You could be forgiven for thinking that the only way to pin a half decent bream these days is with the use of a highly refined lure of some description, given this is where much of the hype is at present. Truth be told however, there's still countless fishos out there drowning baits for bream, and those in the know will tell you that this is the numero uno method if you want to consistently pin XOS class fish.
While using lures on bream is undoubtedly addictive fun, at times it's not the most effective way to fish a section of water, and let's be honest, there's something to be said for kicking back with a cold beverage and waiting for a rod to scream off while you absorb your surrounds that can prove really soul soothing.
Catching big bream on bait is a bit like chasing mini snapper really, with baits set and drags loosened you can wait for a howling run as a fish hits and then bolts for the horizon. So how do you get stuck into a bunch of whopper bream on the real stuff?
Time & Hot Spots
Down south much of our focus is on black bream. Well, personally I don't have a choice in my neck of the woods as they're the only species on offer, which isn't a bad thing though as they do reach impressive sizes, with 50cm plus fish on the cards.
Big blacks are notoriously fickle lure eaters and many of the true giants I've decked have been bait captures, meaning I don't mind putting lures aside every now and then and reverting back to 'stinky hands' and proven methods.
There's many similarities between capturing whopper bream on bait and lures. Firstly knowing the movements of the fish and when to be fishing is the same. There's many local details here, with tides and the best time of year variables between locations. Time of day is more consistent however, with low light periods generally the most productive.
All the hot spots you'd prospect with lures are potential bait fishing zones - channels, holes, near all manner of structure, flats etc.
Bream are particularly opportunistic feeders and will eat a range of flesh and shellfish based offerings. Where possible be sure to serve up the best possible bait you can, especially so if you're after quality fish - it will make a huge difference.
So many people opt for the freezer-burnt prawns from a fuel servo, however you can do much better than this. We've even regularly turned to 'eating grade' prawns to fool large picky fish. A range of live baits like crabs, worms and prawns (where permissible to collect) along with flesh baits like fresh slabs of mullet, slimy mackerel, yakka and even tuna are noted for getting the job done as well.
A key with baits is to keep them at a sensible size where they'll get eaten. Also baits have to be robust enough to survive smaller fish and the many other mouths in a system that will want to have a taste as well. Fishing in land-locked waters for instance, which are plagued by smaller bream, we've resorted to using whiting heads and other durable baits to survive long enough to be found by better bream. You'll need plenty of soak time with offerings if you want to catch horse-sized bream and sometimes you'll need to think outside the square!
Tackle & Technique
There's plenty of thought that can be injected into bait efforts to boost results. As mentioned keep baits of an appropriate size and shape to allow them to get eaten and to cast well on light tackle. Large, awkward baits will result in missed strikes and hooks being concealed.
Furthermore, how you rig your bait is vital. A proud hook will give you the best chance of a solid hook-set on the strike. Keep at least the point of the hook clear of the bait. You also want baits presenting as natural as possible and not bunched up or spinning in the current.
With terminals keep things as simple as possible. Where it can be done, going unweighted is the ultimate rigging for big bream. Most times though weight of some kind will be required. Start as light as possible and only increase it when required. We'll regularly run a ball sinker to the hook and find this doesn't deter fish and it allows for lengthy casts.
In the trace department 6-kilo is a safe option to use, with fluorocarbon ideal. If you're game start lighter but be warned. Unlike when using lures, baits will be swallowed down and your leader is more prone to being bitten off by bream which are equipped with fairly powerful chompers. We've been bitten off by plenty of bream using leaders under 6-kilos, so it does happen, especially when you're dealing with the big boys, and all this is even before they run you through some unforgiving structure!
I prefer a quality chemically sharpened hook for XOS bream. With a hard jaw and thick rubbery lips you need good penetration on the strike. Something like a size #2 in octopus pattern or longshank works well.
Outfit wise, you can use your fave bream plastics outfit no problems at all when bait fishing. This fishing is still about getting stretched by good fish and having fun, so the lighter the better in my book. With a correctly set drag and even pressure with your rod work you'll be amazed at the size of fish you'll land with this tackle.
A 7-foot, 2-4kg outfit is fine for baiting even the biggest of bream, although the better fish will still make you feel under gunned and keep your knees knocking together. Any of your favourite Shimano rod and reel combos suited to light lure work will land these fish and provide the sensitivity needed to detect a fumbling bite from a respectable bream. Keep in mind not all bites are hard-hitting affairs and that long and accurate casts are required sometimes.
Bait fishing for XOS bream is not about the kill factor at all, it's still mostly concerned with getting smoked on your favourite flickstick outfit and putting the fish back after each encounter. Bait on bream shouldn't be looked down on as a 'dark ages' method, it's still producing monster fish and putting smiles on faces and is made even more effective with the current crop of cutting-edge tackle on offer. Gear up, get smelly and get tight to a ball of angry bronze!