shape between black bream from different latitudes. Fish from Western Australia are mostly deeper in the body than those from Victoria and South Australia and there are also differences in the lateral line, length of the ventral fin and the scale count.

Black bream are common in the rivers and estuaries of Australia’s lower west, southern and south east coasts. Their range extends from the Murchison River in Western Australia to Myall Lake in Victoria and they are also found in the tidal rivers of Tasmania and around Flinders and Kangaroo islands. They are also occasionally found in coastal waters, particularly in the Gulfs regions of South Australia.

They almost never leave our estuaries unless flushed out to the ocean during extreme flooding. Even then they normally remain in the freshwater flush just outside the estuary mouth, and move back in as the flow slackens. Sometimes bream travel far upstream into fresh water and obviously are not restricted by fluctuating salinity or temperature.

However, they seem to prefer brackish waters in the middle to upper sections of estuaries. They are found in salinities ranging from virtually freshwater to 35 parts per thousand and favour snaggy and rocky areas of habitat, often congregating around structures such as jetty and bridge pylons, or submerged snags such as fallen trees.

Black bream are described by marine scientists as opportunistic feeders. In estuary systems like the Swan & Canning they use their peg like teeth to prise mussels, barnacles and tubeworms from rocks, piles and pylons. They also consume small crabs and river bloodworms, and will hunt small fish and crustaceans such as river prawns.

There is little mixing of individuals between geographically isolated estuary systems. Because of this it is highly likely that every river has its own unique genetic stock of bream. Indeed, several such pockets of mutant bream have been identified all across WA – particularly in recently land locked waters.

One characteristic that appears to be the result of breeding within isolated population is the size at maturity. Some estuaries appear to produce bream that spawn younger, or at smaller sizes than others. Bream in some estuaries also grow faster than bream in others, and possibly reach larger sizes.

Spawning times vary according to environmental cues in each system. Triggers for spawning include temperature and salinity, the level of oxygen in the water, and the availability of suitable habitat.

In the Blackwood River (Augusta) bream apparently spawn between September and December, but in Leschenault Inlet (Bunbury), Wonnerup (Busselton) and Oyster Harbour (Albany) they spawn from mid-July to November. Just for a change, in the Swan estuary spawning takes place between August and November, with October-November apparently the peak months.

Bream complete their entire life cycle within the estuary and are therefore considered a true estuarine species. The majority of the population normally lives in the upper reaches of rivers, but migrates downstream into the middle estuary and lower reaches during winter rains. In spring the bream form into schools and migrate back upstream to spawn in the middle to upper estuary.

Like many fish, bream of similar size tend to school together, but fish of various sizes aggregate for the spawning migration. The number of eggs released by the female bream varies, depending on the size of the fish. Studies have indicated a range of between 13,000 and more than 600,000, but it’s possible that really big females produce more than one million.

Bream eggs are thought to sink (demersal), and can be found in great abundance in areas where spawning has been most intense. After hatching the tiny fry feed in schools on shallow weed flats, which act as nurseries and offer protection for the juvenile fish.

Swan-Canning estuary bream grow rapidly: One study suggested that fish in their first year increased in length from 4.8cm to 6.6cm in just one month during summer. Growth slows during winter, no doubt due to reduced temperatures and the effects of freshwater flushing. Bream in the Swan River reach maturity at 2-3 years of age and about 20cm in length.

They are quite simply an awesome fish. Anything that can survive for over twenty years, numerous toxic spills, algal blooms and thousands of fishing lines and nets, right in the shadow of a big city commands respect. However the bream in one system are genetically diverse to those in another river. Which means that spawning times, age of maturity and the overall age can differ.

How To Catch Them

On light line they are easier to hook but harder to land. On heavier lines there are harder to hook but easier to land, it’s a trade off you need to assess depending on where you are fishing. We can’t think of another fish off hand that takes a bait like a black bream does except perhaps Sooty Grunter which are a type of perch caught in the north and are actually called black bream by locals.

They pick the bait up and will swim off a short distance with it in their mouth and then stop, spit it out and move it around. They will do this maybe three or four times before taking it properly, strike early and you’ll lose the fish. It goes against all your fishing instincts and it’s an agonising wait but it’s probably the single biggest reason why people miss hookups on bream. It’s quite intriguing to watch bream do this with baits in big tanks at the local fishing shows.

Bream eat a lot of things with sharp pointy bits. Essentially they are scavengers and will eat a wide variety of things so it makes good sense to be versatile as they have been caught on just about every bait imaginable.

To name just a few baits bream have been caught on, river prawns, bony herring, blood worms, earth worms, shrimp, mullet strips, mulies, chicken gut, corn kernels and bread. It pays to go fishing with a few options and you can always try to start off fishing with different bait on each rod to see what they prefer at the time. They can be very picky at times, as sometimes they can total ignore fresh baits and go crazy on brought frozen baits.

The most popular bait used is river prawns but many anglers have their own favourite baits. This is why bream caught in estuaries seem to have larger flatter teeth for grinding down mussels and tough baits. While those bream in more freshwater rivers which have an abundance of softer food like prawns and small fish seem to have longer pointier teeth.

For an easy release of juvenile fish, we use a Gamakatsu Shiner #4 hook with the smallest weight possible. Don’t be afraid to use a running ball sinker directly to the bait as bream are used to pulling food from rocks and the like but keep it as small as is practical.

