One of the most famous scenes from the classic Australian movie ‘the Castle’ is the courtroom scene. A small town lawyer tries to stop an aussie family’s house from being re-possessed by the nearby airport. He constructs his case around ‘the vibe of the thing’ and a tenuous link to Mabo (a famous native land title case for indigenous Australians). What’s the relevance of this scene to a fishing blog? One; because I needed an excuse to construct a title with the word ‘vibe’ in it. Sorry. Two; there are a lot of bream lures on the market and we used quite a few of them last weekend. But the vibes, well they just worked, when the others largely didn’t. And lastly, I can imagine a hard working bloke like Darryl Kerrigan and his lawyer mate Dennis coming from a small town like Mallacoota. And I mean that with all due respect – these guys are champions! And it is Mallacoota, just south of the NSW and Victorian border where we rejoin our anglers as they embark on a journey to catch black and yellowfin bream on vibes last weekend.
Day 1 – Catching a bream on a vibe
- Find the fish on the sounder
- Go light or go home
- Awful weather can result in great fishing for bream
We were greeted with gloomy skies but light winds as we pushed off from the boat ramp. We had 4 blokes shared across two small boats. But where to go first? For those that haven’t been before, Mallacoota is a huge tidal estuary and it is pretty daunting to know where to start. With a little research the night before, mostly consisting of watching youtube and reading local fishing reports, we had a few spots in mind like the ‘narrows’, the ‘second narrows’, double creek, something sands and so on. We also had one of the most invaluable tips you can get when searching all of this water for feeding bream in deep water … but more on this in a moment.
We motored over to the first spot and attracted by some likely looking lumps on the sounder, deployed the electric motor and started casting small metal vibes (1/8oz and 4grams) into the murky depths. On the third cast my little silver vibe was sucked up off the bottom while momentarily at rest. After a spirited fight a beautiful 32 cm bream was in the net. This winter bream thing is easy! Or is it? Pumped up by the early success, it almost goes without saying that the next 60 minutes were incredibly quiet. The occasional tap on the drop, a bump when the lure was sitting on the bottom but no aggressive strikes and no hookups. This was the first evidence that the leader line was playing a role in how many bites we got. I had several knocks and bumps and a hookup on 3lb test. My fishing partner in crime, fishing with 6lb leader had nothing at all. After an hour, he had seen enough and promptly down-sized to 3 or 4lb. Shortly after he caught his first bream.
By now it was mid morning and the winds had arrived with a vengeance. The main basin was no place to be in a flat bottomed 4m boat so we sought shelter higher in the system. After a spine jarring ride over the waves we finally got some respite in the lee of the surrounding forest. Here, nestled into the bank of the main channel we found a lumpy rocky bottom with a weedy edge. It looked pretty fishy and it was. The flathead were lined up in this area. They weren’t big fish but any flathead on 3lb leader is a heart-in-mouth encounter and you’re never quite sure how it is going to turn out. It’s a little like trying to buy beer with a fake ID. You might get away with it for a while or you might lose your $20 on your first attempt and end up with nothing. Armed with rows of abrasive teeth, flathead can similarly souvenir your favourite bream lure. From memory, we lost just the one but had a ball catching 3 more each. Some of these would be coming home for the table. As the flathead bite slowed we tried lots of different spots and lots of different techniques searching for more bream but were reasonably satisfied to have at least caught a bream or two each and a few flathead.
By 4pm the sun was low and the wind was still whipping up white caps across the lake. In short, it was bloody awful, freezing cold, dark and windy. There was only one place we had found bream all day, so with nothing else left to try we returned to our first mark and braced ourselves for the onslaught of wind. This time we deployed the sea anchor (drogue) to slow our drift and try to maintain some contact with the vibes. We also upgraded to heavier lures (1/6oz and 6 grams); no point trying to finesse fish under these conditions. Little did we know, barely able to feel our fingers, that this last hour of the day would be the best fishing of the whole weekend. In short, the bream went silly. Pushed along by the wind and casting in front of the boat, we drifted so fast that it was only possible to get 3 or 4 lifts of the lure before drifting over the line. It didn’t matter. Bream starting hitting lures on the drop, when the line was slack and even just after the cast when no action had been imparted at all. It was impossible to keep the line taught on the drop, so often the first we would know we had attracted the attention of a nearby bream was when the rod suddenly buckled over on the next lift. We drifted over the spot 3 or 4 times and got bites every time. We pretended, somewhat immaturely, to be tournament anglers for a day, on a quest to see who could measure the biggest ‘bag’ of 5 bream. In the end the winning bag would go to my partner and look something like: 30, 32, 33, 35 and 36cm. A very respectable catch on any tournament day! Ultimately though, it didn’t matter. We had experienced a glimpse of the winter bream on vibes fishery and it was amazing. The other boat came over to our mark and cast into the same areas. As we watched one of the rods buckled and a long, drawn out tussle ensued. Eventually a big silvery and white fish was in the net. Wouldn’t you know it, it was a trevally. Still a great fish, but not the target species. They had just had one of those days.
