Tackling the Cheshire Meres for Big Bream

I HAD BEEN promising myself a go on one of the bigger waters such as the Cheshire Meres last year for the larger bream. It turned out to be so different and much more difficult than fishing for them on the canal or one of the many smaller lakes. In retrospect, knowing the difficulty, I think that was the reason that was holding me back. I knew I could be in for a long wait.

A large Cheshire mere
A large Cheshire mere – note the long drop from the indicators

I partly knew of the Mere that I was going to tackle. I even had a good idea of the areas to fish. The one thing that I wasn’t too sure about was the methods to use. One thing for sure was that whatever method I did choose would have to be a lot different than what I normally use. The other problem was that the decision to have a go was made in mid August. Had I left it too late in the season to start on what for me was a complete new venture?

In for a penny, in for a pound. I took the plunge and was lucky enough to team up with Phil Hackett who as we know has spent many long season’s fishing for big bream on the Cheshire Meres.

It was going to be a long range job, so that would mean scaled down carp tactics with alarms and indicators

The indicators I was using on my first session were the Solar hangers on a short chain. These were okay for my tench fishing where I had my rods set ten inches from the ground. The bobbin would simply fly to the top of the rod as the tench shot off. But I was now fishing for a species that acted in a completely different way when they took the bait. These particular bream would first give you a ten inch drop back before they moved forwards. So having my rods ten inches from the ground, and the bobbin set at the halfway mark between the ground and my rod, I was only giving the bream five inches either way (up or down) to play around with before it felt any resistance. When you consider the depth of a large bream’s body, is it any wonder that your indicator will signal a drop back as the bream rights itself after picking up your hookbait? How many single beeps of the alarm do you get on a five inch drop back with your alarm? Would that be enough to alert you during the night? I very much doubt it.

Saying that, my missus only has to snore once and I am sat bolt upright in bed looking for a fight. If I could get hold of a bite alarm that snored instead of beeping, I would be at my rods a lot quicker.

It was during this first session with Phil that I questioned his set-up. His rods were somewhere around three feet off the ground with longer than usual arm indicators. To cut a long story short, Phil would offer advice if I asked, but usually he would wait until I asked, then he would explain the reasons why and what for. A set-up like this made good sense really when you thought about it. I didn’t catch anything on those first couple of sessions, but I think I learned some good advice on indicators. So now instead of having only a five inch rise or fall on the indicator before the bream would feel any resistance, I would now have something around ten to twelve inches before the baitrunner came into play.

The Bodgers Apprentice

The next few nights were spent in my shed cannibalising and modifying my hanger style indicators.

It didn’t take much doing. I used a couple of stainless steel hockey sticks that I had found a month or two earlier in my shed, a pair of size 9 knitting needles, two small pieces of rig tubing to act as a hinge below the alarm, and two small diameter split rings from the cobblers. The split rings were used as a hinge just below the bobbin. And do you know something? The new indicators looked pretty good to me.

Cheshire mere bream
Immaculate Cheshire mere bream caught early season

The very important piece of technical equipment that hangs the bobbin from the mainline is a piece of plastic cable tie. I used something different on my first attempt, much to my cost and embarrassment, but more of that later. Another good reason to have the rods three feet off the ground is that quite often you can be fishing with a large bed of weed just under the surface on the nearside bank. Obviously having the rods at this height easily gets you over the top of it without it crawling up your line halfway through the night, and filling your head with such nonsense of having a run. If only. Also you would be less likely to trip over them during the darker hours, should you emerge from your bivvy in a half awake state of mind. And of course they are easier to see during the hours of darkness from the bivvy.

Two to three hours to get a bait in the water

On my second session, I got to the water about 11.a.m.

It can take me anywhere between two and three hours to get a baited line in the water. First job is to find a peg, preferably with the wind blowing in the right direction. Then I’ll get the tackle and bivvy down to the peg and have a plumb about and find the required depth, which must be free of weed. That’s if it looks like the rain will hold off for a while. Otherwise I set up the bivvy first.

With the area found that I want to fish I will then set about mixing my groundbait or putting the finishing touches to it if I have partly prepared it the night before. The spodding out then begins, which takes up most of the time.

The total number of fish in this water is an unknown quantity, and with nearly ninety acres to go at and possibly low stocking figures for its size, it could well be looked at as finding a needle in a haystack in trying to locate the bream.

Rolling bream that move about a lot

Much has been written on watching for rolling bream in the evening, and very good advice it is too. But this is a huge area of water and they move about a lot. You can set up where you have seen them rolling on previous nights, but the chances are you will be in the wrong spot. It is also said that big bream fishing is very frustrating. This much I can believe, but as yet I am a ‘Mere’ beginner so I can have no cause for complaint.

