Species Profile: Black Bream

Posted on Nov 1 2006 - 8:02am by WSF
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Difficult to confuse with other species. A deep bodied fish with a sharply sloping forehead, small head, eye and mouth. Carries sharp and pointed teeth along the jaws for prizing food from the rocks. The wrist of the tail is broad and powerful.

The only confusion may arise with the red bream, but this has a longer body shape, the head is more blunt and slopes gently along the forehead down to the upper jaw.

Black Bream 50 Species

A mainly grey/blue back shading to silvery sides and paler belly. Male fish go darker along the back and head, occasionally sporting vertical dark bands or blotches.

Comes as far east as the reefs off the Sussex coast off Littlehampton and to the Newhaven wrecks. Fairly common around the Isle of Wight, the Channel Islands, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, though is not present in the numbers seen prior to 1975.

Odd fish show off Milford Haven in west Wales, but the real mecca for bream is Cardigan Bay and Caernarfon Bay as far as the Menai Straits in North Wales. Occasional fish have been reported from the Isle of Whithorn area and from Luce Bay in southwest Scotland, but these are the exception and very few and far between.

You never here of black bream being taken from southern Irish waters,yet the ground towards the fastnet Rock and up the west coast suggests that the fish should be resident. maybe it s just that the weight of anglers is so low and that few of these bother to fish with bream tackle and techniques.

Spawns from mid May through to early July along the reefs of the English Channel, off the Cornish coast, and especially over the shallow reefs of Cardigan Bay in Wales. A nest builder like the wrasse, but favouring sand and gravel patches depressions amongst boulders and rocky reefs. The male guards the eggs until they hatch. From then on the small bream form schools over the nest area for the first few weeks before venturing on.

Seeks out rocky ground, patches of boulders and rubble, but especially shallow reefs that work out at angles from the shore such as the Kingsmere Reef off Littlehampton, or Patches Reef off Aberystwyth and Sarn Bwch at Aberdovey. Can also be found close to inshore wrecks in deep water and will cross clean sandy ground on their way to new rough ground feeding areas.

Is a catholic feeder taking mostly shellfish from the rocks, but also small sandeels, worms and even tiny crabs.

Shows simultaneously in the English Channel and off the Welsh coast about late April, but it can mid May during colder springs. Peak numbers occur during June and July when the fish are closest to shore. They remain until the equinoctial gales occur during late September and early October, then disappear moving southwards. The more northern travelling fish take until late June or July to reach their destinations, but still stay into October if the weather is mild.


Bream are not a regular shore based catch in most areas, but this is more to do with anglers being preoccupied by other species, rather than the bream not being present. If the boats in your area catch bream, then a carefully selected and suitable shore venue in the same area will, sooner or later, produce a bream for you.

Bream will move close in to the deeper beaches such as Chesil in dorset, the Channel island beaches, Hurst Castle in Hants, and Pwllheli Beach in North Wales. These are examples, but there are many other excellent shore venues that hold bream that nobody ever fishes for.

From the open beaches aim to fish close to or onto shingle banks and patches of rougher ground. Take notice of any debris on the seabed within casting range such as small wrecks as occurs at Chesil Beach.

Bream, though these tend to be small fish upto 0.5lbs, will also found around pier piles, breakwaters and jetties inside harbours if the depth remains fairly deep at all times. Exceptions occur though, such as the superb fish that frequent rough ground off the breakwater on the island of Alderney in the Channel Islands.

The best opportunities are during calm spells with just a gentle sea swell and no wind. Rough seas keep the bream offshore. Daylight hours give fish, but peak catches occur during the dusk and dawn periods, especially if these coincide with a newly flooding tide.

Fishing in the mid day period, try to fish under an overcast sky without any sun if the water is shallowish. On steeper, deeper beaches the sun doesn’t really have a major affect on the catch.

From open beaches, either shallow or steep to, try only the bigger spring tides fishing from dead low water through to high. Very few venues produce fish on the ebb unless the water is over 30ft deep.

Occasionally, bream can be contacted from rock stations, but the ebb and flood will both produce, though expect bites to die as the tide flow eases. neaps can fish just as well as springs in this deeper water.

The same fish strips, lug, rag, cockles and crab work just as well from the shore, though crab and sandeel can often pick up the slightly bigger fish.


Bream shoal best over the shallower reefs that work their way out from the shore. Places to look for here are definite vertical shelves, depressions, and scattered rising rocky pinnacles coming off the seabed a few feet. The shoals work through such areas on a set beat until all the food has been cleaned out. The depths over such ground may be as little as 20ft, even less, but the fish are not put off by this.

In deeper water, again it’s the rock pinnacles that will hold the fish around their bases, but sometimes bream work along the edges of shingle banks and will cross from one rock mark to another over cleaner mixed ground and will still take baits.

To emphasis this, it’s always worth fishing a single patch of rougher ground, however small, that is surrounded by sand. If there is enough food to hold them, the bream will be condensed over such ground and eager to feed resulting in big catches.

Small inshore wrecks and close to shore concrete constructions will also have their head of bream. Some large specimens show from the deep water wrecks laying in upto 300ft of water, but these tend to be members of small schools carrying upto maybe a dozen fish all over the 3lb mark.

It’s worth remembering that bream are often concentrated in very small areas, sometimes the shoal will be all packed into an areas roughly 30yds square. Fish outside this and you’ll think the area is devoid of fish.

Over deeper marks with a reasonable tide run, then the bream feed best, or should we say, are more densely shoaled during the smaller neap tides to the mid sized tides. Spring tides over this ground will tend to produce far less fish, but those that are caught will tend to be of a larger overall size.

Over the shallow ground, again the neaps will fish okay, but now it’s the middle sized tides with their comfortable run of tide that suit the bream best. Very big spring tides will tend to shoal the fish up tightly in sizeable depressions and on the downtide side of the reefs where the tide run is broken and less strong.

Slack water periods will see bites fall away. Peak feeding times are when the tide is running well through the middle flood and ebb tide spell. On spring tides the early flood and ebb will fish better than the stronger middle hours of the tide.

Bream will lift higher off the seabed as the tide run eases, but be tight to the ground during periods of peak flow. AS you’ll see in the paragraphs on rigs, this last point is important for keeping the bait in the feeding zone.

Bream are not really affected by changeable weather. They’ll continue to feed through calm, sunny days, overcast rainy ones and are not put off by building seas. However, over the shallower reefs rougher conditions may force the fish out further into deeper water where the seabed is less affected by the swell and the same applies, say in west Wales where the water is unpolluted and very clear. The amount of light entering the water makes it easy for predators like tope that feed on the bream to spot them and this pushes them out into deeper water and rougher ground for protection.

Cut fish strips or squid strips about 1″ long and .5″ wide, longer strips of the same width may pick out the odd bigger fish working amongst smaller ones. Other good baits are cockles, lugworm and ragworm, strips of sandeel, and small chunks of peeler crab. Mussels can also pick up though the bream find it easy to rip these off without getting hooked.