Bream fishing carries different connotations for different people, but the desired result is almost always the same: Fighting a feisty broad-sided little fish to the boat or bank to be enjoyed as a tasty fried treat.
It has long been rumored that country music legend Hank Williams, Sr. offered a child fishing with a cane pole a $20 bill if he would let him fish for a few minutes. For him, and millions of others, it is a spiritual pastime.
But, bream fishing can be as simple or as complex as one makes it.
A simple cane pole equipped with a ready-rig is about as entry-level as it comes. On the other end of the spectrum is a custom split bamboo fly rod with tapered leaders affixed to a $200 line placing hand tied flies in the precise location.
Most of us are somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, but we long to be out there sniffing out bream beds. In Mississippi, June is a good month to be there whether it be with a fly rod, ultra-light spinning gear, or a simple pole made of cane, graphite or fiberglass and a box of crickets.
Gone to bed
Tyler Stubbs, northeast region fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, says there are many factors that determine when bream bed.
“Contributing factors for bream bedding are similar to other fish species,” Stubbs said. “Things like photoperiod, weather (fronts) and temperature are very influential. Depending on the system, flow may be a factor. Depending on the year, most of the time it ends up being mid to late April when anglers first start to see bream move to the beds.”
A water temperature of around 65 degrees is necessary. Bluegill will spawn multiple times throughout the summer and sometimes into the early fall. This is the case when the water conditions are favorable, with good oxygen, available food and ample cover.
For the most part, look for bream beds in calmer, more protected areas of the lake. Redear, also called shellcrackers or chinquapins, will bed on the same sand and gravel beds used by bluegill.
The full moon has long been associated with bedding bream. In North America, the harvesting of strawberries in June gives that month’s full moon its name, the Strawberry Moon. Europeans have dubbed it the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon for the beginning of the summer heat.
But does a full moon really affect bream bedding cycles?
“It has long been speculated that the full moon is a key ingredient in bream spawning, among other things like increased crime rates, an increase in hospital births, werewolves, etc,” Stubbs said with a chuckle. “It has been shown in saltwater, that tidal flows which are controlled by the moon, effect fish spawning; however, I really don›t know of any scientific studies in freshwater that prove the moon is a full-fledged factor in bream spawning.
“However, in my experience, bream spawning does usually tend to take place around the full moon. Most bream anglers have noticed this too, and we tend to see peaks in anglers targeting bream around the full moon. Is it a just a coincidence or fact? I don›t know.”
Smell of success
Most anglers locate bedding bream by two means, smelling the bedding activity, or looking for an oily appearance on the water. Either way, it helps to know where traditional bedding areas are. Bream prefer sandy or small gravel bottoms.
“The most common thought I have heard is that the smell is a pheromone put out by males while they are on the bed” Stubbs said. “The smell of their milt probably contributes to this. Another idea I have heard is that bream tend to produce more slime during spawn (which could influence smell), which could also be why anglers tend to see what looks like an oil sheen around beds that are full of spawning fish.
“However, those are pure speculation, as I have not seen concrete evidence of where that smell comes from. The smell will usually take you straight to a bed if you can smell it. I have heard some people describe it as the smell of an over-ripe watermelon, but I tend to correlate it with a fishy smell, similar to that of the smell of a bucket that had some freshly caught fish in it.”
Where to go
Stubbs’ Northeast Region has some of Mississippi’s best bream lakes.
Tippah County Lake, located near Ripley is home to the standing state record 3.33-pound redear.
Lake Lamar Bruce, which reopened after restocking in 2015, Lake Lowndes State Park, and Trace State Park are excellent for big bream.
Elvis Presley Lake and Tombigbee State Park are great lakes for large numbers of bream; however, the average size runs a little smaller than the other lakes listed above.
MDWFP’s Jerry Brown, southwest fisheries biologist, also has some good lakes.
“The most-popular bream fisheries in my region are Eagle Lake, and state lakes Mary Crawford (Monticello), Jeff Davis (Prentiss), and Mike Conner (Collins),” he said. “Each are good for big bluegill and they also have redear. Calling Panther Lake (Crystal Springs) and Natchez State Park have big redear, but the bluegill sizes tend to be small. We always see really big redear sunfish when sampling at Natchez State Park.”
Brown’s region also includes some of the state’s finest natural lakes, the Mississippi River oxbow lakes. Eagle Lake north of Vicksburg is a traditional favorite, and when the river is right Chotard and Albemarle can be good for bluegill, especially later in the summer once the river level falls. Bream fishing declined in recent years in the river-connected oxbows, but Brown said he saw a lot of young bluegill last fall, so fishing should improve this summer/fall.
“I recommend using crickets for bluegill during the summer months (May-August) as they are known to spawn several times during that period.” Brown said. “Fishing in depths of 3 to 5 feet using a cork is a great method, especially in areas with gravel. Fishing near brush piles in those depths can be productive as well, such as fallen trees or fish attractors that we’ve added.”
Bluegill can also be caught with small beetle spins on an ultra-light and by fly-fishing, but crickets always seem to work. For redear sunfish, use red worms and fish them on the bottom by tight lining. This method becomes popular beginning in early May.
Both Stubbs and Brown agree that the best bream lakes are those that are good bass lakes. Strong bass populations essentially eat enough bream to allow those survivors less competition in the food chain, allowing the sunfish to grow at a fast rate. Most lakes mentioned and all state lakes have fish attracting structure, in the form of treetops, pallet stacks, piers and Christmas trees. When new to a lake, these attractors are great places to start fishing.
“Every lake in Mississippi has some bream,” Brown said. “Some are just believed to be better than others. The number one secret trick to catching these little fighters is to be on the water.
“You can’t catch fish sitting on the couch just talking about it. The more you fish the more your technique will improve, the more your technique improves the bigger the fish you catch. It’s pretty simple really.”
Visit mdwfp.com/fishing-boating/reel-facts.aspx to find the MDWFP’s new Reel Facts page. It may help you out when needing information on some lakes, and they offer a link to the agency’s lake depth maps. Many of those have fish attractor locations shown.