20 April, 2023 | Match & Coarse | Angler Blogs | Articles0 Comments
James Champkin: The Pursuit of Big Bream
Specimen hunter James Champkin shares a tale about his pursuit of big bream on a Colne Valley lake which resulted in the capture of a truly incredible fish…
The Pursuit of Bream
In the spring of 2022, I’d acquired a new syndicate ticket in the beating heart of big carp country: the Colne Valley. However, it was not for the dark, scaly mirrors and golden commons that I joined the lake; it was for the promise of truly enormous bream.
This mature, tree-lined 30-acre gravel pit is part of a much larger complex of lakes, all of which hold some stunning and very large carp, which represent the target for almost every other angler fishing the venues. I had fished the much smaller neighbouring lake the previous season for its big bream and had taken some fantastic hauls of big fish to exactly 15lb. However, my ambitions were more grandiose, and regular conversations with the complex’s’ keen carpers suggested that the biggest fish were to be found just across the causeway.
This particular ticket commenced on 1st May, and so I took a gamble by booking off several weeks of holiday from work (the majority of my annual leave allowance for the entire year!) to enable me to exploit this often fruitful period before the bream population spawned.
In most gravel pits this typically occurs during late May, and therefore the weeks leading up to this event see the fish at their peak weights and often in the finest of fettle.
Best laid plans
Predictably – as is often the way with the best laid plans – the fish had other ideas. During my second session on the lake, I was targeting a prominent gravel hump, which I was assured regularly produced big bream to the carp anglers.
I started to experience some amazing line bites just as darkness fell – typical when a shoal of huge slabs settles over a baited area. All night, these liners kept me awake and on the edge of my bedchair, and by first light I was genuinely stunned that my landing net remained dry.
However, a chat with some of the venue regulars and a quick peak into one of the shallow bays confirmed my concerns: the bream were already spawning! I couldn’t quite believe it. I was already too late. My chance had clearly passed by for the spring, and keen to avoid catching fish that were down in weight and looking in poor condition, I skulked off feeling thoroughly dejected.
Following that disappointing start to the season, I felt rather lost for the remainder of the often-fruitful spring period. My meticulously laid plans were up in smoke, and I just couldn’t get my head back into the fishing.
Spring soon transitioned into summer – the dog days of which can be an uninspiring time for the big-fish angler – and this was never more evident than during the summer of 2022.
Record-breaking hot temperatures and a severe drought left the country scorched with both rivers and lakes at desperately low levels, and aside from a few brief nights in pursuit of big eels, the warmer months slipped by with virtually nothing of any note to report.
In August, a good friend phoned me out of the blue and asked whether I’d like to join him and his son on a venue-exclusive booking to a picturesque estate lake in France. Carp angling doesn’t typically elevate my excitement levels, and I’d certainly never crossed the English Channel to pursue chunky, sparsely scaled French mirrors.
However, at the time I was feeling spontaneous and needed something to pull me out of the angling doldrums, so I quickly agreed. Fast-forward six weeks to mid-September, and I found myself treading the sun-dappled banks of a secluded pool in rural France, searching for the tell-tale bubbling that often signifies silt-feeding carp.
The fishing turned out to be very tricky, and only seven fish were landed between the three of us throughout the duration of the week. Fortunately, my name was against five of those, and I rounded off the trip with two lovely French mirrors weighing 37lb and 44lb.
I can’t deny that I struggled to get motivated for the fishing for the first few days. However, by the time we were boarding the ferry bound for Blighty I’d started to feel the buzz again, and I couldn’t wait to get back to home to make the most of the specimen angling opportunities that autumn inevitably offers.
The seasons begin to change, along with my fortunes
It was early October before I’d got myself back in gear, and it was in preparation for a cautious return to the Colne Valley pit to resume my hunt for an enormous bream. The autumn months closely follow early spring when it comes to the best times to target a bream the size of a dustbin lid.
While I’d preferentially fish for bream during April and May, that chance had passed by for the year and so October now represented my final opportunity before the season slipped away entirely.
I found the venue slightly quieter than during my initial forays, but still busy with enthusiastic carpers. Consequently, accessing my preferred swims remained a challenge.
I had spoken to plenty of anglers since joining the venue, and so even without yet catching a bream from the lake, I’d built up a clear idea of the areas in which I should focus my efforts. Shoals of big bream can become incredibly localised, and if you fail to fish the specific swims that offer access to the areas in which they’re resident, you’re can be effectively wasting your time.
