Tench fishing techniques

Tench: where to find them, how to spot them feeding, how to stalk them, get them interested in your bait, tempt them on to your hook—and enjoy every minute of the delicate operation.

Tench are found in lakes, canals, ponds (including the village duck pond), meres, gravel pits, lochs and rivers. Although the species abounds in muddy-bottomed lakes, ponds and canals, in these waters they tend to err on the side of quantity rather than quality. Generally, gravel pits and lakes produce the larger specimens, and the bigger the water, especially if it is clear, the better. The big Irish loughs produce many large tench, and every spring numerous specimen fish are taken from the famous Power Station reach at Lanesborough to where they migrate from Lough Ree to spawn. Canals, too, hold tench in large numbers, the bigger specimens mostly being found in those waterways where boat traffic is not heavy. Although normally associated with stillwaters, tench are also found in rivers. Here, although tench are caught in summer, the best times are often when the water is high and coloured—even in winter.

Bubbling tench

When feeding over muddy or silty bottoms, tench often betray their presence by sending up patches of tiny bubbles. These should not be confused with gas bubbles, which are much larger. Tench bubbles are easily recognizable, being small and frothy in appearance and occurring in vast numbers. The size of a patch varies from a few inches to 3ft or more, the bigger patches usually being caused by more than one tench. Sometimes the bubbles are accompanied by small pieces of stick and other debris floating to the surface. Bubbling denotes one or more feeding tench, and a carefully presented bait cast into the area is usually taken—often before the float has cocked.

Tench eat a wide variety of baits, including maggots, bread, worms, casters, mussels, sweetcorn and wheat. Many have also been taken on artificial flies—I once took two on a Baby Doll wet fly—while there are reliable reports of specimens taken on spinners.

The number of methods which take tench is also considerable. The ‘lift’ technique employs a piece of peacock quill 6in in length, cocked by one or two swan shot. The shot are replaced about 3in from the hook, and the float is attached to the line by the bottom only. Best bait is crust or flake on a No 8 or 10 hook. Line strength should be 3-5lb.

As the bait touches bottom, the line is pulled tight to the float, and the rod placed in two rests with 6in of the tip submerged. An inch of the quill should show above the surface. Bites are decisive—usually the float shoots upwards then falls flat, or it may simply disappear. The strike is instantaneous. The method is most effective on hard bottoms.

For fishing over muddy bottoms a different set-up is necessary—an antenna-type float loaded with three AAA’s and a No 1 shot. The latter should be placed about 15in from the hook, and the AAA’s used to lock the float in position on 3-4lb line. The float is attached by the bottom only. Flake should be fished on a No 10 or 12 hook, maggots on 14 or 16, redworm on 12 or 14.

Because of the single No 1 shot on the line, the bait will sink slowly to the bottom. Bites often occur as the bait is dropping, especially if the angler is fishing over a patch of bubbles. When the bait is taken ‘on the drop’, the float will either disappear, or move slowly to one side, sometimes sinking, sometimes not.

If the bait is stationary when a fish bites, the float will do one of many things. It may lift, then sink (not quite disappearing), repeating this several times before finally vanishing or moving slowly across the surface. It may lift, then go straight under. It may disappear without warning. Most times the strike should be made only when a positive movement of the float takes place, but the angler should always be prepared to experiment and strike at anything which suggests the bait is in the fish’s mouth.

Sliding float

In deep water, of 12ft and over, a sliding float is necessary. For a slider to perform properly, the diameter of the bottom ring should be such that only lines of less than 6lb b.s. Can pass through. Line strength should be 3-5lb. The float should have a long antenna and the shot loading should consist of about six AAA’s and a No 1.

Tie a 6in length of nylon line, slightly heavier than the main line, above the float at the required depth to act as a stop knot. A plummet is then attached to the hook, the tackle cast to the spot to be fished, and the stop knot adjusted until the bait is just touching the bottom. The shot are bunched between three and six feet from the hook, with the No 1 shot 15in above the hook.

Prior to casting, the float will rest against the bunched AAA shot. The cast is made overhead and immediately the float hits the water, line is given—on no account should the bait and shot sink on a tight line. As the shot sink, the float travels up the line, eventually coming to rest against the stop knot. The bait is now on the bottom. The rod is then placed in two rests, with 6in of the tip submerged. When a bite occurs, the strike is made sideways.


