Recently I received a message on Facebook from a young lad who wanted to pick my brains about tench fishing, which led to a long chat about tackle, rigs and the like.

Towards the end of our conversation I asked him if he had any particular venues in mind and he told me that he was primarily going to fish locally as his biggest tench to date was only 6lb and he was happy to push his personal best up in ounces rather than try and go for the biggest he could straight away. I was really pleased to hear that he was taking this approach and it contrasted massively with a conversation I had a couple of years ago with an angler who wanted to catch a tench but was only really interested if he had a good chance of catching a double, even though at the time he had not caught one of even half that weight.

The conversation got me thinking how different anglers want different things from their fishing. The latter angler’s approach was all about ticking a box, reaching the top of a mountain if you like. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach but there is an old adage that it is better to travel than arrive and for me specimen angling is a journey catching big fish and arriving is catching something special such as a personal best.

Since targeting big fish became a large part of my life in the early 1980s, I have been on one long journey and have been fortunate to have landed plenty of personal bests and each one has been special. Personal bests are far from the only measure to gauge success in big fish angling, but I think most of us would be kidding ourselves if we don’t pay at least some attention to them. In most cases my personal bests have been increased a little at a time and looking back many of them would not have been quite so special if I had previously caught fish much bigger. This is the story of the many personal best bream I have caught on a journey that is still going. I have been very fortunate that as I have got older, so bream have got bigger, massively increasing the scope to catch bigger and bigger bream.

Growing up in Staffordshire the options for catching big fish were somewhat limited, but there was one exception – bream. The meres of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire have a long history of big bream and back in the early 1980s my local water, Cop Mere, actually held the bream record with fish of 13lb 8oz to Alan Heslop and then a fish that Tony Bromley caught twice, firstly at 15lb 6oz and then again the following year at 16lb 6oz.

At the time my friend Adrian Cox and I had had some success with the tench on Cop but the bream fishing on was generally very hard so we decided to try for elsewhere to try and up our personal bests which at the time stood at about 5lb. Plans to visit a different mere were made and a four-day trip undertaken. Unfortunately, on the final day a local who was walking around informed us that all the bream had been killed in a pollution incident. On our return to Cop it turned out that whilst we were fishing for ghosts, five doubles had been out in a week. There and then we decided that we would have to knuckle down and jump in at the deep end.

All of the anglers fishing Cop at the time were using legered lobworms, invariably at 50 yards or more. After a number of blanks and plenty of frustrations with worms flying off the hook or being taken by eels, I finally caught my first Cop bream in 1985, a fish weighing 11lb 3oz. Since then I have pushed my personal best up little by little starting the following year when a run of ten blanks in little more than a fortnight was ended with a 12lb 12oz fish. By the following year nearly all of that year-class of bream had died, and it was some years before I fished for bream at Cop again. In the late 1990s I gained access to a local canal-supply reservoir and in a short campaign boated in a number of doubles topped by on that beat my biggest by a single ounce. Sadly success brought out the worst in one of the venue regulars and the atmosphere rapidly became sour so I decided to leave him to it.

My first double

My first double came in 1985 and weighed 11lb 3oz

12lb 12oz fish

Ten blanks came to an end with this 12lb 12oz fish

Back at Cop a new generation of fish were growing big and becoming of interest. Initially I and a few others caught them in the winter whilst targeting tench but in the autumn of 2001 I decided to have a concerted effort for them so set about baiting a swim. First night in the pre-baited swim I was fished with maggot-feeders so had no problems with worms flying off this time. A 9lb+ fish at midnight was followed 15 minutes later by lovely dark bream weighing 13lb 2oz. This proved to be the last trip of the planned campaign as having achieved my target my enthusiasm soon waned.

A new generation

A new generation of Cop Mere bream reached specimen size - 13lb 2oz

My bream journey took a new direction in the spring of 2002. Prior to this date nearly all the big fish waters in my local area retained the Close Season so for a number of years my fishing in what was the old Close Season had been restricted to taking my children to the local canal with a whip (got to keep them in line!) supplemented by a bit of carp fishing, also on the canal. After much research and consideration, I decided to try Stoneacres in Oxfordshire as it seemed to offer what I was after – the chance of good tench and bream with a few carp thrown in for good measure.

