It is now Tuesday the sixteenth of June, the glorious 16th, the day of days, the day when any self respecting coarse angler must go fishing for tench
. Now I know that may sound ridiculous to anyone well under my age but when I was young the close season was in force on all fresh waters, bar none. None of this you 'can fish here, but you can't fish there' nonsense. It was a close season and was as it says on the box, closed. And, the one species every angler had uppermost in mind as the glorious sixteenth approached, was the tench.
The reason for this species fixation was that tench sleep well into the close season but come the sixteenth of June they are not only awake but have had coffee and are starting on the Full English. No angler had seen a tench since the previous September and the sixteenth could usually be relied upon to not only produce tench, but also the eternal and perfect tench catching conditions of misty, flat calm weedy waters flecked with floating detritus, with, hopefully, the heart stopping sight of sheets of pin prick bubbles fizzing in the surface film, come dawn.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, if you didn't already know, that they fight like no other fish that swims so they were going to give you a heart pounding tug if you hooked one. Hard, strong and determined from the start, never giving in till they are truly beaten, and a true test for light tackle and the angler who wields it. Catching a tench at first light on opening day after months of enforced inactivity used to be coarse angling nirvana. So, it being the great day I went out after tench, madly choosing the local canal as venue, a place I have not caught a tench from yet.
It didn't really matter if I caught one or not, or if other species turned up instead, it was the fishing for tench expressly, and for tench only, that really mattered. Classic tench float fishing is a frame of mind, a peculiar way of thought, a zen trance that requires that you immerse yourself fully in the moment and for as long as that moment may take, do nothing in a hurry, move slowly and deliberately, keeping a watchful eye out the whole time whilst not really paying attention at all, and just wait for that perfect bite and surprising firm power in answer to the languid but properly timed strike. In no other form of fishing that I know of is the frame of mind so crucial. Lose it, and for some reason the tench do not come. I think it is only right that the best tench fishing happens at precisely those moments when you are half asleep, just after waking or just when you are exhausted by the heat of a summers day and enjoying the welcome coolness of late evening. You are half there, switched off, like the tench itself - after all, this is a fish that spends virtually every day of the useful year sleeping...
In all honesty I believed my chances were virtually zero, but I couldn't have cared less, I was off tench fishing on opening day, and that was my sole mission. As it was the canal I did not observe the usual rites of waiting for the very stroke midnight before casting a line because I couldn't stay that late so I decided to fish two sessions of late evening and early morning, hoping that firstly the tench were actually there to catch in the first place, because I've only heard of one report of a local canal tench this whole spring, and if they were, that they would adhere to their time honoured policy of feeding best at these times.
I chose a swim just along from the bridge up the road, a place no further than a walk of three minutes, and cast a light float to what I thought were some likely looking reeds with a nice shady hole in them, sweetcorn on the hook, and as groundbait. Dead simple. Right on cue the float slipped sideways and disappeared, but the quite hard fighting culprit, that at first did a respectable tench impression, soon flagged and revealed itself as a bream of a couple of pounds.
The fine evening calm smoothed the waters, and as the light faded the cut became shrouded in mists. I plopped a bait right in the hole in the reeds and scattered corn around it, the orange tip of the float motionless against the striped green reflections of the reeds. It was perfect, just perfect for tench.
I was just rolling a fag when the float bobbled and ran smoothly away toward the reed beds. I dropped the half finished smoke, struck, and the rod hooped right over! No bream this...
The fish pulled hard for the cover and then turned and towed me back to the near bank. It was fighting very powerfully and I really thought it would turn out to be a carp of seven pounds or so, I couldn't get its head up no matter what I tried so had to just wait it out, tire the fish against constant firm pressure and hope the hook would hold fast. After a good few minutes of play the fish came to the surface, and it was a tench!
It rolled over the net with loads of commotion, obviously still ready to scrap. Unbelievably it was male of only two pounds, three ounces. What a pugilist ! I don't recall ever having had a fish of such size fight so hard, not even a barbel. But what fins these boys have; wopping great paddles driven by muscular thick necked joints, so no wonder really.
I had no more bites that evening, but stayed well into the dark, in hope. The short walk home was unusually buoyant, I'd really had a very good time. It seemed my unlikely plan of catching tench from the canal had actually gone accordingly, which was the kind of luck I have just not had with fishing of late, so I was very best pleased. I hoped that my long run of bad fortune was over, having had lost every decent fish I had hooked for what seemed like months on end, and that I could get now back to being a good angler. As I was.
This morning I chose another reedy spot. This is a place that I have fished many times, have never had a single bite from, but have always thought somehow very 'tenchy', and so every time I've passed by I have usually felt bound to make a cast or two, even if it means I only stay for ten minutes. This time I decided to stick it out for the duration, come what may, bite, or no bite.
It was classic tench conditions once again, misty and silent, pregnant with promise. The first cast looked OK, but I brought it in after twenty minutes deciding that it was not in quite the right place. I cast it again; no further than two yards from its original position but to a place that felt just so. Sure enough, after a further five minutes the float slowly submerged and I struck into what was clearly another tench...
This fish gave me far less trouble than her boyfriend had, and after a few strong determined runs up and down, threw in the towel and came quietly to the net. A beauty, not a fighter. She sent the scales around to a firm two pounds fourteen ounces; it's a proper shame that I presently have no camera, because I'd have liked her snap.
As before, that was the end of the bites. One fish and then nothing else doing. That's canals all over. I didn't care though; these canal tench seem pretty rare creatures and I'd had two 'on purpose' in a place that I really didn't think would have them show at all. And in fishing, it just don't get any better than that.
Well, I must say, it was very nearly a perfect opening day, with the the right fish at the right time in the right place. It almost had it all, indeed it had everything, but the bubbles...
© Jeff Hatt 2009 All Rights Reserved