I first came close to catching what many would describe as the holy grail of Zander fishing (a brace of doubles), only a year or so after starting fishing for them, back in 1994. I very narrowly missed out by only a few short ounces (four to be precise), during an explosive short session on Frisby Pits in Nov 94. Amongst half a dozen other Zeds of 4 – 8lbs+, I managed to land two cracking Zeds of 9lb 12oz and 11lb 9oz, along with a 16lb Pike. Having come back to fishing midway through the season in 1993 aged 23 after a 6 year lay off, I was a dyed in the wool specialist after that catch I can say. I had Zander fever for sure! To me, Zander are a very worthy quarry indeed and they really get my angling juices flowing. I’ve caught them when it has been too cold to snow, during temperatures of 80+degrees, at all times during night and day.
Perhaps my most interesting capture though, was a lovely 7lb 7oz Zed from a slipway under only a foot of water on a very frosty morning back in 2001, which when the water receded less than an hour later, was then rendered completely dry land! I really just can’t get enough of catching them and these days as my family commitments really hamper my getting out and about, I often drift away to the very many happy memories I’ve gained from so many years pursuing these enigmatic fish.
I caught my first Pike from the River Nene at Oundle back in 1981 on a freelined Gudgeon when I was 10 years old. Sadly my friends and I had no one with us to guide our fishing practices and the three Pike we caught (3lb 4oz, 1lb 11oz and 1lb 8oz) ended up dead and paraded at school the next day. Those were hard days in the Anglian region for predators and whilst walking into the Riverside pub to meet our dads, my host and I were actually given a round of applause from a packed bar. Although only 10 years old at the time, I still feel a stinging remorse for killing that poor little Pike (mine was 1lb 8oz).
Things were to get a lot better on the Pike front as we had a small pond within a good walk from home which was infested with Jacks and I caught them regularly, taking great enjoyment from the fight before returning them. Our tactics were somewhat dubious though and a real good day would see perhaps 3 or 4 jacks between 4oz and a pound take our Roach live or deadbaits, often presented on exactly the same tackle upon which we had just caught the Roach! The main avenue to success was to catch a small Roach and walk around the pit until we spied one of the stunted jacks sat in the margins and present the Roach to it and then watch for the cascade of scales as the hapless bait was taken (no one had a fast enough eye to keep up with the lunge made by the attacking Pike). Surprisingly we managed to catch loads of small Pike and I don’t actually recall being bitten off too many times, nor losing that many. Perhaps my most memorable predator catch from that venue though, was actually two small Pike which were like tiny little miniature monsters. One was literally about 2oz and the other maybe 3oz, I’m sure with the photo imaging software available these days you could have some fun with pictures of such fish. Perfect in every way, I’d spotted them sat under the railway sleeper which separated the two ponds early one Sunday morning and presented tiny Roach baits of about an inch on a size 16 hook under a matchstick float. I was about 13 and bizarrely, I rate catching those perfect little beasts as highly as any I’ve caught since, they were such beautiful little creatures, like little twins and both went back. I really, really wish I’d had a photo of them to look at but I’ll never forget them for the rest of my days. The biggest Pike I caught as a child on such tackle was a 5lb 8oz fish from the Upper River Welland which took a Minnow as bait, again presented underneath the matchstick float.
Once I’d gotten back into my fishing and especially my Zandering pursuits, the 90’s flew past in a haze of nights out chasing livebaits, deadbaits and of course the Zeds. Having moved my fishing to the Fens in the mid 90’s, using such baits I immediately began to encounter Pike along the way and some good ones too. Plenty of double figure Pike started to appear and some were even starting to approach the magic mark of 20lbs. Within a couple of years and despite never using Seabaits nor really having actively sought to catch them, my Pike PB soon found itself pushed up over 19lbs. Yet even so, I was still completely obsessed with catching Zander to the exclusion of all else (excepting perhaps bait)!
This started to change around about 2002 and to be honest, I have no explanation as to why it did but my feelings genuinely did start to turn round to thoughts of catching a 20lb Fenland Pike. I’d had a good number of double figure Zeds up to 12lb+ by that time but had never managed to capture a 20lb Pike, I’d seen it written that some broadly compared a double figure Zed to a 20lb Pike but I’d personally found the Zeds far easier to catch but then when I look back at my tactics (small lives and deads) and on prime Zander waterways, that may come as no surprise…….
I met a very experienced angler by the name of Graham Daubney around about this time and having had some very big fish under his belt, Graham really offered some great guidance and some quality company too. His tactics spot on, he’d had plenty of Pike the size of which I’d love to catch (although a very quiet and private man, he’ll cringe loads if he reads this – sorry Graham) and we fished a bit together. One of the tricks that Graham swears by in the depths of winter is highly mobile, deadbaiting tactics using a variety of baits including seabaits and in particular, Herring. In fact he often alluded to the fact that he really rated the Herring as a bait for big Zander and had taken some good ones on it. Of course it goes without saying, that such a bait is outstanding for Pike of all sizes, including the biggies too! I now love Herring as a first rate bait, all I do is take off the head and float fish it thus.
I started to fish using more mobile tactics for a couple of winters, previously having fished nights all season round I started to leave the bivvy at home. Using large and very visible floats, I fished three rods well spread along the drain coving the inside, middle and far ledges of these waterways and utilised a mix of baits including big Pike baits. I started to pick up Zander too as I always put out a Roach or other similar deadbait and on some winter days you could really find feeding Zeds and take a few. I also started to pick up a fair few on Lamprey and also the odd half decent one to Herring.