I had been told there was a good chance of bream to beat my PB but when I drove through the gates to fish there for the first time, I never imagined what was to follow. I knew next nothing about the lake having only walked around it once a few weeks earlier. I went into the on-site café and spoke to the bailiff, Fletch, and told him that I was primarily after bream and tench and asked if he could recommend any particular area. He pointed across the lake to the far side and said, “That point over there is where most of the bream anglers choose if it’s free, there’s a bar at about 110 yards, you can’t miss it”.

As it was free I rapidly barrowed my gear round to what I later found out was Big Point using my shiny new barrow purchased less than an hour earlier from J&K Tackle on the way down, I began to ponder the prospect of a new challenge. I had never fished a big gravel pit like this before and though it felt a bit daunting, the challenge was very exciting. With my tackle in place I set about repairing the boat I had been kindly offered by an angler who had fished there previously. It needed fibre-glassing on the keel where it had worn through, as a result of his towing it around the lake along gravel tracks. With the boat repaired I set off hoping the bar would be as obvious as Fletch had indicated. As I rowed over deep water that just looked dark and foreboding with underlying weed, I was beginning to think I had missed the bar when a golden strip of gravel shone out as clear as day and the attraction of gravel pits went up another notch.

Two PBs

First night on Stoneacres produced two PBs

Soon I had some swim markers positioned on the bar and with the light beginning to fade baited each spot with Baileys No. 1 horse feed, sweetcorn and a smattering of boilies before rowing my baits out. Half an hour after midnight I had a drop-back on sweetcorn and struck into my first Stoneacres fish. It felt like a bream, but I wasn’t familiar with playing fish at well over 100 yards so couldn’t be certain until it appeared in the torch light. It looked a good fish and so it proved as it raised my PB by 4oz. A tench and a 12lb+ bream kept me up and rowing baits out and just as I was thinking it would be light soon, I had another bite and another bream – and another PB. At 14lb 5oz things were beginning to feel a bit unreal. In the middle of the afternoon I upped by carp PB by an ounce before baiting up once again for bream. With a full moon in the sky my experiences on Cop Mere tempered my hopes as bright nights there are generally the worst conditions. I needn’t have worried though as by 10pm I had another PB bream on the mat in the shape of a 14lb 7oz beauty.

On my return to Stoneacres the following spring my hopes were high as a friend I had introduced to the water had caught a 15lb bream earlier in the week. He came around for a chat with me on Big point after a fishless night and I recall part of the conversation very clearly. He had wound in at 9am and gone to the café for breakfast. I told him I liked to keep my baits out as I’d never caught anything with the hook in the butt ring. As we were talking one of my bobbins dropped back and he immediately said: “That’s a bream bite, that is”. He wasn’t wrong about that but as the fish came towards the net he shouted “it’s not that big” which he was definitely wrong about. He handed me the net and as I pulled the mesh back it was clear it was big, very big in fact, as it weighed 16lb 2oz.

Reward for not winding in early. 16lb 2oz

I left Stoneacres for a number of seasons in pursuit of a double figure tench – a story for another time. Suffice to say I next fished there for bream in 2007. Things had changed a fair bit by then, most notably in that rowing baits out was prohibited, though fortunately you could still bait up using a boat. After a remarkable day’s tench fishing in a swim known as The Tits I returned my third double which my friend Simon Lush had come out to photograph and he said: “I think you’ll have another one” and I replied: ”I want a big bream now”. Less than half an hour later he returned with a laden barrow just as I was taking a photograph of a 16lb 4oz bream raising my PB by a couple of ounces.

