Casts don’t always need to be long, but they must be accurate and your presentations subtle.flashing white teeth, snatching andending any small creature caught inthe storm. As they dig down, their tailsbreak the surface. They begin slashingand splashing, burrowing deeper intothe holes.From the tree-line we see the plumesof sediment-laden water boiling uplike little geysers, the occasional splashand glint off a fin, and the fist-sizedholes surrounded by dark sedimentthat mark the places where fish haveprospected and moved on.While the bream are absorbed wemove in, feet pointed like the heron’s,slipping through the surface as quietlyas we can. Line is peeled fromreels and leaders checked one lasttime before our flies are sent into thefray. Tension and tranquillity hand inhand.Amidst the plume the bream areblind. Fins tensed and twitching anxiously,they are intensely focused,ready to snap at the slightest movementor sound. For them, nothingexists outside the cloud. There areno distractions and there is no timefor hesitation. They must snatch theirprey before it reaches the sand andescapes back out of sight.We take this opportunity and landour flies close. The tail dips down andthe cloud swirls to envelop it. The fishWhen the bream are up on the flats, multiple hook-ups are common.PICKING YOUR QUARRYThat morning we were fishing shallow,quiet backwaters untouched byboat traffic. In these places, under theright tide conditions, tailing bream area regular sight. These are undoubtedlythe fish to target first. Their tailsemerge when they are excavating andexpecting to spot something in thecloud. They are ready to pounce.The fish that are moving betweenholes, however, are still surveying andWorking a Sapphire Coast bream flat.Josh Davis stalks shallow-water bream.The tide creeps slowly over the sand,filling the many tiny holes and causingthem to crackle and pop. A fewmetres back, indistinct grey-brownshapes hover tentatively, slowlymoving forward, always watching.In the cool stillness of the morning itis as though the lagoon is just waking,breathing softly to the sound of thewaves on the nearby beach.The sea eagle that was circling isnow perched at the other end of thelagoon, preoccupied with the sand pipersand other birds. But a new threatnow stands hidden, its shapes blendingwith the tree-line. Although thewindow of opportunity will be slight,there is no rush. Moving in too soonTails & RipplesHead down, tail up, a bream in feeding mode.will spook the fish, and then it will allbe over.Back in the shallows the bream continueslowly forward. They are likemice edging gingerly from the shadows,testing, and poised ready to fleeto safety should they spot anything outof place. Their confidence builds withthe tide.Soon their apprehension turns to afervent search for food. They weavea slow path across the flat, stoppingoften and becoming engrossed in hiddentreasures. The holes are hometo worms, crabs and shrimp, tinyfish, pipis and other shellfish. Each isinspected in a race against the tide.There is little time before it turns andpulls back to the channel, closing thetuckshop for another six hours.As the bream finish snuffling, theyrejoin the pack and continue fossickingslowly forward. Their snouts are thecolour of storm clouds. Thick, full andominous, rumbling with molars andKey-style flies land gently, push water, and sink slowly — ideal for spooky fish in shallow water.is now just a faint suggestion of colour,a ripple on the surface, hidden in ashroud of silt and sand. The fly settles,we give a small tug, and the breamresponds in kind. It doesn’t get betterthan this.they require a little more care. Theyare looking for food but also on thelookout for danger. Try to pick theirpath and cast ahead. The distance willdepend on how quickly they are movingand how wary they are, given theconditions. Cloud cover and a slightwind rippling the surface will makethem more difficult to spot, and theyknow it, but this makes them lesswary. Take your time. Watch whichway they are moving, how many are inthe group and how many are betweenyou and that monster at the back ofthe pack.Don’t overlook the fish in betweenyou and your quarry. If they stumbleacross your wading boot or get linedby your cast they will scatter likeleaves in a breeze, alerting everythingin their path as they flee across theflat. If you do need to re-present yourfly, strip it slowly away from the fishand draw it steadily from the water.Avoid popping the fly from the surfaceor bombing your line down too heavily.In these shallow waters, the breamare nervy and attuned to the slightestsound. Cast again. Take your time andmake every cast count.Short strips of about a foot in lengthwith a few seconds pause for the flyto settle are a good place to start,but experiment and watch the fish’sresponse. Some bream pounce as soon14 F LYL IFEF LYL IFE 15
