Guide to Estuary Gilthead Bream Fishing
Submitted by bubbleroy – 26/2/2015
GiltHead Bream, bubbleroy, 7lb 4oz Forum Record & FOTM August 2014
Ah, the elusive Gilthead Bream, many anglers spend hours in search of the experience that comes with hitting into one of the UK’s hardest fighting fish, think bass then double it, it really is the Mike Tyson of the fishing world, with a bite to match!!! Spring time starts bringing the fish into UK waters and whilst they can be found in the shallows on the beaches, especially early in the season, your best opportunity of landing one of these beasts is up the rivers and creeks. Like all species fishing, putting in the hours and experiencing the blanks is part of the learning curve however this short guide is aimed at trying to improve your chances of making your dreams a reality. This guide covers the estuaries and rivers but I know of many who have had success on the beaches, especially early in the year just before the gilts take up, what appears to be, their summer residence in the rivers.
Like with many fish, a basic inspection of its physical features will reveal a substantial amount about its feeding habits, both in terms of location and diet. Fairly narrow back but wide from top to bottom is not conducive to feeding in strong currents or behaving like the predatory bass fish. Try to imagine how this width would stand up when trying to move side on in a strong current, the surface area works against it, therefore giving prey the opportunity to escape. It therefore chooses to feed in the quieter shallower waters, where it can forage around without fighting the tidal flow. There are many spots that fish well as the tide slackens but as soon as it starts running and it looks ‘fishy’, go completely quiet, this is the time to pack up and move on, many don’t, hence the stories of hours spent in the same spot to no avail.
Close scrutiny of the mouth reveals a fairly small opening with a row of hard plated teeth at the front (both of these features assist with hook choice), leading to a softer palate and sharper teeth at the back. Although they are known to take small fish, they are more inclined to locate an area of feed, forage around and crush their chosen feed, moving it further down their mouths before moving on, something to be considered when knowing when to draw into the fish! Also consider that these plates make easy work of any crab, razors, mussels, clams and even easier work of any weak hooks!!!
Rod – A carp rod or medium action rod of around 9-11ft are ideal (however most rods will do the trick as long as it has the power to cope with a hard running fish). There is no need to cast too far but when the fish are feeding around the margins, some accuracy may be required.
Reel – A bait runner or fixed spool with clutch control is a must. These fish hit hard and if your clutch is too tight or spool fixed, be prepared to lose a few fish from snap offs. A 2500 will certainly feel the strain over time, so I would recommend anything in the 4000-6000 range.
Line- I use 15lb braid, I know others who go lighter and some who go heavier. The fish will often chew at the bait before running with it, braid helps to detect these slight movements before take-off!!
Rigs- Float fishing and small lures can and do catch gilts but by far the most effective method is bottom fishing and try to keep it simple. A basic running ledger is all you need. This image is one example, I like to use a small ball weight (1-2 ounces) as I like the weight to roll around a little on the bottom and when using worm I place a small bait stop between the hook and swivel, thus preventing the bait sliding down the line. Attach your braid or mono main line directly to the swivel then have a 2-3ft fluorocarbon trace to the hook. I tend to use 15-20lb breaking strain leader, quite heavy some would say but I have experienced too many snap offs with weaker line to let it concern me too much.
Hook, Hook, Hook! I make no apologies for repeating myself; it is in my opinion the most important aspect of ensuring you aren’t constantly talking about the one that got away. As already discussed, they have relatively small mouths but don’t be deceived, they are as tough as they come and can crush a weak hook with no trouble and quickly dispatch an unsharpened hook with ease. Size 1 or 1/0 will suffice, smaller if you like but ensure they are toughened hooks with a needle sharp point. Change your hooks or sharpen them up after each hook up and trip out. I generally like to keep things simple but I can’t emphasise enough the importance of good strong, sharp hooks when chasing gilts. Personally I use Cox and Rawle, 1/0 Chinu, these are slightly offset and yet to fail me, there are others on the market and most good carp hooks also work well.
