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Fishing for Bream in France

Fishing for Bream in France

Discover bream, a great autumn catch, with fishing expert Ron Cousins


In his 1653 fishing masterpiece The Compleat Angler, when writing about catching bream, Izaak Walton quotes an old French proverb: ‘He that hath breams in his pond is able to bid his friends welcome’. In those days they were a popular dish and it was said that the best parts were the belly and the head so someone with such a desirable dish on tap in the garden pond was never short of dinner guests.

A 21st century French menu is unlikely to include bream but the fish, whose imposing Latin name Abramis brama goes well with Walton’s description of ‘a large and stately fish’, is the focus of fishing attention for anglers throughout the country. Bream are shoal fish, so large catches can be made, and they grow to a good size as Walton wrote: ‘If he likes the water and air he will grow not only very large but as fat as a hog’.

Autumn is the time for big catches of bream as the summer weed dies away. Rivers carry the touch of colour in the water that encourages fish to feed throughout the day and not just early in the morning or late in the evening as they did when the summer sun shone on clear water.

All rivers and lakes throughout south west France hold bream, and there is no mistaking the fish when you catch one. The deep body with compressed sides gives a thin appearance while mature bream have dark bronze backs, lighter bronze sides and creamy white bellies. Some very big bream are almost black in colour and this is usually an indication of old age.

The bream has a protractile mouth to allow it to dig in the river bed and feed on things like chironomid larva and tubifex worms so when fishing for them, the bait needs to be down there among the natural food. It is also best to offer a stationary bait, which is easy in a lake but a little more difficult in a river.

A shoal of bream can be voracious feeders and plenty of groundbait is needed to keep them from moving off to look for pastures new. Walton’s advice was: ‘Take a peck and a half of sweet gross-ground barley malt, boil it in a kettle and strain into a tub’. Fortunately a whole variety of ground baits that only require the addition of water to produce the perfect mix can be found in tackle shops or the angling section in supermarkets. First choice for regular bream anglers are those that contain fish meal and sweet molasses.

The wasp grubs and the paste made from brown bread and honey baits of Walton’s time are long gone but his advice to ‘let your bait be as big a worm as you can find’ holds good over three centuries later. Add some maggots and a tin of sweetcorn and the bait requirements for a day’s bream fishing are all there.

Good catches of bream can be taken using conventional float fishing tackle with rod, reel and running line, or by pole-fishing with long carbon poles which is by far the most popular way among French anglers.

The opening gambit is to throw in a dozen or more orange sized balls of groundbait containing free offerings of maggots, sweetcorn and pieces of worm to hold the attention of bream already in front of the angler or moving along the river. The tackle is set over depth so that the bait is dragging along the bed of the river or laying on the bottom of the lake and floats carrying sufficient weight to achieve this are essential.

Apart from the difficulty of keeping the bait still, the failing of this approach is that often the biggest shoals of bream inhabit the deepest water which means the middle of the river or maybe 40 metres out from the lake bank. This is why using a swim feeder is fast becoming the best way to catch large numbers of bream. A swim feeder is a weighted and perforated plastic tube or a wire cage, usually between 3-10cm long and 10-15cm wide that is attached to the line near the hook. Weights fitted to the feeder body can vary from 20-80gm or more depending on the distance to be cast or the flow of the river. Instead of throwing ground bait in by hand it is now squeezed tightly into the feeder so that after casting the tackle out, the ground bait coming out of the swim feeder is close to the baited hook and draws the fish right into the line of fire. There is no float so bites are indicated by movements of the rod tip as a fish takes the bait and pulls the line. Most anglers fishing this way use specially designed Quiver Tip rods that have a very flexible top section to show the slightest of bites.

Although this way of fishing has been popular in the UK since the 1990s, it is only now beginning to catch on in France, mainly due to the competition rules of the French Federation which only allow float fishing in all their matches. However, some clubs have been organising their own feeder matches and the effectiveness of the method can be judged from some of these on the River Charente during the summer. On parts of the river where under float-only rules 8kg was a good winning weight, competitors were putting 20kg or more of bream on the scales.

Whichever way you fish, this is the time for bream. There are few finer sights for an angler than the autumn sun turning to gold the bronze body of a big fat bream as he comes to the landing net...

© Living Magazine. Originally published October 2015