There’ve been some chilly mornings of late, which is why I’m surprised that the annual dry season bream run in Darwin Harbour has not yet started.
Normally, if there is one thing that annually coincides with the arrival of those crisp Darwin mornings, it is the arrival of the northern pikey bream along our coastal bays and up the saltwater creeks.
The pikey bream is the smallest of the bream species around Australia, and is found only in the tropics.
It ranges from Shark Bay in WA, right across northern Australia and down the QLD coast as far as Rockhampton.
It is different to both the popular silver bream found along the eastern seaboard from central Queensland to northern Victoria, and the southern or black bream found along the coast and estuaries from southern NSW right around the bottom half of Australia and up to Shark Bay.
For starters, the inside of its mouth is black and its overall appearance is usually much darker than the silver bream.
Although a popular table fish, I don’t think our version is quite as good to eat as the southern varieties…but it’s okay.
Pikey bream are tenacious, aggressive little predators, readily taking lures and flies meant for other, often much bigger species in the saltwater creeks.
I remember once hooking a pikey on fly off a beach south of Darwin.
When it came into the shallows, there was another one with it, biting the trailing feathers and glitter of the fly attached to the hooked fish’s mouth.
Scientific literature tells you that the pikey bream grows to 560mm, which would put it over the 3kg mark, but never seen one even half that weight.
Perhaps the reason why the annual bream run hasn’t started is that no one is fishing for them.
Both Darwin Harbour and Shoal Bay are as good a place as any to experience the great bream fishing available at this time of year.
If you have a boat, catching them is quite easy.
At Larrakeyah, just anchor in any of the little bays from the point back towards the Naval Patrol Boat Base, preferably late in the afternoon and early into the night, on the last half of the rising tide.
It’s best to use a light line on a suitable rod and reel — 4kg monofilament breaking strain is fine, and an even-thinner braid line, in about 5-6 kg breaking strain, is perfect.
With braid, you’ll need a light mono leader. I’d suggest about 7kg breaking strain.
Use just enough lead running on the line to get the rig to the bottom, and bait up onto about a No 4 hook with small, whole prawns. Lure casters should look to small plastic shads, grubs and prawn imitations, preferably scented.
Often the bream are quite small and should be thrown back, but there are plenty of good ones as well, along with the occasional solid ock-ock, aka javelin fish.
The Shoal Bay Rock can be fished on any tides for bream, but I rather fancy a rising tide in the evening.
Shore-based anglers will have success wherever a rising tide covers rocky foreshore areas.
The pikey bream is a terrific family fish — kids love to catch them.
Along the harbour during the dry season, you can catch dozens in one session, but it’s best to take only what you and your family need for a feed.
One good way to prepare and cook them is to gill and gut your fish, scale them, score the sides and then grill them whole, basting with a mixture of lemon juice, lemon pepper and olive oil.
Matt Lesson’s first-ever barra trip was at the Daly with Shannon of Mousie’s Barra & Bluewater Charters, and he caught this 102cm barra on a Reidy’s Big Ass B52.
The annual dry season run of pikey bream in Darwin Harbour is set to start soon.