Flats fishing for bream using lures and fly

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An average black takes a vibe in shallow water.
An average black takes a vibe in shallow water.

A trip to Tasmania saw NICK REYGAERT experience some world-class flats and estuary action on the local bream.

CRAIG was on the bow, double hauling like a man possessed! A few casts earlier, Ashley had told him he was fishing “angry”, a cheeky stir, but there was some truth in it. I could tell Craig was a little pissed at not catching one on the fly. Ashley and myself had been smashing them all day long on hard bodies. But Craig is one of those rare anglers that can channel frustration into positive energy – the harder it gets, the harder he tries!

He fired a long cast and it laid out in a perfectly straight line down the sand flat. The bream hit his fly the moment it touched the water and the instinctive, forceful hook set that followed had the bream tail-walking across the surface in a shower of spray. The scene was reminiscent of fishing for big predators on a tropical flat in Australia’s North, but here, we were drifting down a sleepy estuary on Tasmania’s East Coast.

The unique landscape and big fish make Tasmania memorable experience.
The unique landscape and big fish make Tasmania memorable experience.

Up River

Ashley Hallem had invited Craig Rist and I down to his local stomping ground after he heard we were having a tough few days on the Tassie trout. Ashley lives in Swansea, a small coastal community about halfway down Tasmania’s East Coast. He makes his living as a professional fisherman, harvesting calamari and garfish amongst other species. Ashley is a full-blown “fishaholic”; I’m talking a chronic case – one for the textbooks! I fish a lot but looking at Ashley’s Facebook feed leaves me with serious fish envy.

I'm a great believer that there is no substitute for time on the water and Ashley is the walking embodiment of that mantra. Between his job and his recreation he is literally on the water everyday, it's no surprise then that he has Tasmanian fishing totally wired. His offer to show us some of his treasured bream flats fishing was too good to turn down.

The morning dawned bright and calm, an unusual event on the Apple Isle! As we drove down to Swansea, Craig felt like we had perfect conditions. Upon meeting up with Ashley at the boat ramp we launched and began motoring upstream. The focus of the day was to target bream on the estuary sand flats but, according to Ashley, the bream need a specific tide to feed on the flats. While we waited for the tide to come right he suggested we go up river and target schools of fish that would be holed up in spawning aggregations in brackish water higher up the system.

Tasmania is more than a trout fishery! Keen fly and lure anglers can have a ball targeting bream in the shallows.
Tasmania is more than a trout fishery! Keen fly and lure anglers can have a ball targeting bream in the shallows.

The lure of bream

I live in New Zealand these days so it had been many years since I'd caught a bream, in fact the last one I remember catching was in my early twenties in the 90s when I lived in W.A. Back then the technique of catching bream on lures was very much in its infancy; I had only ever targeted them with bait. I was very keen to try to get one on a lure and, if the opportunity presented itself, on fly as well.

As we motored upstream the river became narrower, there were shallow sections interspersed with the odd deep hole. I was surprised at the clarity of the water, the bottom was clearly visible even in the deeper sections. Ashley explained that during winter, bream would congregate in these deep holes to breed. They need brackish water to spawn successfully so they become very concentrated in the part of the river with the optimum conditions.

He continued to motor up hoping to flush out a large school as the boat passed above. We got to one long, deep hole and immediately we noticed bream darting off in every direction.

Ashley passed a spin rod to me with a small red vibe lure, explaining that the best technique was to let it sink close to the bottom and then twitch it back with the odd decent pause. Craig was focused on getting one on fly and he was using an intermediate flyline and a size 6 gold bomber fly.

It didn’t take Ashley long to get his first bream, a nice 30cm fish. He followed that up with another three in about as many casts. I was keeping an eagle eye on him, trying to replicate his technique. I changed a couple of things and bang! Fish on.

I got a bit of a surprise, I certainly didn’t remember bream being much of a fighter but the fish at the end of my line was really going for it. After a really spirited fight another nice bream came to the boat. I was so stoked. I never realised bream could be so aggressive, I immediately understood why bream fishing with lures has become so popular.

Over the next hour, Ashley managed a few more fish until things went quiet. Craig had struggled with the fly, probably because it is so hard to get the fly deep enough, fast enough to stay in the bite zone. It is a perpetual problem fly fishing in deep water, fly really comes into it own when sight fishing in shallow water. As the action tapered off Ashley suggested a move to the flats, the tide was now perfect.

These particular flats were right at the point where the river expanded into the estuary, no doubt formed by silt flushed down the river during floods. It was a large expanse with an even depth of around 1 metre. The bottom was a combination of turtle grass and mud. Ashley pointed out small pockets and channels in the bottom, mentioning that the bream loved to feed around these. Floating with the wind we immediately spooked some bream, they were clearly visible even on the mottled bottom.

