I’m ‘Breamy Bailey’ – and I am proud of the name!

John Bailey and great al JG with a Goliath bream of 16lb 3oz. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey and great al JG with a Goliath bream of 16lb 3oz. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

East Anglia has always been something of a bream hotspot and, for some years, actually held the record off and on.

John Bailey with a double figure bream all of his own. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey with a double figure bream all of his own. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I fell in love with them as a lad, principally because of those from Gunton Lake that looked so magnificent to me as a kid. I've never gone along with the criticisms that they fight like submerged plastic bags, or that they should be called snotties and we should wrinkle our noses in appropriate disgust. I learnt back in short trouser days that bream can be cunning, can fight, are often beautiful and, just sometimes, can grow impressively big. When they get massive, wow, what a fish.

If you'd asked me just a few years ago, I'd have said the heyday of the big East Anglian bream was way in the past and lost to us forever. But you can be wrong. I'd feared that cormorant predation had cut off the supply of small bream coming through and that the old ones were dying out, never to be replaced. You never know everything. I've certainly been confounded this year.

At present, I can think of at least eight lakes I have access to where there is a possibility of bream between 10lb and perhaps even, dare I whisper it, 20lb. These are extraordinary fish. So often they're slime-free, a deep mahogany in colour and fight like racehorses. Honest, I saw a friend struggle with a bream for a full 15 minutes just a few weeks ago. We were convinced it was a carp and pleased it was a bream.

I don't catch as many bream as I once did because I'm not really a nocturnal angler these days. A lot of what I do is either guiding or for film and in neither case is sitting around on a cold, wet bank at midnight a great idea. Bream, though, can be caught in the daytime, especially with autumn on its way and in particular if there is a wild, damp westerly gusting to say force three to five. In conditions like these, I am happy to go out bream rod in hand.


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Of course, you've got to bait up for bream unless you are lucky enough to stalk them. This can be done and I've done it frequently over the last couple of years. One session in particular taught me a staggering amount. The lake in question was a small one, but obviously very rich because in its clear waters bream still grow to 12lb, if not 13lb, perhaps. The trouble has always been that the lake is infested with hordes of small tench which makes fishing blind on the bottom a difficult and infuriating prospect. However, there is a particular ledge only two feet deep, where the big bream are happy to come and browse and where the small tench fear to tread. It's on this tabletop that most of the big bream have come from the lake.

This particular session saw five or perhaps even six of the big bream feeding heavily on sweetcorn. My fishing partner was Ian and we were using a float, virtually unshotted, fished over-depth with four pound line running to a size 16 hook and a piece of sweetcorn. There is no doubt that the bream were browsing on the free offerings and I expected a bite pretty quickly. Wrong.

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After a completely absorbing and heart-stopping hour or so, I decided that we should reel the hook bait in so close to our feet that we could actually see it. The first two bream wandered past, both of them in turn picking up the piece of corn on the hook. Before any strike could be made, it was ejected, spat out a good two or three inches. The bream appeared unconcerned, feeding as they went. The answer was obvious. The third bream came along, sucked in and wham! Ten pounds three ounces of fine bream eventually landed after a scrap to make a 15lb common carp feel proud. The question this episode sets, however, is how often do all our fish behave like this? How many times during a season, or even a session, do big fish pick up a hook bait, test it and then reject it? And how many times, especially if we are carp anglers fishing at a hundred plus yards range, do we have no clue whatsoever?

Yep, come the cooling of the autumn weather, I'll really have my bream hat on again. My personal best, though I'm reluctant to talk about such things sometimes, was a 15lb-er from the River Wensum a number of years ago. At the time, I thought I would never come near to equalling it but you never know. Fishing just a few months ago with great pal, John Gilman, I netted a 16lb 3oz bream for him, caught on tench tactics at some 40 yards. That bream completely took my breath away and I'm finding it hard to gasp even now. That's what I've set my heart upon. Who knows, I might even fish on after dark if I think there is a realistic chance.

Breamy Bailey? Friends might laugh but I reckon the chuckles will sound a little hollow if I catch a 20lb-er some time before Christmas!

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