Zander Fishing

I have one theory as to why zander are not taken more frequently at night. They move about more in the dark, so that ledgering dead-baits at night is not very productive. For example, when I fished Land-beach Lakes at night, I found that the fish came up off the bottom and searched for fry near the surface and in the margins. Then, the only way to get results was to floatfish a livebait or worm at a depth of about 2ft on the drift.

Supertwin, and Ryobi, this last be-ing extremely smooth – but any good model is suitable. I can see no point in considering closed-face reels, centrepins or multipliers.

The two brands of nylon monofilament that I regularly use are Intrepid Superline dyed with hot-water Dylon, and 11 lb sorrel-coloured Sylcast, which I prefer. It is hard and dull, but becomes reasonably supple after an hour or so of use. I avoid soft lines (which have poor knot strength) and pre-stretched lines. The latter are thinner but have no stretch to cushion the strike, which I need with my striking technique.

At the business-end, I use home-made snap tackle with size 8-10 treble hooks. Some people fish without wire traces, but I can see no sense in it; not only because zander have sharp teeth, but because results prove conclusively that wire traces are not detrimental to success. The wire I use is Tidemaster or Alasticum, or a similar dark, fine, cabled wire.

The trace is around 1ft and is at-tached by an ordinary standard swivel. At the end of the trace I use a Mustad treble and above this a sliding Ryder treble. Both the bot-tom treble and swivel are attached by simply passing lin or so of the wire through the swivel or hook eye schools – those who scale-down their tackle to 7-9lb b.s. Lines specifically for zander, and those who still use sophisticated pike tackle (the Fens are full of pike), including 11-12 lb lines and size 6 or 8 treble hooks. I come into the lattter category, although I have caught many zander on scaled-down tackle. Results are not adversely affected by the use of pike tackle, except in one aspect – the fight of the fish is reduced. But, like most zander men, I go for the fish because it is plump, good looking, clean to the touch, and cooks well; not because of its ability to put up a good fight.

Float-paternostered livebait

My basic tackle is a float-paternostered livebait, exactly the same rig as I use for pike. The rod can be a Mk IV Carp rod, an Avon, or one of the hollow-glass equivalents. I also use a 10ft Farstrike made by Davenport and Fordham and, at the heavier end of the scale, a Piker 10 made by the East Anglian Rod Co and a 10ft stepped-up carp rod by Olivers of Knebworth. The only special feature of these rods is that all have hard chrome rings. I alternate choosing between Fuji handle fittings and ordinary sliding winch fittings.

I use fixed-spool reels – Mitchell 300 and 410, Intrepid Elite and r. 1 and then twisting the wire together. The twist can be Araldited or Superglued but slip never occurs even without glue.

Cut down on weight

A three-way swivel can be used to attach the paternoster line, but again I hardly feel this is necessary. Use just enough weight to hold bottom in the current or drift. As well as the main lead, I also use a swan shot clipped on about 2ft above the trace swivel.

I use what used to be called pilot floats, of I-l?in diameter. These are simply a sphere with a hole through the middle. I often make my own in a few minutes from balsa dowel rod, although I make them cigar-shaped and fish them fat-end downwards – so that they give less resistance on the take.

The float is stopped with a Billy Lane knot tied on the line at the ap-propriate depth. Tie the knot with cotton or with 6 lb b.s. Monofila-ment. Cotton does not cut into the line, as nylon sometimes does, but stays firm for a shorter period; a nylon stop knot often stays on my line for weeks.

Between the stop knot and the pilot float, attach a small lead or bead with a hole just large enough to take the reel line comfortably. This bead stops the float slipping over the knot. The beads sold in tackle shops always have large holes and so are unsuitable. I buy a cheap ‘pearl’ necklace, with dozens of suitable beads on it. One is used to stop the hole in the float. All you then have to do at the bankside is to tie the stop knot. I prefer it to any of the free-swimming float rigs that you see people using, except when the fish are feeding in the shallows and there is a surface drift.

If you wish to fish a very shallow bait, it can still be used; simply lengthen the paternoster link. It makes casting a bit difficult, unless you loop up the link and tie it with PVA strip, but I have cast paternoster links up to 10ft long with little or no trouble.

Another modification is to remove the float to make a simple paternoster rig, which can be teamed with heavy leads for long-range or flood-water fishing. In such cases, set up the tackle taut, with the rod pointing at about 45° to the sky, and fish the paternoster either fixed or sliding. In the second case, attaching the paternoster by a swivel above the trace swivel is better.

Although I usually use treble hooks, a lot of anglers prefer one large single, especially when dead-baiting. A large single is particularly useful when using a leaded or leadless ledgering rig. Use a size 20 on a 1ft trace. In the past, this rig accounted for zander up to 9 lb on Woburn and Claydon Lakes. It is in favour again for specimen hunting with small deadbaits such as rudd, gudgeon and eel portion.