Bait- Most of the standard estuary baits will catch gilts: rag, lug, razors, peeler, mussels. They have all worked for me but if I was to lean towards one of choice it would be razor and only because they are easy to collect (if you know where), making them very cheap, hold scent very well, can be frozen time and time again and are fairly easy to bait up (unlike mussels). Having said that I have often turned up at certain places dug a few local worms or collected a few crabs and used those to good effect.
Methods– Once you’ve chosen a time and place, set up your gear and work out where you want to cast. Don’t be afraid to place your bait close to the shore, be stealthy, get the distance you want to cast to (practice to a spot away from where you want to fish if need be) and cast away. Don’t be surprised if you have an immediate bite, the initial cast can often land a gilt as it lands on the bottom and creates a small disturbance, they have been known to mistake this for small prey moving around. In view of this don’t be afraid to have a couple of turns of your reel every few minutes to create this effect on the river bed it often attracts inquisitive gilts into your bait. If you do get a bite
do not be too hasty, they will often pick up and start crushing the bait before launching off, hopefully you have your clutch set appropriately or your bait runner on, at this point lift your rod tip up high, really no need to strike, if your hooks are sharp enough and you’ve allowed the fish time, the bait would have been crushed and moved to the softer part of the fishes mouth. The fish will often turn sideways on you, using its oval shape body and the tide to pull against the line, keep the rod tip up and allow the reel to do its work, chances are the fish will have several runs before tiring, thus giving you a chance to pull it in. When returning fish be conscious of the fact that it would have fought hard and be tired so may need to be held in the water for some time before moving away.
Locations, tides and weather- It is generally recognised that the optimum time for gilt fishing is break of dawn and I have found that there is an increase in chances at first light, although don’t be put off by chancing your luck later in the day. Their first instinct is to use their sight, scouring the river bed for any movement and possibilities of a meal, so I suspect first light gives greater feeding opportunities, especially when the water has no disturbance from boats and people however this is just an observation and not a matter of proven science. It does give rise to lure fishing opportunities, when tweaking a small imitation worm or crab in potential spots, this does however take a considerable amount of patience and moving around, so probably better from a small boat. Also don’t be put off by the odd night time excursion, especially if there is a full moon. A sustained high pressure period of calm, warm weather also tends to improve catch rates. Choosing what tides to fish tend to be impacted by your chosen location. I tend to arrive at spots nearer the estuary mouth and the mouths of creeks a little before low water (points A on diagram) and it is very much dependent on whether it is a neap or spring as to how long I stay there. Springs tend to lead to a quicker turn in the tide, so I will generally only stay in that spot for an hour after low, neaps take longer for the tide to start pushing in, so I may stay up to two hours after the turn. I will fish locations at points B from about mid water up and points C are generally spots that I will fish in areas that tend to dry out during the tidal ebbs. Having said that wherever I go I will always fish just outside the main channel and stay away from the main flow of water and look for areas where tidal flow has been slowed down by natural features. Creeks often offer the best of these conditions hence their popularity amongst many gilt anglers. Don’t ask me why but windy conditions seem to be the least fruitful for me, perhaps it’s a confidence thing but have often found my catch returns are substantially reduced in the wind, especially when coming from the East (although I suspect this may differ for different parts of the country).
The season is very much dependent on the water temperature and a sustained period of warmer weather can attract them in greater numbers towards the back end of March (although I am aware of fish being caught in January) but it is more likely that the end of April early May will see increased catch rates. The most fruitful months tend to be June, July and August, where I would highly recommend trying to match tides, with a sustained period of warm weather and an early morning jaunt.
There you have it. Far from an experts guide, just some tips from my experiences in and around the rivers and creeks of Cornwall. I suspect there will be elements you disagree with and some things you find will work for you. There are times when even I ignore this knowledge just through a desire to sit by the river bank but when I do, I can honestly say that although I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, I normally go home without a fishy tale!!!