I set about recasting while it was still light whilst Simon went and set up close by and then brought a couple of beers to my swim. As I was eating a bowl of chilli the recently recast rod was away again. After eating all my chilli Simon picked the net up and waded out to the edge of an overhanging willow. The fish kited round the tree but I managed to get it to the net without too much trouble. As it approached Simon shouted: “Nice chilli that and this one’s bigger than the last one”. On seeing it on the mat his words were, “It’s enormous” and in less than an hour my PB had gone up again, this time by exactly a pound! We named the fish Chilli and I caught her again a week later at 17lb 6oz whilst Terry Hearn was in the next swim. I was surprised when talking to him the next day he told me I should have woken him, up as he’d like to have seen it, a refreshing view considering those of many other carp anglers I have encountered.

Chilli the bream

Chilli the bream, caught twice in as many weeks, this time at 17lb 6oz

The gravel spot I caught these bream from was at 100 yards but the following year I ended up back on Big Point where the bar was at what I later found to be 114 yards. In the intervening years since I had last bream fished there the bar had become increasingly weeded up and was only 6 feet wide at the widest. I set about getting my lines marked up and cast a pineapple pop-up towards a H-block marker and nearly hit it. On rowing out I could see the pop-up was smack bang in the middle of the bar so returned and tied a line marker such that, if after casting, the marker was between my tip ring and the spigot the bait should be on clean gravel on top of the bar. By this time I had a new boat, a small Bic Sport Yak as the other one had been stolen. I used to row it sitting using an oval bucket as a seat. I say used to, as whilst collecting the H-blocks the bucket slid, I went with it and it was ‘Man overboard’. Swimming back to shore took an age but no harm was done, and I now knew why everyone else knelt in the boat and used hand paddles!

A couple of weeks earlier in a different swim, whilst using a 10mm Esterberry boilie with a 10mm Enterprise rubber boilie as a snowman I had found that a standard lead clip rig had been very prone to tangling, especially in a strong cross wind. I think the problem was the small hook bait wasn’t separating on the cast and as I didn’t want to change the bait, I had given a lot of thought to the rig to use.

I ended up opting for a variation of the Chod rig, with a short hook link fished between two rubber beads on leadcore about 15 inches from the lead. The hook bait was balanced to sink slowly and in a few test casts I found it didn’t tangle once. With a nice light east wind blowing from behind casting onto the bar proved fairly easy and my new rig worked well as on the first night I had a 15lb 8oz bream, which filled a gap as I had never caught a ‘15’! The following night I had a 12lb+ bream early on and then at just before 02:25 I was awoken by a single bleep. As I stared at the rods I saw a bobbin on another rod drop fractionally and leapt from my bag even before the alarm sounded. As the fish came over the shallow water close in I could see it was big so grabbed the net and waded out to meet it. The scales registered 18lb 12oz and at that moment I genuinely thought I had reached the peak of my bream fishing.

Simply enormous

I never thought I’d see a bream bigger than this one. Simply enormous

I didn’t fish for bream for a number of years as it was hard to get motivated to fish for smaller fish. That changed in 2015 when I got a ticket for Fen Drayton in Cambridgeshire. In late June, after a couple of ridiculously good tench sessions, I decided it was time to try for bream. On arrival I was undecided where to fish but had a couple of areas in mind. As I pushed my barrow to one of them I passed another angler who was fishing for tench. He told me that he had seen a few fish rolling near the island. He thought they were probably bream, but as they were a long way away he couldn’t be sure. I reached the swim where you would fish to this area from, The Stones, and was still uncertain whether to stay or go on to the area I had in mind. After thinking it through I decided it was a no-brainer for two reasons: fish had been seen in the vicinity and I wouldn’t have to push the ridiculously over-loaded barrow any further!

I retrieved my boat which I had hidden in nettles behind the swim where I had been tench fishing. Then I rowed out and with some lengths of metal conduit pipe, had a prod around where aerial photographs indicated an old roadway was present but which was out of sight under the algae-coloured water. Almost immediately I found the road, which was about seven feet deep and a rod-length wide, dropping into water nearly twice that depth on either side. I placed a single marker in the middle of the road with the intention of fishing one rod to either side. The swim was then baited with a selection of Sonubaits groundbait and pellets, and then the rigs were dropped one at a time on either side of the swim. The rigs were essentially the same as I had used years earlier on Stoneacres but without the leadcore as it is banned on Fen Drayton. I found that the absence of leadcore made no difference to how the rig performed as it was still tangle-proof with 12lb mono through to the lead.