Fish strips

Roach and bream are just as good as deadbaits, but small strips are perhaps better than whole fish. Although zander occasionally fall to sea fish like herrings, sardines and sprats, they do not like them as much as they do coarse deadbaits.

As with most species, zander takes vary a lot. One of my big zander merely held the float 2in below the surface and continued to do so until I hit it hard. Others twitch away for minutes on end, but a strike produces nothing. A third kind of bite results in a searing run that bounces the rod in the rest. It is impossible to generalize about strike timing, but strike technique is another matter. I always put on the pick-up, wind up until I feel the fish, and then strike as quickly as I can. The fight is not worth mentioning, and unhooking is exactly the same as for pike, except the zander’s jaws are much stronger.

Because of modern drainage prac-tice, most zander swims – in both drains and rivers – tend to look much the same. They are all more or less straight and featureless, although some are deeper than others. In most cases it is like fishing a long bath!

But one exception is a favourite swim of mine on the Great Ouse. Here I fish from a spot which pro-jects against the usual flow of the river, with a shallow sidearm going across in front of me and to my right and with the main river passing to my left. The divergence of the two streams creates an eddy in the sidearm whose strength depends on the speed and direction of flow of the main river.

Occasionally the flow of the Great Ouse is reversed so that it flows in a normally upstream direction. On these occasions, I am able to cast my float paternoster rig to B and allow it to work to A. But normally I cast to A and work very slowly back to B, taking perhaps hour over a 25-yard cast. All the time the bait is held near a gravel lip in front of my fishing position, the lead being on the main-river side of this lip.

Takes usually run out into the main river and across the dense weedbeds at the foot of the lip. The zander come out of the weeds up to the lip, then turn away across the river. The lead itself may catch the weedbed during the run, so that a ledger link as weak as 3 lb b.s. May be advisable. Often the lead is lost, so I use a small nut rather than a proper lead.

When the river is in flood, zander move into the sidearm and hide in the cabbages. So, I shallow the tackle a little, use a long paternoster link, and let the rig search slowly around the area C on the sidearm edge of the lip. The main river can be quite unfishable during floods, but takes in the sidearm are often good. The fish rarely run into the main river but go up the sidearm, towards the spot marked D. Usually I strike long before they get there, but if I get an odd jerky run, caused by a zander around lib, I leave it to develop awhile. These small fish either stop at D and drop the bait, or turn at high speed and make a strikeable run to the right.

Whether zander are hooked in the sidearm or in the main river, they rarely go for the weed or cabbage clumps, but always fight in open water. Fortunately, they prefer open water by day – perhaps because of their poor daytime vision. If they did go for the many snags, the angler would have great difficulty in stopping them, particularly if they used the currents. Once hooked, they are usually netted. Because the water pushes towards the angler, they can be backed over a waiting net without seeing it.

Though the zander is spreading far-ther and farther afield every year, the number of waters which have a stock of specimens are few. It takes eight or nine years for a zander to reach 10 lb, so one’s choice of water is limited to those which have had zander for at least that period. In time, more and more waters will sup-port specimens. A few unsung rivers may have one or two very big fish – the early colonists from ad-joining water – but the chances of contacting these fish are remote.

The zander specimen hunter chooses a water with a long history of zander, such as the Great Ouse Relief Channel or the adjoining Cut-Off Channel. Other Fenland waters worthy of attention include the Great Ouse, the Delph, the Sixteen Foot and Middle Level, the Wissey, the Old and New Bedford Drains and Roswell Pits, near Ely. Outside this area, a number of pits in Bedfordshire may have specimen zander, while the lakes at Woburn and Claydon are certainly worth a visit. A few waters in Yorkshire and Warwickshire also hold zander. Nearer London, Old Bury Hill Lake, near Dorking, contains zander and these may reach specimen weights in the near future.

Elusive species

Zander very seldom show them-selves. They do not frequent shallow water or feed near the surface, ex-cept at night or during floods. The angler has to get to grips with his quarry by indirect means. On a featureless piece of water such as a Fen Drain it pays to select a stretch – between two bridges, say – and get to know that piece of water. Fish it systematically, noting any varia-tions in depth. On calm, sunny, summer evenings a walk along the bank will show where the zander’s small food fish are most numerous. These areas should be tried, along with any where drains enter the main channel. While fishing, the angler may encounter beds of zebra mussels anywhere from the marginal shelf to the middle. These may attract zander but the heavy tackle losses caused by the sharp shells may prove prohibitive. Zander will pro-bably be encountered all along a stretch of drain. On some waters there is no easily discernible con-sistency, but on others a pattern emerges, showing that the larger-than-average zander frequent a certain area. Once a good area has been found, it pays to stay with it, for packs of zander will constantly be moving in and out. The angler should not chase about from one spot to another.

