Zander are one of my favourite species and I love to fish for them on baits whether it's for the smaller canal variety or larger samples that can be found in some of the Midlands rivers. With this in mind I headed out yesterday evening after work down to the Warwickshire Avon in hope of the latter.
As I set off along the motorway that nagging feeling loomed in my mind, you know, the one that tells you you've forgotten some important item - in this case the camera left on the table next to the laptop ! Damn, I could have turned around to get it but that would mean getting off at the next junction and going all the way back. I didn't have the time for that, as I had to get to the river to catch some baits and also if there was any light left have a go with the lure rod before the darkness set in.
The journey takes about 45mins from my house so it was tight enough already. The thought always crosses my mind in this situation, "what if I get a PB "? ah well, I've got the HTC phone camera as a back up, rubbish for pictures though it is.
Walking to my swim I was a bit disappointed that my swim choices A and B were both taken by the only two other anglers on the stretch, typical ! Swim choice C was still free though, so I jumped in there and set up the float rod to catch baits and started to cast about searching for bites. The first fish, a nice gudgeon, came soon after but as I popped him into the "holding net "(landing net) I noticed that the chap in swim B was now packing down and vacating. Five minutes later I was re-positioning my kit in swim B where would be within a short cast of where the zander would be held up near to a crease in the flow alongside a large slack area. It didn't take long to get a few baits into the holding net, and I was soon thinking about casting the zed rod out. Darkness was starting to edge its way in and I could sense the prey fish were skulking off to wherever they hide for the night as the bites started to fade away rapidly, the float becoming more and more difficult to make out now in the gloaming.
|My simple single hook running ledger rig|
A small roach was selected from the net and hooked through the lips on a single hook running ledger rig. I use an ESP raptor size 4 hook but any similar hook will work. I generally go for a size four or a two as any smaller and the hook might not catch in the zanders hard mouth. The roach is dispatched first then I usually just cut some slits near the back of the gill plates and stab a few holes in the flank to let the blood and juices flow into the current and draw in the attention of any passing zander. You could try to leave the swim bladder intact which might allow the fish to pop up a bit off bottom, but I generally just puncture holes down both sides of the flank and then I know whichever side the fish settles it will be venting body juices into the current, which is exactly what you want. The fresher the bait the better this flow of scent will be in my opinion, hence keeping the baits alive until the last minute and any that are not used can be released back at the end of the session to fight another day.
I have read comments on some forums and in magazine articles where the single hook rig is poo pooed by some zander anglers in favour of size 8 or 10 trebles fished snap tackle style. I find the single hook set up I use is very efficient in hook-ups and can easily and quickly be removed with no messing about trying to free two trebles from the hard mouth of a zander. It must always be used in conjunction with a wire trace of course, I prefer 20lb uncoated wire generally but you can use any strength above this coated or not, however I don't recommend going below 20lb breaking strain in case you get a big pike pick up the bait.
I do find with pike that a snap tackle rig can be removed more easily than in zander, the pikes mouth is larger and more cavernous and can be accessed through the gills far more easily. Zander are a lot more reluctant to open their mouth up for you and have a tendency to snap their jaws shut quite frequently making the job even more tricky. Removing a single hook neatly positioned in the zanders scissors or just inside it mouth is a much better prospect than trying to unstitch two trebles from the hard mouth cavity believe me. I don't tend to use single hooks for pike as I generally fish with larger sea baits like mackerel or herring that suit a set of trebles better, but I have caught a few up to 12lb on this single hook set up when after zander, again usually hooked neatly in the pikes scissors.
