I believe I have mentioned it before, tench are one of my favourite species and I enjoy catching them of whatever size. Like carp, they are more wide spread now than they used to be and they grow to sizes which twenty years ago we could only dream about.
Of course, like all fish that I seek, I like to catch them as big as possible, but I can honestly say I enjoy catching even the smallest tench. I remember once fishing the Field Lake at Wylands Angling Centre and hooking miniature tench about 1oz, but instead of changing tactics to avoid them, I carried on catching them. I think I caught over thirty that evening, but they were all small, though beautiful fish. It's unlikely that I will ever catch as many again in a short evening session.
Generally though, it is the bigger specimens that I seek and while I have caught tench from rivers, ponds, estate lakes, marshland drains and dykes and reservoirs, it is the gravel pits that are the best places to catch the large specimens. Estate lakes are lovely places to fish for them and I have had some brilliant sport among the lily pads with float tackle. Bags of a dozen fish have come my way at times, though 5lb has been the limit on these waters. Very often the fish have fed early morning and sport has been all over by nine, but other times they have fed later, so it pays to be prepared.
As far back as I remember, groundbaiting for tench was done little and often. Even now I generally adopt this policy, for in all the years I have fished for them, I haven't found a better way. Obviously when fishing at close range this is easily done, for you can be sure groundbait is going in the right place every time, but the further out you fish, the more difficult this becomes. Fishing in a hole in the lily pads just a couple of rod lengths out will allow you to groundbait by hand, but once the distance is increased to 15 yards or more, a catapult is needed. Over forty yards and the chances of hitting the same spot every time are remote.
Long range tench fishing will sometimes pay off and I have caught them up to 80 yards out in a gravel pit, but usually it is not necessary to fish at this range. Very often you are casting over fish when fishing long distances and it pays to make sure there are not any fish closer that can be hooked so much easier. However, if you are sure you need to fish at distance then the only certain way of baiting little and often is with a swim feeder. Obviously, if the bait is maggot then you are going to fish with a maggot feeder, but if the bait is going to be bread, luncheon meat, or sweetcorn, then you will need an open-ended feeder.
Some anglers prefer the plastic open-ended feeders, but personally I like to use the wire cage feeder. I find I can fill it with groundbait and still mould more around the outside of the cage. Using this method you can be sure, at the very least, that one feeder full of bait is near your hook bait. A marker float will also help and give you something to aim at. Of course, the more times you cast the feeder the more groundbait you will have in your swim, so do not leave your bait in the water very long before recasting. Fifteen minutes is plenty long enough and if I get a bite, no matter how finicky, I recast. Often a take will occur as soon as the bait hits the bottom. The splash of the feeder hitting the water doesn't seem to put the tench off, in fact the opposite appears to be case. After a while, I am sure they associate the splash with food and are actually waiting for it. I found this to be the case with roach as well as tench and it's likely it is the same with all fish, including carp. Some anglers that I know have used a boat to bait up, but if you do this the little and often method goes out of the window. I must say though, that this method does sometimes pay off, but you can never be sure whether it is going to be tench or bream that is drawn into your swim. Whereas the little and often method with a swimfeeder is more likely to attract tench. Even so, it can sometimes pay to lay a base of groundbait from a boat, but continue to feed little and often as well, especially if you are fishing a fairly long session.
I know some of the successful anglers who fish some of the inland pits for tench do this. In fact, to make sure of their swim they used to arrive at the water several days before the season started when there used to be a close season. They would then fish for a week after it opened. Most of them would bait up by boat and keep the bait going in once, or twice a day. They certainly caught plenty of tench, including some into double figures. The biggest problem with fishing large gravel pits for tench is the same as with all species, it is location. I used to think that on very big pits of fifty acres or more, fish which are caught at one end of the pit were different fish to those captured at the other end, but now I am not so sure this is so. I know for certain it is not the case with pike and carp and I am beginning to think the same about tench.
On one particular pit that I fish most of the anglers would fish one area and they caught lots of tench over a period of several years. When I fished the same area, I also caught a few tench, but they all showed signs of age and some of them looked as though they had been caught before. On the other hand, when I started fishing an area half a mile away on the same water the tench that I caught were in pristine condition, leading me to believe that they were different fish that had never been caught before. This situation didn't last for long, as more and more anglers caught these tench. Eventually, catches dropped off in this part of the pit to just the odd fish and one can only assume that they had moved. Now, whether they moved the half mile to the other area we use to fish, I cannot say for sure, but I am inclined to think so. Changing conditions, the urge to spawn and food supply must all make a difference. It could be that the tench will stay in the one area if all their requirements are there, but if that changes, then like all creatures they are likely to move. Now when I first started fishing for these tench the water level was fairly high and that was the time when I thought they stayed in one area. Since then we have experienced a drought with dropping water levels and it was during this time that the tench could no longer be taken from this area where they were in their best condition. There had also been alterations to the pit and these undoubtedly made a difference. The water levels are now higher than I have ever seen them, so it will be interesting to see what this summer brings.
