Black Bream and Red Bream Fishing Facts
1. Black Bream (Spondyliosoma cantharus)
The black species is highly localized, at least as far as the British coast is concerned. Black bream are encountered mainly at the eastern end of the English Channel, notably in the Littlehampton area. Their name describes them accurately. In colour they are bluish-black. They have the typical deep thin look of the BREAM family but are far stronger and more powerfully built than their freshwater counterparts. The dorsal fin is spined, the eye large, and the tail forked.
Depending on the warmth of the season, the black bream arrive at the English Channel reefs at the end of April or in May. The time of their arrival may vary by several weeks. The fish stay over the reefs in big, concentrated shoals for the purpose of spawning for about six weeks. The shoals then seem to break up and the fish are’ scattered over a much wider area, so that although fish may be taken well into August, the very big bags characteristic of the beginning of the season are unlikely to be repeated. After they have spawned, the fish are not all necessarily to be found on rocky ground but may disperse over broken, rubbly bottoms.
Towards the end of summer, odd fish are caught miles away from the reefs where spawning took place and in some areas the small one- or two-year-old fish are present right through the year.
As indicated, the black bream show a decided preference for reefs. One point of interest is that they assemble in rather shallower water than the red bream. The principal reef over which they are found does not have much more than five fathoms over it. Like the red bream, they feed principally at the bottom, but, depending on the state of the tide and the time of the day, they may be found just off it or at mid-water. Later in the season small fish will be found inshore, feeding around the piles of piers and such places.
It is possible that the black bream is not so much of a fish-eater as the red, although herring strip is a favoured bait. Shrimps, worms, and cockles are suggested by Minchin, who claimed to have investigated the stomach contents of rod-caught fish.
Many anglers believe that there is an annual migration of black bream through the Straits of Gibraltar from the Mediterranean where the fish winter. How much truth there is in this it is difficult to say. Certainly it is nothing like a scientific certainty.
What is undeniable is that black bream turn up year after year at the Kingmer reef off Littlehampton and at another mark near by known as the Ditches. If you are going to fish for black bream, it is essential to go either to Littlehampton or Bognor Regis at the right time of year.
The boatmen there are well experienced in the way of bream, and, other things being equal, they will find you the fish. A word of warning : weekend bookings for boats during the black bream season have to be made months ahead — before Christmas if you want to fish the following May. But if you do go to this trouble, I think you will agree that it is worth it.
2. Red Bream (Pagellus bogarave)
These fish are found mainly on the rocky south-west coast. In shape they are much the same as the black bream. Their colouring varies from crimson along the back to silvery-red on the flanks. There is a large dark spot on the lateral line just behind the head. They are also known as common bream.
They have suffered considerable diminution in numbers since the First World War. There are two possible explanations of this. The first has to do with the disappearance of the eel-grass (zostera), as a result of a world-wide disease. Some authorities claim that the bream depended on this rich weed and suffered from its going. Another theory has it that the development of trawls which could fish over the foul ground that bream loved was responsible for their thinning out, and adherents of this theory can point out that, after the lapse in fishing during the Second World War, red bream numbers increased for a time. Anyone who has caught red bream will pay tribute to the fighting qualities of this handsome fish.
Red bream spend only a limited time inshore — the warmer summer months. It is not known with any certainty what their spawning habits are, but there are indications that spawning might take place over a quite protracted period, from as early as January until October. The fry may reach 7.5 cm (3 ins) in length in their first year and perhaps 15 or 17 cm (6 or 7 ins) in their second. (These are the ‘chad’ which can be such a bait-robbing nuisance to fishermen in Cornish waters.)
Bream show a decided preference for rocky ground, and while small specimens may be taken well inshore, the bigger fish seem to prefer a depth of fifteen fathoms or more. For most of the day, the tendency is for them to feed near the bottom, but towards evening they will rise and may be taken at mid-water.
Red bream are not particularly choosy feeders. Big specimens may feed on small fish but they will also take brittle stars, anemones, worms, and crabs, and may well browse and crop at the weeds. They are pretty well omnivorous. It is recorded that on one occasion when a wheat ship went down off Cornwall, bream taken in the vicinity thereafter were found to be crammed with wheat.
The red bream occurs from the Mediterranean and the Canaries in the south to Scandinavian waters in the north, but around the British Isles it certainly favours the rocky southwest. In the days when it was an abundant fish, it was very common all round the coast of Ireland, around Devon and Cornwall and the west coast of Wales. Nowadays the best place to look for a specimen red bream is in some western area where the ground is too foul for the trawls, or too remote.