Target beds for Mississippi bream

(Photo by Terry Madewell)

June highlights the spawning process for sunfish in bodies of water across Mississippi. Though pedestrian by many measures, they are the fish that brings people together.

There is an old saying that goes, “What goes around, comes around.” It’s summer, and bream are bedding, just as they have ever since the first bream felt the first urge to procreate.

A cyclic thing, bream bedding is not rocket science, but it is as much a part of nature as the rotation of the earth and the phases of the moon. Biologists will not go on record saying the full moon plays a role in bream reproduction, but as one did admit, “both activities happen at the same time. 

This bluegill found a red wiggler to its liking. The author found the bluegill, once fried, to his liking.

What science will say is that bream will bed on a monthly basis from spring through early fall. June is not the first month this occurs, but it certainly gets the most notice.

A cane pole rigged with a red and white bobber and baited with a red worm was most anglers’ introduction to fishing, be it on a family farm pond or a state lake. As fishermen mature, the equipment they choose gets fancier, the destinations get more exotic, and the fish caught get bigger, but the bream, that lowly little panfish that started the angler’s journey, remains abundant and just as much fun as ever. 

The times may have changed, but in a sense, the times have remained the same.

“Water conditions and photoperiod trigger the spawning activity,” said Tyler Stubbs, a fisheries biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “Given these conditions, bream will bed every month until colder weather forces them into a winter pattern. During this time, bream are easy to catch and rank high on the list for anglers.”

Bream lakes

Every state lake and state-park lake in Mississippi has a fishable population of bream. Some even have the distinction of being “bream lakes” that regularly give up limits of large, hard-fighting bluegills and redears. In more recent years, coppernose bream (a bluegill on steroids), have been introduced in some state lakes. The coppernose is to the bream family essentially what the Florida strain is to largemouth bass. They forage more aggressively during the year and grow larger. 

“Some of our lakes get a reputation as bream lakes, but this is a little misleading,” Stubbs said. “The department’s purpose is to provide a quality fishing opportunity. Sometimes, the nature of recruitment, predation, weather or other natural event might skew the fish resource in such a way to favor one species over another. All the angler needs do is talk to lake managers, read the fishing reports on line and ask questions of other anglers to get the best advice.”

Male bream start the bedding process by choosing a sandy or gravel bottom and, using their fins, create shallow depressions. The male then aims to attract a female. She comes to the nest and deposits her eggs. As part of this ritual, the male will rush the female and emit a series of grunts. Once the female has done her deed, the male fertilizes the eggs and guards the nest against predators until the eggs hatch and the fry leave. It is during this time that males, often called bulls, are easily caught. 

The nose knows

There is a smell associated with bedding bream, a pungent, fishy odor that most people can easily identify. For those who know it, the smell is a welcome aroma. It is a sure bet an active bream bed is close by. The smell may be associated with a thin, oily film on the water’s surface. Follow your nose and fish the bottom toward the source of the aroma. When you reach the bed, be ready for action. 

This may be a good point to explain that water depth is not as great a factor as bottom material. An old gravel road, now flooded, may be 8 to 10 feet deep but will attract loads of bream. Shallow water may be chosen because wave action has created ideal bedding conditions near the shore. Whatever the case, deeper water will be close by to allow the fish an escape when spooked.

Some lakes have closed beach areas and transitioned to swimming areas. That leaves a lot of sand available for bream beds. According to Jerry Brown, an MDWFP fisheries biologist, pea gravel is added to the lakebed when a state lake is drained for maintenance. Such places are marked on upgraded lake maps that indicate fish attracting structure.

Worms vs crickets

According to Tat Simpson at Fisherman’s Corner in Morton, the sale of red wigglers and crickets is about equal. He sells both to campers and local anglers who fish nearby Shadow Lake, inside Roosevelt State Park. 

“There are those who don’t like the mess involved with worms,” Simpson said. “Crickets seem to be a little easier to catch and get on a hook, and I think that is the big attraction for them. Children seem more apt to bait a hook with a cricket than a worm. But there are those who swear worms catch more fish than crickets.”

Simpson said there was a time when roaches were a popular bream bait. Catalpa worms are popular in season. A few resources for the tough green and black worm are scattered around the state. When plentiful and allowed to reach a length of about 2 inches, they can be frozen in cornmeal and used all year. Most anglers will cut off the head and turn the worm inside out on a long-shank hook. One  worm may catch several fish before rebaiting becomes necessary.

Cane poles remain a popular choice for occasional fishermen; more-serious anglers use fiberglass poles such as the Bream Buster, marketed by B’n’M Poles of West Point. Bream and crappie poles are good crossover units. 

Most any rod-and-reel combination can be rigged with a hook, weight and bobber, but consider the high end of the ultralight spectrum. This way, when the bream limit is reached, the angler can switch to a little heavier bait and catch bass and crappie.

When mayflies swarm they alight everywhere. During this annual event, bream fishermen can take advantage of mayfly patterns to catch fish.

