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Posted 23th May 2024

How to catch southern black bream: A complete guide

How to catch southern black bream: A complete guide
How to catch southern black bream: A complete guide

By Robert Thornton 

Bream are a highly ubiquitous resource in Australian fishing community, and the southern black bream are probably the most targeted and fished for of the three bream species.

Covering virtually the entire bottom half of the country, these wily little fish are a key reason the Aussie tackle industry even exists. The variety of environments they can be found in and the plethora of techniques they respond to make them a near perfect sportfish, and many of the country’s top anglers started their journey with these remarkable little fish.

In a previous blog I covered bream as a whole, however in this blog we’ll look specifically at black bream. We’ll look at where they live, how to find them, how to set yourself up appropriately, and of course, how to catch them!

The southern style

Black bream are very much a southern species, native only to the estuaries of southern Australia and some islands (including Tasmania). They range from around Shark Bay in the west to about Sydney in the east, and the entire coastline of Tassie, and this range overlaps with yellowfin bream. Hybridisation is said to be possible, however given the difference in how and when the two species spawn, hybrids are rare.

Black bream tend to spawn in spring and summer (with exact times depending on their latitude). Adult fish will swim to the upper tidal reaches of estuaries before dumping their eggs, which hatch after about two days. In contrast, yellowfin tend to spawn through winter, favouring the deeper channels toward the estuary mouths as their spawning grounds.

While they do share many qualities with their northern counterparts, black bream are prized for their larger average size, with areas like East Gippsland, Tasmania, and southern WA hotspots for big fish up to the 2kg mark.

They often sport an impressive bronze and sometimes almost black colouration (hence the name), especially when found in the dark tannin-stained estuaries that our southern states are famous for.

Finding black bream

Jesse Rotin from Melbourne is someone who’s fished for black bream his whole life. Whether he’s fishing interstate on the tournament circuit or just flicking a few lures in the heart of his hometown after work, he has a huge appreciation for these fantastic fish.    

“I love how accessible they are,” he says, “and you don’t need much to chase them.”

“When I was growing up, we did chase other species,” he goes on, “but in Melbourne most fishing is quite weather-orientated.”

“That’s where bream came in, because I could go out land-based at any time, even in pouring rain and howling wind – I’d just sit under a bridge and cast lures.”

Finding a place to chase black bream isn’t too difficult, but there are things to identify if you want to catch them consistently.

“When I get to a new estuary, I like to break things up,” Jesse explains, “people have their preferences, but I like structure.”

“In particular, I like to identify areas with man-made structure,” he continues, “but any structure like rock walls, pontoons, pylons, fallen branches and basically anything that supports the growth of mussels and barnacles, has crabs and shrimp and so on is good.”

“I like things that give the bream or the bait their feeding on a home.”

The bait Jesse is referring to could be any small organisms, ranging from small fish, shrimp and crabs to mussels, oysters and cockles. Even terrestrial insects, small reptiles and occasionally tiny mammals can be on the menu for larger black bream!

“Another way to find them is to go looking for them,” Jesse explains, “in most systems you can usually see them sitting under boats, around bridge pylons, amongst snags…”

“As it gets colder, however, they get often become harder to see,” he adds, “as they tend to sit deeper where the water temperature is more stable.”

How to catch southern black bream on bait

Bait fishing for black bream isn’t a difficult task, and just like their northern cousins they are pretty susceptible to a wide variety of baits.

Dead baits of fish flesh, squid pieces, mullet gut, peeled prawn and cured sandworms are considered top baits, however they will have a go at most bait items that emit a bit of scent into the water. Pieces of chicken, sausage meat and synthetic bait mixtures are also fine to use in a pinch.

For larger bream live baits tend to be the pick, with live prawns, Bass yabbies, sandworms, baitfish and crabs (where legal) just some of the better options.

Rigging is very straight forward, with a simple running sinker or paternoster rig consisting of a 2/0-no. 4 hook and a 10lb trace adequate in most scenarios. Soft-actioned rods with a fibre-glass component like the Beefstick 702LS are ideal for picking up the subtle bites and allowing the fish to engulf the bait without feeling too much residence. Graphite rods usually reserved for lure fishing are fine too, however you may need to give the fish some extra slack once they grab the bait. 

