by Kevin Dallmier
There is no purer joy in angling than setting up shop on a spawning bed and catching bull bream until the cows come home. It is an unarguable fact – when bream are bedding, the fish are biting. On a good spawning ground, even a neophyte angler can catch fish like an old pro.
It is the rare angler who didn’t start their fishing career by catching bream, primarily bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcrackers). In bream, some anglers found all they ever wanted in a fish. These panfish are abundant, strong fighters for their size, usually willing to bite, and taste great when rolled in corn meal and deep-fried. Other anglers succumb to peer pressure over the years, and let the prize fish of their youth take a back seat to more glamorous species.
Whether you have stayed faithful to your first love or are pining to return to the simpler days of your fishing youth, a bream bed is synonymous with good fishing. When it comes to matters of procreation, bream are a gregarious sort. Instead of finding their own little love nest, they join in with their friends and neighbors to form colonies of individual spawning nests.
Sometimes bream construct their nests so closely to each other that the edges almost touch, but more typically, each nest is separated from its neighbors by a foot or two of unoccupied ground. This aggregate of spawning nests is known as a bream bed.
In all but the dingiest water, finding a bream bed is easy. Just use your eyes. Bream fan out a shallow depression in which to lay their eggs. Once the nest is fanned clean, the saucer-like depression often appears as a light spot on an otherwise dark background. Put together 50 or 100 of these individual nests, and the result is a pockmarked bottom that is hard to miss, once you know what to look for.
Bream typically form their spawning colonies in 2 to 6 feet of water over a firm bottom. If there are a few stumps around, that is better. Protected shorelines are favored over windswept ones.
So now that we know why, where, and how to find a bream bed, the big question is when. Many sunfish species are multiple spawners, meaning they complete several spawning cycles each year. In the South, the first spawn is likely to be in April, and you may find bedding fish as late as Labor Day. Lest Mother Nature make it too easy though, bream don’t spawn continuously throughout that time. For a few days every month, you expect to find bream hard on the beds. A bed that is a flurry of activity one day can be deserted just a week later, only to come back to life again when the time gets right.
So, when is the time right? Expert bream anglers have a quick answer for that question, and the answer is when the moon is full. These anglers bet their success on the firm belief that the best bream fishing is done on that moon phase. If all the other conditions are right, a full moon pulls bream onto the beds where they are easy pickings. Other conditions must be met though, including temperature and photoperiod (day length). Bream don’t spawn in cold water, and they don’t spawn in the middle of winter, when just a few hours of weak sunshine makes for a day.
Once the water is from 65 to 70 degrees, and the longer days of spring have arrived, the bream are ready to go. The last ingredient needed is the full moon. The moon is an extremely powerful force in the life of all living things. Although just like the sun, it rises, passes overhead and then sets every day with nary a thought from us, to a wild creature the forces of nature are not overshadowed by a clock, calendar or any other human contrivance that tracks the passing of time.
Lest you doubt the moon’s power, keep in mind that the moon’s gravitational pull is the driving force behind ocean tides all across the globe. If a force is strong enough to influence something so incomprehensibly immense as the planet’s oceans, then it likely affects every living thing on the planet too.
In legend and lore, many strange things are purported to happen on the full moon.
People turn into werewolves on a full moon. Delivery rooms are filled with women giving birth on the full moon. Murder and suicide rates skyrocket on a full moon. Plant your garden on the proper moon phase as described in the almanacs, and you will harvest a bumper crop.
None of these have been definitively proven to be true. On the other hand, science hasn’t been able to completely disprove the theory that the moon does, to some extent, influence the lives of all creatures.
Scientific studies of sunfish spawning haven’t singled out the moon phase as a primary factor of when the fish choose to spawn. Instead, the focus has been on temperature and other basic requirements. Still, as any experienced angler can attest, anecdotal evidence suggests that the moon is very important. Generally speaking, four days before and a few days after the full moon, bream are at the peak of spawning activity.
When bream are on the beds, they throw all caution to the wind and defend their territory against all comers. The complete focus on completing the task at hand, and the rambunctious approach to it, is what makes bedding bream so much fun.
Not to say bream can’t be caught when they aren’t spawning. Probing the deeper water and structure near a deserted spawning colony can result in good catches of panfish biding their time and feeding while waiting for the next full moon.
There is really no wrong way to fish for bedding bream. Put nearly anything in front of their nose, and it is likely to get eaten. Even tossing in a shiny bare hook may draw a strike.
Catching bream on a bare hook may be fun to try just so you can brag to your friends you have done it, but if filling a stringer is your goal, a couple of techniques are sure fire winners. A nickel-sized float, a few BB split shot, and a small Aberdeen hook is a rig both simple and deadly effective. Crickets make excellent bait, as do red wigglers. Weight the float so it just barely stays on the surface. This cuts down on the resistance the fish feels when it takes the bait, and better detects light nibbles.
If you prefer artificial lures, a small Beetle Spin can be just as effective as live bait. Start casting to the outer edges of the bream bed, and then work your way into the heart of the spawning area. A fly rod is also a great way to catch bedding bream. A 5-weight outfit and a handful of small popping bugs and sponge spiders are all you need. Don’t worry if your fly-fishing abilities aren’t trout stream caliber. Instead of being put off by a fly slamming down right on top of their heads like a rising trout might be, an obnoxious, in-your-face presentation often draws an immediate strike from bedding bream.
For all their aggressiveness though, there is
one way to ruin a good bream bed, and that is to get too close. Bedding bream may have loving on the mind, but they haven’t completely lost all of their senses. Get too close, and they spook, especially in clear water.
Sometimes when searching for active beds, not spooking them is almost impossible. By the time that you see the beds, the fish have seen you. No problem, just mark the location and continue on your search. When you have found enough beds to provide a day’s angling, you can return to the first one, and the fish will have returned once they settled down. Many anglers prefer to anchor their boat a good cast away from the bed just to ensure they don’t drift too close while fishing.
Although catching bedding bream can be like taking candy from a baby, don’t worry about taking home your legal limit. Bream are extremely prolific spawners, and their numbers need to be kept in check to prevent overpopulation and stunting. Keeping some fish not only provides you the main course for a meal fit for a king, it also helps ensure you have nice, stout bream to catch on future trips, not little bait-stealing runts.
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