I’ve had a couple of efforts at zander. Once on a river that in the end had me chasing everything else but zander and then an effort on a reservoir which after lots of jigging, ended up with me catching a few pike instead. I get easily side tracked and go back to catching pike if the zander fishing isn’t working. I needed to go back to basics, or should I say I needed to start at the basics. I needed to focus on just zander and to do that I needed somewhere with a half decent head of them, I didn’t care what size I just needed to get in among some. There’s no zander in my part of the world so I knew I had to head south, but where? Talking to Ady about it and we decided the best thing to do was to get out with someone who catches a few and Ady knew a man. We met up with two brothers, Rob and Shayne Walker, who took us to a canal where they said we had a very good chance of catching a few. Might be nothing massive in size but for me, a zander virgin, I didn’t care one bit how big it was. I just wanted my first, I would settle at one and so long as I knew that I was fishing the right place and in the right style I would be happy.
But what is the right style for zander fishing? I think i found in my couple of previous attempts that I’m too much of a fast action pike angler and every time I was meant to be slowly jigging I would end up twitching and jerking and trying to make something happen when I should have been taking it nice and steady, low and slow and so on. The zander are more of a bottom feeder for the majority, there are exceptions and they do chase or come up in the water but often you need to get your lure down there, keep it there and also sometimes try not to do too much. That can feel like waiting for paint dry for me at times but this time I was kind of in the zone and I didn’t really think too much about pike, especially after Rob explained that he had hardly ever even caught any pike here. I’d chosen to use my Favorite rod rated 1-8g so that I could use small lures and also have a nice bit of sensitivity to feel what my lure is doing down there. I didn’t have any idea what a zander hit would be like. Would it be a few nibbles, a great big thump? Hopefully I would find out at some point in the day.
I’ve seen a few people catching them on all sorts of softies, simple shads ranging in size from about 2 inch up to 6 inch. Drop shot works, TRDs work and so do little creature baits dragged along the bottom. I didn’t have too many fancy lures with me but Ady had a shad on so I went with the Zman TRD to be different in the hope a bit of variety between us we could figure out what they wanted. Rob and Shayne were on a combination of small creature baits and shads and as the first hour went on we all had a little play with lures to try and get the first fish. I was confident my lure would work, which ever lure it was i had on so i just kept at it. Really slow retrieve, just moving the lure along the bottom a bit at a time. Sometimes flicking it, but making sure i didn’t do it too much and that i kept the lure down there. The water was the colour of mud, so much cloudy silt in it that it looked like nothing could live in it. The boats coming by every now and again did nothing to help this and as they came by they just churned up more silt. Had I been pike or perch fishing in my usual style this would have been an off putting sight and I’d have jacked it in and gone elsewhere. But I’ve heard and I’m told that with zander it isn’t a problem and that too much clarity can be a bad thing. Their big beady eyes mean they like to find somewhere a bit dark and dingy and so that had me casting at every shadow on the near or far bank.
Rob and Shayne were first off the mark with perch and also the target species of zander and so that gave me even more confidence that we were in the right spot and doing the right things. It was just a matter of keeping at it, working the swims and the lures and staying focused on keeping the lure down there, and stopping myself from pike fishing. You have to find the right balance with your tackle I found. Rob and Shayne already had it sorted since they were doing this often. But for me I reckon I needed some lighter braid than the 10lb Bushido braid I was using. I was using 3g Zman Shroomz jig heads and I wanted my line to cut the water easier. Something about 5lb would have been ideal I reckon and that’s exactly what Rob had on his reel. You want to keep your lure down there and if your braid isn’t cutting the water easy enough, all you end up doing is bringing your lure back up off the bottom. It wasn’t so bad it was manageable though i had to work at it, luckily the canal wasn’t too deep. Had that been the case and on top of that a bit of wind or flow and it would make it really difficult. If pike or perch fishing I would just stick a heavier jig head on. It would help cut through the water and keep the braid tight if there was a bit of a breeze but also that usually means you end up working the lure a bit faster too and I wanted a really low and slow approach.
Everyone had a few fish, though it was slow at times and the bites didn’t really come thick and fast, it was just the odd fish here and there. Clear blue skies was good because it meant we had an excuse bagged early in case we didn’t catch any or many at all, but then as I said before I only really wanted the one anyway. Rob was leading the way with his super ultra light finesse tactics and dare I say it, drop shot tactics helping him manage three species on the day with a bream hooked fair and square in the chops. The little creature baits he was using were perfect for crawling along the bottom nice and slow and on his really thin braid it meant he had great control of them and feel of what is happening. A note there for anyone looking at having a go at this or struggling with a set up too heavy. Of course 10lb braid isn’t exactly heavy but it can make all the difference. Then on the other hand, if you cast like a donkey and are in the trees all the time or if your canal is snaggy then you will spend more time tying on new lures or worse still for us northerners, more money replacing lost lures. So I guess it’s a balancing act and every person will have to figure out what suits them best. I know for my northern canal fishing going too light is a bloody nightmare most of the time at least.
Ady went for more of a gung ho kind of approach with a massive 2.5inch shad. Standard lure for us chasing perch and we bag plenty in all sizes, plus pike. He went for those due to a couple of reasons. It’s a trusted lure for him for many species, he’s caught zander on them before and he’s a tight arse and hasn’t bought any lures for years so pretty much all he has left. I noticed he kept having a look in Robs collection and it wouldn’t surprise me if he came home with a couple of extra lures in his pocket plus a wire trace or two, he’s like that you know. Anyway it was good to have variety between us, on some days you will find all predators can be different in what they want. Some days they want big lures and other days tiny lures. We had it all covered anyway. Ady had some perch and his zander with a couple of better fish hit and missed which was a shame.
As for me, I found the buggers a bit tricky to be honest. I found out what the hits were like. No little tippy tapps like a pack of perch or harassing trout. They just seem to dart out and whack the lure. You get a proper little thud on your rod. When you have been fishing hard and concentrating like mad and then that happens out of no where it’s not easy to hook them. I think a big factor is having ultra sharp, thin gauge hooks to help. I was find on the TRD but on some of my softies I didn’t really have what I wanted and I reckon I missed a couple of hits just because my hooks weren’t as sharp as they should have been. A couple of hits came on bigger lures and I saw the tell tale tooth marks of the zander on my brand new Realistic shad lure, but the little bugger had bit behind the hook. I had a proper thud at one point from a zander that might have been a whacker in these parts but didn’t hook in to it. But I bagged a couple in the end and my very first zander. A great little learning curve and loads picked up from Rob and Shayne. Pleased as punch to get off the mark with a couple and finally lose my zander virginity. They are super cool little creatures, those eyes are amazing and the colours along their body really are beautiful. I can see why people might fall in love with these little things and when they get bigger, wow what a fish they must be. Big thanks to Rob and Shayne for the day, really enjoyed it, cheers boys.