Tench are, without doubt, one of my favourite species. The red eye, the green, yellow, sometimes almost black body reminds me of the first Tench I ever laid eyes on. It was 45 years ago when I was about 12 years old and had been fishing for a year.
My rod was two sections of whole cane, much like the garden canes one uses to tie up plants. It had a wooden handle and my reel, a small centre pin, was made of bakerlite. My line was cuttihunk, a green sort of cord with a couple of feet of gut attached. I cannot remember what type of hook I was using but it was almost certainly eyed and cheap.
Three friends and myself were fishing the Watermill Stream near Sidley, just above the Old Watermill where a weir held the water back to a depth of six feet. Sadly it was removed by the Sussex River Authority in the late 1950's. We were fishing the deep water immediately above the weir without success when one of our group suggested we move across the field to fish a pond where two older boys had already bagged the two best swims. The pond was owned by one of the boys uncles and he had told us we could only fish if we kept quiet and on no account were we to cast anywhere near them, which only left us a couple of small holes near the bank.
Anyway we all settled down to fish with our flour and water paste in the pond which was surprisingly deep, but covered almost entirely with broad leaved pond weed except for the area where we were fishing.
It was a warm evening with no wind and there was no movement at all on the water until David's bob float did just that. It bobbed several times moving away from the bank as it did so and dipping deeper in the water until it finally disappeared below the surface. This was followed by a firm upright strike that bent his greenheart rod almost double. Not giving an inch David pulled hard and reeled the fish towards him. Soon it was splashing on the surface and was unceremoniously hauled up the bank. "Tench", said one of the older boys, must be 31b". Then the inevitable happened. The fish slipped the hook, rolled back down the bank and into the water. It lay there for several seconds while we looked down at it in amazement. I had never seen a fish like it. It was a beautiful dark green on its flank, an orange eye and a huge flat-ended tail; that sight has remained with me all my life. Then, just when we were beginning to think we could grab hold of it, it righted itself and slowly sank below the surface. Even then it's dorsal fin still protruded above the water level but a flick from it's powerful tail and it was gone forever. Just what that fish weighed we shall never know, but looking back 31b was probably about right. After that David visited the water early mornings with his father and they landed fish to over 41b.
It was many years before I caught Tench of that size and indeed it was a long time before I caught a Tench at all. There weren't so many about in those days and to be sure of catching one an early start was essential. That was certainly out for me as my mother wasn't at all keen on my fishing in the first place and wouldn't allow me to leave home much before 8 a.m. However, when I finally caught a Tench it was from the same pond, but it was years later and things had changed. The water level had been lowered by the farmer to prevent it flooding part of his field and the size of the Tench had dropped, one pound appeared to be the maximum. Gone were the 31b and 41b fish of childhood dreams. Never the less I was more than happy with my 1lb Tench and shortly after that was catching them to almost 31b from Powdermill Lake.
Four and five pound fish eluded me until I started fishing gravel pits on the Romney Marsh, though I did catch one of exactly 5lb from a dyke at Winchelsea. Even now I have captured Tench over 71b I am still fascinated by them and if I was restricted to catching just one species, Tench would be my choice. Tench remind me of early morning sunrises, the mist rising from a lily-padded estate lake and patches of pin headed bubbles bursting the surface film as they move onto the groundbait. They can be taken from almost any water; marshland drains and dykes, canals, rivers, lakes, ponds, reservoirs and gravel pits but the very big fish generally come from those gin clear waters. Gravel pits are the most likely waters to pick up a really big Tench, but fish up to 61b can now crop up almost anywhere. At one time a fish of a lifetime would have weighed 61b, but today most Tench anglers have caught them to that size.
Even so, any Tench is worth catching and if you haven't access to waters where the monsters grow then don't worry, catch what is available, for tackle scaled down to the size of fish likely will give you sport from all sizes of Tench. The fighting ability of the Tench is equal to that of the Carp and the only thing that puts Carp above Tench is that they grow bigger; pound for pound Tench fight as hard. They do, though, fight differently, for while care generally make long runs Tench do not. There is more head shaking with Tench, similar in some ways to Perch, and they stay deeper.
Another characteristic of the Tench is that once they get into the weed they are the very devil to get out. You may think that Carp are difficult to get out of weed, but I can assure you Tench are harder. The thing about Carp is that provided you just keep a steady pressure on them, they usually fight their own way out, but Tench rarely do. Pressure just seems to make them bury themselves even deeper. A different angle will sometimes move them, or you can try the slack line trick, which again works some-times but not always.