Use side pressure but be ready to hold the rod up high to avoid obstructions if the fish takes off.a clear sink tip and you are almostready. I use fluorocarbon leader, steppingdown to a 6 lb tippet, but if youare blind-casting and not pinpointingyour targets, make sure you step upyour tippet to keep the flathead fromdepleting your fly box and coveringthemselves in hardware.There are a few reasons why Ilike fluorocarbon, but only one whichmakes any real difference in thiscase—it is as hard as nails. Remember,you are fishing Flathead Central,amidst pieces of rock and shell. Thesethings will turn a soft supple leaderinto a fuzzy nothing with just a coupleof rubs.Your choice of flies will depend onthe conditions. When it is calm, smallpoppers can provide some exhilaratingsurface action, with packs of breamoften competing for the chance toThe tail dips down and the cloudswirls to envelop it. The fish is nowjust a faint suggestion of colour,a ripple on the surface, hidden in ashroud of silt and sand.Tails & Ripples. . . continuedFist-sized hole indicative of feeding bream.as they spot your fly, snatching lineand almost hooking themselves. Othersare less gung-ho. If unsure theywill just follow, sizing-up your fly andwatching how it behaves, undecidedand tantalisingly close.In these cases it pays to know whento stop. Don’t lead the fish to yourrod tip, but stop with enough distancebetween you and the fish so that youhave another chance. Try a differentfly, something subtle that landsgently to avoid spooking them. Thesefish aren’t just curious, they are alsowary. If they approach too close, toa point where they are likely to spotyou, leave your fly motionless in thewater and stand absolutely still untilthey lose interest and move on. Theyare attuned to movement. No matterhow slowly you raise your rod torecast, if they are looking towards you,you will stand out against the sky likea signpost flashing DANGER! Theseare anxious moments but you must bepatient. Choose another fish to targetwhile the suspicious few settle backinto feeding.Once the tide begins to fall, the fishbecome more flighty and start to moveback to the safety of deeper water.But you can still find some that havenot yet had their fill, and feed witha newfound sense of urgency. Makethe most of these final moments. Youropportunities to sight-cast are runningout as swiftly as the tide.GEARING UPSix-weight rods are a good compromisebetween power and finesse. Adda floating line, a clear intermediate orClouser variant imitating a prawn or shrimp.snap them up. Otherwise, flies likeWoolly Buggers and Crazy Charliesare a good place to start.When the water is clear, the sun ishigh and the bream are spookier, youmay want to try something that landsmore delicately and sinks more slowly.Small Key-style tarpon flies are deadlyin these conditions and can be landedclose to the fish with scarcely a ripple.16 F LY L IFETake time to survey the shallows for subtle signs of feeding bream.Andy with another hefty Sapphire Coast bream.F LY L IFE 17
James with another fish of a lifetime.Tails & Ripples. . . continuedThe bream will ultimately be yourbest guide to colour and pattern, andtheir preferences will change not onlythroughout the tide but also from dayto day. Observe and respond. Startwith neutral tones similar to the environmentyou are fishing—tans, browns,blacks and greens. A little flash can begood but don’t go overboard. Anothergreat addition is a small, subtle patchof colour like orange or pink. Thisshould be just enough to catch theattention of the fish, not detract fromthe pattern’s realism. It is possible thatthis small swatch appears like the eggsof a crustacean, or the innards of someother almost translucent invertebrate.When the water is discolouredand the visibility reduced, try darkercolours and a more obvious swatchof colour. Blacks, darker browns andeven purples really stand out and canbe deadly under these conditions.Hook choice comes down to the flypatterns you use, but remember thatbream have some formidable dentures,including some serious molarsdesigned for crushing shellfish. Forthis reason, I don’t recommend highcarbon hooks. They are sharp, hold apoint and they rust away if they arelost—all great things in my book—butthey are just too brittle. Saltwater oreven more pliable bronze hooks are abetter choice. Generally sizes from 10through 2 are okay.FIGHTING ON THE FLATSWhen fighting bream on the flats,especially big fish with light tippet, youneed to watch your line. Keep yourrod low and work the fish using sidepressure and the more powerful buttsection of the rod. Change direction tothrow the fish off balance and preventit from building momentum, and ifit does scream off, be ready to pointyour rod to the heavens to keep yourline from snagging on any lumps ofrock, oyster or wood protruding fromthe flats. Side pressure is also importantto guide the fish away from theother groups of fish still feeding in theshallows. Avoid spooking these fish—they are your next cast.The backwater estuaries of NewSouth Wales’ far south coast are hometo some truly exceptional fish. Thesewily old bream are used to feeding inthe shallows, but wary of the dangers.The fishing can be challenging, and thewindow of opportunity when the conditionsare just right is slim. However,sight-casting to these magnificent fishin such shallow water is well worth theeffort, and enough to make even seasonedfly-fishers go weak at the knees.Fish averaging 40 cm are the norm insome places, and some are much bigger.It is humbling to think that some ofthese fish may be older than us—closeto 40 years in some cases.Next time you visit your local estuary,keep a keen eye out for those littleripples and waving tails. If you seethem, say hello for me. FLflylife.com.au18F LY L IFEWatch the video.Bream are both a challenge and a delight.