Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Zed Longitude and Latitude....By Rob Shallcroft

Pike fishing had been the mainstay of my winter fishing for 13 seasons, I love it ! My two main pikeing targets past me by. Terrific fishing and lots of effort along the way, I love it ! I fancied a break from it all to be honest and mix it up a bit. What next ?

I fancy a double figure tench, I have a few pits around locally to me that “do” them. I could  put the time and effort in during the spring and summer as my main stay and then during the winter, fish just one long weekend a month and try for a big pike from the Peat Diggins, I’d like that. The thought however of being surrounded by carp anglers fishing for tench, with bivvies and the like puts me off as it might drive me nuts! Perhaps a big winter roach would hit the spot. I’d had a little run of nice ones from one river when snatching baits but I knew I’d not be able to leave the pike alone, plus where the big roach were, was a place I’d rather not be any more. The bailiff did my head in and I’d developed a neck like the girl from the Exorcist film, 360 degree neck turning and looking over my shoulder. No thank you very much, I needed a little break from all that.

Within an 30 mins drive I have two rivers and a canal with a good track record of producing the occasional big zander. I don’t like zander I thought , they eat the pikes food and they are not pike. Pike are the Queens, Zeds are pale insignificant creatures, sandpaper touch and dead eyes. I’d caught one or two in the past and they didn’t really rock my boat…… or so I thought !

UTurn, decision made, a zander season. I kitted out a boat, that is the easy bit as it is simply money and time. I have good mates to call on for help and advice, thanks Steve and Brian. A boat was gained and all kitted out as I wanted, it is however a pain in the backside sat at home, blocking my little driveway up and making it difficult to get the garbage bin out. I’d rather not have the boat at home but it is a necessary evil for efficient pursuit of a big zander on my rivers. A tool of the trade. The boat was kitted out for maximum efficiency. No boat of mine would just be sat in, polished and looked at. I won’t bore you with the details, but everything to ensure I could launch and be on the river quick smart was put in place.
There would be no excuse not to fish short sessions of 3-4 hours, with no mucking around at the slip way. Launching and retrieve was made a “pit stop” affair, being able to launch in under 15 mins and retrieve and drive away in under 15 mins.


Having been in this game of catching big wet fish for a long time now, I've learnt a thing or two from mistakes in the past. It’s always best to keep things as simple as possible. Simple very often equals efficient. I had a long hard look at things over the close season and set my stall and formed a plan of sorts and set rough targets. I “do” targets as they keep me focused and on top of my game plan. Not everyone’s cup of tea I know, but we all take our brew differently and I like plenty of spice in mine.


I started by reading all I could get my hands on about Zander. I listened to advice from guys I knew who’d fished for them in the past. Lots of conflicting methods and vibe. I should be jigging, I should be chucking shads, I should be float fishing live and dead baits. I should be ledgering with minimal resistance. Big baits sort out the gooduns, don’t ignore sea baits. Small hooks , big hooks, light wire, heavy wire. Barbel rods, pike rods. Day night. Night day. Fish here, fish there, fish everywhere. I was confused ! Clarity came. I’d ignore the whole lot of it and do my own thing and bore them out !


I picked a slip way on each river to use and paid my dues to use them. Now for some clever watercraft to pick where I was going to fish, I flicked a coin ! Heads left, Tails right. Heads it was, first decision made, come rain or shine for the whole first season I would only turn left out of the two slipways and fish to their navigatable limit. No big fish reports or info would change that, decision made , turn left it was. This decision simplified things to not flit around too much as there was enough mileage to go at turning left only. Additionally I picked a single bank spot I fancied, to drop into when the rivers were unfishable by boat as a backup, to keep me in the groove,out of the pub and other non fishing mischief I am susceptible to dabbling with.



