How to catch bream

Bream are probably Australia’s most popular fish because they are common near human settlement, are fun to catch, and the big ones are a genuine challenge.

They are also possibly our most annoying fish, with swarms of tiddlers picking baits apart.

Consistently catching big bream is not easy.

So how to catch them?

First, let’s have a quick look at bream species, as there are several fish most Aussies would recognise as a bream and they are slightly different in their habits.

*The black bream Acanthopagrus butcheri is the most widely caught, being common in rivers and estuaries across southern Australia, including Tasmania.
*The eastern yellowfin bream Acanthopagrus australis is found in estuaries and along beaches across south-eastern Australia, occasionally interbreeding with black bream.
*The western yellowfin bream Acanthopagrus morrisoni was identified as a separate species in 2013 – it is caught in Australia’s western and northern tropical waters.
*The northwest black bream Acanthopagrus palmaris inhabits coastal waters from to the Kimberley.
*The pikey bream Acanthopagrus pacificus is the main bream of the Top End and Cape York Peninsula.
*The tarwhine Rhabdosargus sarba is a bream-like species often caught alongside yellowfin bream.
*The pink snapper Chrysophrys auratus of Australia’s southern waters is also a bream, but no Aussie calls it “pink bream”.

Let’s take a look at how to catch each species.

Black bream

The black bream is found from in Western Australia across the south to Mallacoota, Victoria, including South Australia and Tasmania.

It is common throughout most tidal waterways, and makes its way far up rivers.

Black bream are also found around coastal foreshores, and occasionally on inshore reefs.

Black bream tolerate fresh water, but are mostly a marine or brackish water fish.

They loiter around manmade structure such as pylons and oyster racks, but the real go-to fishing spots are rubbly ground where there are small crabs and shellfish, and mudflats rich with worms and nippers.

Black bream eat almost anything but definitely prefer live or fresh bait.

Prawns and worms are the best baits, but chicken gut, mullet gut, fish fillet, squid, octopus, baitfish and even cheese catches fish.

Berley can be used to bring them around but most bream fishermen go to the fish.

A light spinning rod and reel loaded with 2kg to 4kg line is ideal. bream may shy away from heavier line, especially when the water is clear.

A 1/0 fine gauge hook is ideal. Use the lightest possible sinker, or no sinker at all.

Lure fishing for bream is a good way to get past the small fish.

Use small soft plastic lures on light nylon leaders and with the lightest possible jig heads.

Tiny hardbody minnows also work.

In hard-fished areas the biggest black bream are taken at night on the freshest unweighted baits.

Otherwise, use a running sinker rig with the smallest possible sinker.

Tides can have a major affect on fishing.

The change of tide can bring fish on the bite, while a rising tide will see fish moving over flats to feed.

It is not uncommon for bream to not feed until the tide changes.

Black bream reach 4kg but a 2kg fish today is a monster. The big fish are dubbed bluenoses.

The timing of spawning varies across the continent, with Western Australian bream spawning from July to November, South Australian fish spawning between November and January and Victorian fish spawning in October to November. Victorian fish also become sexually mature later, at around five years of age, compare with two or three years in Western Australia.

Black bream generally go upstream to spawn, which means big fish won’t usually be abundant in the lower reaches in summer.

Black bream are found in the smallest creeks and tidal lakes, but some fisheries are renowned.

In Victoria, Mallacoota inlet and Lake Tyers are important bream fisheries.

In South Australia, the Coorong and Port River are major fisheries, and the Onkaparinga River.

In Western Australia, Culham and Stokes Inlet produce a great many bream, and excellent fishing is had in the Swan River and Peel and Canning systems.

Black bream are tasty, but a warning – they often live around manmade structure in polluted waters and are likely to accrue whatever toxins are present in local sediment. The safest bream to eat is one taken from clean waters.

Eastern yellowfin bream

This fish is the second most important Aussie bream species.

It is found along the east coast from around Townsville in Queensland south to Gippsland in Victoria.

It inhabit estuaries in salt or brackish water up to the fresh water limit, but is also commonly found on inshore rocky reef and along ocean beaches and around headlands.

Eastern yellowfin bream are sometimes called surf bream, as they are often caught inside the wave breaks.

The ventral and anal fins of this bream are yellow, while the black bream’s are brown.

Black bream are also darker overall.

Eastern yellowfin bream take most baits, and are often caught from beaches by fishermen targeting tailor.

Otherwise, much the same fishing rules apply as to black bream.

Fish caught from the surf are very silver and clean, and a good size, making a superb meal.

Western yellowfin bream

This fish was only identified as a separate species in 2013.

It is caught in Australia’s western and northern tropical waters in much the same type of habitat as preferred by the eastern yellowfin bream.

Northwest black bream and pikey bream

These two similar species are fish of the tropics, with the northwest black bream caught from to the Kimberley, and the pikey bream from the Top End and Cape York Peninsula east down to the central Queensland coast.

Both fish inhabit coastal foreshores and tidal creeks.

The pikey bream forms large schools at times. It is usually targeted in the winter months.

The pikey bream does not have a huge following up north, as barramundi and the like are the greater attraction.

Nonetheless, some people do target pikey bream each dry season as the fish can be caught in numbers and they are good to eat.


Tarwhine look like a bream, but they have faint yellow horizontal stripes and a more rounded nose.

They are most commonly caught off South-East Queensland and New South Wales in the lower parts of estuaries, and off surf beaches and on inshore reefs.

They are found from SEQ through to eastern Victoria and also on in Western Australia.

They take a range of baits but are usually quite small and rarely targeted.

Black bream at Museums Victoria
Eastern yellowfin bream at the Australian Museum
Western yellowfin bream at Museums Victoria
Northwest black bream at Museums Victoria
Pikey bream at Museums Victoria
Tarwhine at the Australian Museum

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