Yellowfin Bream - Acanthopagrus australis
Did you know? A 40cm bream can be 35 years old.
Sustainability and Stock Status
When it comes to sustainability and stock status, bream are an interesting fish. There is a sizeable commercial fishery targeting bream, generally using meshnet/gillnet gears. Nonetheless, most of the research suggests that black and yellowfin bream are in pretty good shape. Despite the stock being in a reasonably good shape, bream grow slowly and take a few years to reach sexual maturity, so it’s worth letting most of the fish you catch swim away to fight another day. A 30cm bream can be 20 years old, and a 40cm bream can be up to 35 years old. It’s worth giving this a bit of thought next time you catch one and are deciding whether or not to keep it for dinner.
Yellowfin bream have a wide-ranging habitat that includes rocky headlands, beaches, estuaries and coastal rivers. Black bream are mostly confined to estuaries and rivers. Most sport fishers target bream in estuaries, where they congregate around structure. The structure bream like includes rock walls, snags, deep holes, oyster racks, jetties and flats, although as a general rule of thumb, they will be wherever the food is. The main food items for bream are prawns, small fish, small crabs, oysters and nippers.
Biology, behavioural characteristics and time of year
Bream are a demersal fish, meaning they are found in association with the bottom, or with structure. They have a powerful tail and are designed for short bursts of speed. Their smallish mouths are filled with a series of large, blunt teeth, designed for crushing oysters and disabling prey items.
Bream spawn in winter, but they can be caught at any time of year. An Aboriginal saying suggests that when the yellow wattles start to flower, the bream start to run up the estuaries to spawn. I have found this to be spot-on.
Early mornings and evenings (or any low-light periods) are the best times to target bream. Bright light will force them deep into holes and structure.
Fishing gear and techniques
While some of the best bream will come on half a pilchard on a few ganged hooks in the surf, there are definitely more fun ways to catch them! Flicking small, lightly weighted plastic at snags, rock walls, jetties and oyster racks is great fun, and can be highly successful. A lot of people swear by using as light a leader as you can get away with. Six pound is about as heavy as you want to go. A few people seem to be having a huge amount of success with leaders as light as two pounds. I find that somewhere in the middle is about right. Four pound leader generally won’t spook the fish, and you’ll have a decent chance of landing all but the most brutish fish.
Small, natural coloured plastics on 1/16 or 1/24 ounce jig heads, or even resin heads, helps to make the presentation appear natural, and will allow the lure to sit in the ‘zone’; basically annoying the fish into biting. If you’re not that into soft plastics, there are a range of beautiful hardbody lures on the market. Some of the neutral buoyancy lures are incredible. You can cast into the snag, give the lure a twitch, and let it sit there as long as you like. Often, bream will come and hit a lure worked in this fashion after as much as 30 seconds.
Another fun way to catch bream is on the surface. Small poppers and pencils (stickbaits or ‘walk the dog’ lures) from 40 to 60mm long are the best to begin with. Some days, bream will happily hit a popper moving quickly across the flats or over a lease, but generally, the finesse offered by a stickbait will produce more action. The key to surface luring for bream is to mix it up until you find what is working. Try slow, try fast, try short pauses, try long pauses. Try five pops, then a pause, then try two pops, then a pause. If using a stickbait, try seven wiggles, then a two second pause, followed by three wiggles and a ten second pause. You get the idea. Mix it up and you will figure out what is working on the day.
Killing and Cooking
As mentioned, it’s worth letting most of the bream you catch swim away to provide another angler with the thrill of tangling with such an awesome fish. However, if you decide to keep one, the best way to kill it is the iki jimi technique, whereby you insert a spike behind the fish’s eye and into the brain. The fins will instantly stand up, and then the entire fish will go limp. This is a quick and humane way to kill most fish.
In terms of cooking, bream are suited to cooking whole, as you don’t waste any of the delicious, sweet and delicate meat through the filleting/skinning process. If you’ve never tried deep-fried bream, I would highly recommend it. Make some deep cuts into each side of the fish, then dust in flour and plunge into a few inches of hot vegetable oil until crisp and golden. A bit of soy, chilli and coriander will help give the bream the respect it deserves.
*Information provided by Lee Georgeson. Photos courtesy of Lee Georgeson.