 Before the season started I made another decision, to troll natural baits only. I’d be at home with this as I only ever use natural baits I've caught myself , both live and dead, apart from when fishing the Trout Waters where the rules stipulate I cannot. I’d done a lot of pike float trolling on big sheets of water in the past, so I’d be reasonably comfortable with the method. To keep faithful to this simple decision discipline, I only took  trolling gear, I couldn’t then change my mind and fish a different option. For three months I simply turned left out of the slip and trolled on the bow mount different areas on my own, holding the single rod and looking at the echo sounder. My fishing and results were very mixed during the first three months, I caught zeds and micro pike trolling but no big fish. However the discipline of sticking to trolling for the first three months gave me a good knowledge of both rivers' contours, snags and bottom paraphernalia. Info gained and time certainly not wasted in retrospect….I did wonder at the time if I was doing it wrong as I was itching for a big fish and not getting anywhere near one.

 First Result

 Come late summer I decided to pull off the trolling malarkey and started to sit on spots I fancied and fish more statically. On one of the first static trips a mate, Brian joined me with the promise of a beer and a lorry ratchet strap for my boat. Taking it in turns on my gear, a rod hoops round and I’m netting a whacker for Brian. At last I’m looking down on a really big zander an impressive sight to the eyes. With photos taken, it only took Brian and hour to turn right and swim back to the slip way! Interestingly another friend caught this same fish a month or so before Brian, several miles upstream, highlighting just how mobile these fish can be and how few in number these really big fish actually are. No real surprises there, as this is often the case in all big fish angling.

In time I became impressed by the sight of a big zander on my unhooking mat. They are fascinating creatures to hold and get a proper good look at. Their jaws are the toughest things out there and big ones have surprisingly big mouths and heads on them. If they don’t want to open their mouths for unhooking the angler really does have to prize their jaws apart with the forceps, yet I discovered these jaws can present finicky bait pickups as they can be delicate/nervous feeders. The zanders colouring varies a lot in different water colour conditions, I far prefer the more yellow/green colouration viewed in clearer water conditions to the pale silver colouring seen in prolonged coloured water conditions. I’m an auto setting “point and shoot” camera angler, so my photos don’t always do themselves justice. The zanders fins can be tinged with magenta colouring  especially the tail root and I caught a few with distinctive yellow spots under their jaws and pink splashes of colour interrupting their white belly mass. Their fins are amongst the most delicate of fishes and I would recommend the use of the rubberized landing net meshes available today.

 Zed movements

Mark Barretts excellent article a few years ago in Pike and Predators magazine, concerning bream movements on his waters interested me greatly. I re-read his piece several times. I’d certainly located at times a large bream shoal on one river and fished in and around these areas. My results were poor, these bream were mostly in the 2-7lb bracket and obviously too big for any zander to prey upon. I could never seem to find smaller sized bream populationsWhat I did find were large mini perch groups that could often be seen and heard plopping around under their favoured tree lines and bleak populations in open water, the zander seemed to prey upon these food sources. Bleak shoals were often a giveaway, as zander would hit the surface and spiky erect dorsal fins could be spotted. Whenever I spotted spiky dorsal fins breaking the water I would do well with multiple catches made, albeit often smaller fish.

 I’ve found when really on the feed, a group of zeds will graze moving upstream, their movement covering much of the width of the river in group patrol. How do I come to this conclusion ? Fishing four rods spread across the river often it’s the down-stream rods that will go first, followed by other rods in direct order to their placement downstream of the boat. I can not be sure and it is a bit of a lunch time theory, but I kinda got the impression they might travel as a group of feeding fish, spreading out across the river in some sort of feeding formation where the greater good of the group might benefit from prey fish spooking and running into the path of other members of the feeding group. When the first fish is landed it is vital to get the bait and rig back out as quickly as possible. I have a big weighted weigh sling slung over the side of the boat ready for quick keeping of a goodun or two.

 The bigger fish often seemed to pop up out of the blue at any time of the day. Often they would come out on their own. Leading to the thought that these bigger fish are on their own or part of a very small group of bigger fish. Perhaps the rest of their once bigger group had died out leaving them alone or in a tiny group of big hen fish. Multiple captures of bigger fish only appeared for me at the back end of the season where some obvious grouping up of all species occurs in certain areas. Nothing new there as the exact same occurs in my river pikeing too.


