It wasn’t until well into the ’90s that I got a real hankering to catch a big bream. Although it would be fair to say that the vast majority of my fishing is based around catching bigger than average fish of a variety of species, for various reasons I hadn’t got round to putting in a concerted effort for a big ‘slab’. I can’t put my finger on what really sparked the change in attitude and prompted the need to catch one; perhaps simply that reports of big bream were becoming more frequent and the additional inspiration from the fact that as a species the top weights appeared to be going up on a yearly basis.
Whatever the reasons behind it all, I suddenly found myself making a shortlist of possible venues and making phone calls to ensure that I had some suitable venues within reasonable traveling distance to have a crack at.A couple of years went by and I ended up with having a handful of very good venues at my disposal and the desire for a big fish slowly became more of an compulsion as the nights spent targeting big bream became an ever increasing percentage of my total fishing time. Fueling this behaviour was the fact that I’d been very fortunate to secure membership to at least two venues with record potential,including Swithland Reservoir, the record bream producing venue at the time. My bream PB was slowly creeping upwards and the idea of something truly massive coming over the rim of the landing net was never too far from my thoughts.
However something happened in May of 2001 that left me totally stunned and caused a reappraisal of my whole approach and led me off on an entirely new bream related adventure – while carp fishing on Lodge Lake, part of the Bawburgh complex near Norwich, Kerry Walker caught a record shattering 18.09 bream.
I looked at the pictures of that stunning fish in the papers and knew immediately that I had to try and fish for it; never mind the traveling distances involved, the cost of the ticket or any other logistical problems that could be associated with the venture it had to be done.
Once my Bawburgh ticket was secured I loaded the car full of tackle and made my way to the venue at the very earliest opportunity. The initial plan was to first of all get a good feel for the place, size up the venue and gain an understanding of the initial obstacles and challenges that are always presented when tackling an unfamiliar water and to meet up with and talk to some of the locals. Following a couple of further visits and a few nights spent with baits out in the water a plan was slowly coming together as I became more knowledgeable about the venue and the fish that it contained.
It soon became obvious that the lake contained very few bream that were worth targeting. There was even the possibility that the massive fish that Kerry had caught was the only big bream in the place! Far from putting me off, this actually helped to work in my favour as other bream specialists tended to be put off the venue and as such ‘competition’ from other anglers was pretty much limited to the handful of specialist carp anglers who turned out to be a friendly and helpful bunch of characters. Certainly, it would have been foolish of me to ever think that my chosen goal would be simple to achieve; after all I had around 30 acres of water to deal with and the possibility of only one fish to target. I tried to come to terms with the fact that a season’s effort could result in not a single fish capture and accepted that the first season on Lodge could be looked upon as an extended reconnaissance and that I may not be in with a chance until perhaps the following year.
All through the summer I visited Lodge as often as work and family commitments would allow. Most of the daylight hours, once the sun was well up in the sky, were spent with the baits reeled in and either walking round and peering into the water with the Polaroids on or plumbing various swims. Naturally I allowed myself the occasional lunchtime session in the King’s Head, the local pub in Bawburgh, as the combination of a hot meal and a couple of cold beers can do wonders for the spirits when things are slow. There were also the shapely barmaids to consider; if they learnt that I was spending a fair amount of time in the locality without paying them a visit, they may have become quite sulky, so I thought it only fair that I showed my face once in a while.
As predicted, the fishing itself was rather uneventful,with no bream activity being spotted and only a handful of fairly modest tench to show for my efforts. However, as the season progressed and the long summer days gradually became shorter my plumbing and observations started to payoff. I’d been searching for an area of water to concentrate on during the autumn, as I felt that the autumn period was likely to be my best chance of any bream action. On other venues autumn had proved to be a productive period, with bream seemingly feeding hard before winter and location becoming more consistent and easier to predict. Eventually I found the type of swim that I was looking for, with very little weed and a reasonable depth and with a bottom made up of a mixture of both silt and gravel areas. Lodge can be very weedy at times and I strongly believe that bream never feel comfortable having to push through weed and that they’ll go out of their way to avoid extensive weeded areas if at all possible. I also wanted an area out of the way and not one that was popular with other anglers, as I wanted to avoid any additional disturbance other than that which I may make myself either through swim preparation or bait application. Once I’d found the area that I was happy with, my confidence went through the roof, and I felt that there now a realistic chance of catching a bream from the venue. One of my angling buddies had learnt of my Lodge Lake bream obsession and the rumours of how very few bream it actually contained. This had led him to recommend that I give the whole venture up as a lost cause as I was surely “flogging a dead horse”. However, now that I was entirely confident that I’d made the right choice of area and swims to concentrate on I became more determined than ever. More than that, I also had the feeling that the capture of my dream fish was likely to become a reality at some point in the not too distant future. It’s difficult to explain how I could have that much confidence knowing how high the odds were stacked against me, but things certainly felt like they were starting to come together nicely.
My tactics for targeting a bream from Lodge were vastly different from those I’d typically used to catch bream from other waters in the past. In most other venues containing large bream the usual approach would be to identify the areas or features favoured by the bream shoals and to bait up with large quantities of particles and/or groundbait based attractors and free offerings in an effort to hold and catch numbers of fish. However on Lodge I’d be lucky to get a single bite from a bream and I felt it would have been foolish to expect a multiple fish catch at any time. Instead I had to gear things towards attracting just one bream at a time and to try and ensure that should a fish be attracted into the swim and start feeding that the chances would be good of that fish picking up a hookbait. With this in mind and with the rules allowing three rods to be fished, I identified three separate areas within each swim to be fished as separate target spots for a hookbait and any associated free offerings. As the Lodge fish had previously been caught in the margins, at least one of these target spots was always close in, requiring no more than a gentle underarm swing to get the end tackle into position. Margin areas also made it easy to introduce any freebies with extreme accuracy either by hand or catapult, but always with the aid of a market float to take away any guesswork and to help eliminate mistakes. Other target spots within an individual swim were picked after carefully charting the depths and characteristics of the whole area within comfortable casting range. This was done with the use of a marker float setup incorporating braided line and one of those leads that are specifically designed to enhance the feel of the lakebed and therefore help identify the makeup of the bottom.
I was always looking to identify spots within the swim with a clear bottom made up of either clean silt that was not too soft or smelly or clean sand/gravel. I also required that these target spots were free of any weed or a build up of detritus. As with the margin areas, any target spots identified further out from the bank required that both hookbait and free offerings were introduced with as much accuracy as possible, and again, always with the aid of a marker float. Free offerings were introduced with the aid of a spod set up on a separate rod. A Gardner type spod, one without holes, was used first of all to fix the range against a marker float cast out into position. Several casts were made to the marker,with the spod loaded with nothing but water to get the range, until I was confident that I’d got the range and accuracy “spot on” and was clipped up for the right distance before making the first cast with a spod loaded with bait.
Bait itself was kept to a minimum, as I wouldn’t need to attract and hold numbers of fish. Each hookbait, of either maggot, sweetcorn or boilie, was accompanied by only a handful or two of free offerings made up of samples of the hookbait itself and a mixture of small pellets and some hemp. As an added attractor, and to help any fish in the general vicinity home-in on the area adjacent to the hookbait, standard leads were switched in favor of method feeders and a method mix, with additional oil and pellet was squeezed around the feeders for each cast.
My first session in the new area and number one choice of swim actually produced two takes on the first night and a fish on the bank! Unfortunately with both takes it very soon became apparent that the hooked fish weren’t the hoped-for bream, and were in fact my first carp from the pit. The first one tore off at a rate of knots when first hooked and led me through a right ‘song and dance’ until finally becoming stuck fast in some close-in snags way up the reed fringed bank to my left. In a desperate effort the get the fish unstuck I endedup changing into nothing but a pair of shorts and a head torch and wading up the margins in the dark with the rod in one hand and landing net in the other. However after a further 10 minutes of messing around I managed to retrieve the end tackle and a collection of various dead branches and twigs, but no fish. Once back on terra firma it wasn’t long before another rod was in action. This time the fight was more predictable and I felt much more in control and before long a fat, almost football shaped mirror of just over 20 lbs found its way into the landing net. Far from being a disappointment, the carp was an added encouragement, particularly as I had a suspicion that the monster bream felt a close association with the carp due to their being a similar size, and could well spend time with the carp if the shoaling instincts were still a factor and some type of fishy company was still an occasional requirement.
The remainder of that session was relatively uneventful and all too soon I was packed away and heading for home. But on the journey back I was already planning my return and dreaming of the massive bream that could be mine if everything worked out according to plan.
A week later and I was back on Lodge for another three night session, brimming with confidence in my new area and the fact that my number one choice of swim was available. Actually there wasn’t another angler on the whole pit. This wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, but you know how it is; if you’ve got a particular area or swim in mind before getting to the venue, you’re living in dread the entire journey, fearful that ‘your’ pitch will be taken.
With the baits out and my temporary home set up, it was time to relax and properly take in my surroundings. I couldn’t have wished for more perfect conditions, with the air temperature being very mild, a gentle breeze and a good cloud covering ensuring that the temperatures were due to remain good going into the evening. With the darker evenings now drawing in, it was tempting to retire early to the bedchair and stretch out, but as the evening progressed my confidence continued to climb and I started to get a strong feeling that something significant was due to happen. The feeling persisted and eventually I decided to make a cup of tea and sit out in the dark by the rods, soaking up the atmosphere and feeling of anticipation.
Then it happened! The alarm on the left-hand rod signaled a steady drop-back as the bobbin dropped towards the deck – a typical bream bite! I crouched down by the rod and took in the slack line with the rod still in the rests; but still the bobbin continued to fall towards the floor. Picking up the rod, with one fluid motion I took in the slack and then ensured that the hook was set as I applied firm pressure on whatever had picked up the bait.
In all honesty the fight was as lacking in drama as most bream ‘fights’ tend to be and the fish was soon enmeshed in the folds of the landing net. However this certainly did nothing to curb my excitement on peering into the landing net to get a good look at my prize. In recent years I’d been fortunate to catch a few large bream and had witnessed even bigger, but here in front of me was the biggest bream I’d ever seen in my life by quite a decent margin!.
After draping the net over the front rests and ensuring the fish couldn’t escape, I was straight on the phone to my mate Keith to tell him of the good news. In fact Keith was due to come down and join me the following morning for the remainder of the session; however I was keen to impress on him the urgency of accelerating his plans!.
Keith soon worked out that I’d caught a massive, possibly record-breaking bream and naturally asked what it weighed “I’ve no idea”, I replied, happy in the knowledge that it was far bigger than anything I’d seen before. “Get the thing weighed and call me back. I’ll start to get myself organized for the journey down”, was Keith’s response. I soon sorted out the unhooking mat and the associated paraphernalia for the weighing. Checking things three times over confirmed what I obviously already knew. At 18 lbs 7 ozs, I’d caught my dream bream.