There may be a 2lb difference between what constitutes a specimen tench in one water and in another. A hunter’s achievement is measured by the difficulties he has overcome.
Specimen sizes 5lb to 7 lb, depending on the average weight for the individual waters. In some areas 3lb may be very good; in others the heavier weight applies.
Tackle, bait, techniques
9ft to 13ft
b.s. 2lb b.s. To 8lb b.s.
No 16 to No 2
If a specimen is regarded as a fish worthy of mounting in a glass case or one weighing half as much as the existing record, then the specimen hunter’s first task is to locate a water holding such fish. But if, as I believe, a specimen is a fish that is above average for the water concerned, then any tench angler can consider himself a specimen hunter.
I have had access to waters holding 4, 5, 6, and 7 pounders and can claim to have seen (and tried desperately hard to catch) double-figure tench. But I do not regard taking a 5-pounder from such waters as a greater achievement than catching a 3-pounder from a modest pond that normally yields fish of half that size. The pleasure comes from trying to catch a good tench from any water, and from the variety tench fishing offers from season to season.
There is, generally, little hope of sorting out big tench from small. So if you use the traditional methods recommended by tench fishers you will, despite the many disadvan-tages, catch tench. And if you persist for hours, season after season, the chances are that a specimen will eventually come your way in time.
The situation can be expressed in percentages. I once calculated over a five-year period, that on a certain water I had to catch ten 4lb tench before I caught a five-pounder. Had I been catching all four-pounders, my ratio of specimens would have been 1 to 10, but there were many more fish under 4lb so the actual percentage was probably less than half that. Those figures would not apply to every water but they could be of interest to the angler who seeks something a little better than average and could indicate the chances involved.
It pays to take a fresh look at the way you catch tench, however. If you accept as gospel that tench are bottom feeders and that you need to present a big bait hard on the bottom to catch them, you will end up with fewer tench and hence fewer specimens than if you experiment with different rigs, tackles, baits and presentations. Experimentation is nearly always the key to successful tench specimen hunting.
In traditional, shallow, soft-bottomed lakes tench tend to be reasonably active for much of the summer. They forage a lot, moving around in search of food, and can be attracted and held in raked and baited swims.
Bread, brandlings, freshwater mussel, sweetcorn, maggot and many others
Worms, trout pellets, soaked maize, bread and all hookbaits
Ledgering, freelining, float fishing
When the fish are there, to accept a bottom-fished lobworm and bites are coming frequently, there is no need to change your approach, but if bites are few and far between, and there is obvious activity in the swim, finer tackle and more subtle tactics may be necessary.
The lift style
It was this situation that led to the development of the well-known lift style, which has probably accounted for more specimen tench than any other method during the past 25 years. It does not work everywhere, but, like the recent patterns of long antenna floats, should always be given a chance. The principle is simple and based on the fact that tench tend to suck in and blow out small baits. The lift rig is shotted so that any such behaviour by the tench causes the single bottom shot to move, and the movement of that shot causes the float to lift in the water and lie on the surface. The rod has to be placed in a rest, and the tackle, which is set deeper than the water, is drawn taut until the float, attached at the bottom end only, cocks. The float is overloaded by the single shot which means that it sinks completely if both bait and shot are not on the bottom. The disadvantages of this are that the buoyant peacock quill float always strives to rise to the surface and lift bites are usually fast. This means that the strike has to be made very quickly and, as the rod cannot be hand-held for fear of upsetting the delicate balance of the rig, intense concentration and sharp reflexes are essential. They, however, come with practice and it is an exciting and challenging way of dealing with specimen tench.
Big windbeater or driftbeater floats on the market today work on the same principle, but because they are shotted differently and are exceptionally stable, the whole bite sequence is, or appears to be, slowed down. This means that the angler can relax more, his bites appear more positive, his strikes may be more leisurely and his control over a hooked fish will be immediate but not frantic.
