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Monsters in the Swamp
The truth about Southern Bream Fishing

By Jim Hatch, SC

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 pulling!

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 details.

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 inches and about 3 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 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 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 ounce world record that came from these same waters. ~ Jim Hatch

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