I remember a friend of mine and I were fishing a bay off a large gravel pit when he hooked a Tench which became bogged down in the marginal weed near his feet, but the water was 10ft deep so it was impossible to reach it with a landing net. It seemed to me what was needed was a different angle and I suggested he walk around the bay and pull from the other side. It worked and he landed a Tench just short of 61b.
The same thing happened a few days later, but the fish couldn't be pulled out this time even from the far bank. After trying for several minutes he walked back to his original swim to find the Tench had swum out by itself - so you never know. There is very little you can do to prevent a Tench from getting into the weed because they tend to stay very close to weedy areas, though clearing an area by raking and dragging will help. I used to think that playing a fish hard was the answer but these days I am not so sure, it seems that the harder you pull the harder the Tench at the other end tries for the weed. However, there is one thing I am certain of and that is keeping the fish as high as you can in the water definitely helps. Easier said than done, I know, but just by keeping your rod high helps and try not to let the fish bore too deep when it is close to the bank. Most of the fish that are lost in the weed are usually only a few yards from the bank. This is especially true on gravel pits. There is often a bed of weed at the bottom of the drop off and once they get their heads into it is difficult to get the right angle to pull them out. So, if extra pressure is to be put on the fish the time to do it is before it reaches the drop off.
Although early mornings are traditionally the best feeding times for Tench, in fact they surprisingly come onto feed at almost any time during the day or night and for no apparent reason other than the obvious, that they feed because they are hungry. On a number of occasions I have been fishing from first light until midday without a bite only to get two runs at once. Sometimes, it has been two or three in the afternoon before they have started feeding, by which time many anglers have packed up and gone home. It pays to hang on if you have the time for you can be sure that they will feed at sometime or another. It is not as simple as that, I know, but provided you are fishing in the right spot with the right bait and correct method you will find, particularly on gravel pits, that Tench will come on to feed at the most unlikely of times.
Many anglers now fish for Tench with boilies and certainly I have given them a try with some success, but the old fashioned baits still work well on most waters and large bags of them can be taken on maggots, sweetcorn, bread flake, luncheon meat and worms. Worms used to be a favourite bait of mine for Tench but in recent years their effectiveness seems to have worn off. How could this be? What is different about the Tench we catch today from the fish we used to catch? Well, they are bigger for a start. At least mine are and most of them were caught on either maggots or bread with sweetcorn and luncheon meat a close second. I have taken the odd Tench on worms but nowhere near the numbers I have on other baits.
Of course this may have something to do with the waters I now fish. At one time almost all of my Tench fishing was done in either marshland drains, ponds or estate lakes, but now it is gravel pits where worms appear to be less effective. Boilies catch Tench and some very big ones at that, but until very recently I had not used them to any great extent, though I did pick up a few good fish by accident while Carp fishing with them. This was 10 years or more ago and for some reason thought I would be better off with other baits for Tench.
Never the less, gradually over the past couple of years I have tried boilies with varying degrees of success. It was a friend of mine who put me on the right track, for I was fishing with 15mm tutti fruiti boilies and despite getting a fair number of runs most of the fish slipped the hook. I experimented with long and short hook links but found little difference until a friend suggested I tried 12mm boilies. By that time it was near to the end of the summer and my Tench fishing was drawing to a close, so I have not really given them a fair trial as yet. Even so, the friend who suggested the change did have considerable success, landing a number of 61b plus fish to 7lb 5oz.
Tench are a lovely fish to go for and each year we see more and more of these fish in local waters and the average size has shot up. At one time, even a 3lb Tench was a good one, but although I am still happy to catch a 31b fish and smaller, today one cannot think of it being a specimen until it is double that size. This is taking an average over the entire area, of course, for specimens are relative to the waters being fished. The equivalent specimen on the Pevensey Marsh would probably be 5lb or perhaps even 4lb 8oz.
It has been mentioned many times before, but I make no excuses for referring to it again, and that is the Tench on the Wallers Haven are going from strength to strength. Back in the sixties they were as rare as salmon in the Ouse, but now they are so common that matches are being won with bags of them and the average size seems to he between 31b and 41b. But, as I mentioned earlier Tench are in most waters and if you are looking for a really big fish you should concentrate on some of the gravel pits in the area, such as Johnsons at Larkfield and the Leisure Sports pits at the same place. The Chichester gravel pits also produce big Tench and so do some of the pits in the Canterbury area, not to mention some of the pits on the Romney Marsh. In Surrey the Yately complex has produced Tench to double figures, but the British record of 141b 7oz was caught by G. Beaven from a private water on Hertfordshire.
Whatever size of Tench you decide to fish for there are plenty of venues to suit your preferences and, if you fish correctly, Tench are generally not too difficult to catch. Certainly, once you have them on the feed you can be sure of some thrilling and hectic sport.