I could be wrong, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but many angling publications, forums and websites seem to be aimed at carp anglers. Newcomers to the sport often see the pursuit of a 20lb+ carp to be the only capture worthy of recognition and this is encouraged by what they see on television and read in the media; I like to do something different and target other species too!
I do fish for carp with a very limited amount of success, but I rather enjoy getting back to the ‘Mr. Crabtree’ style of angling without scientifically produced baits, without alarms, and without the hustle and bustle of a jam packed commercial fishery. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been after tench on the float.
My current club, Lymm Anglers, have the fantastic Lymmvale on their card. Situated just outside the Cheshire town of Winsford, Lymmvale is widely acknowledged as one of the best tench waters in the North West of England by such esteemed groups as the Tench fishing society. At around 5 acres and with only 26 pegs, seclusion can be guaranteed amongst the tree lined banks and bushy cover. Depths of up to 25 feet give plenty of water for the fish to hide in, but with the stock predominately (60-70%) in favour of tench, there is an excellent chance of catching a few. The bulk of them average 5-6lbs, but there are tench to over 12lbs present!
Arriving at the venue at 4a.m, I’m surprised to find only 3 other anglers on the lake, although they are all in pegs I had considered enroute! A ghostly mist wreathed the water as I loaded the barrow and proceeded to plod slowly around looking for signs of feeding fish. Tench will frequently advertise their presence by rolling over feeding spots, and, after walking around the WHOLE perimeter of the water, I settled into a peg known as ‘The Sleepers’ where I could see that fish were showing.
I love to fish the ‘lift’ method when float fishing for early season tench. It’s regularly written about fondly by anglers who have sat by the banks of famous estate lakes surrounded by beds of lilies as cobalt blue dragon flies dart about industrially hunting for food. For me, it conjures up nostalgic images of split cane rods and warm spring sunshine, wicker creels and tartan flasks or meat paste sandwiches and ‘Spangles’ (remember them?).Finally, maybe even the oily swirl of a big tench coming to the net……lovely! I’d like to share my day with you.....
I always begin a session by watching the water for a few minutes before I decide to do anything else. I can gain so much just by having a short time to help me plan how I need to bait the swim. There is no point throwing in large amounts of ground bait before you tackle up if the fish are already feeding; why feed them off before you even begin? Many times the first thing I see is anglers at the water’s edge topping up a huge bucket of bait before hurling it in or spodding it out without giving a moments consideration to what is actually in front of them. Why? Because it’s what they always do!
The sun is still just below the horizon and the fish are rolling over an area of deeper water by some overhanging trees in a shaded area of the lake. This is important as the weather forecast is for high temperatures, high pressure and bright sunlight so the peg I have chosen will give some cover later in the day. On Lymmvale, the tench usually feed through the night into the early morning and become much harder to catch after 10a.m, so a darker spot out of the sun may give me an extra hour or two in which to set my trap.
To fish the ‘lift’ method, I am going to use a light, straight crystal waggler. I will not be fishing at any great range so don’t need a heavy float in order to cast as I can just flick my rig out a rod length to where I need to put my hook baits. I like to use the clear crystal floats just to prevent a shadow on the water if I’m fishing in water less than 6 feet deep. My mainline is 6lbs breaking strain tied ‘loop to loop’ to a 4lb hook length and size 16 hook. I use pre-tied hook links purely for convenience and to maintain my plumbed depth as all hook links should be the same length from the packet. A 13’ float rod with a good through action coupled to small fixed spool reel is sufficient to tame any tench in the swim.
Tench love maggots, especially red ones, sweet corn, worms, bread (very underrated!), pellets, and occasionally meat, so I’ve bought the lot! Before I tackle up, I make the decision to throw in a handful of 2mm pellets and a handful of red maggots to try and get the tench rooting about on the bottom. A couple of grains of corn will add some visual attraction over the top. As soon as the bait hits the water, it disturbs the rolling tench enough to make the swim go eerily quiet; hopefully they will follow the slowly sinking offerings to the bottom and start to grub around in the hunt for more.
