I, myself have been fishing for zander on and off for about fourteen years now, in and around Cambridgeshire on drains, rivers and stillwaters. I have also worked for the Environment Agency and its predecessors for the past twelve years which has given me a valuable insight into zander populations, angling trends and just about every venue which holds these fish.
My first session for zander was with (luckily for me) three zander experts of the time. Imagine my surprise when through a mutual contact I was invited to fish on the Cut Off Channel with Merv Wilkinson, Joe Taylor and Phil Smith! The session was only for one night but as a lad of sixteen it was quite exciting, not a lot of action, but it did result in my first zander of (if my memory serves correctly) about 6 lbs.
Two years later, I found myself fishing for my first stillwater zander at a lake at Fen Drayton, which at the time was controlled by the once mighty Amey Anglers Association. This lake had recently had an injection of unwanted zander which had been removed from the Well Creek by the Anglian Water Authority - by means of a trawler! I don’t remember how many were stocked, but fish up to 12lbs had been caught, some by local ‘pleasure’ anglers and some by a few anglers who were actually targeting the species. Unfortunately those who were catching the zander accidentally were knocking them on the head and doing the usual dispatching method of decorating the nearby bushes and trees with the carcasses.
Eventually I moved onto the fen drains, and in particular, Roswell pits, which is where I have spent most of my predator fishing time since 1992 to the present day. In that time I’ve been able to observe trends, species composition, predator/prey relationships and the interaction between pike and zander, and oh yes, catch a few as well!
That was just a brief history of my involvement with zander, I could go on, but I think I should save some stories for another day. As I said at the beginning, the following is not a comprehensive list, just my opinion of a ‘Top Ten’. It contains everything you will need to know, if you fancy having a go at some zeds. The venues are numbered 1-10, number one is the easiest I have fished down to the number ten which is probably the hardest venue it has ever been my pleasure to fish.
1) The Ramsey Forty Foot @ Ramsey Forty Foot Village - O/S Landranger map 142 TL 310880. .
This relatively small drain begins about 2 miles west of a small fenland village. It flows east, and eventually joins the sixteen foot drain near Chatteris. A smaller arm (the Horseway) continues to the Old Bedford Counterwash drain at Welches Dam. For most of its length a road runs alongside, making fishing and car parking difficult and somewhat dangerous! A small section, however, at the village itself, is separated from the road by a small field, on which you can park. The zander fishing here is pretty easy with fish in the 4-6lb bracket common, and there’s always a chance of a double. Deadbaits work well and runs should always be forthcoming. If someone asked me the ideal place to catch their first zander then this would be the place I would recommend. Ramsey and District AA control the fishing and day tickets are available on the bank.
2) The Well Creek, Upwell to Salters Lode-O/S Landranger Map 143 TF 584014. .
This river runs from the Old Nene and Pophams Eau (TF 469005) through Upwell and Outwell, alongside the A1122 to Salters Lode where it meets the Tidal River Ouse. Most fishermen I’ve spoken to don’t realise this stretch of water exists, I suppose some people do fish it but I guess it’s just a few "in the know". The areas to fish would be anywhere from the Mullicourt Aquaduct (where the creek flows over the Middle Level Main Drain), downstream to the confluence with the Tidal Ouse. The area immediately upstream of the sluice at Salters Lode is always very turbid, suiting the zander down to the ground. The Environment Agency’s fishery team recently netted over 25 zander from a 150m stretch with large, (and I mean, Dennis Flack should be worried type large) silver bream which always put in an appearance. The zander on the whole are small, again in the 4-6lb range, although the largest caught by the EA was about 9lbs. Access along most of this stretch is poor but the bottom end is accessible and the fishing is free!
3) The Old West. Landranger Map 142, 153 & 143. TL 394746 to TL 535746. .
The River Old West runs from Earith to the confluence with the Cam at the Fish and Duck Pub. This river is unexploited by predator anglers (yet again, I could be wrong). This is another small river, embanked for all of its length, with a depth of up to 5 feet. Boats can be a problem during the summer, however, after October the traffic dies down. Downstream of Earith near the Hermitage Marina is a good place to start, good fish generally show up during the routine surveys around this area. Another hotspot I’ve found in the past is upstream of the Old steam pumping engine at Stretham. The fish that have made an appearance to my rods have again been on the small side, but this is another relatively easy venue. There are a few angling clubs along the Old West, the main ones are as follows:-
Histon & District AC, Tel: Mr C Dodd (01954)260365 Royston AC, Tele: Mr G Thomas (01763) 208820 Saffron Walden AC, Tele: Mr N Roberts(01223)836773 Waterbeach AC, Mr Hugh Reynolds, Tel:(01954)250886
4) The River Great Ouse, Holywell to Earith. Landranger Map 153 & 152. TL 343706 to TL 394746. .
