Bream, though not particularly estimable on the table, rank rather highly among the sportsman's sea fish, being plentiful, biting freely and fighting gamely. They have, however, the disadvantage that they feed as a rule at night, except when the water is coloured after storms, therein resembling the fish of the same name found in fresh water, although of different genus.
The Common Sea Bream (Pagellus Centrodontus), to which Pennant incorrectly gave the remarkable name of ' lunulated gilt-head,' is found all round our coasts, but more particularly on the south and west. It is also known as sharp-toothed sea bream, and in Ireland as murranroe, gunner, barwin, carf, carp, and brazier. I have on an earlier page told how I learnt one of these Irish designations. Bream are warm-weather fish, being mostly caught in summer and autumn. On the approach of cold weather they retire into very deep water. The large eyes with which they are furnished no doubt give them power to see at considerable depths.
Off Cornwall and Devon one of the most common fish is the Chad (not to be confounded with the shad, for that is quite another fish), the young of the bream. They afford first-rate sport for the youngsters, being plentiful and bold biters, and are generally available as baits for other fish, such as pollack and bass. When chad are feeding they take baits not intended for them, and are an unmitigated nuisance ; but they do not take so kindly to a strip of their species as to most other baits, therefore, having caught a few, cut them up quickly and use them on the hooks. When they have grown somewhat they are called bogers in Cornwall.
If a bream must be eaten, the following method suggested by Yarrell is probably as good as any. The process is, indeed, one which may be applied with advantage to any rather dry fish. First catch your bream, clean and wipe dry, but leave the scales intact. Flour it and broil it, and continue flouring if the skin cracks. When it comes to table the skin and scales can be easily removed, and the flesh beneath will be found fairly juicy. A friend tells me that ' baked with veal stuffing bream are excellent,' and I venture to add, ' particularly if well basted, and served with a sauce flavoured with port wine.' The same authority states that the flavour of bream soused in vinegar much resembles that of crab. The fresher bream are eaten the better.
There is very little difficulty in catching these fish, provided they are sought after at the right place and at the right time. For their haunts we necessarily have to depend upon the local knowledge of professional fishermen. But deep water, over or near rocks and seaweed, is a likely place in which to find them. If, however, the water is discoloured, the fish come on to the shallows, and may sometimes be caught in as little as three fathoms. I have heard of some being taken at a less depth in Carmarthen Bay after rough weather, but these were comparatively small, not exceeding four pounds in weight. In exceedingly deep water—fifteen to twenty-five fathoms—where there is semi-darkness owing to the depth, bream will feed in the daytime, but not so well as at night. I have heard of daylight catches of fish of about four to five pounds in twelve fathoms of water.
Bream favour many baits, among their favourites being sand-eels, squid, pilchard, herring, mussels, ragworms, and the soft part of limpets, a small portion of the hard part being retained to help keep the bait in position on the hook. Indeed, they do not seem particular what they eat. Mr. Matthias Dunn has related how, in 1874, a grain vessel came to grief off the Cornish coast. Soon afterwards he caught some bream near the spot, and found them full of wheat. The fish were remarkable for their plumpness and good condition.
Strong ordinary paternoster tackle, such as that shown on p. 245, is very useful for sea bream ; but perhaps somewhat better is a tackle similar to that shown on p. 386, with eight feet of snooding beyond the lead, and two hooks. The weight of lead must of course depend upon the strength of the tide. The depth at which bream are found is most uncertain. Sometimes they are close to the bottom, at others in midwater, and occasionally they may be seen breaking the surface, when they have even been mistaken for pilchards. Most frequently those of a size shoal together. The size of hook to be used necessarily varies very much. For the little chads the smaller of the two hooks given in the illustration should be tried, while for large fish in very deep water the larger hook shown would be about the right size. In the daytime the tackle should be much finer than at night. Be provided with a large landing net. They are a difficult fish to gaff.
Bream And Chad Hooks.
There are several varieties of bream found in salt water, most of them resembling one another in shape. First, perhaps, in importance is the Pandora, or King of the Breams (Pagellus erythrinus). This is a gorgeous scarlet fish, shaded with orange, and when fresh caught, with purple and silvery sheens glistening about it. Sometimes it has blue spots. Day considers that the fish named Becker by Couch is a deformed or mutilated example of the Pandora. It is by no means an uncommon fish in British waters on the south and west coasts of England, but is not often found in the north. It does not swim in such large shoals as the common bream, but otherwise in its habits closely resembles that species. The term Gilt-head is often applied to the common bream, but it more properly belongs to Pagrus auratus. Pennant was apparently the first to confuse the two species. The true gilt-head is a silvery fish, the peculiarity from which it derives its name being a crescent-shaped band of gold crossing its head between the eyes. It is more common in the Mediterranean than in British waters.