I have sat by my rods time and again trying to work out if I am doing the right thing. Am I putting too much groundbait in? Am I in the right area? Why should a bream pick my hookbait up amongst the many free offerings I have put in? Should I cut down on the amounts of free offerings being used?

The law of averages says that if I fish an area for long enough then sooner or later I will catch. But I think that would be the wrong approach for the amount of time I have left for the rest of this season. Do I put my groundbait in all in one go? Or should I drip feed it over a matter of hours? Or why not combine the two? Should I enhance the hookbait I am using or should I ring the changes by trying different hookbaits?

The one thing for definite that I do know, is that the more I find out, the less I actually do know about fishing for big bream

Looking at some figures that I came across, it is said that a fish can eat 5% of its own body weight in one sitting. I firmly believe that the bream in the water I am currently fishing do not swim about in large shoals. Possibly they are in twos and threes.

So working on the assumption that there a couple of ten pound bream in my swim, plus other silverfish, I could put about 1 lb of freebies in the area that I am fishing and be in with a half decent chance of one of them picking my hookbait up. The other line of thought on how much feed to put in is to keep the bream in the area by putting lots of small particle baits in, therefore keeping them busy by mooching about for the food without overfilling them.

Late season Cheshire mere bream
A late season Cheshire mere bream

The biggest question is just how much to put in. Trial and error would have to be my way forward on this point, and keeping plenty of notes.

The other aspect of baiting up is ‘when’ to put the bait in. I had been using maggots in the particle mix. Baiting up with maggots at distance takes time, and the longer the maggots are in the water, the greater the chances are of them being snaffled by perch and roach. I wouldn’t have minded catching a big plump roach or even a nice perch, but I had my bream head on, and that was what I was setting my stall out for. When the nights drew in a little more, I tended to time myself on arriving at the water for about three hours before sunset. That gave me plenty of time to get set up and put the bait out just before dark. My thoughts on this are that the perch would have possibly stopped feeding, and therefore there would have been more maggots in the swim for the bream to find when they began their nocturnal wanderings. I could have been completely wrong in my thinking, but I had a starting point. Having gone through my notes so far in this article, it would seem that I knew what I was doing, but nothing could have been further from the truth, as there didn’t seem to be any pattern with the bream on this water. Everything is trial and error. Fishing for big bream is most certainly the biggest challenge I have faced in any of the angling disciplines.

The Bodger Arrives

Phil arrived, and I was keen to show off with my new home-made indicators. “What do you think then?” I asked, pointing at my new toys. “Not bad, not bad at all,” he said. “You’re getting there. Have you got the kettle on?” If it’s a tea drinking session he wants, then I’m only too happy to oblige.

It is with thanks to the likes of Phil Hackett and other thinking anglers on this website that has got me back into the thinking process of what I am trying to achieve. To tackle waters like this one with a chuck it and chance it attitude would get me nowhere for as long as I cared to fish them.

On the third session I actually got a run, and it was from a six ounce perch at sixty yards. If anything it told me that there was nothing wrong with my set-up. I had adjusted the weight on the needle so that my line was barely tight to the feeder.

I mentioned earlier on that I used something different to the cable tie with which to hang the bobbin from the main line. For some reason I mustn’t have listened properly when I was advised to use a cable tie as a hanger and instead I used a piece of rigid plastic coated garden wire. The result was that as I struck into the run the wire was not flexible enough to bend and disengage from the mainline and the force of the strike, which wasn’t great, ripped the bobbin off the needle and it went flying over the hedge, never to be seen again. Lesson learned.

Jumping for our rods as we heard a single queek from the Delkim Duck

During our first couple of sessions we were both almost jumping for our rods as we heard a single quack, or queek as it is best described. But this single muffled queek wasn’t from any bite alarm; it was from one of the resident coots. I would be just nodding off only to be brought to full awareness by the Delkim Duck as Phil had so aptly named it. The fishing might be slow but we were never short of something to talk or laugh about. This was a whole new experience for me and I was enjoying every moment of it.

A Cheshire mere bream is returned
A Cheshire mere bream is returned

I had done five 24 hour sessions with the odd longer one, with not even a sign of one of the resident bream taking my bait. Even though I still didn’t catch on what was to be my last session of the season, I somehow knew that at least I had everything right. My spodding had improved dramatically, and my hookbaits were being cast accurately to the marker float. Three perch all around the 6oz mark that gave me absolute screamers at 60 yards suggested that my set-up was okay. Plus a pike of around seven pounds. How I managed that I just don’t know.

As I suspected at the beginning of this article, I indeed had left it too late in the season to give myself an even chance of latching into my intended quarry. The first frosts had arrived and it was time for me to move on. With the prospect of a couple of new rods for next season (Harrison Interceptors) at 1lb 12 oz test curve, April of 2007 just can’t come around quick enough.