In my view, one of the best rivers in the country, until you’ve travelled the Ouse from source to sea, and met all of its inhabitants from the huge perch, chub and barbel in the upper river to the carp and bream shoals in the middle, through to the zander and pike in the lower reaches it is difficult to appreciate the wealth of life this river supports. The main stretches supporting good zander populations begin at St.Ives, but I believe that to stand a decent chance, downstream of the Ferryboat Inn at Holywell is the best place to start. Yet again we’re not in specimen zander country yet, although the river supports a good head of fish. Immediately in front of the Ferryboat it is worth trying, it is here that the main River Ouse meets a small side channel called Parsons Drain, the river is wider than normal in this area and there is nothing better than supping a delectable real ale whilst trying to catch a few zander at this picturesque place on a warm summers evening! Further downstream around Overcote, opposite the Pike and Eel, Brownshill Staunch, and opposite the Westview Marina in Earith are also good zander holding areas.
The two main angling clubs in this area are: Over & Swavesey District Angling Society, Tel: Mr D Cook (01954) 230076 London Anglers Association, Tel: Mr AE Hodges (0181) 5207477
5) The River Cam, Bottisham Lock to confluence with the Old West. Landranger 143 & 154. TL 508657 to TL 535746.
The River Cam has two distinct sections. Upstream of Cambridge the river is classified as a chalk river, a few Fly-Fishing clubs control the fishing on the river which has a natural population of brown trout. Downstream, it changes character completely. From Baitsbite lock onwards it becomes a typical fenland river, uniform depth, width and embanked on both sides, it is this stretch of the river the zander inhabit. Good access can be found along most of this stretch, with good pike and zander all along to the confluence with the Old West.
The three main angling clubs in this area are: Waterbeach AC, Mr Hugh Reynolds, Tel:(01954)250886 Cambridge Albion, Mr R Gentle, Tel:(01223) 426711 London AA, contact as above.
6) Ely Ouse, from Old West/River Cam to Denver Sluice. Landranger Map 143. TL 535746 to TF 590010. .
The Ely Ouse is formed by the joining of the Cam and Old west rivers. Along its length the rivers Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey all flow into this river which ends at Denver Sluice, the huge complex where all the Fen rivers eventually meet, and the Relief Channel begins. The Ely Ouse is very uniform along its length, about 35-40m wide, and up to 5m deep in the middle. Each bank has a marginal shelf, which during the summer is covered in lilies. The river contains specimen fish of all sizes, carp, bream and tench all figure in pleasure catches throughout the summer. Areas I would recommend would be Barway, this is at the upstream end of the river, Ely town centre has thrown up some surprises, mainly to people who did not deserve them, zander to 15lbs have been caught in this area in the past. Queen Adelaide, and the Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey outfalls are all worth a try, as are Ten Mile Bank and Denver.
There are three main angling clubs on the Ely Ouse. Kings Lynn AC, Mr Grief Tel:(01553)671545 London AA (As above), Littleport AC, Mr Yardy Tel:(01353)669323
7) Old Bedford Delph, Welches Dam to Welmore Lake Sluice. Landranger Map 143, TL to TL 572987.
We’re now getting into big zander country. The River Delph is well known throughout the country as a good water for pike and zander, but large fish of most species can be found in this drain. Just downstream of the Welney roadbridge there is a pool where the river widens from its usual 15m to about 30m, the depth drops from 6 feet to over twenty! Needless to say this is a good fish holding area. Zander have in the past been out to over 15lbs, I think I’m right in saying that Neville Fickling had his personal best from the Delph. Access is not what I would call easy, Welches Dam, and Welney bridge being two of the few access points available. The Delph suffers during the summer from de-oxygenation, and some recent mortalities have turned up large dead zander, but I don’t believe this has had a significant impact on the populations present, in fact it’s one of the venues I have in mind for this winter. The Delph also contains some large carp, well worth a hit during the summer. This venue is certainly not as easy as the previous ones, although the chance of larger fish is certainly on the cards, the Welmore Lake Sluice end of the drain would also be an area I would head for.
There is only one main angling club on the Delph: Welney AC, Tel: Mr Booth (01354) 610247
8) The Cut Off Channel, Wretton Bridge to Denver Sluice. Landranger Map 143. TL 684993 to TF590010. .
