Black bream fishing East Coast style

Luck, persistence and live bait

With Michael Morse

Arrangements were finalised with Jack to fish the Scamander River for bream. Jack is known in the region as Zane Grey, for reading Westerns and for his exceptional recreational fisherman skills.


Fishing with Jack is a pleasure for his expertise was acquired as a professional fisherman in Bass Strait. During that time, professionals fished alone in small boats, with uncertain engines and a sail. Descriptively, he is a real life Ernest Hemingway character.

Bass yabbies and ghost crabs were to be the bait. At this stage there was not any inkling to indicate these arrangements were to later develop into a notable bream fishing experience - only occurring because of latent luck and a chance encounter.

Early December 1995 - Monday
A survey of a top yabbie ground indicated the low tide was in fact equivalent to normal high water. The condition caused by a combination of high low water and a stationary high weather pattern off the coast, making live bait collection impossible. Reluctantly frozen prawns were used. For the day, only two legal size bream were landed. Far less than expected and accordingly Scamander's reputation was digested.

Undaunted at the lack of success, surf fishing was selected to fill the void. While packing the surf gear, the bream equipment was inadvertently left in the car. Bait was purchased and by a lucky coincidence, a small piece of frozen garfish was included.

A perfect day for beach lovers, a terrible one for potential surf fishermen. The sky cloudless, not a breath of wind, the sea motionless and crystal clear. Once again, luck appeared to be out. However, to salvage something of the day, a few hours were invested checking a number of fishable lagoons in the area.

At the third reconnaissance stop, noting the low water capacity and not immediately comprehending what was being seen through the polaroids, bud suddenly realising what was thought to be a very large school of feeding sea mullet, were in fact very large bream. An estimation of fish size varied from a pound plus, to around five or six pounds. Quite unbelievable; a salt water Shannon rise were the confused thoughts.

An Olympian sprinter would have been impressed with the speed the bream gear appeared. On the first cast, the fish immediately headed for deeper water and out of sight. The line used was two kilo breaking strain without a sinker and a swivel attached approximately 30 cm from the hook. Subsequent casts and alternative baits failed to attract a fish.

In desperation a strip of garfish was slowly retrieved and bingo, pay dirt was struck. A four pound, nine ounce bream was landed, followed by another two of comparable size. Disaster then followed as the garfish supply was gone. Lures and recycled baits failed to achieve additional hook-ups.

Contact was made with Jack and another fishing mate, Ray. Looking at the size of the caught bream was enough evidence to support the unbelievable story. After swearing their wives to secrecy on the proposed fishing location, it was agreed to immediately revisit the lagoon. The return was made with ample supply of yabbies and crabs. The day was overcast with a strong Westerly.

Before hooks could be changed and a size one running sinker fitted to counter the wind, Jack had two bream in excess of two pounds in the bag. I followed with a just under five and a three pound, twelve ounce. One's luck must change! Ray was being the gentleman. The next five minutes was a blend of heaven and hell.

A very heavy fish took the yabbie bait and showed immediately a mind of its own by heading parallel to the shoreline, with all the strength of a locomotive. Jack and Ray spontaneously assessed the situation and retrieved their lines, freeing the area to play the fish. The Berkley Stinger light action rod took on the shape of a rainbow. The drag on the Abu Garcia Cardinal C4 reel was further loosened to compensate for the rapid build up of weed on the racing line. The reel sang a song that all fishermen appreciate and love to hear.

The loud encouragement from Jack and Ray would have put an opera chorus to shame. The fish, instead of turning left similar to the previous landed fish, turned the other way. More weed accumulated around the line. A directional change was the only chance. Of course, this didn't occur and the line parted with a resounding ping. Silence. Jack stated that the big fish was lucky. Ray commented that the big fish was very smart.

Hopefully the fish has thrown the hook to avoid being snagged by the trailing line and will live to fight another day. This statement is made with tears of disappointment in one's eyes as the fish if landed would have become a legend.

Two hours later the Westerly had grown from strong to gale force and a suggestion was made to move to a more sheltered area. Jack was heard to mutter something about fair weather fishermen. He had added a one pound three ounce luderick to the catch. In retrospect, these comments proved a damnation, as additional fish were not caught.

Back to the same location alone and used a number four long shank, chemically sharpened hook for yabbies and a number four nickel beak hook for crabs. Seven bream landed throughout the day. Interesting, individual fish were caught one hour apart. The first fish landed was the largest at four pound nine ounces and then in diminishing size. The last three fish were released.

All fish caught over the three days were in prime condition. A complete absence of undersize fish was noted.

On Reflection
An examination of Tasmanian tidal data showed the period had exceptionally high tides. Local enquiries revealed Council workers had breached the lagoon to lower the water level and the bright sunshine allowed the bream sighting. The theory is that the bream had schooled in anticipation of the high tides, naturally breaching the retaining lagoon sandbar. The workers, by lowering the water level, prevented the marriage. The frequency of catching, governed by the period, individual schools completed a territorial cycle.

Finally for bream fishermen, the same tides only occur twice during 1996. Guess where Jack, Ray and myself will be, with berley and heavier lines?

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