Quickly setting up the rod, the business end consists of a 2 ½ BB float, held lightly in place by 2 no.4 split shot. A plummet is secured to the hook and the rig gets gently lowered into the water to find out the exact depth. Moving around the swim, it’s simple to find a shallow scrape about 4” deeper than the main area; this will become my target as it may be a natural feeding area. Having found the EXACT depth, then the next bit is VITALLY important to fish the ‘lift’ successfully. Because the float is only lightly held by the shot, I can open them without damaging the line and add 2-4” to the depth setting before fixing the float in place. I need to overshot the float, so a large AAA shot is anchored to the hook link exactly the same distance from the hook as the distance you have just moved the float up the line. This means that the float will sink under the weight of the shot UNLESS the shot rests on the bottom at dead depth. Accuracy is the key to fishing this way, so the bait must hit the spot EVERY time or it will be impossible to spot bites.
As the float is to be fished overshotted, as soon as a fish picks up the hook bait resting on the bottom and disturbs the AAA shot, the float will (hopefully!) rise majestically up in the water to lie flat on the surface; this obviously indicates a bite! That’s the theory, can I make it work? By the time I’m ready to cast, tell tale ‘fizzing’ is present as the tench root about disturbing the lake bed and releasing tiny amounts of gas which reach the surface in the form of ‘pin’ bubbles. These really are tiny bubbles and are a sure sign of feeding fish; bigger bubbles may indicate that carp are also in the swim, so it becomes interesting trying to work out what is down there!
As the float is gently flicked out, it lays flat for a moment before cocking as the AAA shot sinks to the bottom. Because the float is set over depth, it may be necessary to move the rig until the AAA rests at dead depth and the float tip is dotted down to show a couple of millimetres above the surface. It’s always worth considering the colour of the float tip to ensure it can be seen in varied light conditions; under the shadow of the overhanging trees, a bright orange t
ip gives me the most visible target. Between the float and the large split shot, the line is taut, beyond the shot, the hook link is free to move so that any tench can pick up the bait without resistance. Once the fish has the bait in its mouth and moves, then the AAA is disturbed and the float instantly stands up in the water and then lays flat!! Time to strike!! In reality, this may be preceded by concentric rings emitting from the float tip, a sharp dip to the side, or any manner of unusual movements as tench brush against the line or mouth at the bait. A positive bite can be lifted into as soon as the float starts to rise; it takes some getting used to if you have never fished the ‘lift’ method before as most float anglers strike when it goes under!!
I tried a trio of red maggots on the hook first, and apart from a slight dip, I had nothing to show for the first 15 minutes so a change of bait was required. Double corn covering the hook came next. Sliding the first kernel up over the hook shank and up the line, a second piece is placed on the bend before the first piece is slid back down to rest against it and disguise the hook. It is important however, to leave the hook point showing so it doesn’t impede the strike. A missed bite followed by a second made me think that perhaps that another change would yield results; it was obvious that the fish were interested in the corn so by adding a small piece of redworm, I was confident that the next positive indication would result in a fish...
A few minutes later, the crystal waggler lifted and lay flat on the surface; a gentle strike into the fish and the rod took the strain as a chubby tench tried for cover. After a 5 minute struggle, the dark green flank of pristine tench slipped over the folds of the landing net; placing the fish on the unhooking mat, the barbless hook is soon released and the fish can be weighed; 5lbs 14ozs of early morning fish is a very welcome start just 45 minutes into the session. More bait options saw a few more knocks but few positive bites. Things started to slow during the morning as the heat wave put the carp to spawning and the tench showed much more interest in following the carp to eat the eggs that were being distributed in the margins. A couple more tench of similar size followed into onto the bank before the sun came up and the feeding petered out completely. Total for the morning was a couple of missed bites and 4 tench landed for a total of around 20lbs with the biggest specimen weighing in at exactly 6lbs; not huge fish, but huge fun when your fishing needs a ‘lift’!!
May and June are prime times to catch big tench, they are in stunning condition and can be caught in the most fantastic fishing conditions. Misty mornings and still waters coupled with the dawn chorus as the sun rises really bring back some of the magic to my fishing and makes me remember just why I started all those years ago.
I think that on the day, because it was so close to the time when fish begin to spawn, the hot weather triggered the cycle and the fish became preoccupied with other things....I will look forward to my next attempt at tench fishing under the float, it’s a relaxing way to catch great fish, and, if you can find a lake like Lymmvale, why not give it a try?