I had no action overnight and was woken at 04:00 by David the tench angler who had caught a bream he wanted me to weigh, as he had dropped his digital scales in the water. His bream was over 16lb and, as I returned to my swim, I was wondering if I should move to his swim, as he was leaving later in the morning. I was certain that location is key to catching big bream. There seemed little point staying put with my baits 160 yards from the bank if the bream were 30 yards out in his swim. As I lay on my bedchair thinking what a cramped swim his would be, one of my bobbins dropped and I struck into what felt like a bream. My initial feeling was simply relief at not having to move, before I started to wonder how big the bream would be. It weighed 16lb 1oz, so was a great start on a new water. Apart from a tench it remained quiet until late afternoon when a trio of fish weighing 9lb 12oz, 12lb 1oz and 15lb 10oz came within a couple of hours.

After each fish I paddled out to about 30 yards short of the mark and cast from the boat to minimise the disturbance. I was now faced with a dilemma – whether to rebait or not as I knew going over the swim could spook the shoal and they might not come back. I decided that if I went an hour without a bite I’d gamble and “fill it in” and so rushed back to the car and grabbed all the bait I had before recasting the rod I’d just caught on. No more bites were forthcoming so at about 19:00 I paddled out with two big buckets filled with groundbait, three tins of sweetcorn and about four bags of pellets. It was shit or bust as I wasn’t going to bait up again before leaving in two nights’ time. I just hoped the bream would still be able to pick my fruity boilies out from within this mass of bait. Based on previous experience I remained confident that if the bream returned I would catch them.

Not unexpectedly, the rest of the evening was quiet but a little after midnight a 14lb 6oz fish signalled they had returned. I was back in business and the bream were even good enough to let me sleep until well past dawn when I was woken by a 15lb 4oz fish. Mid-morning came and James Crameri arrived for a chat. As I pegged the side of my bivvy back so I could talk to him whilst sat inside, I heard an alarm sound and thought I or James had knocked the rod, but it was a bite and soon James was photographing a 13lb 13oz bream for me. I paddled out again and on returning told James that it might sound strange, but I really thought I was going to catch a really big bream on the rod I had just recast. I was wrong though, as the next bite came on the rod I’d recast after the ‘15’. As it came towards me it felt heavy, but we’ve all been fooled like that. Closer in though it just held a line beyond the marginal shelf refusing to come to the net like the earlier fish had. Eventually I waded as far as I could and managed to draw it over the net with James recording it on my camera which had been lying on my bedchair from the earlier catch shot.

20lb+ bream

20lb+ bream incoming!

The fish was simply huge, but I wasn’t expecting the Avon scales to go full circle twice before settling at 20lb 10oz. I’m pretty sure this time, twelve PBs on from my first double, I have reached the end of my journey for my largest bream, but I have thought that before so who knows… One thing I know is that catching them in the order I did ensured the captures were more special, so don’t think you have to go out and catch the biggest you can, take it one step at a time and as the great man Rod Hutchison once said: “Smell the flowers on the way”.

20lb 10oz

Speechless! 20lb 10oz



What do you do when you climb as high as you’re ever likely to? In the past I simply targeted other species but last summer I found a different challenge and returned to Cop to fish for a new generation of fish. I knew I wasn’t going to catch anything close to my PB, but I was fishing in the finest of surroundings and had no idea how big the bream might go. I caught about 16 bream in as many nights, mostly doubles and with three over 13lb up to 13lb 11oz. Such a catch certainly won’t make the headlines, but I loved every minute of it. Looking forwards it will be interesting to see how big they will get, my bet given the past history is it won’t be long before Tony Bromley’s record for Cop is under threat.

13lb 11oz

13lb 11oz, I wonder how big this generation of fish in Cop will grow?

What next on the bream front? Breaking 20lb 10oz seems unlikely but a 19lb bream to fill that gap would be nice, I just need to find the right water and my big bream fever will be back in no time.