Early one March day nearing the end of the 04/05 season and having suffered the flu for the best part of a week, in the pre-dawn darkness I drove the hour or so towards my favourite drain for a mobile deadbaiting session. I really fancied a day in an area I’d never really fished, I’d certainly never had a fish to talk about from anywhere near it but tipped up nonetheless to start my exploration. As dawn broke I had three rods spread across the water, one with half Herring, one with Lamprey and one with a nice sized coarse bait. By 9am though, there wasn’t a ripple on the drain and I decided to move to an area I’d done fairly well on in the past. Within about 5 minutes I was there and as if by magic, so was a lovely breeze picking up and sending the wild horses coursing down the drain. I soon had my three rods out each baited with the same baits as in the previous spot, as ever one on the inside, one in the middle and one towards the far bank. After what seemed like only a few minutes one of the rods was away and boom, I had a great scrap on my hands to land the 13lb 6oz Pike which had taken my Herring. Quickly weighed and put back, my bait was soon heading back to where the Pike had scoffed it up and I sat back on my unhooking mat thinking all was well with the world. I was soon brought out of my thoughts though as the Herring was away again, this time though the float gracefully moved across the surface rather than dived under, a sure sign of a run from a Zander all day long for me. Sure as fate, I soon had a battle scarred veteran Zed in the landing net and true to form (it seems the bigger Zeds take Herring), it weighed in at 8.4. I was well chuffed to say the very least, already I was having a much more enjoyable day than I’d had previously been suffering in bed, dying on my arse. Little did I know though, it was to get much, much better!
The next couple of hours passed with no runs but a fair few moves along the drain, by 2pm the weather had actually gotten warmer, as a lovely SW wind was blowing some clouds lazily across the sky. I had another run, a joey Mackerel was taken and a good fish was on, it felt instantly a heavy fish and was fighting hard. As occasionally happens, after a couple of minutes scrapping the fish swam straight in front of me under the surface and as I saw it angrily pass me a couple of feet under the surface, I realised I had a very good fish on. Managing to manoeuvre it into the 42in spreader, I lifted it from the water in the net and I knew instantly I’d broken the 20lbs barrier. I was chuckling to myself as the fish was easily unhooked and placed back into the net for a rest whilst I was going to get the camera on the tripod but as I scampered up the bank, I saw the Lamprey float doing one across the surface. Making sure the Pike was ok I hit the run and immediately felt the fish on the other end, I can’t really remember too much of the scrap due to being so impatient to get the offending Zed returned, in order to photograph my prized Pike currently resting in the net. As the fish came close I can remember seeing a Zed which initially looked around 6 or 7lbs, then like a complete buffoon and rather than hand land the fish, taking precious time that could be spent posing with my 20, I let the line go slack to see if the Zed would come off without needing landing, it didn’t! I decided then to hand land it and as I chinned it, I immediately felt its weight.
It was now time for another very big grin, as I realised that I may have just done something really special (20lb Pike and Double Zed, same swim, within minutes!). Sure as fate, the Zed weighed in at 10.4 and with the Pike weighing 20lb 10oz, I was totally ecstatic. There were a few beers sunk in the local that night as I recall. Looking back, for so many years I had persisted with Zandering to the exclusion of everything else; and the obsession of it all burned intensely within me. Therefore it seemed sort of good karma to me that a double figure Zed accompanied my first ever 20lb Pike in the net.
When the flash floods of summer 2007 really showed my inexperience at Barbel angling on the Trent for what it was, I decided to fish within a certain waterway network I knew would actually benefit from a bit of extra summer water. I soon had a bit of light kit packed away and headed to the Fens and to a favourite drain for a night after the old adversary, Zander. The water was indeed running through as I picked my swim and settled down, a couple of livebaits were pressed into service and a nice sized Skimmer deadbait was put on the far bank. Now this was a water with a seemingly low head of fairly highly averaged size of Zed on offer, I’d never experienced nor seen any real monsters from my haunts but with few Schoolies showing, the Zeds did tend to average around 7.5lbs and I had managed a couple of doubles from the venue. Although I’d never really fished it much, I’d always fancied a certain area for a few fish and it was here, dodgy banks and all, where I’d turned up. I didn’t have to wait too long until my first run about half an hour into dark, it felt like a really good fish and in the net it looked it too.
I weighed, photographed and returned the fish and at 10lb 3oz I was well happy with this result. Having nodded off, I was snoozing away a well happy man after that and managed to snatch a few hours sleep. Slumbering away, I was awoken as the next alarm’s obnoxious tone punctuated the eerie silence around 2am, the far bank Skimmer had been taken and another good fish was on as I struck. The fish made several deep and striving runs, a sure sign in my opinion of a good Zander but was soon in the net. There it was, some fourteen years after landing my first Zed and I had the rather obvious second part of a double figure Zander brace, albeit getting caught some 4hrs apart during the same session. The Zed went 11.6 and remains my venue PB. Neither a fashionable nor a particularly easy Zed water by any means, it still remains a source of much satisfaction to me in a somewhat childish way that none of my muckers have had a bigger Zander from this venue yet either!
I had one more run before dawn and pulled out of what seemed like another good Zed but that wasn’t to be the only snag after this much sought after catch. Upon getting home and uploading the seemingly perfect mini-shots from my digital camera, it become apparent that I’d had the wrong setting on the focus and the shots were awful. Although I could see the size of the fish no worries, they were the worst photo’s I’d ever taken, so I was never ever able to take as much joy from them as other pictures. A real shame because in all my years fishing, because of the drain involved being a venue very close to my heart and the fact that it can be pretty difficult at times, I’d probably class this catch as my favourite ever. I returned two nights later and managed another at 9lb 4oz, perhaps the one I’d pulled out of during the special night……….