I’VE always had a fascination with catching fish from small waters. As a young bloke, I’d target bream from the creeks that ran through my home town golf course using a length of fishing line tied to the end of a stick. These were simple but fun days. As the years passed, I found it difficult to wander past any creek without monitoring the waters for fish activity. It was these humble beginnings that formed an obsession for targeting bream from small creeks, and it’s still a style of fishing that remains a personal favourite.
You’ll often find me walking the creek banks or gazing into the water from an overpass in search of likely areas to fish. It’s amazing just how many bream seem to go unnoticed. You’ll find bream in most creeks if you take the time to look, and they frequently show up in areas that you wouldn’t expect. In fact, I’m yet to discover a NSW South Coast creek that doesn’t harbour a healthy population of bream! There are many ways to target bream in small creeks, however, it’s my belief that a kayak will allow you to cover the whole creek efficiently.
Planning to paddle
The majority of the sneaky creeks that you’re likely to discover will be quite small and thus can be thoroughly fished quite quickly. Finding access points can be tricky but the use of Google Earth can help. Creek bream can be wary and spook easily, so I generally fish my way up (or down) on my first pass. I find that bream will attack a lure more aggressively before they see you or your kayak, so it pays to fish untouched water. What I mean by “untouched” is water that you haven’t yet paddled over. I once made a mistake by kayaking as far up the creek as I could with the intention of fishing it all the way back. I saw many bream on my way up and spooked them – which made them near impossible to catch as I ventured back. You can generally cover most areas within a creek in a few hours, so don’t be in a rush to discover what lies around the next bend.
What to pack?
Try not to laden your kayak with too much gear, as you may find you’ll have to drag your craft over the odd fallen tree. Keep it light and easy to manoeuvre. I generally pack a minimum lure kit consisting of a few small soft plastics variations (curl-tail grubs and jerk minnows) accompanied with a few lightweight jigheads and a selection of shallow running hard-bodies and surface lures. All this can be stowed in on small tackle box or dry-bag. Add to this kit a pair of braid scissors, pliers and a spool of leader … and you’ll have a basic kit that will cover you for most creek fishing situations. Other essentials are a suitable and comfortable PFD, drinking water, sun protection, a good pair of polarised sunglasses and a camera. Keeping your creek kit to a minimum will minimise launching time and therefore maximise your fishing time.
Short & sweet
When I’m selecting a rod for skinny creek work, I generally look for a stick around the 6' to 6'6" length with a line rating of 1-3kg. These shorter style rods will aid casting accuracy and provide controlling power when a hooked fish is splashing beside your kayak. I prefer to take two rods with me and will rig one with a hard-bodied lure, while the other is set up with a softie. I opt for soft actioned rods when using hard-bods and generally run 3lb fluorocarbon line straight through to my chosen lure. This may sound a bit light for snag bashing in creeks, but I haven’t had too many problems controlling creek bream with this approach. The fluoro line is quite stretchy, which acts as a shock absorber helping keep those tiny treble hooks pinned where they’re supposed to be.
My other rod is generally a fast tapered stick, which is perfect for soft plastic presentations. A fast taper allows me to load and cast lightly weighted (and sometimes un-weighted) plastics into heavy cover at short range. This style of rod is generally fairly powerful, which helps pry those stubborn fish from their lair. I prefer to run braided line when presenting soft plastics, as the braid acts as a bite indicator. I attach 1.5m of 2kg fluorocarbon leader to the braided mainline via a Double Uni Knot before attaching the business end to the jighead. Small spin reels are perfect for creek applications as they allow you to cast light lures with ease.
Tempting the Target
Creek bream differ from their river and lake dwelling brethren, and may make several attempts to crunch your offering. This enables you to pepper a good snag with multiple casts should the fish miss on the first strike. It pays to work a good stretch of bank slowly, allowing the bream ample time and opportunities to have a crack at your offering. I’ve seen bream follow a lure off a snag for roughly two metres before shying away. Next cast that same fish will pounce on the lure. I’ve found this to be fairly typical behaviour for creek dwelling bream – provided you don’t spook them.
While bream will favour bankside structure in the form of snags and rocks, more open waters will also harbour plenty of feeding bream too. In fact, I’ve caught just as many bream by blind-casting into the middle of the creek or along a shallow mid-creek flat as I have by strategically sight casting to dark silhouettes among the sticks that fringe the shoreline. The best tip I can give is to incorporate plenty of pause time in your retrieve. Whether you’re presenting a hard-bod or softie, always allow the creek bream ample time to investigate your offering. I recently witnessed a good bream hovering above a soft plastic for what seemed like an eternity before it decided to mouth the potential meal as it lay motionless on the bottom. Slow is best!
The same applies with top-water lures. I’ll leave a surface lure motionless for up to 10 seconds at times. By leaving your lure in the water for as long as you can, you can entice multiple bream over to investigate. This results in the fish actively competing for your lure. It’s amazing how the larger bream decide to have a crack at your lure after the smaller models show some interest. Slow it down and keep it in their face – they can’t eat it if it’s not in the water.
Creek fishing isn’t all about artificial lures. Many situations favour the use of natural bait. As always, live or fresh is best, with prawns, pink nippers (saltwater or bass yabbies), crabs and blood (or squirt) worms the pick. The only drawbacks with natural live bait are the time taken to gather it, keeping it alive during the fishing session and dealing with pickers or small fish. This said, a cleverly presented natural bait will often outfish an artificial offering. And you can enjoy the best of both worlds by fishing a natural bait as you would with a lure by flicking the bait into snags and other bankside structure. Slowly cranking a live crab across a mud flat is a deadly tactic for big bream, and one I use regularly. I prefer to run natural baits on mono rather than braid, especially if my chosen bait is delicate. Unweighted is best, but adding a small spilt-shot can aid casting.
This style of angling is available within any creek (land-locked or open to the sea) right throughout the year. Land-locked systems will generally fish better than open systems through the colder months with the open systems harbouring a healthy population of hard-fighting yellowfin bream during summer. The southern systems will be largely dominated by black bream, which can be a little harder to tempt at times … but they are catchable if you do all the little things right.
If your chosen system is open to the sea, try fishing it while the tide is pushing towards high, and fish the first of the run-out. This ensures that there will be plenty of water to prospect, and the bream will be quite active during this period.
Quiet sneaky creeks can provide you a little reprieve during the holiday periods too, which is welcome if your local rivers and lakes become hard to navigate due to excessive boat traffic.
Paddling up a creek is a relaxing way to prospect for bream. Watching wallabies springing through the fringing tussocks and screeching black cockatoos perched in the banksia trees adds to the experience. Depending on where you’re based, it can be rare to see another angler on the water… except for a cool looking azure kingfisher staked out on an over-hanging melaleuca.
All up, it’s a pleasant and productive way to bend a rod, while discovering new (and sometimes untouched) fishing grounds. Sometimes it seems as if the fishing almost plays second fiddle to the exploration itself. However, witnessing a decent bream peel off a snag to pursue your lure is hard to top! Like most anglers, I’m there for the fishing but it’s certainly worth taking a look around and enjoying the wildlife as you stealthily paddle around the next bend. Give creek breaming a try – I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience.