For those who missed it. I’ve attached my recent feature on catching big bream on flies from “Barra, Bass & Bream Digest” magazine. And in case the text from the magazine layouts is too small to read on your screen or in this format, I’ve also included the straight text at the bottom of this blog post. Also, if you’d like to find out how to purchase or subscribe to “Barra, Bass & Bream” on-line, go to:






Big Bream On Fly

The Ultimate Challenge?

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What’s the ultimate prize in modern day barra, bass and bream fishing? Catching a metre-plus ’mundi on a surface lure and light tackle? Landing a 60 cm wild bass from a kayak? Pulling a 2 kg bream onto a wave-washed rock ledge in the middle of the night? Starlo rates all of those milestones, but reckons there’s another one that presents even more of a challenge. In his opinion, mastering big bream on fly is the toughest (and perhaps the most rewarding) game in town… Read on and see if you agree!

The average, weekend angler no doubt struggles to understand why some of us might actually choose to make our fishing any harder than it needs to be. For many hopefuls, simply catching a feed of fish is a daunting enough prospect, without deliberately adding extra layers of difficulty to the process. Yet, as with any endeavour, those who are seriously engrossed in their passion and spend a lot of time pursuing it eventually look for extra layers of challenge: new peaks to scale and higher marks to attain.

In preparing to write this feature, I spent considerable time pondering the bigger challenges fishing has presented me with over the years. In my late teens and early 20s, it was all about land-based game (LBG) fishing: arguably the most demanding form of angling ever devised by the human mind. Weekend after weekend of long walks and steep climbs into isolated, wave-pounded rock ledges hauling mountains of gear and buckets of live bait often produced little more than sunburn and sore legs. LBG is definitely a younger person’s game, and also not one for those who thrive on instant gratification. But if you put in enough of those very hard yards and long hours, there are some significant rewards to be won. For me, these eventually took the form of a handful of lovely tuna and, finally, the biggest LBG prize of all: a beautiful little black marlin from the stones.


Later in life I fell under the spell of fly fishing. If LBG tops the physical demand list, then I reckon fly fishing is the toughest mind game on offer in the angling world. Early steps up the learning curve can be deceptively easy, even for a self-taught flailing flogger like me. But it’s not long before you hit the first crumbling rock face above base camp and progress up the steepening slope comes to a shuddering, grinding halt. Usually, that early hurdle takes the form of wind, often combined with fast-moving, finicky fish that insist on swimming just beyond your limited casting range. Suddenly, it’s all very different to joyfully throwing relatively long, straight lines onto the mown grass of your local park while admiring the shape of those lovely loops painted artistically across the sky above your head.


Over time, I grudgingly came to accept that I’d never be much of a fly caster. Too many bad habits picked up early on, combined with a lifelong lack of eye/hand motor skills, meant that no one would ever mistake me for another Lefty Kreh or Peter Morse, even from a very long distance. Instead, I focussed on that part of the process so often overlooked by new chums to the sport: the bit after the fly hits the water. Amazingly, I started catching fish!

In the years since, it’s definitely fly fishing that has given me the most frustrations and disappointments, but also the biggest rewards: those punch-the-air, jump-for-joy, smile-til-your-jaw-aches breakthroughs that make the hard times seem much less important.

First trout on fly. First fish on a dry. First big, hard-running opponent that shows you a heap of your backing… They’re all magical milestones with the long wand. Inevitably, you feel the need to notch the bar higher and higher. One by one I’ve ticked off some of fly fishing’s most hallowed Holy Grails. Bonefish weren’t as hard as I’d imagined, although travelling to the target-rich environment of Christmas Island’s warm, crystal-clear flats to tick that particular box certainly helped!


Sight-casting to golden trevally in skinny water much closer to home was a wonderful experience. First, tentative tries on the twitchy, pressured goldens of Hervey Bay were certainly frustrating but further north, on the western side of Cape York, a bunch of smaller, dumber fish allowed me to notch up the numbers needed to learn some important nuances.

Swimming alongside those rubber-lipped goldies were other prizes, too. Pewter-flanked mega-dart with pumpkin-bumped foreheads that treated our Clousers with apparent disdain. Indo-Pacific permit. Justifiably worshipped by some swoffers as the ultimate prize, they occupied an inordinate amount of my time, conscious thoughts and dreaming moments for several years before that first nerve-wracking connection on the flood tide flats of the Jackson River mouth. Joy was mixed with genuine relief when my trembling hand finally closed around the tail wrist of a 6 kg oyster cracker.

As is often the case, the next few came a little easier. Unforgettable stand-outs were a pair of fish that stuck their incongruous-looking snouts clear of the water to eat floating crab patterns. The second of these — a single cruiser sight-cast at reasonably long range on the flats — might well have ticked all the boxes as the pinnacle of a fly fishing career. But of course, there are always more distant horizons. A big Atlantic tarpon remains top of my personal bucket list, and maybe one day I’ll get over to Florida or Central America and have a crack. Until then, there are some surprisingly challenging fly rod targets swimming much, much closer to home…


When I was growing up, my fishing idol was the doyen and elder statesman of Australian outdoor writing, Vic McCristal. I’ll always remember reading McSea’s comments about bream, and especially about catching these common, widespread fish on artificials. In Vic’s opinion, anyone who could regularly pull off the bream-on-lures trick would have little trouble with most other species. McCristal clearly held the bream clan in high regard. Over the years, I’ve come to share his respect for these surprising little fish.

Back when McSea wrote that stuff, Australia’s serious bream lurers could’ve held their annual get-togethers in a phone box. Today, all that has changed. Through the mid and late 1990s and into the new millennium, lure fishing for bream underwent an unprecedented boom. I was one of many who got hooked.


These days we know a lot more about catching bream on hardware than we did when Vic McCristal was at his journalistic peak. Today, luring bream is a specialised pursuit that has spawned dedicated tournament circuits, created spikes in tackle sales and filled plenty of pages in this and other magazines. By contrast, targeting bream on flies remains very much on the fringe of current day sportfishing. I reckon it might be about time that situation changed.


Over the years, I’ve had a few fairly casual dabbles at catching bream on fly. My successes could best be described as modest and sporadic: a fish here and a fish there, but no dependable patterns and far more disappointments than breakthroughs.

This past year I made a conscious decision to put some serious effort into nutting out the bream-on-fly challenge. I was well aware that I wasn’t pioneering any new ground here, and that many others have gone before me. In fact, there are a few anglers out there who can claim to have cracked the bream-on-fly thing. My old partner in piscatorial crime Kaj ‘Bushy’ Busch is one of them, although he’d also be the first to admit that his fly rod results on these fish have lagged well behind his best efforts with soft and hard lures. These days, Bushy doesn’t bother too much with the long wand when fishing for bream.

On the other hand, Bushy’s mate Dave Longin is a very different kettle of sprats. While his name might not be particularly well known in wider fishing circles, Longin is an angler’s angler. Any fisho Bushy looks up to and speaks of with open admiration is definitely worth taking notice of, although it’s hard to notice Longin, who shuns publicity and has a penchant for long, solitary and often nocturnal stints on the water. But the way Bushy tells it, no one else comes even close to Dave in terms of having mastered bream and a swag of other temperate estuary species on fur and feathers (which, by the way, is the only form of tackle he uses). Longin is clearly in a league of his own. However, for better or worse, he remains incredibly tight-lipped and secretive about his methods, gear, chosen locations and fly patterns. In this post-Wiki Leaks era, I’d hazard a guess that the inner machinations of America’s Pentagon are shrouded in significantly less mystery than Longin’s on-water activities.


By contrast, I made fishing communication my career choice a long time ago. For me, that means sharing knowledge. Not necessarily spoon-feeding, but certainly offering a leg-up and a helping hand to those lower on the learning curve. It’s how I’ve always worked. I know it’s something a few people don’t understand or like, and it has caused me some angst over the years, but I don’t intend changing. It amuses me that some folks think they can carve a niche for themselves in the fishing education and information game while keeping their cards pressed firmly to their chest or, even worse, by peddling deliberately false information to cover their tracks and throw hopefuls off the scent, but there are some out there who do. I suspect the fishing public sees through most of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems whatsoever with someone like Dave Longin keeping the lid firmly on his hard-won secrets. That’s his prerogative and he’s not claiming to be an angling communicator. But, in my opinion, if you put your hand out for a pay cheque as a fishing writer or presenter, you need to share something other than convoluted sagas of your own prowess, with all the important and useful stuff “redacted”, as the military spooks like to call it when they black out huge tracts of sensitive documents.

So, for what’s it’s worth, I’m going to share with you all that I’ve learnt so far about catching decent-sized bream on flies. I reckon I probably know about five per cent of what Dave Longin does, but hopefully that might put me a few baby steps higher up the learning curve than the place you currently find yourself. If so, what follows might be useful. I hope so.


With my newfound surge of interest in chasing bream on fly coinciding with the chilly slide of autumn into winter, it was obvious that my efforts needed to focus on sub-surface presentations. I already knew I could pin the odd surface-feeding summer bream on a fly rod popper or small Dahlberg Diver, and that the pre-storm termite hatches of October, November and early December provided some fascinating (if frustrating) dry fly opportunities. But winter was going to be about deep, slow presentations to cautious fish in relatively clear water. These bream would have plenty of time to study my offerings, and I knew all too well from years of lure casting that they could be tough customers to convince.