Large floats with buoyant sight bulbs are ideal for fishing at night in the light of a torch beam. The tench is not necessarily nocturnal, but I have taken more five-pounders after dark than in daylight, many on illuminated float tackle and windbeater floats. Specimen tench feed more confidently after dark on many waters, and where boating, swimming, sailing and other activities disturb the bigger fish by day, the night offers the best chance of specimens. If the beam of the torch is shone across the water and not directly into it, tench do not seem in any way disturbed by it; they are not attracted to lights as has been suggested. Powerful torch beams can, however, irritate other anglers, so illuminated float fishing should be practised discreetly.
For extremely deep water (which is not common in traditional tench lakes) the slider attachment is useful, and particularly effective for illuminated float fishing at night, even in comparatively shallow water. It bulks all the weight at the bottom end of the tackle and allows an accurate, underhand cast to be made along the torch beam which should always remain static once it has been set.
During the day when delicate bites, calling for tiny baits, are ex-perienced, a thin antenna-type float shotted so the bait barely touches the bottom will give exceptionally good bite registration.
It was once believed that the thin antenna floats were ideal for windy conditions. The whole of the antenna was left out of the water and remained reasonably still on a wave-tossed lake, but it was not an easy style. Today’s very fine antenna floats work better in calm conditions. Suitable for medium-range work, they should be shotted down so that an inch or slightly more of the antenna shows above the water. Again, this type of float, allied to sensitive shotting, shows delicate bites well, and tends to slow down those that would appear as lightning dips on a flattopped float.
In almost all Stillwater tench fishing the float is fixed at the bottom end only, and there are many methods of attachment. Occasionally, however, when tench will accept a bait moving slowly along the bottom, the float is best fixed both top and bottom.
Drifting the bait
During the day, float tackle, set so that a moderate breeze causes it to drift along the surface and drag the bait with it, often accounts for good tench. For obvious reasons it should be capable of dragging the bait (and a bottom shot to slow the movement down) without being drawn under. Some top buoyancy is necessary in these circumstances and a little shoulder should be left out of the water to ensure support.
Dense rushbeds, where many really big tench often hole up during the day, call for a rather special kind of approach. The bait should be placed either directly into, or very close to the edge of the rushbed. Sometimes this can be achieved from the bank by lowering the tackle in on the end of a long rod; at other times it may be necessary to approach the margin by boat and cast towards it.
Either way, it is dangerous fishing and expensive floats are better left in their boxes. Instead, use simple float tackle, which because of its method of attachment is almost snag-proof. It can be made up by threading the reel line completely through a length of peacock quill, and a single large shot pinched on to the line immediately below it will make sure it does not slip, and en-sure that the bait sinks slowly under its own weight. Most baits are taken while they are sinking, and this could be similar to the natural situation where the tench sheltering in the rush beds dislodge food from the stems and take it as it sinks.
Make float changing simple
Several situations call for float fishing and it is not always possible to select the ideal rig immediately. Quick changes are necessary from time to time, so a separate float attachment kept permanently on the line is often advisable. This makes float changing simple with shotting adjusted without dismantling the whole tackle.
Rigs and tackle are not alone in accounting for success. As already said, locating the fish is all-important. Many really big tench are found in weedy shallows and, during the day, their paths can be plotted by the string of bubbles they send up to the surface.
Despite the weed, however, many stay put, feeding mainly at night. In theory they should not like areas of thick weed at night because of the lack of oxygen, but small, cleared patches have produced amazingly large specimens during the first few hours of darkness. Big baits have been taken freely and boldly, the line running off the reel spool in the manner associated with carp. So, tench, which need the utmost coaxing at dawn and during the day, are often very easy to hook in these circumstances. This could be because of that brief period they are foraging and (unlike other tench fishing situations) there appears to be little need for groundbait.
There are several other styles of fishing, but because many tench lakes are heavily weeded, long-range ledgering is mainly unsuitable. In these waters boats can play an important part in the locating and catching of big tench, and there are situations where boat fishing offers the only chance of a specimen. Where banks are heavily trodden and fished, many of the worthwhile specimens often spend most of their time out of casting range, but can be tracked down in hot weather and clear water conditions by a boat search. Stealth and quietness are essential, and the boat should only cause minimal water disturbance.
