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Ash Hazell

Public holidays are always an exciting time for me. The extra day opens up a heap of new fishing options that are too far to bother with for a quick session or two. I like to get on the water and explore, systematically covering as much of the area as possible. I'm mostly a bream fisherman, so this usually involves exploring different parts of estuary systems, working my way up as far upstream as I have time for, to figure out what is happening in that system. Whether it is pre-fishing for a tournament or just a weekend away, I take this same approach to learn as much about a system as I can. This tests my assumptions and hopefully validates my predictions about how the fish are behaving. I like to look up what the weather has been in the area, paying special attention to rainfall, which can have a huge impact on the inhabitants of rivers and estuaries. This time the plan was to hit a South West river, the arena chosen for the WA ABT Qualifier round on this particular year. There had been very little so I expected the bream to be spread out through the length of the river. 'The Wood' is a long, deep, timber lined river that is home to black bream and a plethora of by-catches.

It's known as one of the most challenging rivers in WA. This isn't due to a lack of bream, which are there in pretty good numbers, but the way they head for their snaggy homes as soon as they are hooked. You would swear they come out and then hit lures on their way back into their snag, often with unstoppable momentum against the ultralight lines used by serious bream anglers. There is a term called being 'wooded', which was coined on the Wood, and it's where you are busted off in a snag before you have a chance to react to a strike. It happens far too often but always provides a few laughs for the people you are fishing with.

Weedless rigging is a must in some stretches, if you don't want to lose your lure every six casts! Burying TT Hidden Weight System (HWS) jigheads deeper inside plastics or Texas rigging with Tournament Series or HeadlockZ Finesse jigheads is a good way to do this without missing too many strikes, like you can with dedicated weedless jigheads. 

We got down there in the early afternoon and set up our campsite, which would be our home for a few days. With all that behind us, it was time for a few bream. I convinced my lovely wife to come out for a fish, convincing her that she would catch something (she's only fished once or twice). We went way up river because I like it up there, away from the skiers and 'once a year' anglers disturbing the peace.

Being a gentleman, I set Amanda up first with a 1/16oz TT head rigged with a Watermelon Red ZMan 2.5" GrubZ, before I rigged up a couple of my rods the same way. This is my 'go-to' deeper water pattern. By the time I had a leader tied, I heard drag peeling off and turned around to find Amanda playing tug of war with a hefty bream that smashed the plastic as soon as it hit the water. It was trying its best to reach some nearby timber, knowing it would provide safety. The smooth drag on the Ecooda Synch did its part and slowed the bream down enough for her to get some line back in. She pretended not to be too happy with her catch, knowing I'd drag her out fishing more often, but the photo tells a different story.

The next morning, we started early with the plan of heading down to the 'ski area' before the hordes turned it into one big mess. We found plenty of bream with 2.5" GrubZ and something I've been messing around with lately, cut-down ZMan 4" Finesse ShadZ. With these, I simply cut the flaps off from underneath with my braid scissors and shorten the length a little if they are short striking (tail grabbing). The thin profile helps them suck it right into their mouth for a good hook up.

After covering a lot of the river on day 2 with my normal grubbing tactics, I wanted to explore and experiment a little on my final session. I tied on a backwards rigged, cut-down ZMan 3" Scented ShrimpZ on a light, 1/20oz, jighead and started lobbing it hard into timber. Drag locked and ready to strike, I knew I had to be fast to have any chance of winning the fights that would follow.

After only a couple of casts, it was time for a challenge. I was hit hard and the fish ran straight out of its snag, toward the boat. I thought I had it sorted at first but it kept going, straight toward another snag. This is when I realised it was the biggest bream I'd connected with all weekend. I ripped the rod to the side in an attempt to turn its head and continued to battle it right on the edge of no man's land. Finally getting it to the boat, I was very happy to photograph and release the solid 40cm+ black bream.

The time I spent on the river gave me a chance to cover most of the system and learn a few new things that I hope will help me out in the ABT event. But...  as I write this heavy rain has started, so it's back to square one... bring it on!

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