Starlo's breamin essentials
With several important BREAM Tournaments coming up on the Tasmanian calendar, we figured it was high time to hear from a regular competitor on how he prepares for these events. In addition to being one of the country's most prolific angling journalists and TV presenters, Steve Starling is a high-profile regular in the ABT's National BREAM Series, and a former top-three cash prize money earner on the circuit. He was also NSW Team Captain in 2001 and 2002, NSW BREAM Angler of the Year (AOY) in 2001, NSW AOY runner-up in 2002, Victorian AOY in 2002 and is a dual National BREAM Circuit tournament round winner. So, when Starlo talks about his list of "essential" gear for competing in these events, it pays to listen! Here's what he had to say when we asked him about this important subject:
My list of "essentials" - things that always go into the boat at the beginning of each ABT BREAM Tournament session - varies somewhat with the passage of time. In particular, my collection of rods and reels and my lure inventory fluctuates a little. Since becoming involved in the design, testing and marketing of the Squidgy range of soft plastics, I tend to use these lures almost exclusively, but I certainly acknowledge that there are plenty of other great plastics out there and I've done really well in the past on Sliders, Atomics and XPS, to name a few.
When it comes to rods and reels, I like to have at least four and preferably five top-notch outfits rigged and ready to go. This is not so much because I want a different lure option on each (sometimes they'll all carry exactly the same Squidgy tail and head combo!), but rather because I want to be straight back into the action if I break off on a snag, get shredded by a fish or suffer a serious tangle. Hot bites often last for just minutes during a seven hour session and you need to optimise your in-water time. I can swap to a back-up outfit in seconds if I need to.
On the reel front, I've been a Shimano man for over 20 years and see no reason to change. Stellas, Twinpowers and Sustains dominate my line-up, but the new Aernos Oceania is an amazing piece of kit for the price, and I'm really enjoying using one of these, too.
Like so many other regulars on the circuit, I have relied heavily on Ian "Barra" Miller's custom rods, or on factory-rolled sticks designed by Ian and made by Shimano. I had a lot of input into the new Starlo Stix Tournament Pro Lite-Spin and it's an absolute cracker of a stick for around $200. Two of these have now permanently joined my tournament arsenal.
In the line department, I still can't go past Berkley Fireline. I previously had most of my bream reels and spare spools filled with 4 lb and a few with 6 lb, in a mix of yellow and grey, and I swap around according to conditions, but now I'm getting right into the new Crystal Fireline and loving it. I replace my Fireline pretty frequently (especially the Crystal stuff, which does crack up a bit with heavy use). It's not cheap, but it is the best and you need new, fresh line in a tournament. I also have one outfit on hand spooled with what Bushy and I call "the scringy line of doom" - in my case, 2 lb Vanish fluorocarbon or 3 pound Nitlon. I hate being forced to use this stuff in a competition scenario, but its ultra-finesse has won me a couple of important rounds and scored me vital extra fish or upgrades in many others.
For leaders, I once used a lot of Stren Magnathin and Scientific Anglers fluorocarbons, but am now mostly using Nitlon or Rockfish, and I carry a range of diametres for different scenarios and conditions.
An accurate measuring device and set of electronic scales are important for upgrading and I sometimes run a single-float fish marking system where I always attempt to tag the smallest bream in my live well at any given time, so I know which one to high grade. This system is far from perfect, but it's less time consuming (at least initially) than a multi-float system and I reckon it's also kinder to my fish.
Finally, speaking of looking after your fish, I wouldn't touch a bream with any net other than my Dave Irvine Environet. I hate knotted mesh nets - they're real fish killers.
Oh, and one last thing - I don't leave the ramp these days without my Casio wristwatch and also a cheap alarm clock, both synchronised with the official time piece for the comp'. I've been late back in the past, and that time penalty thing really hurts!
Here's Starlo's basic checklist of essentials (excluding rods and reels) for each BREAM Round:
Bait fishing for monster bream
1 x large box of Squidgy Fish and Squidgy Wriggler soft plastic tails in the two smallest sizes and full range of colours
1 x box of assorted lead-head jigs, primarily Squidgy Round Heads and Squidgy Finesse Heads
1 x box hard-bodied micro-minnows, primarily Ecogear SX-40s, Attacks and Deception Palaemons in a range of colours
1 x spool of Nitlon in six breaking strains; 6 lb, 8 lb, 10 lb, 12 lb, 14 lb & 16 lb
1 x Environet landing net
1 x Rapala Electronic Scales (8 kg model)
1 x Alvey plastic measuring rule
1 x small bobby cork on short tether with clip to use as high grade indicator
1 x Stormy inflatable PFD vest
2 x pairs long-nosed pliers
2 x pairs of braid scissors
2 x pairs of Maui Jim polarised sunglasses (in case one is lost or broken)
1 x Casio Seapathfinder wristwatch
1 x cheap travel alarm clock
Bream are arguably one of the most popular fish in Australia as they have the lot. They are great fighters and are readily easy to catch, which makes them a great fish for kids. In the north of the state we have several estuaries with super sized southern black bream. The fish are not as thick as the east coast estuaries such as the Scamander River or the Swan River but a little time and effort is worth its while and very rewarding.