Ledgering is a very successful method, especially in meres and gravel pits. The various approaches include the use of a blockend with maggots, a swimfeeder with bread or worms, straightforward ledgering with an Arlesey Bomb or sliding link ledger, and freelining.

When blockending with maggots, a Feederlink is threaded onto the line and stopped about 15in from the hook. This should be either a No 14 or 16, baited with one or two maggots. Each cast must be made in the same area, the continual introduction of maggots via the Feederlink in time creating a hot-spot. The cruising tench eventually finds these maggots, stops to eat them and, it is hoped, those on the hook too.

Use an indicator

The rod is fished on two rests with an indicator—a bobbin, butt indicator or other device—attached to either the line or the rod. Before attaching the indicator, the line must be pulled tight to the feeder.

Bites will vary. Sometimes the indicator will jerk up an inch, once, twice, or even three times. It may fall backwards, it may rise slowly or, as often happens, shoot up so quickly that it hits the rod with a thud.

Deadly on hard, clean bottoms

Effective only in waters with hard, clean bottoms, this approach is particularly deadly when fished at long range—that is, where 20 yards or more must be achieved.

For swimfeeders, the set-up is the same, except that the hook size varies between No 12 and No 6, depending on the bait. Favourite baits are bread (crust, flake and paste) and worms. The swimfeeder is packed with cereal groundbait. Line strength that is suitable ranges from 4lb to 6lb.

The Arlesey Bomb and sliding link ledger rigs are used on both hard and soft bottoms. On the latter, a sliding link will result in better bites. Best baits are bread, worms, maggots and sweetcorn. Hook sizes are either 12, 10 or 8, with a gilt hook for sweetcorn. Line strength is again between 4 and 6lb.

Freelining means using nothing on the line but the hook. Best baits are lobworm and freshwater mussels, the latter fished either in pieces or whole. Before fishing, several mussels are cut into portions and introduced to the swim. Hook sizes are No 8 for pieces, Nos 6 and 4 for whole mussels (and lobworms); line strength, 6lb. Bites are detected by watching either the line or a piece of silver paper folded over it between butt ring and reel. For mussels, the pick-up of the reel is left open, the strike being made when some 3ft of line have been taken. For lobworms it is left closed.

Having gained an insight into the ways and habitat of the tench and the basic conventional methods of tempting this fish, let us now consider some of the more unusual techniques for catching old ‘Tinea’. There are a hundred and one off-beat approaches, but let us look at three of the most productive and exciting. One of the most exhilarating ways of catching any fish is experienced when the angler can actually see his quarry in the water. This entails stalking the fish, and eventually putting a bait to it. It is a very selective way of fishing—there is nothing hit-or-miss about it. Once you have found your fish the rest is up to you.

How to stalk tench You will be aware already that the favourite tenching hours are early and late in the day, although it is important to realize that tench do not feed to a strict timetable. To stalk tench you need to be able to see them, and for this you need light. The newcomer to tenching may therefore be a little surprised to learn that some of the most exciting and productive hunting can even be had in the middle hours of the day in blazing sunshine! Often the angler has no choice but to fish in these ‘off-peak’ hours, but if he has a flexible approach and an open mind, these daylight hours can be used well.

Tench stalking is very much a wandering game, so one needs to be able to travel as light as possible.

Watercraft, stealth and caution are absolute essentials—in fact, this method demands the best of big-fish anglers. In most situations your tackle need not be elaborate—just rod, reel, line and hook, the freeline approach. A tin of lobworms, half a loaf, and perhaps a couple of swan mussels in your bag, and you are all set. To get the most fun out of this kind of fishing, it pays to work in pairs. If you have a mate who does not mind crawling through stinging nettles on all fours or can shin up a willow tree like an ape, you have the basis of a successful partnership. There is nothing lethargic about this sort of fishing.

A pair of polarized sunglasses is a must for tench stalking, and a pair of plimsolls are essential for tree climbing. If your water is surrounded by trees take advantage of them and take it in turns to do the catching and the spotting—your mate, perched up a tree can give you a running commentary on what is going on down below, picking out the biggest tench in the group and giving you instruction. Sometimes the angler is fishing ‘blind’, relying totally on the spotter, but that only adds to the excitement. The real acrobatics start when fishing otherwise unapproachable swims from up a tree, but that is really advanced tenching!

