Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Silver Bream - The Reel Deal

Yesterday was a historic one in angling with no less than three anglers setting out from home with the sole intention of fishing for silver bream and silver bream alone, and without heading for a certain commercial fishery, Mill Farm in Surrey, the Mecca of the species and home to a string of five or six recent past record breakers, to do so.
Nope, these intrepid individuals weren't after Mill Farm's 'pellet pigs', fish grown fat entirely upon a diet of anglers hi-nutritional value freebies and a complete lack of competition in the form of bronze bream, but were heading to wild fisheries after wild fish who'd grown up on nothing but Nature's larder of plenty and not only in natural competition with a population of voracious bronze bream but actually living alongside them.

Let me explain. I have been catching the very occasional silver bream on the local cut over the past couple of years but last May managed to locate a cache of them in a particular short stretch near to home, where I oiked out no less than four individuals over a short period of availability before they simply vanished, apparently for good. I tried on and off all year but without a sniff and the nearest I got to finding them again was in early March when I picked a dead specimen out of the water a mile further along.

All these fish, including the stiff, weighed between eight and twelve ounces, but I suspected that the top weight would be far higher if only I could find a shoal and hold it long enough to prove it. My natural inclination, because the fish were in such a state of pristine youthful vigour (stiff excepted!) was to extrapolate upwards and envision a ceiling of two pounds, and perhaps even more?

Last week I was contacted by Mike Duddy of Fishing Fiend blog who had an early morning appointment in the vicinity of Coventry and who wanted to come along as my guest for a crack at a silver bream, having never caught or seen one in over forty years of angling. Yes, silver bream are that rare! and indeed most anglers, experience or otherwise, would seem to be in the same boat as Mike having never encountered one of these pretty fish in their entire angling lives, or if they have, have never realised precisely what it is they have caught.

Of course I agreed, but with the proviso that it had to be understood that there was simply no guarantee whatsoever that they would oblige, even if they were actually present again this season. Mike was undeterred, and we arranged to meet yesterday morning.

However, in the meantime something momentous happened. Keith, diddling about with a float rod and maggots somewhere else along the local canal system on an evening session after some (mythical?) eels, managed to catch a few fish that he suspected were silver bream with the largest of them a fish of two pounds, one ounce...!

He sent the pictures through for examination and next morning I took a butchers at them.

To my amazement, not only were the smaller fish bona-fide silvers but the large one, a fish that not so very long ago would have worried the then British record of two pounds and two ounces, was true also, ticking all the required boxes of scale count and colour, fin ray count and colour, and most decisively, eye size in relation to head size that differentiate to the genuine silver from it's most confused with lookie-likies, the bream and the roach x bream hybrid.

It's the reel deal (sic)!

I cannot overstate the significance of this fish. It's the largest recorded true silver bream I have been able to find caught elsewhere than Mill Farm and is just fourteen ounces below the current record weight. It has got that large without angler's or fishery owner's intervention and that means that probably, there are others around the same weight, and likely, some even larger and a few very old fish perhaps knocking on the door of the British record swimming around right now in the canals of the Midlands.

The smaller of Keith's fish were specimens of exactly the weight that I had been catching locally and so I was completely made up by now knowing for certain that my original guess at a weight ceiling had been proved correct.

I took the opportunity to get in a session before my appointment with Mike just to see if I could get at least get one silver in the bag ahead of his arrival in order to be able to judge the right swims for the session. I settled in to last years successful spot but proceeded to catch a string of bronze bream. I was certainly putting together a tidy netful but thought my chances at the target species were waning fast when the tenth bronze bream slid over the landing net rim.

Then I saw the bright chrome scales and ruby fins of a true silver bream heading toward the waiting net and held my breath as a prime specimen of fifteen ounces, a new personal best, came to the bank.

With Keiths's capture in mind I was now hoping that an even larger specimen would be on the menu but on this occasion I was to be disappointed, ending the session with a few more bream and a few perch too for a total bag of fifteen pounds, which is actually quite an impressive haul for any canal and quite enough to frame in, or even win a canal match outright whatever the quality of the field.

I finally met Mike on the towpath yesterday morning as arranged and delivered the good news that he stood more than a fair chance of banking silver having had one myself the previous day. I set up in yesterday's spot as Mike had already chosen the next peg along. Within half hour I was getting early indications but it was Mike who had the first fish on. As I walked along to see it landed I could see red fins and silver scales and sure enough on unfolding the mesh there was the unmistakable plump prettiness of a silver bream, Mikes first ever, and on his first cast in pursuit of one on this canal. I should guide for a living...!

Mike estimated it as a half pounder but I thought it well past twelve ounces and worth weighing properly as they are deceptively dense fish and always weigh more than they appear to. I got out my spring balance and popped it in a carrier bag. One pound exactly!

Very soon after Mike had another smaller specimen, and of course we then thought that the rest of the afternoon was cut out for us, but it was not to be unfortunately. As usual, they did their vanishing act and we were left with just a few bronze bream and perch to play with. Mike did have a nice roach though, which was interesting to me as they are not that common in this stretch.

Around mid-afternoon, Keith, who had gone back to his silver spot in the morning to try for another monster came to see us on the towpath, but reported a silver blank. Typical of em. Like I have said more than twice, elusive. Here one minute, gone the next!

Keith, Mike, welcome to the silver bream chasers club. It's a club of three right now but with huge fish out there waiting to be caught by those prepared to learn to distinguish them and put in the legwork necessary to find them in the first place, I predict numbers swelling...


  1. Jeff, that is fascinating stuff and very well written. I'll bet Mr Duddy was pleased as punch!

  2. Mr Duddy WAS as pleased as punch and cant thank Jeff enough for a great day out.

  3. That's a good read Jeff,thansk.I need to inspect my slimies through different specs next time