The bug remained still as the circles expanded symmetrically from the source. After 15 seconds that seemed an eternity, the bug twitched spasmodically, and the water erupted as a bull bream engulfed it hungrily. The line sawed back and forth through the water in the distinctive fighting pattern of bream. It created a sizzling sound, putting a tight bend in the 5-weight fly rod.
As the fish tired, Gene Cunningham led it to the side of the kayak and admired the dusky hues reflected in the morning sun. The fish soon joined his mates on a stringer for a date with a big, black frying pan.
It was a typical late-spring morning on an isolated Upstate pond northwest of Marietta. The most distinctive thing about the pond is that it holds a good population of bluegills, shell-crackers and bass.
We re-enact this scene repeatedly each year. Pursuing big bream and bass from a kayak is a passion that never fades. In addition to allowing access to a boatload of fish, the sleek craft glides silently along the shoreline where we are allowed intimate views of unsuspecting wild creatures. A silent approach on water is not intrusive to wildlife or seen as a cause for alarm. Whitetail deer, nesting geese, water snakes, sunning turtles and croaking bullfrogs are just a few of the creatures fishermen are privileged to see as a by-product of our time on the water.
Some of the most fun that can be had in pursuit of bream is with a fly rod in hand. Using a kayak to access the best locations is the icing on the cake. The addiction with fly rods for bream reaches back to my early childhood. Contending with less than desirable equipment in the early years was not discouraging, but it whetted my appetite to upgrade equipment and learn to use it properly.
Trout fishing is enjoyable in early spring, but when the water warms later on, we start scouting for big bream. We look for isolated ponds with healthy populations of bluegills, shell-crackers and bass. Kayaks are launched, and we patrol the edges, looking for spawning bream. If the spawn is not in progress, we move constantly, picking up a fish or two and moving along to another spot. By using a mid-sized popping bug, the bream attacking it are usually big, and the bonus is that occasionally a nice bass will smash the bug and provide a thrill as it leaps and crashes back into the water. The ratio is commonly eight or 10 bream to every bass, but that's not bad.
By gliding quietly in stealthy kayaks, we can slip up to a spot and lay out a long cast. The fish never detect our presence until they feel the sting of the hook. Small ponds can be circled several times. By the time a circuit is made, the fish will have settled down, allowing us to hit the same spots for a second or third time.
Another benefit of kayaks is portability. Many of the ponds that we fish are not accessible to vehicles and trailers. Kayaks can be draped over a shoulder and carried to the water easily, allowing paddlers to take advantage of water that sees few boats. Bank fishermen cannot reach some of the best spots due to brush or terrain, but kayaks can provide easy access. Belly boats (float tubes) are a possibility, but they are not as maneuverable as kayaks and the often-brushy conditions could lead to a puncture.
The Upstate pond is a typical rural pond with brush-fringed banks restricting bank fishing. At least 85 to 90 percent of the water is only accessible by boat, the shoreline being filled with blowdown trees that create excellent holding areas for bream and bass. A long cast, parallel or quartering to the trunk of a downed tree will usually elicit a resounding smacking sound as a fish takes the bug. It is not uncommon to see geese, otters and beaver; one annoyance is that a huge alligator snapping turtles will sometimes spy your stringer and help himself to a fish or two. When you hear the chain rattle and lift the stringer, the turtle will hang doggedly onto a fish until it pulls loose from the stringer. An ice chest is a good option to avoid this problem.
Fly-fishing equipment requirements for bream are flexible. Very light rods in the 2- to 3-weight range are acceptable; that said, rods in the 5- to 6-weight range are a good starting point, especially if hooking a nice bass is a possibility. A bull bream can put a nice bow into a 5-weight rod, and a big bass can really give you a battle.
Bream will actively feed on a wide range of flies. They respond to nymph patterns, rubber spiders, small plastic lures and a variety of popping bugs. Fishermen frequently catch them on small spinners, the combination of those lures with a lightweight or ultralight spinning outfit is deadly on bream.
The lure of choice is a medium balsa popper in green, yellow or white. Rubber legs and a marabou tail are the norm. The medium popper will often discourage smaller bream; even if they strike the bug, they will often not be hooked. This assures that the bug stays on the water longer, resulting in catching larger bream. In addition, the larger patterns are more attractive to bass, so you never know when a nice fish will viciously attack the bug.
Since this is topwater fishing, floating lines and monofilament leaders are the best choice. Mono floats better than fluorocarbon and is adequate for the quarry you are after. As your fly line wears, it may have some breaks in it, so an occasional dressing with a good floatant will help.
Reels requirements are not critical. A basic click-pawl reel is satisfactory for bream. They do not have to be played on the reel. However, if you are fishing where large bass are present, a reel with a good drag system is preferable. A large-arbor reel will minimize curling of the fly line due to memory imparted by the small diameter of the reel spindle.
Requirements for leaders are minimal. Tapered leaders are not necessary, but are okay if you prefer, and they may cast a little better. Don't go too light with leaders or tippet as they may not turn over properly with the weight of a popping bug.