The reader has learnt that tench feeding is not totally predictable and that they can, and do, feed at all times, although the more productive periods tend to be early and late.

Night-feeding tench

It is however, perhaps not generally realized that tench feed regularly in real earnest during the hours of darkness. This happens in particular circumstances, and there may be a number of reasons. On many of our heavily fished club and day ticket waters, any self-respecting tench would hardly venture near the banks during daylight hours. It is only after dark, when all the bankside hubbub has subsided, that tench will feel secure enough to patrol the margins and feed, often mopping up the groundbait tossed in by the day’s anglers. On this type of fishery, the pattern becomes more noticeable as the season progresses, the tench growing more and more cautious as the bankside clutter increases during the day.

Water temperature

Another factor influencing nocturnal feeding is water temperature. With the rare prolonged heatwave that pushes the water temperature into the mid or upper seventies, tench do tend to go off the feed. The summer of 1976 was a classic example of this, many of the big fish being taken in the middle of the night. The ideal water temperature for tench fishing is in the region of 18-21 °C (65-70°F). In a shallow lake the normal night time drop in air temperature can reduce the water temperature towards dawn by as much as four or five degrees, and this will often stir the fish into activity. In deep lakes and gravel pits tench tend to stay in cooler, deeper water by day because the shallow margins are too hot and noisy, but at night the shallows cool down rapidly. So in the hottest weather this is often the best place to fish.

At night tench will often behave more like carp, and you can frequently hear them clooping and crashing around the weedy margins. You may even mistake them for carp. It is surprising how close these tench will venture in at night—if you are quiet enough you can have them feeding at your feet. With the fish so close, simple margin freeline tactics can be deadly. Even a floating crust can be effective, so test the swim with a few scattered crusts as it grows dark. You may find that there is a lull in activity for an hour or two (in June, July and August), this ‘dead’ spell often occurring between midnight and 2 am. So if you do want to doze, relying on an audible bitealarm, that is the time to do it.

Tench do not appear to be so tackle-shy at night, so you can confidently step up the line to at least 6 or 7lb b.s. You may well need this when you get your first taste of a big tench in some snaggy swim in the inky darkness of the early hours.

Most conventional tench fishing is based on the use of a static bait. Movement, however, can be a very important factor, and one that the majority of anglers do not even con-sider. One many occasions it has been proven quite conclusively that moving a bait can stimulate a tench to take when it would otherwise have ignored it. Perhaps, as with salmon, the tench is sometimes ‘annoyed’ into accepting it. This movement is obtained by giving the bait a twitch, which can be done in a regular, systematic fashion, or purely at random. Whichever method you choose, both can be productive. The simple freeline technique is again the rig most suited to ‘twitching’. The lobworm, or any other type of worm, is probably the most versatile bait for this exciting way of tenching. You can search out a swim (just as you do with a lure when pike fishing), gradually covering all areas as you tweak and twitch your bait back. It may even be taken as it slowly sinks, so be prepared. There is endless scope for experiment with different types of moving bait, shrimps for example. The first ever tench I caught on a twitched bait was a 6lb 4oz whopper. The fish grabbed a lobworm that had been twitched just a few seconds before. I took several other fish that morning, yet a second ‘control’ rod, fished with a static ledgered worm, was ignored by the tench.

Avoid open waters

Moving baits appear to be most effective fished in very close proximity to weeds or lily patches, and getting the bait within inches of the weed is vitally important. Fishing the clear open area of the swim is never as effective. It almost seems as if the tench are tucked away in the solid weed, ready to pounce as a morsel comes within easy reach.

Finally, still on bait movement, have you heard of ‘teasing’ tench? It sounds a bit crazy perhaps, but again it can work. When ledgering for tench in a conventional way, you may get a few finnicky knocks on your indicator that fail to develop into a positive take. If this happens repeatedly, try giving your line a sudden pull or tug. Occasionally, within seconds, a steady pull will follow, just as if the tench has been aggravated or ‘teased’ into taking.