Holed-up by day

Large stillwaters, such as Roswell Pits, where bank fishing is very limited, call for a boat. Zander are likely to hole up in areas of deep water during the day. But the bank angler can still catch specimens, provided he fishes at a point on the zanders’ regular patrol route. Good swims are found where two pieces of water are connected by a narrow channel, and between islands, but the water in the gap must be deep. It is possible to catch big zander at any time of the year, but once the water temperature drops below 5°C, the chances are remote.

Strong winds whipping the water to a foam and colouring it cocoa-brown, brings out the best zander. Brisk winds and clear sky, with lots of sunshine, encourage zander packs to move about the water, giving the angler a chance of contacting all sizes. Luck plays a very big part in these conditions, as the angler can do nothing to select a big fish out of a pack hunting through his swim.

Zander packs, however, usually comprise similar-sized fish, the big-gest packs frequently being made up of 3-4 lb fish. The largest often tag on behind, but mingle with the pack when large numbers converge on big fry shoals.

There is no reason to feel deterred even on a hot, sunny day with no wind. Somewhere, a semi-static pack of zander will be willing to feed. Once located, the swim may produce large numbers of bites as long as the angler is prepared to work hard and try a number of swims. The popular technique of ‘leapfrogging’ rods along the bank can pay off under these conditions.

One of the most frustrating problems facing the zander specimen hunter is how to sort the big zander from the small ones. The basic rigs described in part 52 will catch zander of all sizes. How can the specimen hunter improve his chances of a big one?

By increasing the size of the live or deadbait to as much as £lb it is certainly possible to eliminate many of the smaller fish. But the attendant problems are many. Small zander make abortive runs on large bait. Fewer runs are experienced. Finally, when a big zander does take, it is less easily hooked and more easily lost on a larger bait.

Blanket coverage

Most serious specimen hunters have opted for small or medium-sized baits, on the principle that bigger fish will come every so often if methods are geared towards cat-ching as many zander as possible.

Any type of coarse fish can be used for live or deadbait, whole or halved. Larger fish baits can be cut up into strips or chunks. The most commonly used are roach, rudd, dace, bream and eel portions. Few small zander seem willing to tackle a 4-6oz live perch; larger zander are not worried by the spines.

Sustaining interest

Seafish such as herrings, sprats and mackerel make poor baits, although they have taken a few specimens, so it is always worth experimenting. At the end of a successful day it is a good idea to chop up the remaining deadbaits and catapult them out into the swim. It may help to keep the zander interested – useful if you plan to return the next day.

Freshly killed deadbaits are not always easily come by. Though somewhat soft on thawing, frozen freshwater baits catch plenty of zander. With soft baits it pays to thread them on to a large single hook with a baiting needle or, when using trebles, to tie the hooks to the bait in the region of the tail. Long casts are then possible without losing the bait, which will often be recovered on landing the zander.

There are times when zander give long, fast runs, swallowing the bait quickly. On these days, resistance from floats and leads is largely ignored. At other times they tend to be very finicky and only the most sensitive methods will produce fish. Leads and floats should be as small as possible.

Where no flow or drag occurs, small dolly-type indicators can be fixed to the line between the open reel spool and butt ring. These drop off, quickly offering the minimum resistance. Where there is flow or drag, a small square of kitchen foil can be attached to the line in front of the rod tip. The reel line is then tucked lightly under an elastic band on the butt. A run is indicated by the foil shooting off into the water. In extreme conditions of flow there may be no alternative but to slacken the clutch on the fixed-spool reel and watch the rod tip for the initial taps which signal a zander run.

If a lot of runs are being missed even with the most sensitive set-up, the culprits are probably small zander. The best solution is to move to another swim, for a shoal of tiny zander will soon strip hooks without getting caught.

With small treble hooks on a small bait, most zander will be hooked if struck instantly. When using a single hook it pays to wait a while to let the zander swallow the bait. A barbless hook helps, for a lot of fish are deep hooked on single hooks.

Sometimes the rivers and drains become so swollen with rain that they take on a dirty brown colour. Old trees, dead weed and all the refuse associated with farming are pushed down. This should not deter the zander specimen hunter, provid-ed the weather is mild and the water is not the product of melting snow.

Strong flows and suspended rubbish cause problems of presentation. Tackle is quickly dragged from posi- tion, so it is necessary to fish more crudely than one would normally do. Floats need to be larger and leads may weigh anything up to 2oz. But during floods big zander do not seem put out by heavy tackle, and a large lively livebait can pay off. The vibration and flash of a living fish attract the zander much quicker than a ledgered deadbait.

It has become the fashion for several years to kill big zander. The reasons vary from plain ignorance to a hatred of the species. Specimens can fight very strongly, but, unfortunately, this tends to weaken them, so their return to the water must be as quick as possible. Hold the fish upright facing any current until it recovers and swims off.

Zander do not like keepnets and it is inadvisable to confine numbers together. They should be released a few yards from where you are fishing. Keep a big fish only long enough to photograph.