 Rods are a compromise, a heavy barbel rod and quiver is OK in low flow and little debris or snags in a river and ideal to indicate small “pick ups”. A standard fair pike rod is ideal for setting hooks in the hard bone of a zanders mouth but will not give much visual indication on the tip. I use Lumbys 10ft P4’s from the boat, the tip is reasonably light for a pike rod but they sets hooks well too. Plus, there’s always a chance I might hook into a big pike and if I do I’ll want to be leaning into it to move her away from tree line, snags or anchor ropes. I’ll not be wanting a barbel rod in my hand with a 20lb+ pike that doesn’t fancy it’s photo being taken.

Pretty much standard fair heavy braid and wire traces completed simple end set ups and the only thing I developed differently was the use of my barbel bait droppers, pre-baiting little spots on the day being fished as I rotated my fishing spots, upping anchor and dropping in to different areas on my menu.

 I found normal boat rod rests a total hindrance. The action of pulling a rod forward and out of a Roberts style rest was both too slow and the jolting change in resistance caused dropped runs. Thinking cap on, I designed high, stand up fully adjustable boat rod rests that enabled me to stand by the rods in the boat and hit pickups as if I was on the bank with the rods in rests pointing skywards. I like the rods high up in the boat with the butts at hip height and tips in the air. This enables me to pick a rod up and gently drop the rod tip down to pay out a little line against the current should I wish too.

 Pickups and slip ups

 If I get an unmiss-able pick up with the rod tip bouncing or shaking, something is hanging it’s self on the end , I’ll then whack into the offending creature immediately. Indications at the rod tip are mostly shakes, rattles and rolls, rarely do the zander scream or plod off taking much line off the bait runner. This does mean a lot of missed strikes especially when using live baits as it can be difficult to tell the difference between a live bait that has woken up or a zander grabbing and consuming it’s dinner on the spot. In this respect I think the zander very much hit and pick up baits, in a more direct upstream movement, thus indications are often smaller simply because the bait and hooks are not moving far and more often directly upstream.

 Perhaps this is exaggerated with the zanders make up  of not being so “bendy” as a pike and very much a sergeant straight up and down fish in movement and characteristic ? Zander can be finicky and it always pays to hold the rod and feel exactly what is going on when you can. Zander will pick up and drop baits repeatedly, the tell tale little crush marks can be seen on retrieved baits. The law of averages tells me they are mostly small fish, but not always and I have touch ledgered and hit the offending small pickups and hooked up double figure fish.  Many years of stand up, single rod, touch ledgering for barbel and chub have been valuable to me in the zander twitch stakes and it’s very difficult to describe on paper what to hit, what not to and when to drop the rod to pay out a little line to get a more positive indication, so I’ll have to leave it at that !

We do all have to be reasonably quick in making our minds up in the decision to strike or not. Zander will wolf baits down at times and its far more difficult to remove a hook that is out of sight on a zander than a pike, as they do not have the retractable white stomach lining of a pike that you can pull into view to remove a deeply hooked fish. Although I have had the occasional zander that runs with the bait, I’ve found this rare, with rattles and pulls the norm.

 If in doubt always have the attention to feel what is going on and if not sure have a little feel and a pull to move lead and bait to make double sure a fish is not swallowing a bait on hooks. This is a double edged sword as unlike pike, moving the bait/disturbing the lead any great distance can spook them and often they do not return.

Having now completed two dedicated seasons of zander fishing, I now reflect, it is a short time in fishing life. I learnt lots but only really scratched the surface in any real understanding of their movements and moods. No doubt if I put more seasons into zander fishing, my observations and thoughts would change as that is how it works and I don’t pretend to be an expert zander angler in any shape or form. I did put a lot of time and effort in and managed to bore out a number of double figure fish but the really big one evaded me and that pains me a little. I didn’t like zander much two years ago but have grown to respect them, if I am honest I would rather they were not in our inland waterways as I’m sure the pike fishing on the three waters I fished would be improved without them as they have become the more dominant predator in terms of numbers. That fact is not likely to change anytime soon. I enjoyed the two seasons in their pursuit, but now it is time to move on to the next challenge……. Thanks for reading my scribble.

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