The challenge was made doubly interesting by my choice of waterways. Most of my efforts would be focused on a couple of local “ICOLLs” (intermittently closed and opened lakes and lagoons) not far from my home on the far south coast of NSW. These reasonably small, relatively featureless, basin-like waterways are dominated by black bream, but also contain yellowfin bream and, rather interestingly, hybrids or cross-breeds of the two species. Furthermore, they’re renowned for producing some very big specimens, although these old, slow-growing fish are never a push-over to catch — on anything!


Choosing waterways that were literally having their guts flogged out almost every night by commercial netters only served to make a hard task even more difficult! (As an aside, the intensive mesh and haul netting of land-locked ICOLLs, with no quotas or other overall catch limits in place, is surely one of the dumbest and most unsustainable acts of environmental vandalism still practiced in this country. The fact that successive governments shrug their shoulders and refuse to tackle the issue, while focusing instead on locking recreational anglers out of more and more public water, beggars belief… But I digress!)

Looking back over the past few months, I must say that I’m reasonably happy with my fly fishing results on big bream. I didn’t set the world on fire numbers-wise, but I nailed some cracking fish, including a spectacular 1.87 kg (4 pound 2 ounce) bruiser and a string of others over the kilo mark. I guess you could say it was mission accomplished, and I look forward to expanding my efforts and diversifying my techniques through the coming summer. Meanwhile, here’s what I found out:


After a winter and early spring of reasonably intensive fly fishing for larger-than-average bream in cool, southern ICOLLs, these are the main things I believe I’ve learnt:

Firstly, despite the lack of tides and significant currents in these systems when they’re closed to the sea, bream activity levels and the willingness of these fish to hit lures or flies varies considerably from day to day, and sometimes even from hour to hour. Furthermore, these fishy mood swings are not always directly related to any observable shifts in the weather or other obvious conditions. However, moon phase does appear to play a role and, as a rule of thumb, the four or five days leading up to a full moon seem to offer better chances of success on fly, although there are exceptions.

Secondly, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that bream (and especially larger, older bream) are extremely shy of boats, shadows, sudden movement, splashes, bangs and just about anything else even slightly out of the ordinary. In the shallows, any of these things will cause a panicked, high speed dash towards the nearest drop-off, but out in the deeper main basins of these lakes, they just make the fish hunker down, go sulky and refuse to bite. (Read my column elsewhere in this issue of “NAFA’s Barra, Bass & Bream Digest” [pictured] for some more thoughts on this phenomenon, and possible ways to counter it.)

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When it comes to scoring hook-ups on fly, presentation seems to be far more critical than fly choice (although I’ll talk more about flies in a moment). For me, the optimum presentation strategy boiled down to the use of full length floating fly lines, weighted flies and extremely lengthy leaders: typically in the range of 4 to 6 m, but sometimes even longer! These aren’t a lot of fun to cast, especially with a weighted fly swinging on the end, but my move to an 11-foot Switch-style fly rod (a 5-weight G.Loomis Roaring River) has certainly helped. I standardised on a long 2 to 3 kg tippet at the end of my leader, and clear fluorocarbon seems to offer marginal benefits over nylon monofilament.

Looking back over my experiences this year, I firmly believe that sinking fly lines passing in front of big bream during the retrieve have a tendency to spook these fish. I’m sure there are scenarios where intermediate, sink-tip and full sinking lines or shooting heads have their place in bream fishing, but they really didn’t work for me on the big, blue-nosed bream of my local ICOLLs. Floating lines, weighted flies and long, long leaders were by far my most successful tools.

This combination of weighted flies, long, fine leaders and floating lines allows me to fish effectively down to about 3 m or even a tad more, but it’s important to let the fly sink to the bottom before commencing the retrieve, and to incorporate a lengthy pause every fifth or sixth strip to allow it fall again. Be especially alert for takes on the drop, too.

As for flies, I tried plenty of patterns without ever discovering a “silver bullet” for these fickle fish. Attributes that helped pull strikes were a reasonably quick, nose-down sink rate, lots of pulse, action and life (of the sort generated by rabbit fur, marabou and rubber legs), a discrete touch of flash, and natural colours such as tan, brown and olive. So far, my favourite is a self-tied Avalon-style fly on a No. 4 to No. 2 hook. (Avalons were created to fool permit, and feature an unusual keel loop of monofilament opposite the hook point, strung with small beads to provide weight and ensure the fly rides point-up and tracks straight.)

About the only other thing I know for certain is that I can catch a hell of a lot more bream on soft plastics and small hard-bodied lures than I can on fly! But in the end, that’s not really the point… Because, no matter how often it happens, that sudden, electrifying tug on the line in your stripping hand, followed by the loading of the rod and a series deep, dull flashes out there under bucket-sized boils will always quicken your pulse and make your hands shake. There’s no doubt about it — big bream on the fly are special. For me, they may even be the ultimate challenge.