Of course, all this is supposition, I have no way of telling whether the tench have moved away from one area and gone to another, except that catches have dropped off and the fish are not seen rolling in that spot so frequently. Unlike mirror carp and pike, tench are not so easily recognised and while you may think you have caught the same fish from two different areas, it is not so easy to be certain. Even with carp mistakes are made, especially with the inexperienced, often young anglers identify fish as being a certain fish when they are not. Sometimes, identification is made by a split tail, or fin, but these do repair themselves if they are not too badly damaged and I doubt whether this is a hard and fast rule either. It is quite likely that the same injury will repair quickly on some fish and never at all on others, depending on the condition of the individual fish. Just the same as humans, some people make miraculous recoveries and others die.
While I mainly fish for tench in gravel pits, we shouldn't forget the marshland drains and dykes where the tench grow to at least 7lb and may be bigger. Unfortunately, some of the smaller dykes of the marshes which used to hold good fish are now completely devoid of fish and some have disappeared, especially on the Romney Marsh, a legacy of the drainage department. However, some of the drains which still hold fish are well stocked with very large tench, while some hold none, or very few. Why this should be so, I do not know, except it could be that whoever stocked them in the first place put more in one than another Then again, you would have expected those with only a few to have bred, making up the difference. All that probably hasn't anything to do with it and it's just that some waters are more suited to them than others. For it seems to me that the clear heavily weeded drains are more suited to the tench. After all, the gravel pits are mostly gin clear and heavily weeded and the tench thrive in them. Tench will survive in coloured water, but are better off in clear water, so when tracking down the marshland tench, it is best to look for the gin clear drains that are heavily weeded. Usually, these waters are so thick with potamogeton and Canadian Pond Weed that they are unfishable without some preparation. Early morning fishing on these waters is generally the best plan, especially if the dyke is fairly narrow, which many are, so dragging a swim the evening before fishing can pay dividends.
My drag is simple and easy to make in half an hour. It is made from length 2 inch x 2 inch piece of timber, 2ft long. On all four sides I drive in four inch nails every inch, but leave 3 inches each end and a couple of inches free in the centre of two opposite sides. In this spot dead centre, I drill a hole large enough for a length of sash cord to be tied to it. Finally, I wrap enough sheet lead around each end, which is nailed into position to sink it It's as simple as that and very effective. It is amazing how much weed a drag like this will clear, but be warned - it is a very wet and dirty job and I suggest if you try it, you take some spare clothes! Also, the weed grows quick in the summer you may think that once you have cleared it, that is the end of the work, you will find it's an ongoing job if you are going to continue to fish the same dyke for several weeks. After dragging, I used to groundbait with one of the groundbaits you can buy in the tackle shops suitable for tench, but everyone has their own ideas on groundbaiting, so your choice will probably be as good as mine.
I used to think that the tench would find the bait during the night and be already feeding on it when I arrived at 4am the following morning, but this was rarely the case. Often, I would have to wait an hour or two to get my first bite. On the small dykes, there isn't much of a chance of a big bag. A couple of fish from a swim is all you can reasonably expect and if you get four, it is a bonus. The only way to catch a big bag is to drag and bait several swims in that way, and once one swim has gone off, you move to another, but remember to move about with stealth, as the fish are easy to spook in these small clear waters. A big bag of tench is more likely to be taken from one major drains, such as the Wallers Haven, on the Pevensey Marsh, a water that I have mentioned before, which over the years has produced more and more tench as the years have passed. From a water which rarely produced any tench at all in the sixties, it is now one of the best tench waters in the area, with lots of fish in the 3lb to 4lb range and a few larger ones. Fishing this type of water requires a different approach and the fish are more likely to feed over a longer period. Groundbaiting little and often, similar to gravel pit fishing, works just as well, but remember; most of the fish will be found in the margins. Now, whether that is your own margin, or the far margin ,will depend upon what style of fishing you choose. If you fish your own margin then laying on, or lift method will probably be your choice, but fishing the far margin will give you that extra choice of feeder fishing, or straight ledgering. You could fish the feeder in your own margin, but personally I cannot see any advantage in it, since you are fishing that close. Groundbaiting by hand is as good as anything. Good bags of tench can be taken with any of these methods and some anglers have caught as many as fifteen fish in a session.
Pole fishing is another method which has produced a number of good tench to anglers fishing the Wallers, but I have no knowledge of this type of fishing and will leave that for someone else to write about. So, wherever you decide to fish for tench, you could hardly have picked a better species to go for in summer. They fight hard, they feed freely in the right conditions and their green flanks, square ended tails and red eyes give them a mystery that is so important in fishing.