Those of us who grew up in the south have all heard the
stories. We all know someone with tales about catching
a boat full of bream as big as dinner plates. I'm here
to tell you that it is true. Yep, sure nuff! I''ve seen
'em, touched 'em, caught 'em on my trusty 3 weight! Not
one or two, but literally hundreds in recent years. Here
is the straight skinny, no lies, no exaggeration, no leg
Monster bream fishing for me had an entirely different
meaning until that fateful April afternoon some four years
ago. I was fishing my newly restored Forrest Woods classic
bass boat on the Russellville Flats area on the North shore
of Lake Moultrie. I had just eased back into one of the two
small cypress swamps with my trolling motor into a stand of
cypress trees. It was adjacent to a sparse growth of lily
pads in about two feet of water. I had rigged the little one
piece banty cane that Pete Lawrence had built me just for
this fishery. It was a sweet rod for its intended purpose
and it gave me much pleasure. As I tied on a #8 unweighted
grey thread midge, I kept looking at the likely spots that
surrounded me. I caught a flash of color between two of the
cypress trees and quickly flipped the midge into the spot.
Before it had settled to the bottom, I saw the line twitch
and as I lifted the rod tip I did a strip hook set. Before
my eyes appeared an apparition that came half out of the
water quartering away from me towards the sparse lily pads.
My calm demeanor melted as I realized I had hooked into one
of the legendary monster bream of those stories of my youth.
I had gotten a pretty good look at this fat pig and she was
definitely platter sized. She headed straight by me and to
my rear trying to get into the lily pads. I quickly stood
and twisted my body to face her as I striped line first
in and then back out in an attempt to keep the line tight
and apply a little pressure. Finally as I tried to untangle
the line from my feet, I had to apply more pressure to avoid
the lily pads, all to no avail. In a desperate attempt to
turn her, I raised the rod tip and firmly squeezed the line
in my hand. Quicker than the speed of thought, this sassy
bream turned my sweet little one piece cane into two pieces.
I reached for the trolling motor to chase her, with both pieces
of rod in the other hand only to discover that my outboard was
hung on a stump. I held up both rod halves in one hand as I
tried to gather the loose line in the other before stepping
over the side into the 2 feet of water to give chase.
About a half of a heartbeat later, it occurred to me that
the line was still wrapped around my foot and in addition,
it had now wrapped the throttle and the depth finder. Sure
enough, my foot stopped shy of the water and the first contact
was my face in the cold dark tannic stained waters of the
swamp. I quickly went through the motions of untangling my
feet so I could resume my chase. As I pulled the line in by
hand it was obviously slack. I carefully moved back into the
space where I had exited the boat and sat in the chilly waters
long enough to find my bifocals where they had settled during
my less than graceful exit from the boat. All the time I was
reliving the last 20 seconds of my life over and over again
in my mind. First and foremost in my thoughts was not the broken
rod although it was a painful concern, nor the chilly soaking
I had gotten through my comedy of errors. It was that monster
bream. Bigger than life, over and over I kept seeing her in my
minds eye, knowing full well I was a changed man and would be
forever more. As you can plainly see, my introduction to monster
bream was quite a memorable occasion. As painful as the previous
event was for me I feel it important to tell the truth and present
the facts just as they happened without hiding any of the embarrassing
The fact is monster bream can affect people in this way and I
was no exception.
My next bout with the monsters of the swamp occurred three
days later. I had tied up more of the grey thread midges.
I hit the waters early this day and worked them with a vengeance.
As the day grew older and warmer, I was starting to resign
myself to a smelly skunk of a day. Though I had visions of
a repeat performance with the fat lady of the previous encounter,
I was hardly raising the odd small gill. I kept fishing however
and steadily moved deeper into the swamp. Finally I was convinced
the water was too shallow to hold fish, but as I reached for my
cooler holding my lunch, I decided to soak a fly while I was
eating. I threw another grey thread midge into a small pocket
in the lily pads and laid the rod across my knees while I popped
open a soda and enjoyed my roast beef sandwich. Every now and
then I would reach down and give my rod a little twitch. After
doing so one more time, I noticed my line slowly moving to the
side in the still waters.
I picked up the rod and applied pressure waking whatever had
my midge into a frenzy of activity. After convincing myself
that the fish was a medium sized bass with an attitude, I
finally got her along side the boat and realized that she
was a bream. She measured 13 inches in length and in my book
qualified as a monster bream. Sandwich and soda forgotten, I
returned her to the water and in a minute or two I was treated
to a repeat performance by a carbon copy of the first fish.
Over the next two and a half hours, in an area of about one
acre, with a few solitary cypress trees and scattered lily
pads, I caught and released over 60 of these monster bream.
I lost several that seemed to have more size to them but the
ones I caught ranged from a paltry 11 inches up to 15 1/4 inches.
I had a grin on my chin that made the Mona Lisa look like
Sad Sack as I stowed my gear and prepared for the run back
to the landing. I had met the monsters of the swamp and I
had come out victorious in the encounter. I had in fact,
caught a boat load of plate sized bream, as well as a few
platter sized ones, and I knew then that those stories from
my boyhood were true and could be carved in stone.
Over the intervening years, I have continued to pursue
my obsession with monster bream. For those who do not
live in the South, bream is a colloquialism which
encompass the bluegill, redbreast, and the true monster,
the red eared sunfish. I have caught hundreds of them
but none has matched the fat pig of a fish from that
first encounter, and I have had few days as productive
as that perfect second day of monster bream fishing. I
have increased my personal best caught and released to
16 ½ inches and about 3 ½ pounds. I have learned a lot
in the process and still have faith that I'll eventually
land one in the five pound range. The current world record
of 5 pounds seven ½ ounces was caught in these very waters,
as were two more that exceeded five pounds, and I know
exactly where. I'm convinced that perhaps as soon as the
full moon next April, a big monster of a bream will fall
to one of Ronn Lucas's iredescent flashback scuds, on the
new banty cane that Pete Lawrence built for me, way back
in this unnamed swamp where few venture.
I'll be there and if you care to join me, I've got a seat
open. It's in the back of the boat but I always share first
casts in each area we fish.
O.K., now you can go measure that dinner plate and the
platter. The fish in the first photo is 12 inches, and both
in the second photo are 13 inches. My personal best is 16 ½
inches. The big mama of my first encounter was an "estimated"
18 inches. Lake Moultrie has many of these feisty sunfish
and perhaps one of them will eclipse the standing 5 pound
7 ½ ounce world record that came from these same waters. ~ Jim Hatch