Bream are opportunist feeders, just like Snapper. They eat a wide variety of food. Their mouth is designed for crushing hard food such as mussels, pippis and crustaceans but they will also have a go at bait fish as well. Locations vary from estuary to estuary. For example the fish out of the Tamar seem to eat solely crabs where the fish from Pipers River tend to eat pippis. They adapt to their location and take what is available. What I have found with my bream fishing experience is that my bigger fish have normally been taken in very shallow water and are nearly all caught on an incoming tide. Don't be scared to try in under one metre of water. Big bream tend to hang out in areas where gummy sharks and sting rays are caught. Their main diet is also crabs.
Time of the year
I have normally targeted the bream in the Tamar River in the warmer months but this year I fished through the winter. I fished many cold mornings and evenings and found that the winter and early spring was very productive for the bigger fish. The months that I would normally fish for bream were October, November and March. A friend of mine by the name of Steve Robinson caught a 2.7 kg fish in April in reasonably cold water. The bigger fish we caught this season were caught in a water temperature of only 11 to 12 degrees so don't pack your gear away when it gets cold.
Bream can be caught on many baits from prawns, pretty fish, garfish to squid. They all work really well on small to medium sized fish. We have found big crabs work a treat on the larger fish. We use big velvet crabs which are found around the rocky shores. They are a purple colour and have a back about the size of a 50 cent piece with a creamy coloured nipper. Once you have collected your crabs break the nippers off them as this will stop them from burrowing into the mud. I also break one of the back legs off the crab. This is where I enter the point of the hook.
I use a larger hook than most bream anglers as I find that it works far better when you are releasing the fish. It will also stop toad fish and other small pickers from getting hooked. I have been using a 2/0 Gamakatsu octopus and a 3/0 O'shaughnessy. Both of these hooks are very strong and are razor sharp. Big bream can break a smaller hook very easily with their crushing jaws.
When I was growing up I was taught to use the finest leader on bream and that you couldn't catch them on a thick heavy leader. I have found this to be wrong!!!! After fishing this season amongst masses of toad fish and 2 to 7 kg gummy sharks I got sick of being bitten off and snapped off due to leader damage. So I have got rid of the clear 9lb leader and tied on a thick green 10kg leader. From then on I have landed more bream . I think this is due to less leader nicks. Even the small bream didn't seem to mind the green leader and the big hooks. I have caught a few fish around 250gm using this rig. It makes you wonder about these expensive fluro carbon leaders! I know that it won't be something that I will be using.
The sinkers that I use are one ounce snapper leads for the big bream. They cast really well and hold on the muddy bottom. Around the full moon the tide runs extra strong so I go up to a 2 ounce. So much for light sinkers being the best! I feel the bigger fish don't really care about your sinker as they are looking at your bait. A heavy sinker gives you more control of where your bait is positioned when the tide runs hard.
I use a running sinker rig with an extended sinker dropper as it casts better than a standard running sinker rig and helps keep your line, sinker and bait from being buried in the mud. I also use a longer leader than most bream anglers. If toadies bite my hook off I still have plenty to retie another hook over and over again without having to change my leader.
Rod and reel
A big bream rod needs to have a strong butt section with a soft tip and be around 7 foot long. I like the Shakespeare range. These are the rods that I would recommend for super size bream, an Ugly Stick SP70/A2 and a SP1170/2M. Both of these rods will handle big gummies as well as big bream. A spinning reel around the 2500 to 4000 size is ideal spooled up with 10 lb Berkley fireline. The reel must have a smooth drag.
Reel in gear and in the rod holder
I learnt this technique from hooking snapper from Geoff Wilson (snapper fisho and author of best selling Fishing Knots and Rigs). I have applied it to big bream and it seems to work a treat. I have my bail closed with 1 kg of drag set on my reel. Big bream hit very similar to big snapper and if you have your reel in free spool you will miss hits.
So don't pick your rod up until it is buckled over and your drag is growling off line.
Chasing big bream in our states Northern estuaries is not for everyone. You are not going to come home with a fish every time but don't be disappointed because when you do catch that elusive fish it makes it all worth while.