Ashley swapped out the vibes for swimming minnows. Mine was a classic gold bomber style while Ashley went for the blue over white combination. He was at it again, nailing a fish on the first cast. Craig had instant success as well, his first cast with the fly was grabbed on the first few pulls. Unfortunately that fish came unbuttoned. There was obviously a lot of fish around and sure enough my minnow was pounced on after a few casts. Again the fish fought really well, possibly even better in the shallow water, tearing around the boat.

Hooked up on fly along one of the many reed lined edges.
Hooked up on fly along one of the many reed lined edges.

On fly

My bream on lures itch was well and truly scratched now. It was time to wet a fly. In the shallow water I opted for a floating flyline with a long leader, around 12 foot, of straight 6lb fluorocarbon. The fly was Craig’s creation, an amalgamation of two really great patterns, the gold bomber and the clouser. Not surprisingly, he calls it the gold bomber clouser.

Targeting big black bream on fly is a great alternative to Tassie trout fishing.
Targeting big black bream on fly is a great alternative to Tassie trout fishing.

Craig kindly offered the front of the boat to me. The front deck is a bonus when fly fishing because you can flail around without seriously endangering the other occupants with flying fish hooks! I began casting, covering likely looking areas as best I could. A number of bream followed the fly all the way to the boat, it was exhilarating seeing the fish in such detail. But after a few refusals I could tell the fish just weren’t convinced with the fly. It didn’t help that Ashley was hooking up constantly on the minnows.

I stuck it out and eventually a bream hit the fly, actually that fish monstered the fly. I couldn’t believe how hard he hit, one thing I love about fly is you have such a direct contact with the fish; you feel each shake of the head, each charging run rips line from your hand. I was soon cradling my first ever bream on fly, an amazing moment for a mad keen fly fisho like myself. Lots of photos followed plus a couple of hoots and high fives.

Ashley continued to hook bream after bream on the minnow and I changed back to the spin rod to try to get in on the action. Craig continued with the fly but the fish were following it all the way to the boat without striking. We stuck at it for a couple more hours but the action was slowly tailing away as the tide shifted. My stomach began to rumble as we had completely forgotten to eat during the thick of the action. Right on cue, Ashley suggested some lunch and a regroup at his house a few kilometers away.

Living the Tassie dream

Casa del Hallem is the absolute epitome of what I love about the East Coast of Tasmania, stress-free and hospitable. Nestled on a large section 80 meters from the beach it’s a large, comfortable, double storey brick home that, at a guess was built in the late 80s maybe early 90s. It is not opulent but cozy and friendly, a house but a home as well. The internal garage doesn’t look like it’s had a car in it for a very long time! Because it is wall to wall fishing, hunting and outdoor gear. It made me laugh because my garage is exactly the same, the fishing gear retains pride of place meanwhile our car’s paint slowly fades in the summer sun.

We met Clea Hallam, Ashley’s daughter, a mad keen fisho herself, who had just got back from school and was very keen to hear how we got on during the morning. We sat on the deck, overlooking the bay, and had a lunch of various bits of seafood, cheese, crackers and some venison salami that came from an animal that Ashley had shot the previous month. Father and daughter regaled us with tales of their fishing adventures together. It was idyllic, sure there are people in this world that are richer, more famous than this pair but I seriously doubt that there is anyone more content with their lives.

Nick with a big bream on fly.
Nick with a big bream on fly.

Ashley decided that for the afternoon session we would change location to a smaller estuary that had a reputation for producing the odd very large bream, sounded great to me. We travelled about twenty minutes south of Ashley’s home, crossed the tiny creek that flowed into the estuary and took a left turn into a farm and followed a dirt track down to the waters edge. The estuary was small, barely more than a decent cast across, Ashley told us that during summer it is often closed to the sea. While it wasn’t very wide, it was deep and my imagination soon conjured up images of the giant bream that Ashley assured us lived there.

We fished for a few hours until the sun set. Fishing was slow. We didn’t get a touch although we did see a few moving in the shallows. Not that the lack of action made any difference, the setting was awesome and the company even better. We swapped stories and laughs while drifting in the boat along throwing hard bodies and flies into likely spots.

It had been an action packed day; my first bream on lure, my first bream on fly, sight fishing to bream on the flats but the highlight was hanging out with a father and daughter duo that are totally stoked on fishing and hanging out together. In an increasingly complicated and technology-driven world sometimes the simple things in life are the most fulfilling.

A big bream on a hardbody.
A big bream on a hardbody.
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