When UK sea anglers talk about the summer species they like to target, many names are mentioned. From the lightning-fast mackerel to the huge leviathans like stingrays, we all have our warm weather favourites.
These are the fish we spend hot days and warm nights targeting, sometimes only resulting in a case of sunburn, but at other times they play ball and we leave the session with a huge grin and with a target achieved.
One of the summer species I love to have a crack at are black bream. These fish, as with all the bream species, are great fun to target, and once hooked they will give you a brilliant little scrap on light gear. Pound for pound in my eyes they are one of the hardest fighting fish we find on our coastlines.
Their cousins, the gilthead bream, grow bigger and are reputed to fight even harder. How I wish they were visitors to my part of the coast!
Black bream themselves are lovely looking fish. The females are silver in colour and unmistakable when you see them, but as for the males, these are almost like a totally different species of fish. Once caught they are never forgotten, with their stunning blue and green mating colours on their heads.
When I’m lucky enough to land one I always take a good few seconds to admire the fish before putting it back. They are one of my favourite species and I’m always keen to hear of the early arrivals as it’s a sure sign that summer is on its way.
The grapevine had suggested there might be a few bream about on the south coast, so when I received a message on my Facebook page inviting me out on a boat trip targeting these beautiful little chunks of dynamite I couldn’t resist. Weather permitting this was looking like it could well be a good day out, and the closer we got to the day of the trip the winds started to look spot on, happy days! On the day before the trip I received the confirmation that we were going, to say I was excited would be an understatement.
The plan for the day was sent through to me and it transpired we would be fishing on the charter boat Moonstone, moored in Littlehampton and skippered by Alan Milford, we were going to be travelling out between five and six miles and fishing the famous bream hotspot known as Kingsmere reef.
Nigel Holt with an early fish.
This reef is a large area of broken ground consisting of many rocky ledges and outcrops and it can be a very tackle-hungry venue. However, it holds a massive amount of bream in the spring and summer months that come here to breed. On a nice calm day this area can be easily spotted, with every man and his boat descending upon its bream-laden waters to try and plunder a few silvery chunks from the depths.
Along with the bream there are also a lot of wrasse and bass that inhabit the area, some going into specimen size, that will keep your rods bent.
Baits for bream fishing couldn’t be simpler. Now, you can go down the route of the more expensive peeler crab and worm baits, but one of the best attractants for bream is squid strips. A £4 bag of dirty squid is all you need; cut this into little thin strips no wider or longer than your little finger and hook them onto a small hook in sizes 1 to 4 and hey presto, bream here we come.
Squid, black lug and crab – top bream baits.
Rigs for bream don’t have to be silly technical either. A simple two to three-hook flapper is in my eyes the best rig, and this was to be proved to be the case on the boat on the day we went.
As my alarm sounded at 4am on the Saturday when we were going I laid there for a few seconds until my brain finally sparked into gear, BREAM!
This was enough to fire me out of bed, grab my stuff and start to make the journey to Neill Ellis’s house and meet up with him and Adam ‘Batman’ West to carry on the rest of the journey to Littlehampton. Once loaded into Adam’s car we were off on the final leg of the trip, and with the roads clear we were soon at our destination.
We quickly unloaded the car beside the marina and had a wander over to The Hook, a fishing tackle shop that’s directly opposite where the boats are moored and is a great place to pick up any last minute items you may need for your trip.
We were soon joined by Nigel Holt, Tony and his mate, and we loaded our stuff on the boat and started to sort our tackle out before we left. As we did there was a constant stream of boats heading out, an armada of charter and private boats all looking for some action out in the sun. The skipper soon joined us and we were on our way.
The wind was non-existent to start with and the sun was beaming down. With my shades on I leaned back on the side of the boat and soaked up the atmosphere. The boat was steaming along now at a good pace, and with the whine of the engines and the high expectations of the day ahead a smile crept across my face. I just hoped the fish were going to play ball.
We soon arrived at the mark, around five miles out. It had taken no time at all to reach and the skipper quickly had us anchored into position and we were good to go. My plan of attack was to fish a two-hook flapper for the bream, baited up with either squid, fresh crab or some frozen black lug I had found in my bait freezer the night before. I also intended trying a larger bait at some time during the day with bigger hooks, trying for anything big that may be lurking among the bream.