So we’re onto the final three, big zander country. The Cut Off Channel begins at a sluice on the River Lark near Mildenhall across the fens to Denver Sluice. Half of the Cut Off remains a no go area due to the nature of the very steep chalk banks. The EA also use this section as a growing on area where fish are occasionally cropped when there is a need for the fish elsewhere in the area. The fishing begins ‘proper’ at Wretton bridge south west of Stoke Ferry. Access to the Channel is fairly easy as most of the length is punctuated by bridges, the most well known being the Hilgay bridge over which the A10 crosses on its way to Kings Lynn. Historically the Channel has produced some large zander with the largest documented being a 16lb fish. If the prey fish can be found, which is not too hard as there are a lot of winter leagues and various matches fished from October onwards, the results from these can be used to find the zeds. The prey fish seem to congregate around the bridges during the winter, most notably, Wereham, Hilgay, and Fordham. This Cut Off has average widths of 30m, and depths of 10-15 feet. The scenery is different from most drains, especially from Roxham Bridge downstream, where the lines of Poplars make for some interesting bird watching when the Golden Orioles arrive from Africa during the summer. As the Cut Off was the first venue I fished for zander it will always have a special appeal, but sentimentality aside, it is well worth a visit.
There is only one angling club on the Channel. Kings Lynn AA contact no.as above.
9) The Middle Level Main Drain. Three holes to St Germans sluice. Landranger Maps 142 & 131. TF 506002 to TF 556010. .
This large drain runs straight in a North Easterly direction, under various bridges, the Well Creek, eventually ending at a sluice which separates the fresh water from the salt water of the Tidal Ouse. Access is good due to the many bridges which cross it as it cuts across the heart of Fenland. As far as zander go, the last time I saw a top twenty list if I remember rightly, the top few from about ten down to three was made up of fish from the Middle Level Drain! There was a time around 1992-1994 when bivvies could be spotted around certain bridges most weekends, which coincided with a few large zander becoming bounty hunted, this was one of the few times when known predators have been targeted by specimen anglers. This happens to carp and most recently barbel but rarely happens to predators. Fortunately, this situation did not go on for long, the old fish could not keep up with the pace, zander fishing seemed to become less fashionable in favour of barbel and now its unusual to see more than two to three zander in the weeklies at once. There are still some large fish about, and with the pedigree that the Middle Level has, it will produce some beasts again in the future.
This water is under the control of the Kings Lynn AA.
10) The Great Ouse Relief Channel. Denver sluice to The Tail Sluice, Kings Lynn. Landranger Map 143 & 132. TF 590010 to TF 588143.
So here we are, at the end of our journey. At over 10 Miles long, with an average width 80m, and an average depth of 10 feet, and the birth place of the fenland zander (thanks to Cliff Cawkwell and John McAngus). This is an impressive sheet of water, not by European or world-wide standards you understand, but until you set eyes on it, the channels’ wildness cannot be fully appreciated. Unfortunately the heyday of the channel has been and gone, and well documented. I think we’ve all heard stories of bus loads of anglers coming down from Sheffield etc every week to fish for the huge shoals of bream and roach which inhabited the channel. Dave Litton, Bill Chillingworth, John Wilson, Stephen Harper, Neville Fickling, the list of anglers who fished the channel during the late sixties and seventies reads like a who’s who of fishing. More recently the channel seems to sustain a more moderate stock of fish although large pockets of fish can still be found, but the inaccessibility makes location a problem, although Kings Lynn AA have been working with the Agency to improve access from Stowbridge to Magdelen, keys for access tracks are now available from Mike Grief. Large zander have shown up decade after decade, the channel, like the Middle Level Drain has another pedigree which no one could argue with. Steve Younger has managed to locate some beasts, along with other switched on anglers. The EA Fisheries Team also managed to prove the channels’ credentials yet again by, during a routine survey netting a record zander of 18 lbs 12 oz! which contrary to popular belief was returned unharmed. It’s amazing how the jungle grapevine gets to work after an event like that, with the process of ‘Chinese Whispers’ going into overdrive, gets blown put of all proportion! This particular zander grew from 18 to 20lbs by the time it reached the weeklies! The channel is still worth investigating, shoals of roach can be found, and like the Cut Off, match results are worth paying attention to, pleasure anglers can usually be located, and tapped up for information. Around the many bridges is always worth a try, and areas where land drains and sewage outfalls enter the water are also productive. If you were ever considering fishing in the fens then take a look at the Relief Channel, if you’ve never seen any pictures you can’t fail but be impressed.
There is only one angling club on the Relief channel, as the previous two, Kings Lynn AA.
I hope this little jaunt has been informative, there should be more to come.