Saturday, 26 September 2015

Avon Zander — Our Accidental Jack

Martin finally improved and put his summer long 'double' dearth to bed the other night. Three in the one session he had, and all were ten-pounders. My theory that all the tens of eight and nine-pounders he'd caught beforehand had gorged on subaquatic lifeforms released from their weedy safe houses in the early autumn die-back seemed to be holding water. 

I don't know. All barbel look the same to me. Sleek brown sporty numbers rolling off the production line, one by one. A pound here or there isn't much of a difference and a 'double' probably the lowest bar to leap over and the most arbitrary of targets in coarse fishing.

They ain't two-pound roach, are they? A fourteen-pounder might just be the equivalent of that...

But they don't half pull back!

I wasn't there so couldn't say if weed was floating downstream or not. But this afternoon it was and in rafts. For this session I believe he'd shortened his hair rigs tight to the bait and for once was seeking to not deter chub. I think he might have been chub fishing, actually. But with the chance of a double, of course. 

Double figure Warwickshire Avon barbel at 10lb 14oz

My plan was to go after primarily, zander. But eels and perch, accidental pike, perhaps roach, the chance of tench, carp, dace and bream, chub too. God forbid, barbel also! My light rod would break clean in half. But that's the kind of menu you have when you ledger a worm on the right hander and float fish a slice of skimmer bream on the left, isn't it?  

Well, the float vanished half an hour after pitching it in. But the strike met with a familiar thud followed by slack line. The trusted hook pattern that has safely banked so many zander over the past few years had failed once again. It may have been a very small fish, or this, that, and the other. But all the while it's been failing so miserably that's what I've been telling myself.

The ledgered lobbie was ignored. For two hours. One of those baits that is always bound to raise interest from something — it was as if I'd cast a jelly worm and expected that to tempt without animation. But the sky was bright and cloudless, and the water gin clear, and this, that, and the other...

"When the sun goes down, they'll bite" was what every biteless angler about the place agreed upon. But when it finally reached the cloudless horizon the effect was unbearable. My swim had me facing directly toward twinned incandescant orbs of light and the closer they came together the more intense the torture became. So I pushed a bankstick into the mud, hung my hat upon it, and hid behind. 

Roach began porpoising. Textbook John Wilson stuff. Head and shoulders out of the water and all the rest.  When a large swirl was seen I cast the worm straight to. At last a worm bite came, a fish was hooked, and it felt a proper lump of a roach too. Shame it weren't! 

I've had far too many of these from the river this year. Can't seem to avoid them. My certainty about the utterly non-selective catchability of lobworms had kind of worked, though I'd expected such an accident to befall the fish bait. I retired the worm rod, re-rigged the float rod for ledgering, and set up a second ledgering rod for an all out zander assault into the approaching night. 

The earth turned and the terrible twins went away. Bats batted both high-set lines so I attempted a photo. It failed of course, but the flash scared them off and so the rod tips were motionless thereafter. When it was too dark to see them against the fading glow of the sun I thought I'd attach a couple of old red starlights, but they were so very old they failed to light up...

So I removed the long rests, pushed in short ones with buzzer bars attached, and hung bobbins of luncheon meat from the lines because I'd left the plastic ones on the kitchen table. They worked very well. They weren't moving very much, but they weren't moving just perfectly. But then the left hand meat bobbin twitched and very slowly rose upwards. Picking up the rod line was still paying out. So I struck and was briefly attached to a fish. Yet again the blasted hook had failed to catch!

The right hander was rigged with a circle hook. I had no idea if they would work any better because my trials with them are in their infancy. But they couldn't do worse, so hey ho. Nothing to lose. Then the right hand bobbin rose just as the left hander had. Slowly and deliberately. Winding down to take up the slack but not striking because this was a circle hook and you mustn't, there's the satisfying sensation of a well-hooked fish. And hopefully a big zander because it felt like it might well be...

