In the early nineties, the zander’s profile seemed to be higher than it is at present. There seemed to be a lot more anglers fishing for them. There have been many trends in angling over the years and this was probably one of them. Soon, the popularity of zander seemed to be on the wain, around 95/96 and the barbel was soon to be the new fashionable species. Of course I’m basing my assumptions on the catch reports and anglers mug shots in the ‘popular’ angling tabloids, and you may disagree with me. (Sods Law: As I write this the papers seem to be full of zander…!)
I have only four main methods in my repertoire: Ledgered deadbait, ledgered livebait, paternostered livebait and free-roving livebait, and although tackle is purely a personal thing I shall outline the types of rods, reels, end tackle etc which I find the most effective.
I always think it best to have an collection of rods that will cover all eventualities, when it comes to carp fishing all my rods are identical, the reasons for this have been well documented but zander fishing, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I use three different styles of rod, an eleven foot, two pound test curve, through-action rod for short to medium range fishing; a twelve foot, three pound test for medium to long range, and a thirteen foot, four pound for long range dead baiting and drift float fishing. This last rod may seem a bit extreme to some zander enthusiasts, but it makes a very effective tool when you’ve got two hundred yards of line to pick up! Rods are a very personal thing, but to reiterate, it pays to have a variety to cover all possible fishing situations.
The type of reel you use is, I feel, less important, apart from the long range one, which obviously needs a higher spool capacity than normal. For long range drifting I sometimes use a centre pin as it allows a very steady run off of line, plus it’s great fun playing a big fish on a ‘pin and braid! On the short to medium and the medium to long range rods I use Shimano bait-runner reels, I need not explain why! There are many different makes and models of reel, which can be used for this type of zander fishing. Reels such as the ‘old faithful’ Mitchell 300 are perfectly adequate. The bait runner facility on the Shimano is not utilised as I always fish with a drop-off style indicator (ET, Relum products) and an open bail-arm. On the long-range rod I use a Daiwa Emblem, purely for the large spool capacity, however if you are using braid (which I would recommend for drift float fishing) then an ordinary Baitrunner 6010 or 8010 will suffice
The two types of bite alarm used for predator angling are the front rod rest style, the Optonic, Delkim, Fox etc, or the drop off style, such as the ET drop off and the Fox. I prefer to use the front style with a visual drop-off. Electronic drop-offs have their place but I always found that when fishing at night, bivvied up, the continual drone of an electronic drop-off most annoying, especially when you aren’t aware whether the fish is running with the bait, or if he’s dropped it. The Optonic style indicator lets you know what the fish at the other end is doing and also sounds less ‘urgent’ (unless it’s a ‘screamer) whilst scrabbling around for your boots. The best one for the job is the old style Optonic. The Delkim sometimes has trouble registering drop-backs and the Fox magnet-type of indicator doesn’t always sound due to the resistance of the magnets (this can be overcome by fishing baitrunner style, but I wouldn’t recommend it as zander are finicky feeders at the best of times.) A friend of mine, however who had little experience of predator fishing but a lot of big carp encounters under his belt fishes for zander and pike in much the same way as he would for carp. Bobbin type indicators, tight lines fishing off the baitrunner…as soon as the line twitches or a bobbin moves he hits it, and he has a high success rate. This is a method that would be worth trying if you can be bothered sitting next to your rods concentrating, not always the way I like to predator fish!
It seems that most zander anglers think that their quarry is actually more finicky than they are. Sure, I’ve had zander mess about with delicate rigs, light leads, small hooks etc but on the other hand I’ve had them tear off dragging a three ounce lead and half pound mackerel tail! So what do you do? Take it as it comes! When ledgering livebaits always adjust your bomb size to size of bait. Big bait, big bomb, you get the picture? With deadbeats I like to use as small a bomb as possible, so the opposite would apply. Generally I would use one ounce with big baits such as a mackerel tail or large dead roach/bream (up to 6 ounces) and two to three ounces with smaller baits.
I haven’t played around with many different makes of trace wire so I’ll probably make a fool of myself by recommending Drennan seven strand. A good wire which I prefer in twenty-eight pound breaking stain. Crude, but a lot less prone to damage than the lighter strains. Unfortunately the wire does sometimes kink easily, therefore you’re lucky to catch more than one or two fish on any one trace. They also produce a Drennan smooth coated type wire, which (they reckon) can be knotted. I’ve just bought some which I haven’t used yet, so I hope it's as good as they say. Maybe I could do a small review. I use Drennan hooks also, semi-barbless trebles in sizes ten, eight and six. All good quality and not too expensive.
A much discussed bone (or fish) of contention. I will not get into the ‘is livebaiting right or wrong’ debate, I use them and I always will. I would like to say, however that deadbaits always seem to pick up bigger fish, there are exceptions, but on the whole this statement is fact. Only last week I was putting in a couple of days at Roswell pits, hoping for some pike or zander action. Saturday morning was spent catching a few baits (from the same venue of course) and Saturday afternoon was spent catching jacks. At this point I had no deadbaits and only caught fish up to ten pounds. The following day I used live and deadbaits, three more jacks to the livelies, but a twenty one-pound pike and an eight-pound zander to eel section, would I have caught them if I was just using live baits? Big question.
Well known zander angler Steve Younger uses large baits. Personally I don’t see the point of getting loads of dropped runs, so in my opinion, the smaller the bait the higher the hooking ratio. Does it not stand to reason that if a zander comes across a small fish which it can take easily the more likely your hooks are going to be inside its mouth? People used to think that you couldn’t catch zander on sea baits. Things change! The friend I mentioned earlier uses smelt as his number one zander bait, followed by sardines. I’ve caught them on mackerel, but to be honest, my favourite deadbait for any predator is eel section. The only drawback with this bait is its tough skin; you will have to be very careful to just ‘nick’ the trebles into it. Another way of ensuring ‘losing’ the bait upon striking is to cut a slit along the section then mount the hooks in the soft flesh underneath.
The most important factor I could recommend to help you catch a zander is location…. First find a water which contains them!!