Anyway, back in the swim, the roach had been in position on the bottom by the edge of the crease for about 10 minutes with the rod positioned tip high on the rest in the way rightly or wrongly most barbel anglers set their rods up. In this case there is a good reason to have the rods set in this way. The zander aren't renowned for savage takes and are usually quoted as being very sensitive to resistance. This might be true in some cases but I think it gets overplayed a little, don't get me wrong they will often drop a bait if they are not happy but importantly you can easily see a bite when they pick up the bait up, and as long as you see the tip move and you are on the rod quickly to strike you should not miss the take. Having the rod high is a good way of the angler seeing the tip move as the line is able to transfer the direct movement to the tip better. You need no slack in the line though, if fact I tighten down so there is a slight bend in the tip so it will even register a drop back (when the fish moves upstream towards you). Therefore no need for bobbins or alarms or such like, just you and your observational skills back to basics fishing really. I only like to fish one rod like this, as fishing with two rods in this way could easily mean a missed take, a dropped run, and worse still deeply hooked fish. Zander are not going give you an unmissable three foot twitch like a barbel might, so you need to be alert at all times when the your bait is in the water. Also, I don't always like the additional problems that fishing two rods brings, especially in the dark, so why make it more difficult that it needs to be. If you don't get a take in 15 to 20 minutes just reposition the bait somewhere else in the swim, or move to another spot along the river. The bites when they do come will be quite recognisable just purposeful small pulls and taps on the tip similar to a bream bite I suppose. If you've done any sort of feeder fishing before you will not have any problem in discerning this movement as a definite bite. It's harder to explain than to see in reality so you'll have to trust me when I say "you'll know".
The tip of my rod pulled down slightly then jabbed forwards a couple more centimetres and I was striking into the fish before I knew what had happened. It came in quite easily but I could tell it had a little weight to it and was not just small schoolie. First zander of the night was in the net and weighed in an equal to my canal pb at 6lb 10oz. I was pretty chuffed with that result and managed to draft in some dog walkers that happened to be passing to help with a picture on the phone camera.
I wished I hadn't forgotten my bloody normal camera, as the pictures were pretty crap quality and that's being polite ! The framing is a not too clever either, not really their fault as it is difficult in the dark when you can't see what's on the screen, but I've ended up with a pretty severe haircut !
|6lb 10oz caught on fresh dead roach|
With the fish returned it was time to get another fresh roach on and the rod back in quickly in case there were more fish about and on the feed. Soon enough I had another tap, tap and a pull on the rod tip revealed nicely by the little green isotope on the end. The rod hooped over as I struck into another fish, shaking it's head and hugging the bottom about 7ft down. This fish seemed altogether stronger and all I could do was guide it upstream towards me slowly for a while. I could do nothing to get its head up and I started to wonder what I'd hooked ? For a second it crossed my mind that I might have a reasonable eel as it felt a bit like the fish was swimming backwards as it neared the margin in front of me? Eventually I decided to go for it and haul it up to the surface with a bit more force. When another zander popped its head out I was a little surprised to see it. It thrashed about a bit, head shaking violently as they do, but luckily it was in the net before it could throw the hook. At 8lb 4oz I was more than pleased with the result. Whilst not my biggest ever zander (that came from frisby lakes) it's the biggest I've had from a river so far and so is still quite a special capture for me.
Don't let anyone tell you that zander don't fight as they can give a good account of themselves when they want to. Granted some come in like a wet sack but not all, and this one was certainly as mean and feisty as they come. This time I managed to draft in the barbel angler 20 yards downstream of me but the best photo he got was the one where he zoomed in on the fish, unfortunately the other one he took was completely blurred.
|8lb second fish and new river caught PB|
Finally the release, always allow the fish time to recover in the net before you release it with the head facing into the flow if you can, like in the picture above. Make sure that the fish is up right and stable as you can see here. Also check the gills are moving in and out in a regular rhythm and the fish is looking comfortable before you let it go, especially while the weather is still a little warm. On really hot days it is probably better not to fish for zander in case they go belly up due to the reduced amount of dissolved oxygen in the water during hot weather. Now we are into September things should start cooling down a bit anyway but always take proper care of every fish, no matter what the conditions.
And one last thing if you do like a photo record of your fish don't forget your camera or like me sods law will kick in and you'll end up with just disappointing phone shots of that special fish ! still, better than none at all I suppose.