There are several species of bream that visit UK waters, but if you mention bream to most anglers it’s black bream that they think about.
The once numerous red bream shoals are now but a distant memory, although odd specimens do turn up, and another occasional visitor – which can arrive in numbers in some years – Ray’s bream, is perhaps less closely related and is often referred to as a member of the pomfret family.
Other occasional visitors to UK shores include bogue, Pandora bream, white bream and Couch’s sea bream.
Couch’s sea bream are rare visitors to the UK.
However, an increasingly regular, though apparently rather localised visitor is the gilthead bream, which can be found in some areas of the southwest and also Ireland, but which may be more widely distributed than is realised. Certainly there have been whispers of captures from certain areas in south Wales, although confirmation is hard to elicit.
Black bream are summer visitors and they are most common in the southern areas out to the western channel. Depending upon weather conditions they begin to arrive in mid to late May and hang around until the cold snaps of autumn.
Renowned for their fighting ability as well as their table qualities, they can be caught from boat or shore, with boat fishing usually seeing the bigger specimens landed.
Black bream visit our waters to spawn, favouring reefs or rocky ground to do so. Well-known marks like the Kingsmere Reef attract large numbers of the species, which have been commercially exploited to the extent that there is now a protection area in force on some of the reef.
Many anglers these days target bream mainly for their sporting capabilities, though the retention of two or three fish to eat is largely viewed as acceptable. Some anglers routinely return female bream, retaining the more vividly coloured male fish for the table. As well as the females being the more important carriers of eggs, bream are protogynous, meaning that females can change sex to males if there is a shortage of spawning partners.
Black bream are fond of structure – natural or man-made – and alongside rocks and reefs, black bream can often be found in the proximity of wrecks, piers and breakwaters.
They also come within range of shore anglers where there is little structure, and although they will appear off fairly shallow beaches, venues that shelve quickly into deeper water, such as Chesil Beach, tend to be more consistent.
Black bream are opportunistic and competitive feeders and can be caught on a wide variety of baits. Lug, rag, squid, fish strips, crab, cockle, scallop, mussel, razorfish and other baits will all catch, though they can be selective on occasion.
Most anglers like to offer fairly durable baits as the sharp teeth of bream can soon whittle away soft baits without the fish being hooked. Similarly, when targeting bream they will tend to concentrate on using baits that avoid species such as wrasse, which tend to inhabit similar ground.
For that reason a small strip of squid is often presented with other baits to produce a longer-lasting cocktail. Bait movement can attract bites, but leaving too much bait flapping loose will see the fish ripping all the bait from the hook if they can get a good grip.
Simple multi-hook flapper rigs are a popular choice. These offer the opportunities to give different baits a try while being more attractive due to having a bigger scent signature, and also having potential to present the baits off bottom where the bream can more easily see them. They also have a chance of having at least one hook with some bait left on it as the bream shoals attack!
Black bream are a true shoal species and they can arrive in numbers, giving lively and intense sport before rushing off to pastures new; this being another reason why multi-hook rigs are popular as it gives anglers a chance of exploiting these feeding frenzies while they last.
For shore anglers the modern Continental-style rods are a good choice as they allow easy casting with good bite detection, and also allow the bream to give a bit of a scrap. Fixed-spool reels match well with these rods.
Hooks need to be very sharp and also strong, but with fine wire. Size 2 going down to size 6 are best for this small-mouthed species.
From boats, if the water is not too deep and lighter leads can be used, the modern boat-style match rods or ‘tipster’ rods, again with fixed-spool reels, are a popular choice. This combination allows the angler to cast away from the boat, which can be a huge advantage. The longer rod also makes it easier to manipulate the rig to encourage bites.
While bream will often hook themselves, it can sometimes pay to strike at persistent rattles to really knock the hook home. Having achieved this, some bream anglers will leave a multi-hook rig out for a minute or two longer, with the intention of attracting another hook-up as the inquisitive fish come to investigate what appears to be a feeding shoal member.
The distinctive head of a gilthead bream.
Gilthead bream are even more localised than black bream, visiting the southwest and west of the UK, and southern and southwest Ireland, although they may be wider spread than is realised. They have a reputation as a terrifically hard-fighting species and have achieved cult status with some anglers.
Gilthead numbers usually peak in June and July, but some fish hang around through August, and based on catch reports these can be the bigger fish on average, with some into double-figures.
They can be caught from open beaches but this is hit and miss, and giltheads are usually targeted in estuaries and creeks as they arrive on the flooding tide. They appear to shoal as year classes, the result being that shoals are not numerous, often 10 or a dozen fish at most, and potentially a lot less if they are big, older fish.
Look for giltheads in the smaller offshoot creeks that feed into estuaries, as this is where the fish will head to in their search for crabs and worms dislodged by the incoming tide.
It’s worth considering that while the tide is moving, so will be the giltheads, and although they can be caught while on the move, the angler’s chances are better if they can find settled fish, usually around high water.
Tracking the fish into the narrower side channels can put you in with a better chance of finding a consistently feeding shoal, as the main channel will tend to have fish that are moving through to another destination. However, features that are in the main channel are worth investigating, as anything resembling a deeper pocket of water, an eddy-causing piece of structure or heavy weed growth can hold the attention of giltheads.
Giltheads can be found in very shallow water, however, stealth is a must as the fish can be easily spooked in shallow water, and a clumsy cast or careless shadow can see the fish vacate the area never to return. Even a seabird flying overhead can cause a shoal to scatter.
Overcast conditions reduce the fish-scaring potential of shadows, and also make it more difficult for the bream to spot you. Anything that breaks up the water’s surface and reduces visibility, be it drizzle, or light wind, is a bonus for the angler.
Light rods and reels are popular with gilthead anglers, but not so light as to lose control of these hard-fighting fish. The type of rods that coarse anglers would use for barbel or light carp fishing will have enough backbone, as will a typical ‘mullet’ type rod.
Similar hooks to those used for black bream can be used, but perhaps leaning towards being a bit larger and also heavier in the wire as the fish are a lot bigger.
Fluorocarbon snoods are a good choice for invisibility and toughness.
Ragworm is a popular bait.
Rigwise a simple single-hook rig on a running leger with as light a lead as can be got away with is ideal. This reduces fish-scaring splashes and offers less resistance to taking fish, while the use of a single hook is important with this hard-fighting species as multi-hook rigs would be a liability. Drilled bullets are a good choice as leger weights as these can allow the bait to move, which can attract the attention of the bream while also appearing more natural.
Worms and pieces of crab are the top baits as these are what the giltheads will be seeking out. However, accidental captures on breadflake are not uncommon, especially from some of the marks in the Channel Isles.
White bream have a distinctive black spot near the tail.
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