So back to the hot tip. When we start to think about schooling fish we often think about a big ball of fish on the sounder, or at least lots of fish swimming around mid water. While these schools might be bream, the consensus was that these were not feeding bream. Feeding bream are scattered across the bottom, burrowing and searching for nippers, crabs, worms and tasty cockles. You can spend all day, as we now know, getting excited by schools of mid water fish only to discover that they either aren’t what we thought they were (mullet?) or they aren’t feeding. With this in mind, the whole bream on vibes thing makes a little more sense. Fish which are mooching and feeding along the bottom are more likely to be attracted to this small strange metal thing flitting up off the bottom just a metre or so before ‘dying’ and sinking back down. Most of the bites are felt on the drop or even while the lure is stationary.
That evening, we compared notes over a couple of cold drinks. What colours worked? Silver caught bream, tiger prawn caught bream, even green caught bream. The only thing we could definitely say was that metallic orange gold did not catch bream, but was dynamite on the flathead. Ultimately colour was probably far less important than all of the other variables. Especially casting to where fish were actively feeding and leader choice. All the bream on day 1 were caught on 3 and 4 pound leaders. Needless to say, both boats would be fishing with light line on day 2.
Day 2 – Recreating success
- Patches of feeding fish can be really small
- Fantastic weather can mean tough fishing for bream
- Choice of footwear is crucial
If you could ever get two more contrasting days, these were them. Our second day on the water was bright, sunny and glassy. The down-filled jackets came off, the jumpers came off, the moccasins nearly even came off. Nearly. Although if we had I’m quite sure we wouldn’t have caught anything – I’ll explain in a moment. We motored straight over to our new hot spot and flung vibes in all directions. Nothing. We tried tiny little hops across the bottom. We tried large aggressive hops. We tried dead-sticking; an interesting term for doing nothing. Still nothing. My partner got a couple of tentative hookups but couldn’t keep them on. The fish were still there on the sounder but they had just redefined the word tentative. We tried two or three more spots without so much as a sign of fish. Before we knew it it was 12:30 and we were getting skunked. So much for cracking the code?
We motored higher up the system at a sedate pace, watching the sounder. It was a slow and deliberate process but ultimately would pay dividends. The sounder eventually showed the same pattern of fish holding on the bottom. We started casting. My partner got one bite but again it didn’t stay on. His blood pressure was starting to rise faster than a climate scientist being told that climate change isn’t real. To make matters worse – I hooked up. This fish felt heavy and wanted to run. Scared of popping the leader I backed off the drag and in response the reel screamed and sung its delightful song. After a dogged but short fight the fish plopped into the net. It was the bream of the trip measuring just a smidge below the magic 40cm mark. In some respects it was mission accomplished – I was a happy boy. My boating partner meanwhile had already returned to casting.
His diligence paid off and he too soon had a fish in the net. It was only small but the relief was palpable after a frustrating morning of bites and failed hookups. He would go on to catch two or three more for the day, including a fat 36cm fish and it was smiles all round. We worked really hard for these fish, making dozens of casts per bite but the rewards were there. The interesting thing to note, similar to the first day where we repeatedly drifted over the same spot, is that the bream seem to congregate in quite small areas, perhaps 50m x 50m. This sounds like a lot, but it is very easy to drift off the spot with the current or wind and be casting into no-mans (no-breams) land.
On the way back to the ramp we investigated one more likely looking spot. A section of the river with deep cliffs on one side. While he worked the rock wall I cast into the channel. Still searching for patches of bream, the outfit was the same. 3lb leader and 1/6oz metal vibe. There was a small tap and then I lifted on solid weight. Based on the hit I was pretty confident it was a flathead and by the way it was holding down deep, I had a hunch it was a pretty good one. With only the lightest of leaders between me and the fish it was a slow and painstaking tussle, like trying to tempt an unruly horse back into its paddock with a handful of hay. There were equal parts coaxing and desperation. I got lucky by pinning the fish in the lip, thereby avoiding the teeth and it slowly, oh so slowly made its way to the surface. It was just under 60cm. Not a bad by-catch and after a quick photo was released to skulk back into its deep lair.
And now to lighter matters. Judging by this video (here) your choice of footwear is very important when winter fishing for bream. If local guide Captain Kev wears his sheepskin slippers while fishing, then who are we to disagree? This guy has probably forgotten more about bream fishing than we know. So on day 1, our boat was wearing moccasins and slippers. The other boat were wearing normal shoes, like grown ups. We caught a bunch of bream. They, unfortunately did not. On day 2, they donned their slippers (as well as down sized their leaders I might add) and they both caught bream. Case closed. Footwear is crucial when bream fishing. My prediction for next years Australian Bream Tournament (ABT) series is a spike in anglers wearing Ugg boots. You read it here first folks.
There are a lot of bream lures on the market and we used quite a few of them last weekend. But the vibes, well they just worked, when the others largely didn’t. Why they work is somewhat of a mystery. There are certainly more lifelike lures that can be hopped and scuttled across the bottom (the Cranka Crab for example), but they weren’t catching. In order to continue my tenuous link with the Castle, I guess ‘it’s just the vibe of it!’
Thanks for reading
Super fun weekend fishing with these boys – thanks lads!