But nearing netting reach but still in deep water the fish took off on long powerful runs so I knew I had another 'accident' coming my way. Nevertheless, it earned me a few challenge points because it was twice the size of any of the previous accidents I'd met with. And better still, the circle hook hold was perfect. 

All I had to do now was earn a few points for what I'd set out for. Again it was the circle set up that was to be tested and proven good, bad or indifferent.

Taking up slack and just winding in is all you have to do. It feels odd. None of that sweeping the rod over the shoulder to set the hook. It does the job all by itself finding a hold around the jaw bone and padlocking the fish to the rod and line.

In principal!

But it worked twice. The hold felt secure. None of that rectal clenching in anticipation of imminent failure that all zander anglers must suffer each and every time they hook up. If this was what I hoped for and not our accidental jack, then she was mine.

Deep down in ten feet of clear water there's a bright spot of light emerging. Caught in the beam of the headlamp — the eye of a zed. No powerful runs here. No problems at all but the one of a tricky full stretch netting job to perform across a shallow marginal shelf covered in rotting weed that looks way too risky to step out onto after dark.

Oh, and the hook-hold?

Was padlock tight.

Warwickshire Avon zander at 4lb 4oz


  1. Lovely Zed Jeff, done now quite a few sessions now and still have not hooked one, the tackle must be just off the winning formulae, getting a little tedious me thinks but I want to bag one!, any other advise other than the circle hooks which I still gave a couple you gave me and also the limited resistance rigs and a sliver of roach draped on the hook?

  2. If you weren't feeling any kind of a thud on striking then probably very small fish teething the bait. Drop a small sliver of roach in on a size ten and see what you get?

    It's something of a learning curve. My first sessions were absolutely hopeless. The very first saw me strike into thin air over and over. When I hooked one I bumped it. Did bank three in the end but I must have missed fifty runs! Never had quite the same number since. What I think was I had a large group of very small and greedy fish out front and a very few larger ones.

    You just have to get past the pain barrier, James. Just like we Coventry lads had to once upon a painful time!

  3. Hi Jeff, I gave circle hooks another go today and, now knowing how to use them properly, I am well and truly converted. Dropped the first two runs but then got the hang of it and banked four pike, all scissor hooked. I think a bigger hook would've been even better. Also worked better on the canal than the river as the fish move off at a better angle for setting the hook, with it being so shallow, whereas on the river I was fishing into deep water under the rod tip. May be knee-jerk but, after seeing how effective and safe circles are, I feel that trebles may not have a place in modern pike fishing.

    1. They are amazingly effective things. I first used them many years ago and for bass. Using J pattern hooks bass are every bit as tricky to hook and hold on to as zander. I was at my wits end when I bought a packet from a seaside tackle shop. They only had the one packet in stock because they weren't on sale, just a curiosity the owner had picked up. They transformed everything and my catch rate shot through the roof to almost 100% of bites. It was ridiculous.

      Those I'm using at the moment are the same size as the ones used for bass. However, the problem with circles is the gape. If its smaller than the thickness of the jaw it wont work. So circles that work perfectly for ten pound pike may not hook twenty pound pike at all.

      I also used them one day for tench fishing and with a hair. Astonishing results there too.

    2. Sounds promising if they can work for bass, as id really like to make them work for perch. I've deep-hooked far more perch than pike so a solution to that issue is even more critical. Bass seem to have very similar mouths.

    3. I used small circles for perch a while back and did well with larger fish. Unfortunately it was a commercial so the amount of bites that did not hook up was high. That was because most were from roach, rudd, and very small perch, so the results were somewhat blurred! I could not say how many were from large perch. Could have been many for all I know. Or just the few that did hook up.

    4. If I do try it my findings should be more conclusive as I'll be using livebaits! The last thing I want to do is finally catch a 3lb perch and the hook is through its stomach...

      I had two runs at once piking yesterday. The circles were a godsend. I can't believe they aren't more widely used.

    5. What make and size were they, Russel? Not their maker's stated size but the gape size in mm if you can measure it accurately? I'll compare to mine.