Lures and flies also make up a big part of our bream chasing nowadays. Some dedicated lure fishers swear that lures outfish baits for the most part and evidence suggests they could be right. Look for an article in this issue for more info.

When picking a spot to fish, look for snaggy areas up river or pylons including Canning Bridge, The Causeway, Mt Henry and The Narrows. Winter rains flush the bream downstream to saltier water and you will find big fish around the Perth yacht clubs.

When fishing the larger bridges, don’t be afraid to cast and slowly retrieve because this method can produce great success on a rising tide when the fish are hungry.

Bream can be very aggressive and will happily attack a moving bait. During summer, it’s worthwhile walking along the foreshore in the Midland / Guildford areas tossing unweighted prawns at snags. This is a deadly method and there are more fish there than you think.

We think that’s what makes them so much fun to target. There are no definites and they constantly surprise. It’s what keeps people going back.

How They Fished In 2004

Most towns in WA reported a very good bream season over the last 12 months but the latter part of 2004 seemed quieter than expected in Perth.

The Swan took a lot of punishment from pollutants and while good fish were still caught, most were expecting a better season. South West rivers, and Walpole in particular, fished very well.

What We Learned In 2004

A better question is what didn’t we learn? The dedicated band of lure fishers that now electric their small boats along the reaches of the Swan have learned more about bream in 12 months than we’ve probably learned in 12 years previous.

The first thing we’ve learned is that bream are hunters and not just scavengers. They will hit lures, sometimes even poppers and metals plus hard bodied minnows and the old favourite soft plastics.

They feed on banks and flats just as often as they feed around pylons and this makes them loads of fun, especially around places like Walpole.

We also learned that there are countless southwest waterways full of stonking great bream yet to even see more than a few humans and they’re hungry.

We certainly learned that blokes will spend wife losingly large quantities of cash to catch them on funny looking little plastic things and have a ball doing it. And why not.

One thing that we did learn is some great new ideas for chasing bream if you’re a beginner or family who just wants to enjoy bait fishing and it’s all about Jelly Bean Baits.

Over the last 18 months, people have been talking about the jelly bean theory of lures. This might initially sound like you’re talking about bright colours but we’re actually referring to a part of human nature.

The theory goes that if fish aren’t feeding hungrily, you need to switch to smaller lures. Why? Well imagine that you’ve just scoffed down a four course meal and somebody offered you a hamburger. Almost everyone would politely refuse but if you were offered a jellybean you’d probably take it.

How does this refer to fish? Well let’s say that they aren’t feeding or feeling overly hungry but a tiny little lure wanders past them. They might just snaffle it anyway or that’s how the theory goes.

This has mainly been applied to lures but recent experiences with tank kept fish have had us thinking this way for bait fishing as well.

Steve was recently lucky enough to score a huge fish tank from somebody that didn’t want to maintain it any more.

It came with three bream which I wasn’t particularly keen to keep on and arranged to have them adopted out to another friend.

But his tank wouldn’t be ready for a couple of weeks so I had to feed these little 15cm fish something. So what do bream eat? Prawns I guess and off I went to the tackle store to buy some river prawns. Returning home, I tossed some whole prawns in the tank and left them to it.

But the bream didn’t eat them. They poked about with the prawns and nibbled a little but they wouldn’t swallow them. Bugger. Alright, it seemed like they were too small to eat the whole prawn so I chopped one up into small pieces and threw them into the tank.

This time, the bream sucked the baits into their mouths but they’d spit them out soon after and then suck them in again and spit them out again until, eventually, they’d sucked all of the meat out of the shell. Heads? They wouldn’t even look at them.

So I shelled the prawns and chopped them up and threw them in. BANG! Down the guts in a flash and they were looking for more. So what does this tell me as an angler? I thought back to how many bream I miss when fishing whole prawns from the shore so maybe it was time to adjust my technique?

I started showing friends my bream and how they messed around with whole prawns and shells and they too were amazed. Several of them went out and tested this theory by going down to smaller hooks and tiny soft baits and guess what? They caught almost twice the number of fish they had been catching!

Now I had to try for myself so I headed to Maylands and sent some whole prawns on a wide gap #6 over the dropoff. Pick, pick, pick, run, pick pick, run. Back came the bait with no head and no fish.

So changed to a tiny #8 Gamakatsu Octopus with just a quarter of a shelled river prawn and sent it down. What happened next amazed me because the first run almost pulled my rod into the drink and I went on to last 4 fish out of the 4 runs I had over the course of an hour.

Yes, you will catch a lot more juvenile fish but between about 6 of us we’ve landed bream to 35cm using this technique when others on the same patch caught nothing.

Jelly bean baits. If you haven’t tried them it’s time to at least give them a run on your next trip and I’m prepared to bet your catch rate goes through the roof.

Prospects For 2005

The prospects for the bream in 2005 look bleak but only from the point of view that there’s a huge amount of blokes out there that understand them a lot better. Having said that with tongue in cheek, 95% of them never kill a bream and this is a wonderful situation that we encourage greatly.

The fish seem to be about in good numbers in all waterways except The Blackwood which is pretty hard work but still, with local knowledge like Bill Anderson on your side, fish are more than possible.

Most rivers without professional fishing pressure seem chock full of blackies and we have great hopes for the future of bream and the sport.

How To Rig Your Line To Catch Them