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Triple Threat for Big Bream

Use these three techniques to load your stringer with bluegills.

Triple Threat for Big Bream

Catching bream with a fly rod is fly fishing in its simplest form. All that’s needed is a 7- to 9-foot light-action rod and a few popping bugs. (Photo by Terry Madewell)

Southern anglers get super serious about bream during spring, and for good reason. These prolific panfish are typically abundant in most lakes and rivers and are highly active in shallow water by May.

The common goal for most bream fishermen is to find fish on their beds and enjoy some of the fastest action—while catching the biggest bream—of the entire year. The big, bull bream guarding the beds typically bite aggressively, put up a heck of a fight and are excellent table fare. On light tackle that’s a trio of tremendous qualities.

But when bream aren’t bedding, and the beds that produced for you last week all of a sudden are void of fish, excellent options still exist to fill the stringer.

Bream can be caught when staging before and after spawning and also when actively feeding.

Employing a combination of the following three proven techniques will improve your bream fishing success throughout the summer season.

'Gills on Beds

Bream bedding is the go-to plan for most anglers, but when you go can make a big difference in bed-fishing success.

Bream can bed anytime but most bream experts are staunch advocates of the theory that the few days around the full moon are typically the best for bream bedding activity.

Most experts also key on bedding fish around the new moon as a secondary prime time. Scattered bedding activity can occur anytime regardless of the lunar cycle, but that bedding activity is often sporadic and much less dependable. You should go bream fishing whenever you can, but if you have a choice, go when the moon helps push the fish to the bed.

Between spawning efforts (and bream will make more than one such effort in the spring and early summer) other bream-catching alternatives are likely much more productive.

South Bluegills
Bream can be caught when staging before and after spawning and also when actively feeding. (Photo by Terry Madewell

The first step to enjoying fast-paced bream bed fishing is finding the beds. On your lake, if you’ve caught bream on specific beds in past years, then the first and easiest option is using that information to your advantage. Odds are good that the same general area, and perhaps that specific spot, will produce again. If you have prior knowledge of past bream bed locations, check those areas first.

The spawning process is simple to understand, but essential to success. The female bluegills deposit eggs and the males fertilize them. The males remain behind and guard the nests and it’s these much larger male bream that serious panfish anglers target. The male bream are very aggressive when guarding beds, making them easy to catch, provided you don’t spook them first.

You will catch more fish if you consider the factors that cause bream to select a spot for bedding. Bream beds don’t happen randomly: Bream target specific areas that have the right bottom composition and depth conditions for that particular lake or river.

Locate bream beds by searching protected pockets of water with hard bottoms, such as sand or small gravel. The depth at which fish will bed is usually relatively shallow, but is dependent on the clarity of the water. Lakes with dingier water will typically have bream bedding shallower than in lakes with clear water.

Bream will fan out a small crater-like bed in these areas, and many individual beds will occupy a single good “bream bed” area. If the water is clear, you can see these beds from a considerable distance. Using polarized sunglasses is good idea, because if you can see the beds before getting so close that your boat spooks the fish off the beds, you can position yourself properly to catch a lot more fish.If the water is too dingy to see the beds, search for them by slowly fishing along the shoreline, probing into every pocket and cove along the way.

A couple of proven techniques for finding beds include using light spinning tackle or long poles with a fixed length of line.

Many prefer light spinning tackle to cast live bait, such as worms or crickets, under a bobber ahead of the boat. By keeping the boat at about a 45-degree angle, two anglers can individually check different depths until a big male bream is caught, which is a good indicator of a possible bed site.

South Bluegills
Now is the best time of year to fill a stringer with bull bream. You’ll find fish both guarding beds and also actively feeding around structure. (Photo by Terry Madewell

A second technique that I’ve found works really well, especially when fishing weedy, shallow lakes, is to use a 12-foot-long lightweight pole often called a “bream buster.” Tie a length of 8-pound-test line just a few inches longer than the pole to the eyelet at the end of the pole and rig with a No. 6 wire hook, tipped with a cricket or red worm, a few inches below a small split shot. Place a small depth-adjustable bobber so the bait is just off the bottom in the area you’re fishing. With just a bit of practice, you can fish objects near the shoreline, as well as open-water weedy/woody targets, and very effectively work this rig in tight places.