My flapper rig consisted of two 20lb snoods with size 2 Kamasan B940M hooks on the business end. I baited up with squid to start and dropped it off the back of the boat; after bouncing the lead for a short time I settled the tip and sat back awaiting a customer.
First in was Neil, and he quickly got the fish up to the boat. It turned out to be a little wrasse. He unhooked the fish and released it back into the briny depths, delighted to have beaten the dreaded blank.
You can tell that this is a male bream by the blue flashes of colour.
Neil then had a quick flurry where he had a couple of lovely female bream fall to his rod, then it was my turn. My rod showed a typical little snatchy bream bite. Picking the rod up to feel for the next few rattles I didn’t have to wait long; feeling the fish snatching at the bait again I wound down and hooked the fish, and could feel it putting up a spirited little scrap.
Neil Ellis was catching well.
She was soon being swung over the side for a few pics and the bait was sent back down to the bottom. We were all getting bites and fish now, and there must have been a few fish down there.
Judging by the other boats around us the skipper had put us on the hotspot, as we were getting into a lot more fish than them. After a while I decided to try crab on the flapper instead. This can sometimes pick up a bigger fish and I fancied tussling with a bigger specimen.
Half a small peeler was baited on each and I flicked it out. It didn’t take long before something started showing interest and a fish was on! After a short but nice little scrap my first ballan wrasse of the day was on board. It wasn’t to be my last either, with me earning the title of ‘Wrasse Man’ by the end of the trip!
I opted for crab again on my next drop down and soon had a typical bream bite registering on the rod tip.
Striking into the fish I could feel that this was a bit better and through the clear calm water I soon saw him coming up. First to show was the silver flank, but as he got closer I could see the brilliant blue and green flashes on his head. What a beautiful looking fish, and weighing in at 2lb 3oz he was to be my best of the day.
My next cast on crab resulted in another small wrasse, so I decided to go back on the squid strips and managed a couple more females before it quietened down a bit for me.
This was when I changed tactics to a straight running leger with 3/0 Varivas Big Mouth hooks baited with a whole fresh crab. Use it or lose it is my motto!
Yet again it didn’t take long for a clonking bite to show and larger ballan wrasse was boated, followed shortly by another. That was all my crab gone then, so it was back on the flapper and squid strips.
Nigel was next into a bigger fish and by the fight on his rod this was no bream. Through the water we could soon see the unmistakable shape of a surprise smoothhound, and to be landed on light bream gear it was a job well done.
Everybody was getting into bream by now, with a steady amount coming to the boat and a few double shots for most of us as well, but after a while the sport started tailing off. After a lovely cup of tea made by the skipper he decided to up anchor and head off to another mark a little way away, to try our luck there.
Adam West with a lovely specimen.
Once baited up we were all soon back in the water. The wind was getting up now and the sea was starting to get lumpy, but within a minute of being at the new spot Tony was into fish, a double shot of a lovely male bream and a small wrasse, then Neil called over that he had something nice on and the bend in his rod showed it was no little ’un. Once up on the surface the fish was estimated at around 4lb-plus, but before it could be netted the hook pulled. The look on Neil’s face said it all!
Another one safely in the net.
The fish at this second mark were all definitely larger fish, with nearly all being brightly coloured males. Alan, the skipper, clearly knew his stuff and he had put us bang on the money again as soon as sport dried up at the other spot.
The sport was still coming at a steady pace, with bream coming to most of us on the boat. I wasn’t doing too well at this second spot, I just couldn’t hook into the bites, but Adam to my left was getting into them regularly.
With the wind getting up and the sea getting rather bouncy the skipper decided to call it a day; we pulled anchor and headed back towards land.
The trip back was wet, to say the least, as spray was washing over from the front of the boat with every wave we hit, but that couldn’t put a dampener on what was a cracking day.
With well over 50 bream between us plus wrasse, pouting, dogs and a smoothhound we were all very happy chappies and I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip out to the same mark.
What a brilliant day, with great company – trips like this just cannot be beaten.
Alan Milford, Littlehampton
Tel: 07847 206309
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