In summer when the fish tend to feed in shallow water, an unweighted rig can be the best way to target them, especially when they’re up in less than a foot of water.

As it cools, a paternoster is a more effective way of keeping your bait near the bottom, as they will sometimes sit in 3-4m of water.

How to catch southern black bream on lures

Chasing these fish on lures is where the fun really starts, and Jesse is very in tune with the different techniques that work best in the different seasons. As we went through before, black bream will tend to feed shallow when it’s warm and sit deep when it’s not, but for successful lure angling you’ll need to develop a more nuanced approach.

“When the water temperature is above 15C I like to look in shallower water,” Jesse says, “but if it’s under about 12 or 13C, I tend to look for deeper water where the temperature is more stable and the fish feel more comfortable.”

When targeting the shallows there are a variety of presentations that work, however Jesse has a couple of reliable techniques for when the fish are highly visible.

“I like to use something that covers a range of depths,” he explains, “and the 2.95” Flick is great for that.”

“I love rigging them on a hidden weight style jighead, as it helps it to give off a more natural sink, but it’s still nice and light.”

“If I do want to fish it a little deeper, all I have to do is slow down.”

Another highly successful presentation through spring and summer is any type of crab imitation, and the Risky Critter is a great fit for the southern estuaries.

“I usually chop 5mm off the front of the Critter to the first set of legs,” Jesse says, “and I’ve found that these things can catch fish from Queensland all the way to Victoria, because all bream love eating crabs and yabbies.”

Topwater lures are a no brainer in shallow water, and when the mercury is up and the fish are moving around a lot a Slippery Dog can really get their attention.

“Grey sky days and low light conditions are good for topwater,” Jesse says, “and if you’ve got a high tide, that’s even better.”

“The higher tides get the fish up tight to structure and the warmer temperatures should keep them there,” he continues, “however as the weather cools, they stop looking up.”

The onset of winter doesn’t mean you need to stop fishing for bream, you just need to adjust your approach. The key, according to Jesse, is to slow right down.

“In winter you’ve got to make sure you’re touching the bottom regularly,” he explains, “Scents are always a good thing to use when it gets cold too.”

Sinking lures such as soft plastics the 2.5” Minnow and Grub rigged a little heavier, and vibes like the Steez Metal Vibe are ideal. Deep-diving crankbaits like the extra-deep running Spike 44 can have their moments in winter too.

One lesser-known approach in winter, especially on any slightly warmer days, is suspending jerkbaits. While not part of the usual winter arsenal, Jesse has found these lures quite effective at times.

“Twitching and pausing jerkbaits along rock edges and other structures can really work well at times,” he explains, “so I always keep a few Kodachis and Double Clutches in the mix.”

Outside of the extreme seasons, Jesse believes it pays to be ready for anything, and to keep a range of lures on hand. Black bream will be hanging out in a wide variety of places and will respond to a range of techniques during these times, and it’s for this reason that spring and autumn are actually his favourite times to chase them.

“I find fishing easiest when the weather is adjusting,” he explains, “but the key is to be versatile.”

Being versatile means being able to adapt to a variety of scenarios, which also means using presentations that can cover these scenarios. One lures known for being able to do exactly that is the humble crankbait, with Daiwa’s Rollin Crank MR and DR two of the best. These lures can be worked amongst structure, through deeper holes, along shallower flats and even along vertical structures like bridge pylons if tuned correctly.

Breaming with options 

As you can see, black bream are a fish that offer a huge range of options with regards to technique and skill level. Anglers like Jesse have caught literally thousands of these fish and still don’t tire of them, but when they talk about them it’s easy to see why.

“They’re not the hardest fish to catch, but they can be challenging at times,” he says, “which is just another thing I love about them.”

It sure is nice to be able to target a fish fairly reliably close to home, which black bream offer to millions of Aussies, but they can occasionally leave even the best anglers scratching their heads. It would get boring if anglers could catch them every time they went out, and it hasn’t got boring for Jesse and many others yet.

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