Once the tench are located, you should not try to fish for them immediately. It is reasonable to expect them to be around that area some time later, and the groundbaiting overnight will usually attract and hold the shoal. If there is a choice, prebait the area holding the smaller shoal, for it will contain the bigger specimens. In very big gravel pits, where there are great depth variations, this is a particularly effective method of contacting specimens.
Spotting the fish
There is no better means of selection than actually spotting the fish, as trout and carp anglers know well. It is not always possible with tench, but if you are prepared to put in time watching, big tench frequently show themselves over shallow bars in gravel pits. You cannot expect to catch them at once, but they do follow a routine.
They may pass over the bar several times in an hour, or only twice in a day, and because they are nomadic they can be waylaid. If you wait your chance, you can hope to pick up a fish each time the shoal moves through. Heavy groundbaiting is not helpful, however, because these fish do not usually stay. In many situations it will merely attract small, unwanted roach or rudd, or, if bream and tench are present, the bream will dispose of the groundbait before the tench arrive. In these circumstances, leave a few samples of hookbait on the bar and place a similar hookbait among them. Floats, leads or shots are seldom necessary.
If tench feed on the way through you will not mistake the run-off bites they give, but do not act impatiently and try to move the bait into their immediate vision. Leave it lying there, and be prepared to see the fish pass over it without showing any interest. You can never be sure when they will begin feeding, but the chances are that they will eventually. It is also possible that they will do this when you are not there, but that is part of the game. Hunting specimen tench is exciting but frustrating.
length, hook size and line strength are really a matter for in-dividual choice and should be selected with the size of fish ex-pected and the nature of the water in mind. There is little point in going to great lengths to hook a specimen tench if the tackle is not capable of holding it. No one would expect to drive home a No 4 hook with a line of 2lb b.s., and delicate float tackles will not work with heavy lines. The thin antenna floats described earlier fish better with a 3lb line than with one twice as strong. In fact, 4lb b.s. Is about the heaviest you should use.
Big windbeater floats accommodate lines up to 6lb b.s., while simple lift floats made of peacock quill and attached by a silicone or plastic band can confidently be fished on 5lb line. Where big fish are ex-pected, tie the hook directly to the reel line and do not use finer hook links or bottoms. Every join or knot is a weakness, and tying an eyed or fine-wire spade end to the reel line eliminates them all. Simple precautions, such as testing the line in ad-vance, making sure that hooks are sharp and that there are no rust spots, should also be carried out.
Other essentials are an umbrella, a large landing net, a reliable torch for night fishing, and an eye shade or polarized sunglasses (or both) for use in bright sunshine. Accessories such as bite alarms, bite indicators, swingtips, Betalights, and rod rests should be chosen by the individual. My own rods range from 9ft to 13ft. Each has its own application, although there is no need for an ar-moury of rods at the outset. I prefer soft-actioned rods to rigid pokers, but friends prefer the opposite. My soft-actioned wand that weighs but a few ounces is ideal for tench fishing from a boat, while for bank fishing I would choose something much longer, especially for use with a float. Whatever the length or action of the rod, it should be applied to a suitable line. My soft rods are not likely to break a fine 2lb b.s. Line; my heavier rods would be too hard on lines under 6lb b.s.
In these days of fashionable baits—high protein, magic, seed, particle, secret, cereal and others—it seems odd to suggest that a loaf of bread and a tin of worms are still an effective bait for most tench fishing. But they are, because tench become wary of certain baits as the season progresses, and it often pays to change. In the early days of the season, sensible-sized hookbaits are just as likely to be taken as single maggots or casters. I have caught more big tench on small crust cubes (which, at %in square, are huge compared with a single maggot) than any other bait. Brandlings are also excellent, especially when used in advance as groundbait.
