I’m about to open a Pandora’s box with this week’s column (pun intended). I love catching and eating what most people and I call “perch” or bream. Light tackle, a long shank “perch” hook, a box of worms and we’re ready to go “perch” fishing, right? Come and discover, to properly categorize the fish we are targeting, we are about to go fishing for ‘crappie’.
Sunfish such as red-eared (shellcrackers), warmouth, long-eared, red-breasted, and bluegill are all part of the sunfish family, not perch as most of us have called them. I am definitely not an ichthyologist, just a lifelong perch or bream fisherman. I can’t tell you the difference between a green sunfish and a long ear without looking at a picture, but I can give you some tips for catching “sunfish”.
If we meet on the lake and I have a basket of small, rambling fish, I’ll probably call them sea bream. Oh, the red ears and the warmouth are easy to tell apart, but others, to a layman like me, are just “sea bream”.
When sunfish go to the beds to spawn, usually in May and June, capture is easy. The tackle is about as basic as it gets, a long shank hook (which makes removing the hook much easier than with a short shank hook), worms or crickets or even pieces of bread lightweight, ultralight spinning rig and you’re ready to fill your fish. basket with some of the best freshwater dishes.
A fly rod fitted with a small insect popper is deadly when the breams are on the beds and in the warm months in the early morning and late afternoon when they pick up insects from the surface. During the day, sinking flies such as Clouser’s little minnows will continue to act.
During the warm months, the bream head for deeper, cooler waters assuming the oxygen level is sufficient. My Uncle Luke owned a fishing lodge on an oxbow lake off the Mississippi River when I was a kid and he loved fishing for bream with his fly rod. But during the summer heat, he headed for deeper water and fished with live crickets for red ears. He drifted until he found a school and often filled the fish basket in a short time. He used to joke that if a shell breaker was as big as a bass, it would take a well rope to winch it into the boat!
Bream fishing, like most things outdoors, can be as simple or complex as desired. Admittedly, fishing drowned flies below the surface for hanging bream with a 5 weight fly rod requires more skill than ‘perch jerking’ using worms under a float but who’s more fun, the youngster with his spin cast rig or the fly fisherman with the $200 Rod? Everything is relative to his level of experience.
Personally, I prefer my lightweight fly rod with a small pencil float, bream hook and float for much of my bream fishing. I enjoy the fight a feisty bream gives me on my lightweight 7ft fly rod, no matter if the fish is hooked with a bursting bug, a live worm or a cricket.
Seabream fishing is popular for many reasons. Finding a spot to fish is easy and most bream are caught by anglers fishing from the shore. Shore fishing is available at most lakes and ponds in the city.
The farm ponds offer excellent fishing for sunfish of all species. A neighbor of mine has a deep pond that is spring fed. The pond is the result of the extraction of sand and gravel decades ago and it maintains a constant level throughout the year, regardless of rainfall. When it’s really hot, I like to get out at the first light and catch bream on surface poppers, then head out into deeper, cooler water and continue the action using worms or crickets.
I have a few fishing buddies who joke to me about taking the time to clean bream. There are two camps when it comes to dressing and eating sea bream. Many bream eaters believe that their fish should be gutted, scaled and fried, tail on. I grew up eating sunfish this way, but eating “around” the bones is definitely an art.
These days, I much prefer to use a small, thin-bladed fillet knife and remove the fillets. The resulting fillet on a medium sized sea bream is about the size of a jumbo prawn and, in my opinion, is just as tasty. My buddies who like fillets of larger fish are usually the last to walk away from the table after a big “perch fry”.
While I usually fry catfish, crappie, or white bass in a mixture of one cup flour to two cups cornmeal, I just dust my sea bream fillets with flour, after lightly seasoning them with a mixture of black pepper, salt and garlic powder. It does not take more than a few minutes in hot cooking oil to obtain a crispy fillet of sea bream. Whole sea bream can be cooked to perfection in 4-5 minutes. These small fish cook quickly and it is important not to overcook them.
Whether you’re a seasoned angler or someone who just wants to go fishing and catch lots of fish, try catching these feisty little fighters with lightweight tackle. They are abundant just about anywhere there is fresh water and the best is yet to come once you clean them up and expose them to Lake Crisco!