Wednesday, 6 July 2011

River Zander - Severn Quest - Big Fish Eat Little Fish

Fishing in places where monsters lurk has been an abiding theme of my year's angling so far. Two trips to Marsh Farm after outsize crucians provided me with an inevitable personal best for the species for in such a place as that fish over two pounds are the stamp so I would have been a very bad angler indeed to have failed to improve upon my previous best of one pound six. As it happened I beat it three times over in three hours and still failed to get past two pounds, five ounces. If they had fed all day long I might well have beat it ten times over in consecutive fish and ended up at four pounds something...

Then there was the hunt for a gargantuan record shaker/maker of a perch on Hanningfield Ressy, a trip where we failed miserably to even locate perch of any size let alone one to wake the record committee up for. That was fun though - messing about in boats always is - and them trout wuz ard bastads...!

When Steve suggested an overnighter after really quite large zander, I of course said yes, even though zander, a fish that I've found bites hardest through a crack in the canal ice, are not exactly a fish I'd naturally associate with high summer. Who cares when no less than four over mid-double figures have come from the river stretch responsible in the fortnight since the season began in mid June

and one of those was a fluky boily mug who fell to a presumably annoyed barbel basher at a colossal weight a hair's breadth short of twenty pounds?

On our way down the M5 I pondered such a weight. Well, stuff my second best zander down the throat of my first best (a tight fit, but it would go) and we have a combined weight of just sixteen pounds fifteen ounces. Then, get a further fish the size of my second best to swallow the tail of my first best, still with the other second best down its throat and by such unsubtle means we arrive at the weight of the current record zander. Or, for the same sum total get my first best at just under twelve pounds to eat its own sister head first and then choke to death - any pike would try such a feat of sibling gastronomy, as the fossil record proves...

We got there in no time at all. It was hot. The air was thick with dust, midges and sheep bleats. I swear there was a human male amongst the ewes on the bank opposite and up to no good by the sound of it because some of the bleats were porn bleats, I'm certain of it ...

We set up in the only two pegs in the stretch that did not require an Annapurna style rope and belay system to reach. Most of the 'pegs' were little more than a rabbit run through various stingers and then a plunge straight down a near sheer drop cut with irregularly spaced mud steps with to a staging describable as nothing less that an insurance claim waiting to happen, or worse. Then again how much effort can you afford to expend when the Severn just fills up that enormous channel and washes away all the hard work once or twice in every year?

The club website states that 'many of the members take a rope along', which is understandable on any piece of the Severn if you are stiff of limb because the banks are always high, but 'a life jacket' too..!?

What's this? It ain't a Whitby kelpie we're after!

And we were fully laden too. Steve barrowed his gear in but I very nearly throttled myself walking down the side of the onion field way above the river looking for suitable pegs with assorted straps cutting through my jugular. But we got there. That's what matters.

Down in the safety of the peg, if you can call fishing off a dust covered rickety staging made out of various odds and ends of timber and lashed scaffolding perched precariously six foot above the water, 'safe', I set up the rods with extra simple running rigs consisting of two ounce bombs up the line stopped by a bead in front of the swivel of the 8 inch wire trace crimped to the miraculous Mustad Ultimate Bass Hook - miraculous because since adopting it as my predator hook of choice I have not had a single fish hooked anywhere other than square in the scissors and hardly lost any - and that's the hallmark of the right hook for the species.

Within two hours of casting out my tiny roach sections into ten feet of water about a third of the way out I had a steady run whilst boiling up a brew with the Kelly Kettle which resulted in a hookup to a serious force. I called Steve but I fear my shouts were lost in the bleats as he didn't come and I had to try to land the fish myself by sitting on the edge of the staging with my ten foot net pole reduced to an effective foot of play at full arms length - Lord knows how I would cope at night?

I hoped it wasn't one of the pike that had been seen launching themselves at surface fry but one of these big zeds we'd come for, however, when I finally got its head up it wasn't the anticipated monster but was still a respectable fish. It splashed about and flipped itself straight into the net, which saved me the job. It was hooked squarely in the scissors and the hooked was popped out without venturing inside the toothy  jaws.

I managed to get Steve's attention in the end and he came down to take the pics. It was five and a half pounds, a fish just a quarter of the size we'd come to fish for. Blimey, just imagine that...! We then decided rather than compete with the sheep that whistling might be a better option when net duties were required after dark.

I like night fishing when bites are to be had but hate it when it's dead because I cannot sleep. Luckily for me it looked as if the night would be full of action as the buzzers were sounding out on a regular basis from line bites and odd jerky pickups - it was only a matter of time before the next fish would turn up on the end of one of my Mustads.

However, by midnight the anticipated run had still not occurred but just a long series of missed strikes to bites that I was beginning to suspect were not from large choosy zander but from something small and slippery. To try my theory I tied up a float rig on a spare rod and put out a worm under the bank - within ten minutes it was off downstream and the strike pulled up the suspected culprit, a bootlace eel ~

As the night wore on it became abundantly clear that the zander were not competing with the eels, so I carried on fishing the float rod to try for a bigger specimen and some points on the challenge board, leaving the jittery buzzers to fend for themselves and not striking at anything that couldn't get that big hook in its gob and set the reels churning.

A surprise six ounce silver bream turned up amongst the bootlaces

Eventually I tired of the eels as they weren't getting any bigger, less slimy or any easier to unhook and settled on ten ounces as the best I could get. I did however, learn how to lull them into a trance by laying them on their backs and stroking their bellies. They do indeed become catatonic and only revive 20 -30 seconds after being turned upright again, at which point they return to their struggling ways with renewed vigour, so when I do get a specimen eel I guess what I'd do is set up the self-timer, hit the button, flip the fish and hope for the best...

I retired the float rod, cleaned off the eel slime and dust muck from everything it had touched, brewed up  and sat back in warm pre-dawn air to wait for first light when I was sure the zander would come back on song.

Suddenly the left hand bobbin shot into the butt ring and stayed put setting the reel handle churning backwards, the buzzer sounding a one-toner. Picking up the rod I pulled into a really serious fish. I whistled for Steve and could hear him running down the bank just as the fish swung around and under the near bank to my left, and then the hook pulled...


I examine the rig. It was covered in snot...

"Must have been a big anguila, Steve, because that weren't no brama!"

Eventually the sun came up but unfortunately this celestial event did not mark the beginning of a zander feeding frenzy but only the end of the eel attention as all bites stopped and never returned, the bobbins hanging motionless and the buzzers silenced in the dusty morning air. 

We packed up early as it was clear nothing was going to happen till evening and we couldn't stay so long. Another mission unaccomplished but at least one zander on the bank in a place where monsters swim is something to go home proud of. Actually, thinking about it, it was my first ever river zander and therefore a personal best, and hang on, that bonus silver bream was twice the size of the one I had at Harvington, so that too, was a personal best river silver.

As for the eels, well the one I lost was obviously a personal best too...

I've said it before and I'll say it again - rosettes for everything -  it's the only way to fish!


  1. Blimey Jeff, the last but one photo of you "relaxing" looks like you were in Camp Bastion rather than on the Severn!

  2. Looking back to defo had the better peg. I was in fear of my life every time I moved as I dangled from my dusty cliff face.

    Just seen the layout for the paper - looks good.

  3. Very nice zander. I'd love to catch one sometime.

  4. Angling Times prowess for your now Jeff, well done lad!