Saturday was officially the last day of the season for the UK’s rivers (14th March), and as the closed season begins, many look towards 16th June, when they open again. To me, three months without fishing is unconscionable, so I need to get my kicks elsewhere. Fortunately, there are plenty of options in my part of England, so I can plan my angling adventures with no loss in motivation.
That fascinating fish, the zander, is definitely one of my personal favourites. Most of the zander we have in this country are descendants of 65 fingerlings, which were introduced to the Relief Channel in Fenland in the 1960s. They’re remarkable survivors. My guess is that half of those introducees would have been eaten by pike during their first fortnight, making their successful colonisation of many parts of England nothing short of amazing. Culling campaigns in the Fens did little to stop the zander’s migration up the drains, and into the Great Ouse and the Nene. From these rivers, water is pumped into Grafham Water and Rutland Water respectively, and I suppose it was inevitable that eventually “zeds” would turn up in these reservoirs. They did.
Zander are not the best fighters in the fish world, but they give you that heart-jolting take and, on light tackle, can give a reasonable account of themselves. My best one from Grafham (above) weighed just two ounces under seventeen pounds, and had my ‘Bob Church Pike’ fly rod bent double for some minutes before making a grudging appearance at the surface. Days spent back-drifting with fast sinking lines and 4 to 5″ lures can be great fun – and productive too when the fish are in the mood. Pike, perch and the very occasional trout also succumb to this tactic, and believe it or not we have landed more than a few double figure bream, which all add to the fun.
When the reservoirs open up for lure fishing it is legal to use drop-shot tactics, in which small rubber fish-shaped lures are jigged up and down close to the bottom on very light tackle, and this can be really effective in tempting strikes from both zander and perch. Last season I paid a visit to Rutland Water with my drop-shot rod, mainly targeting zander. Though not generally as large as the Grafham fish, Rutland’s zander are there in good numbers, and can make for a very enjoyable session. On the occasion in question, my “Humminbird” fish-finder screen showed plenty of small fish in a depth of 50 to 65 feet, and several slow drifts in the pleasantly light breeze produced a few modest zander, and quite a few perch. Most of the latter were 4 to 8oz, but five of them topped the 2lb mark with the largest at 2lbs 8oz – nice specimens and decent fighters on the light outfit. In the middle of this action my little St Croix rod was almost snatched from my grasp by a powerful take. For a second it felt as though I had hooked a log, until the log surged off in an unstoppable run. I was quite excited, not having caught a 20lb pike for some two years, and I was convinced that was what I was attached to. Twice I seemed to have the beast halfway to the top, when it plunged strongly down into the depths once again. Eventually I caught sight of a silver-looking flash about eight feet down, which didn’t look very ‘pikey’, and was disappointed (to say the least) when minutes later a bloody great big eel wriggled its way to the surface! Reluctantly, and not without difficulty, I managed to get the nasty brute into my net where (fortunately) the hook came out. I could see it was quite a bit bigger than a 5-pounder I had accidentally caught whilst bream fishing six weeks before, and so I encouraged it into a plastic bag where it weighed 6 lbs 11oz – a good one indeed. I fully realize that many fishers out there would have been delighted to catch such a fish, but I don’t care for them. After a quick picture of the eel lying in the net (below), I was pleased to send it snaking back into the depths and to resume what turned out to be another lovely Rutland day.
I imagine that there must be some huge eels in the depths of Rutland Water, but quite frankly it would suit me well if I never saw another one, and as I anticipate the coming spring days, I picture myself besides my favourite Midlands stillwaters and reservoirs, giving the rivers barely a second thought.