On certain waters, freshwater mussels used whole (without shells, of course) or as snippets, have pro-bably accounted for as many big day-time tench as any other bait, while trout pellets as groundbait, and hookbaits made up of soaked brown bread and softened pellets, have proved an excellent combination in recent years.
Soaked maize, left until it has fermented and developed an unbearable smell, will undoubtedly attract tench into a given area. The maize itself is not the best of hook-baits, however, because it never really softens, and hooked fish tend to come adrift. Instead, it is better to fish a sweetcorn hookbait. Soft paste made from maize meal and allowed to ‘go off is also very effective when used with soaked maize.
Canned sweetcorn is particularly good for tench and carp. Maggots and casters, redworms, black slugs, snails, caddis, grubs, freshwater mussels—and innumerable other baits, natural and manufactured—are also good. Although all will take fish many of them are of little value except, perhaps, as talking points amongst anglers. With few exceptions most ‘odd-ball’ baits are less likely to produce specimen tench than the tried and tested alternatives.
From time to time there are reports of big tench taken on unusual baits not intended for them, but there are seldom subsequent catches on the same bait. I once hooked an enormous tench on a piece of dead fish intended for an eel, but as I had eel-fished that spot for many years previously with chunks of dead fish as hookbaits, I knew I had not discovered anything revolutionary! This fish had learnt to avoid the usual baits and, having changed its diet completely, had grown enormous. It is perhaps this change of diet that produces the odd specimen in a water where they are thought not to live.
Gravel Pit Fishing Secrets
The disused gravel workings of the southern counties possess all the ingredients that allow fish to grow big quickly. Carp, bream, roach, rudd, pike and tench thrive, and tench reach specimen proportions—5lb and above—more frequently than some of the other species.
The topography can vary enor-mously. Some pits are bleak, vast expanses of 60-100 acres, while others are lush, island-studded waters of three or four acres.
Underwater geography One such pit consists of a series of heavily weeded pools and bays, with numerous overgrown islands, separated by channels and gullies. The underwater geography is un-dulating and as varied as the land above, in places resembling a jungle and giving the big-fish hunter endless scope for experiment. It took me several seasons to understand the movements of tench in one bay, but to know every nook and cranny could take years.
This water supports two kinds of tench. The predominant type is long, slender, and pale gold, and is usually associated with alkaline Bedfordshire chalk and clay pits. It congregates in shoals of 12-15 and has a maximum (spawn-free) weight of 5-6lb. The other variety, deeperbodied and dark olive green, often lives in peaty, acid waters. It moves in groups of four to six fish, with some monsters roving alone or in pairs. I have seen fish of 6-8 lb, but some specimens are thought to ap-proach double figures.
In this pit, plant life consists mainly of bullrushes and reedmace on the margins, with greater pondweed and Canadian pondweed in the water. The dense weedbeds make the tench more difficult to catch, as they are hidden when foraging in these huge, natural larders. It is astonishing that they fall to the relatively unnatural offerings of anglers when their natural habitat is alive with daphnia, snails, caddis, shrimps, water boatmen and, in some pits, freshwater mussels.
Here, tench regularly venture into open water, and patrol along the clear channel in the bay . ‘Excercise’ is taken mainly at dawn and dusk, and although they do little serious feeding there, they frequently move through, occasionally nosing in the gravel or silt, sending up a cluster of ‘needle bubbles’. Tench pockets are found in inlets in the greater pondweed at the edge of the patrol routes. A boat anchored in the solid weed would prove useful in reaching them—but on this water they are not allowed.
Two methods of tench fishing are possible here—the lift method and freelining a large natural bait. The underwater contours can vary by the yard—very often a gravel hump is found, as in swim B—so thorough, accurate plumbing is essential with the lift method.
Although big tench rarely accept a large bait in the middle of open pools and channels, I have found that a lobworm, freelined by the edge of the greater pondweed, will tempt a fish that is prepared to nose out from its shelter. The worm must be within a couple of inches of the weed—6in may be too far. An otherwise docile fish can be induced to take by giving the worm an occasional jerk. But this pit is not a big-bag water; you have done well if you coax two or three fish.