Catching the mighty red-eye

Jim Tibber has been fishing for specimen tench for over 15 years with a variety of tackle and tactics. Here he passes on some of what he’s discovered.

I n the last 20 years or so there has been something of a revolution in tench fishing – the average and maximum size of tench has shot up. Until quite recently, a 5lb (2.3kg) tench would have been considered a specimen. Nowadays, in the 1990s, even a seven-pounder (3.2kg) is not that unusual.

No-one can be absolutely sure why this has happened, but it may be partly due to increasing water weed in British waters.

Rivers, lakes, ponds, pits and reservoirs certainly have become much weedier, possibly because farmers have been using more artificial fertilizers to bump up the yield of their land.

Much of this fertilizer is washed into rivers and still waters where it encourages strong water plant growth. More plants mean more insects and a richer supply of the tench’s natural food.

With more big tench around there has never been a better time to get to grips with a specimen. Unfortunately, the increase in weed means that these big fish are harder to get out of the water. There are few places left where it is possible to fish light lines and expect to land that huge tench.

All this means you need to take some fairly hefty tackle to many big tench waters. However, try to remain flexible in your approach so you can take advantage of any less weedy waters by fishing with lighter tackle. That way you’ll enjoy your tenching more and get better results.

Tackling the weed

Many tench waters become heavily weeded, aquatic jungles in the summer and you must use appropriate gear. You need a 2/1 lb (1kg) TC carp rod, coupled with about 200m (220yd) of 12lb (5.4kg) line on a sturdy fixed-spool reel. Terminal tackle is a size 6 forged hook on a 15lb (6.8kg) braided hooklength. Fixed-lead, anti-tangle rigs are most effective in heavy weed. There’s no getting away from it – you need carp tackle to get a big tench out of a weedy water.

Standard carp baits – boilies and particles — work best with carp gear. Tench seem particularly fond of fruity, creamy flavours such as Maple crème and Strawberry Jam.

If you make your own baits, use a milk protein or bird seed base with these flavours. Tench also readily take fish flavoured boilies based on a fish meal mix.

The best of the particles are sweetcorn, black-eye beans, chick peas and maple peas. Fish both particles and boilies on a 2.5cm (lin) hair. Fish 16mm ( ½ in ) boilies singly, but use particles and small boilies in tandem or as a trio on the hair. An electronic bite indicator with monkey climber or swinging drop-off arm gives an accurate audible and visual signal of runs and drop-back bites. While not the most sensitive form of bite detection, if your rig and bait presentation are right you will only get sailaway bites.

A bit of subtlety

Where weed hasn’t quite reached the horrendous proportions of the watery jungle, it’s possible to be a little less brutish in approach.

Tackle can be lighter with 1 ½lb (0.8kg) TC rods, 8lb (3.6kg) main line and a forged size 8 or 10 hook. A simple running leger with a ‘A-sAoz (14-2 lg) bomb works well with this particular set-up.

With an extending hooklength the leger becomes a fairly sophisticated rig. Devised by Ken Townley for carp fishing, it works equally well for tench in allowing the fish to take line without feeling resistance. This produces very confident takes.

Use the rig with a slack, drooping line. This gives a taking fish some low-resistance line and makes sure that the last few feet of line lie flat on the bottom – reducing line bites. Where drag caused by the wind or floating debris makes this impossible, use a small back-lead to avoid those liners. Particle baits work well with this rig, as do mini-boilies. The best size for these is about 10mm (%in) across. Use them singly or, more commonly, in twos or threes.


On a very few lightly weeded venues you can still fish very light – Mb (0.6kg) TC rods, 4lb (1.8kg) line, fine-wire size 12 hooks and a feeder. Where this is possible, it is without doubt the most effective way to catch numbers of big fish. A hooklength of at least 3ft (90cm) on a helicopter (rotary) rig works best. However, tench sometimes take delicately presented baits with such confidence that they become deep-hooked unless you use a shorter hooklength. With anti-tangle tubing above the feeder, this rig is as near tangle-free as a paternoster can be. Feeding is easy – catapult two or three tangerine-sized balls of groundbait into the swim and cast your ready-loaded feeder rig into the centre of the spreading rings. Don’t feed again until you’ve had a couple of runs or you’ll put the big tench off. The best bait for this type of tenching is a gilt-tail worm which looks like a redworm with a bright yellow tail. Look for them in the muck heap on a pig farm. You won’t find many, but you will find lots of redworms which are a close second best.

Concentrate your efforts on the edges of the heap, where it’s fairly cool. Near the middle of a muck heap it’s too hot for red-worms and gilt-tails – all you find are brandlings and these are greatly inferior as a tench bait.

If you do know of a virtually weed-free water that holds big tench – give light feeder tactics a try. The fishing is an absolute joy and well worth all that grovelling in pig heaps.