Artificial offerings

One of the most-popular artificial offerings for bream is the Beetle Spin. Ultralight fishing tackle has been around for several decades and is not just for kids. A light rod with lighter line creates the feel of playing a much larger fish. Bream are feisty and present quite a battle on light tackle. Line in the 2- to 6-pound range is ideal. A 4-foot, light-action rod and a spinning or spincasting reel are all that’s needed.

Small critterbaits resembling frogs, crayfish, tadpoles, small minnows and worms are also popular with anglers. Unlike high-dollar bass baits, bream baits are far more reasonably priced, often under a dollar.

Fly-fishing and kayaking go together like Forrest Gump’s peas and carrots. Fly-fishing seems to be a part of the natural progression of the complete angler. Tackle can run from simple to elaborate. As with any investment, the better the equipment purchased, the better the overall experience. However, better and most expensive are not necessarily the same thing.

Bait

Consider this: in a fly-fishing, presentation of the bait is the most-important factor. The proper line and tippet coupled with a rod you can manage is going to give you the best presentation, thus get the most bites. The reel is simply a line holder. If you have to compromise on anything, skimp on the reel. Select a 3-weight rod 7 feet or longer; 9 feet is not too long. A weight-forward line is the best choice, tied to a tapered leader as long as the rod. Have some 3X to 4X tippet material in reserve for replacement.

The idea is to allow the fly to make the least-obtrusive entry in the target location. Keep in mind, the fly is not being cast, the line is. The fly is just along for the ride. Once an angler is bitten by the fly-fishing bug, fly-tying is generally the next step. Trout fishermen are compelled to “match-the-hatch,” but bream are not near as finicky and will inhale most anything that looks like bait. 

Good flies are too numerous to mention. Foam bugs with rubber legs are a good choice, as are bugs made from cork or hard foam. Barr-Nun is a top brand and is a hard brand to beat.

Seasonal hatches of mayflies are a popular choice for fly tiers, or for those wanting to buy an already tied creation. Mayfly hatches occur across most of Mississippi, with some around Pickwick and Columbus lakes being seen on local radar. 

Lilly Hawkins of Pearl caught this bluegill on a Beetle Spin and light spinning tackle.

Pick a lake, any lake 

When an angler considers the available options for water, the choices are mind-boggling; Mississippi is blessed to have so much fishable water. Choose your passion: fish from a boat, a canoe or kayak, by wading, from a pier or just off the bank; there is a place where you can do it. Consider state lakes and state-park lakes, and you’re already near 50 locations. Add in U.S. Forest Service Lakes such as Marathon, Okissaha and Davis, and the number nears 75. With the U.S. Army Corps Lakes and Pat Harrison Waterway lakes, there is no reason not to wet a line. 

Access to the internet has never been better, and anglers can find all the information they need by searching the name of the water they wish to fish. MDWFP’s website provides weekly fishing reports. Lake maps are available with all sorts of information, including the location of fish attractors, boat ramps, depth variations and contact information. Pick a lake and check it out. Take the family and catch a mess of wild protein for the dinner table.

Green sunfish are a smaller, colorful bream subspecies found in many Mississippi lakes. (Photo by David Hawkins)

Panfish of Mississippi

The bluegill is probably the most-abundant bream in Mississippi waters. To hold one is to see how they get their moniker. The gill plate is blue on both male and female. As males mature, it appears their body is trying to engulf their head. Color variations exist from almost black to blue.

The coppernose bream is nothing more than a Florida-strain bluegill that has a boldly colored head and gill plates. Good fighters, they are more common in lakes in the southern portion of Mississippi.

The redear sunfish, also called a shellcracker, is distinguished by a red or orange margin around the gill-plate. The bodies may feature brighter yellows and oranges. Highly prized for their fighting ability and good textured flesh, these bream at always a good catch.

The green sunfish and long-eared sunfish are also found in state lakes and streams. Generally smaller in size, they may well be the prettiest with their dark bars and bright colors.

The creel limit on bream is 100, in combination. There is no minimum size, and bream are sometimes caught and used as catfish bait. Even in that capacity, the limit in possession remains 100.

A float is a float is a float

The red and white bobber is the most-recognizable part of an angler’s bream-fishing arsenal. It can be easily attached to a line, and adjustment is very simple. It dances on the water when the bait beneath it is being eaten. It is cheap and found everywhere tackle is sold.

Foam floats can be clipped on or rigged with the line through the middle, held in place by a wooden or plastic plug to determine the depth being fished. They too are inexpensive, and there is no end to the sizes available.

Quills are considered top-of-the-line by many panfish anglers. Porcupines are the main source of sale-ready quills. Quills offer little resistance when a fish takes the bait, and they resemble a reed floating vertically above the bait. 

If you turkey hunt or have a friend who does, keep some wing feathers and make your own bream floats. Use a sharp knife to remove the feathers, leaving just the quill. Attach the spring from a ball point pen to the bottom and glue it in place with super-glue. Spray with a waterproof shellac and allow it to dry. Then, use a small rubber band or a small section of rubber hose to hold the line in place.

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David Hawkins
About David Hawkins 189 Articles
David Hawkins is a freelance writer living in Forest. He can be reached at hawkins2209@att.net.

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