An angler on the Relief Channel plays a surface-spraying zander. Not normally known for its fighting ability, the odd zander can surprise you.
Optonics are not only absolutely essential for detecting the often subtle takes of zander, they are also indispensable for fishing at night. “You can be waiting hours for zander,” says Dave, “when suddenly a pack will move through. One evening two friends and I had a total of six rods out on the Middle Level Drain. We had been there quite a while. And then there was a run on each rod, going from left to right. It was chaos. Out of the six runs we only lost one zander.”
Even small zander such as this can’t resist a tasty chunk of eel. Forceps are useful for removing hooks from both pike and zander. Thick gloves would ensure you don’t have to worry about the fish’s teeth!
North American anglers fish for walleyes, close relatives of zander, using a jig and baitfish combination to devastating effect. It could work for zander in Britain.
With a chartreuse marabou or bucktail jig, hook a small dead roach, perch or gudgeon (8cm/3in long is ideal) through the mouth and tough upper portion of the nose.
Make a cast – across the river for instance – allowing the jig to sink. While retrieving slowly, lift the rod up and down – this causes the lure to dive and dart just off the bottom. You can quickly cover a great deal of water with this technique.
Fishing during the day is usually good in coloured water, but in clear water the best time to try is at dusk and during the night.
A layer of reflecting pigment (called the tapetum lucidum) in the retina gives the zander excellent night vision, helping it locate prey in low light conditions.
Small numbers of zander were imported from European waters to a few landlocked still waters in Britain during the 19th century. But the species made little impact on the angling scene until the 1960s. In 1963 the former Great Ouse River Board placed 97 zander fingerlings into the Relief Channel at Stow Bridge, Norfolk. It turned out to be the most controversial fishery management decision ever taken.
Within six years the zander had grown, multiplied dramatically and spread beyond the Relief Channel to the main River Ouse and its hundreds of miles of interconnecting drains. The species was soon available to hundreds of anglers.
By 1973 the zander had colonized most of the drains in the Great Ouse system, and in the last 20 years the population level has stabilized, yielding bigger individual fish.
Venues to try
Most zander specialists fish the Fens of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire for big specimens. The Middle Level Main Drain is the most popular venue at present, producing large numbers of zander over the prized 10lb (4.5kg) mark. Neighbouring drains such as the Sixteen Foot, Forty Foot, Twenty Foot and Popham’s Eau also hold fish of this size.
The River Delph and the Old Bedford River near Welney are popular destinations for travelling zander enthusiasts – and with good reason. Anglers have landed specimens over 15lb (6.8kg).
The Great Ouse itself has big zander potential, but very few anglers tackle this wide, deep, featureless river. The current 18YAb (8.4kg) British record was taken in 1988 from Rosswell Pits at Ely – a still water directly connected to the River Ouse.
With the Relief Channel and Cut-off Channel, as well as countless minor drains in the area to explore, Fenland is a happy hunting round for zander fans. But that’s not to say other areas of the country aren’t worth trying too.
Other good waters include the River Nene, Ferry Meadows Lake near Peterborough, Coombe Abbey Lake near Coventry, the Coventry Canal, the River Severn, the Warwickshire Avon and Old Bury Hill Lake near Dorking.
When to fish rhe peak of the zander action is from the start of the coarse season (June 16) through to the first heavy frosts of November, although the fish can come on with a vengeance at the back end of the coarse season – especially if February and early March are mild and wet.
In fact mild, wet weather is the zander angler’s delight. The fish’s ghost-like, opaque eye is designed for hunting in low light conditions. Zander feed in coloured water throughout the day but in clear water prefer to hunt at dawn and dusk – or even :he dead of night. Today’s zander anglers ;amp out along their favourite drains to catch the best of the nocturnal action.
Rods, reels and lines
An 11-12ft (3.3-3.6m) through-action carbon carp rod with a test curve of about 0.7kg is ideal for zander fishing. A pike rod of the same test curve is also suitable. Zander put up a solid resistance but are not particularly powerful. A fixed-spool reel loaded with 8lb (3.6kg) mono is sufficient – as long as you’re not confronted with too many snags. Some Fenland drains are infested with colonies of razor-sharp zebra mussels. Where these are present, step up to 11 lb (5kg) nylon, and try to keep your line off the bottom.
Wire traces are not essential for zander fishing, but they should always be used in case a pike picks up your bait. Sizes 8 and 10 semi-barbless treble hooks complete the terminal tackle.
Types of baits
Deadbaits have proved to be the number one zander bait over the years, although there are occasions when livebaits do have the edge – especially, for some reason, when there’s a high pressure system looming. Coarse fish, especially eel sections, are the best deadbaits. Zander usually ignore sea baits such as mackerel, herring and sardines, although smelt do pick up a few fish. Zander prefer deadbaits that are around 8-10cm (3-4in) long and fished hard on the bottom. Always puncture the swim bladder of your bait to ensure it sinks. Fresh and frozen baits are equally effective.
Livebaits should be on the small side -2oz (56g) is big enough for a specimen zander. Unlike deadbaits, livebaits can be presented off the bottom – 30-60cm (1-2ft) is ideal.
Position your baits as close as you can t< any underwater structure – this may helj to pick up any patrolling zander using th< feature as a point of ambush. The drop-off on most Fenland drains from the shallow; to deeper water are worth some attention.
Leapfrogging your rods along the bank is often cited as a sure-fire method of locating zander, but it’s no way of guaranteeing you’ll be in the right place at the right time (that is, when zander are feeding). Try to find swims with plenty of shoals of small prey fish and stick with them – zander shouldn’t be too far away.
Lure fishing for zander in Britain is in its infancy, but experiments so far show that the best artificials are heavy spoons fished slowly along the bottom, kicking up small clouds of silt.
Lure expert Barrie Rickards believe; zander prefer spoons that closely imitate their target prey. He has taken several specimens on Laser Spoons, which feature highly detailed fish images on the converse side of the spoon.