Saturday, 26 February 2011

Big Zander Quest - I found my thrill, at Old Bury Hill (earlier)

Rising at three in the morning to prepare bait & tackle for a 4:30 departure and then embarking upon a one hundred and twenty mile journey on a maiden visit to ye olde english estate lake in pursuit of a monstrously large specimen of a certain imported 'pest' that at close of play, at end of day, must be thrown back! may seem like the height of folly to those unfortunates who never had their forelocks licked by the Angels of the Angle when they were but babes in arms
, but those lucky souls who were blessed thus know there's really nothing odd about it at all. After all... given less than half a chance, this is what all us anglers'll do!

It's tremendously exciting to roll unimpeded down a motorway through the predawn gloom and well on the way to some romantic notion of a destination that you have so far experienced only through the mediated realities of print and screen, and the apocryphal tales of initiates. The mouth simply waters and the mind froths over in babbling anticipation of the coming events of the day. How, you tell me, with such ridiculous, high-flown hopes and expectations thrust upon it can any angling day ever live up to its own promise?

They'd switched the fog machines off by the time we'd got to the pegs, unfortunately

We arrived in a proper pea-souper fog (I think the management lay it on, special like, for visiting tench and zander anglers...) at seven sharp and found a gaggle of other anglers milling around outside the locked gates. Not surprisingly, all talk was of zander because Old Bury Hill, Dorking, the fishery we were about to enter is the Mecca of the South when it comes to this particular fish. It's a blinding pike fishery if quantity is what you want, and the carp fishing is good too I've heard, but it is rightly and justifiably famous principally for its head of hefty zeds.

Well, my expectations were stratospherically sky-high. I was all out for a double-figure zander, or nothing... I didn't want pike, though pike was what I was sure we'd get as the mainstay of the day if my research was anything to go by.

Nope, I wanted zander, and zander who'd have for their midnight snack, those very fish I've become so fond of hunting up the local cut.

Nothing less would do!

I elected to fish in my informal Coventry canal style - sliding widget float rigs (commercial floats are far too expensive to risk on a canal when casting tight against far bank trees, brambles, boats and other hazards below the water line too numerous to list and some too gruesome to even think about...) and rods lain upon the deck, a style that allows for extremely flexible and rapid swim changes, allows long distance casting as the float slides right down to the weight above the trace producing a compact rig that doesn't flap about in the air and out of control, can be cast accurately tight to snags, can be cast long distances and allows equally long distance bite registration meaning that there is no need to be standing over paired rods the whole time so I can split rods far apart to fish many different areas from the same base on the towpath.

Of course Old Bury Hill Lake is a venue with stagings every few tens of yards and so hopping around in the way I had become accustomed to would not be possible unless visitor numbers stayed very low for the day, and that was unlikely, still, I saw no need to adopt the standard lead and buzzer approach that almost everyone else was sure to employ, an approach that I am convinced costs predator anglers more zander than they'd ever know about... I'll explain later.

Martin rigged a rod for ledgering a lamprey section mounted upon two single hooks and chucked it out to the island, but fished a smaller bait on his second rod against a near bank bush and under a light waggler float. I started out with roach sections fished on small circle hooks (a risky first-time experiment) on both rods, two pegs along. Within half an hour I had my first pick up, a zander bite for sure, but though I felt a weight on pulling into the fish (no striking with circle hooks) the hook failed to find hold and the fish was off in seconds. Soon after, Martin had his first take on the float rod, but he too failed to hook the fish.

We really thought we were then in for a spell of intense action, as you would, but it failed to materialise in an hour, and come late morning we were fearing a blank session ahead as no more bites had come to any of our combined four rods, and, what was even more disconcerting was the fact that many more hopeful pike and zander anglers had turned up since the gates had opened, and not one had had a fish either...

Then, at eleven thirty a pike was caught just a little way up from us - a fourteen pounder. I took the trophy shots for the captor. And then another was taken a little further along. Way over on the far bank another fish was landed about fifteen minutes later still but my floats remained steadfastly motionless.

Like all estate lakes Bury Hill attracts ducks, and squadroons of the noisiest of all birds, geese. What they have to squabble about is anyones guess! And,it has a pair of resident herons currently building a nest in an island tree who exploit the fishy waste of the predator anglers by jumping into newly vacated swims to pick up discarded scraps of herring and lamprey and roach. One these impressive birds flew over to the peg one down from me and spread its enormous wings, pecked about for scraps and then promptly flew off. I have never been so close to a heron, a bird that ordinarily likes to have a hundred yards or more between itself and a human. I was so impressed that I took it as a good omen and for no good reason at all, decided to hop the few yards along to peg 34.

Having got my gear set up there, I then decided to go for a long walk around the lake to see what was afoot in other swims that wasn't afoot in ours... lots of pike was the answer but no zander whatsoever. My plans were going awry! Clearly the zander were not coming out to play today. Oh dear. And then, on my return I found Martin playing what was obviously a good fish but to compound matters it was just a pesky double figure pike...!

A fish here with the head of a mid-double, a fifteen perhaps, but one that has clearly not had a good meal for months on end

As it now seemed that I was the sole angler around the whole lake blanking, a situation I did not like one little bit, I decided that in order to right matters that a move was in order come lunchtime, but first, a bait trial was to be made in the current swim - I impaled upon the hook of the left hand rod a strip off the side of a rainbow trout that had been languishing in my freezer for what must be the past eighteen months. It smelled as unfresh as fish that isn't actually rotting could smell but the oily slick it emanated was very impressive!

Within ten minutes or less the stinky old trout was snaffled up and in came a jack of a couple of pounds who'd just this morning woken up from a long winter slumber because his hide was absolutely alive with crawling parasites. A little later the roach section on the right hand rod was taken by a lethargic six or seven pounder who had to be hauled in like a log (as I doubt if he ever once flapped a fin) only to have him go bonkers in the net, and on the bank too... there causing unmentionable trouble. Meanwhile, Martin too was enjoying (or rather, enduring) a flurry of takes to his ledgered lamprey section, but then having one hellish head scratcher of a problem as one fish after the other came unhitched.

By one o'clock I was scratching my head too, and was in a proper flummox as by my count there'd been no less than fifteen pike caught around the lake in just the last hour and a half, but, there'd not been a single zed between the lot of them. This was bad news. It was really not looking very good for my hoped for monster.... but, hey ho, no need to be despondent - we'd the whole of the afternoon ahead of us, the cafe was now open for trade, and it was high time for an anglers lunch!

Back soon...


  1. well mate I think we will have to do it all over again in the autum

  2. I'll be there at the drop of a hat! I absolutely loved it. Thanks for the trophy shots too, I think that one of the fish is probably the best zander trophy shot I ever saw and not just because I'm in it either - It's just really nicely composed. That's be made into a print for my trophy wall. Cheers Martin, for a great day's fishing.