During my first sessions back on the lake, I failed to get into the swims that I felt gave me the best chance of a bream, and consequently only managed to tempt a few of the resident carp population. Given the stock of carp that calls the lake home, I was more than happy to get off the mark with a few of these – particularly when a breezeblock of a common weighing 38lb 1oz was in amongst them. My confidence was climbing, and I finally felt close to landing my very first bream from the lake.
I had heard of numerous fish of my target species being caught over the preceding weeks by carpers from one very specific area, and I was sure that I could follow suit if I could just get my baits into that golden triangle.
Fortunately, on my next visit I managed to do exactly that, setting up in a swim that had produced the vast majority of bream that I’d heard of being caught since I started fishing the venue.
I had three nights ahead of me, and I was determined to make the very most of what was likely to be my final bream session of the year. By now, it was late October. The leaves were falling, the weather rapidly turning, and I had other commitments over the following weekends – I needed to capitalise, and fast.
The opportunity I’d been waiting for
With a long session ahead, I took my time to heavily interrogate the swim. I’d been told of a prominent gravel bar at around eighty yards, which I quickly located and around which I focused my plumbing efforts.
I prefer to target the pinnacle and rear slope of such features, and I decided to begin by fishing the base at the back of the bar, where the gravel transitioned to smooth silt. Transitional substrate areas like this are often productive as they offer two microhabitat types for macroinvertebrate life (a feature within a feature, if you like).
I was spodding for what felt like hours, baiting with my standard bream mix of small Marine Halibut pellets, Mixed Particles, XL Sweetcorn, 10mm Spicy Shrimp & Prawn boilies, and Marine Halibut Method Mix – all combined into a sticky blend with molasses, Evolution Tuna Oil and CSL Liquid.
I also soak the Spicy Shrimp & Prawn boilies heavily in a combination of the matching liquid, alongside the Shrimp Extract, which hugely increases their attraction level.
With the dinner table laid, there was just enough time to position two method feeder rigs over the top before darkness fully descended.
I was awoken in the early hours by a positive take that was stripping line from a tightly set clutch by the time I picked up the rod. As soon as I leant into the beast on the other end, I could immediately detect that something wasn’t right. I could feel the grating of the line running across the abrasive bar and just a few seconds later, everything fell slack. I’d been cut-off.
Feeling frustrated and dejected, I slowly retackled in the darkness under the light of a headtorch, re-wrapped the rod to the same range, and hitting the clip, felt another groundbait-laden method ball strike down on the firm ground.
Unfortunately, that was the first and last bite I received that night, so I vowed to make changes to my end tackle and reposition my baits the following day to avoid a repeat of the incident that had occurred.
During the second day, I decided to make two key changes.
Firstly, I re-rigged the rods with much longer leadless leaders, extending them to 4ft. Secondly, I elected to bait and fish the very top of the bar, rather than over the back of it. I felt that by fishing in this manner – in combination with a tight clutch – I would run much less risk of a fish running beyond the bar and therefore of my mainline suffering its abrasive effects.
On that night, my changes paid dividends and I landed all three fish that I hooked: two double-figure carp, and my very first bream from the pit. Weighing a reasonable 12lb 14oz, it certainly wasn’t the enormous fish that I’d hoped for, but it made for a very reasonable start.
On my third and final night of the session it was a case of rinse and repeat, as I topped up the bait and positioned two method feeders back on top of the bar. The weather on that final day was horrendous, with savage thunderstorms making it extremely tricky to spod without getting soaking wet.
It was a case of dodging the torrential showers by dipping in and out of the brolly, but eventually I’d got myself all set for the night ahead.
Throughout the hours of darkness, the rain was unrelenting, and I was dragged back out into the inclement weather by just the one further bite. Upon picking up the rod I could quickly tell that I was attached to a large bream; the characteristic heavy weight and gentle nods on the rod tip giving the game away early on in the fight.
As it slowly plodded along the margins and I finally caught a glimpse of its broad flank, I was praying for it to slip over the net cord, which it eventually did without any dramas.
As I laid the bronze-flanked fish onto the unhooking mat, I could quickly see that it was comfortably bigger than the bream I’d landed the previous evening – but how much bigger?
Well, after dampening the sling, the digital scales confirmed that it was quite a bit larger indeed! Weighing in at exactly 16lb, I’d finally landed a fish of the caliber for which I’d joined the lake.
Even better, it was an incredible looking bream and after landing it shortly before dawn, I managed to get some beautiful photos of the fish in the early morning light.