When you catch a big male bluegill, immediately stop the forward motion of the boat. It’s best to fish the front edge of the bed first, working your way back through the bed. If you cast far back into the area where you suspect fish are bedding, then you’ll probably hook a big bream, but you have to fight it right through the bed, spooking other fish. They’ll usually return to the beds, but it takes a few minutes before the fast action returns.

Not all beds will be close to the shoreline. You’ll certainly catch some bedding fish near the water’s edge, but you’ll often be casting over a lot of big bream. I’ve found working the deeper water first and then progressing to the shallower water is a more productive plan.

It’s fine to key on woody or weedy cover, but you don’t have to have any cover to catch spawning bream. Egg survival is more critically dependent on the bottom composition and water depth than any other factors. A completely clean gravel or sand bottom can hold a large congregation of bedding fish. However, the presence of woody or weedy cover does give the fish a focal point. If a downed log, brush pile or weeds are positioned on that hard-bottom bedding area, so much the better in terms of having a definable target to fish.

Beyond the Beds

Fishing for non-bedding bream is a lot of fun and usually results in good numbers of fish. You can employ either of the above-described fishing techniques for fishing live bait, or simply cast small spinners on light tackle if you want to use just artificial lures.

But a couple of significant differences exist between fishing tactics for non-bedding fish versus bedding fish.

One is that when you target non-bedding fish, you’ll catch bream of all sizes, not just the big males guarding beds. Plenty of larger bream are still available in the shallows, you simply need to be prepared to cull early and often. Don’t settle for small fish; with a bit of perseverance you can still find limits of big bream.

The second difference is you are not restricted to prime bream-bed substrate areas in your search for fish. Substrate is important to bream for egg survival, but food and cover are most important to bream outside of the spawn. When bedding action ends, the big males scatter to multiple areas of the lake and will then readily relate to woody, weedy and rocky cover, depending on the makeup of the lake.

You can still find bream scattered in the area where they bedded, but they’ll be orienting to some form of cover and usually staging slightly deeper.

I typically refer to this type of fishing as “prospecting” for bream because the best technique is to fish multiple areas to find concentrations of fish. You may need to cover lots of territory while working any and all cover opportunities at multiple depths.

As a general rule, except for in low-light conditions, most experts agree bream will usually be in, or close to, slightly deeper water than where they bedded. That also means shorelines with a slightly steeper slope are now prime locations.

When prospecting, you can still expect to occasionally catch multiple bream from a specific target, such as a treetop, log or rockpile, but for much of the time one or two fish will come from each productive piece of cover. If the bites stop, move on.

Give ‘Em a Fly

One of the most often overlooked methods for catching bream is fly fishing. When bream are actively feeding and fairly shallow, a fly-rod-and-popping-bug combo is extremely effective. It’s fly fishing at its simplest, yet a highly productive technique.

I respect bream and love fishing for them, but remember we’re fishing for a species that usually has an extremely high population, and often all of them seem to want to eat at the same time. Just get a small popping bug near a bream in shallow water, and the odds of an aggressive bite are in your favor.

If you haven’t fished with a fly rod before, it’s simple and relatively inexpensive when the target is bream. Or, if you are a fly angler and want to introduce someone to the art, there’s no more forgiving teacher than a hungry bluegill.

A rocky shoreline that tumbles into deeper water, shorelines complete with overhanging limbs or a weed line edge that drops into deeper water are prime spots to check. Small popping bugs in almost any color will work, although white, black and yellow are three that are consistently productive. In low-light conditions (most experts prefer evenings), the bream are usually in feeding mode near the shoreline and around cover.

Bream will hide in and around the rocks, stumps, limbs or around any available cover to ambush forage. Get the fly or popper near the shoreline or an obvious ambush spot, and the results are typically immediate in a rod-bending sort of way.

An afternoon feeding area can provide action that is almost as fast-paced as bed fishing. If you find a mayfly hatch and you’re armed with a fly rod and popping bugs, you’re set to enjoy the ultimatetopwater bream-catching experience.

Fly rod fishing is a great way to cover a lot of territory while consistently catching fish. No re-baiting is necessary—it’s all about hooking and fighting fish.

Inexpensive fly rods and reels work fine for this fishing. Use rods in the 7- to 9-foot range rated for light action. Small poppers, sinking bugs (green is an awesome color from my experience) and sinking black ants provide a perfect trio of lures. You can expand from that as you become more experienced, but these will suffice to hook you into this exciting and incredibly fun method of fishing.

Whether you are fishing beds, prospecting or fly fishing, this trio of techniques will keep you on fish throughout the entire summer.

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