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In Search of a Seven

If there is one fish that really gets the hackles on my back stirring then it is the Tench. Since I caught my first one aged 7 years old, I have had a love affair which is still as strong today as it ever was. The first time I caught one, it was the shear terror I felt from their awesome power on my little 11ft glass fibre match rod that first got my attention. I was used to catching roach, perch, rudd and maybe the odd skimmer on the canal where I was learning my trade. On this session the pin prick bubbles appeared in my swim, my float dipped, I struck and all hell broke lose. As I tried my best to tame the beast, white with shock, my father watched by with a smile on his face loving my horror as it uprooted lillies and took line as I wildly back wound my trusty Mitchell 300.

When I eventually got it into my landing net and saw the beauty of its smooth scaleless-like body and amusingly small barbules I knew this was the fish for me. Although it was probably no more than 3lb it had faught harder than anything I had ever hooked.

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30 years on and having caught most species that swim in Ireland, it is still the Tench that enters my mind as I lie in bed at night having fishy dreams. Over the years I have caught literally thousands of them and as much as I like a busy session on the water bagging up, I much prefer sitting it out in the hope that when my float or alarm beeps the next time that it is the tench of my dreams.

At the start of the year my target was to pursue some of the bigger tench that swim our waters. In Ireland, 6lb is the benchmark for a specimen, and a 7lb fish is a damn good fish whereas the record stands at 8lb 2oz or so. So 7lb was the target for the year and although there are quite a few waters that hold such fish, they are not all that common to catch, partly due to the small amount of angling pressure they receive in ratio to the amount of water available here in Ireland and also the fact that at times they can become intolerantly moody.

My approach over the years has been to do overnighters at waters as often as possible in the peak times of year to hopefully put the odds in my favour. The reason for doing overnight sessions is due to big fish waters being that bit further from my home to just pop up for evening or morning sessions. The waters I would approach would either be ones I have done well on in the past, others that have a history of bigger fish or in more recent years ones I have done some background research and have a hunch with.

My aim this year was to scrap the scatterball approach of hitting various big fish waters and to concentrate on maybe 2 waters and work them for the season. My feeling is that a lot more waters hold 7lb tench than we think and if you stick at your chosen waters, keep them fed and work hard at them, the rewards are there. From talking to some of the better anglers out there who target big tench, this is definitely their prefered approach.

My season started well and my first proper session with a fishing buddy saw us bag a whopping 200lb plus bag of early season tench. Although the lake in question has done some good fish in the past, all the fish seemed to be quite light as they had only woken up from their winter slumber and we didnt get any much bigger than 5lb. However it certainly blew the winter cobwebs away and was the perfect start to the tench season.

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From there we headed on to another new water earmarked for the season and we planned to just stick it out come what may. Although fishing was a lot slower due to it having a much lower stock density, the hope of latching onto a bigger fish made it all the more enjoyable. Fishing was hot and cold but I got to find out a lot more about the lake and its moods. Factors like what winds they preffered, their feeding times, baits and successful rigs all made the jigsaw come together. Then just when you thought you had a handle on them and things were coming together, you would blank for the next couple of sessions. The joys of tench fishing.

One thing I found about the water was that I was having next to no joy on my ledger tactics and in that I mean the rods on alarms with either a maggot or method feeder or even small pva bags of castor with a couple of fakes on the hair. All my fish were coming to float tactics.

This didn’t put me off though as I do prefer to fish the float as much as possible and the lake although solid with weed was enjoyable to fish with this way. Silver fish would keep me occupied for the most time but you knew when you were in the witching hour when they buggered off and things went quiet. The next bite would invariably be a tench and that would be the way for an hour before it got too dark at night or too bright in the morning.

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The float tactics could not have been simpler with a crude set-up designed to land any fish hooked instead of delicate presentation for more bites. I used good old 8lb Daiwa Sensor mainline straight through to a size 12 Drennan wide gape hook with a bodied waggler set with 4AAA.

As I said previously, the fishing was not hectic but a couple of fish in a session was the norm and the average size was a very respectable 4-5lb. I was even getting quite a few 5lb males which boded well that the water might hold some better females.

One of the enjoyable things about fishing this water was that although I didn’t see much fizzing, they would put on quite a performance of rolling just as feeding time approached . With this activity you could see them at quite close quarters as they nosed out of the water and porpoised before flicking their tails to power down the depths, in doing so showing their approximate size. At first they all looked a decent size but after a few nights of watching this ritual every so often you would catch a glimpse of some much bigger ones and you knew as long as you kept plugging away, you were in with a chance as the were definitely in the area.

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As the season progressed the target fish was still eluding me and my main worry was that the weather was changing with a settled high pressure and prolonged heat wave kicking in causing the fish to start showing signs of getting ready to spawn. On maybe my 8th or 9th visit to the lake I was hearing fishing splashing in the weedbeds and I was sure they were getting down to it. That session a 6lb 8oz fish was caught and it was a long lean fish that I couldn’t be sure had spawned or not. This was not too worrying as if they had and fish of that weight were there then surely a 7lb spawned out fish was possible.

The next overnighter went much the way of the previous sessions and I managed 3 fish that evening to 5lb 10oz, however they were all good stocky fish that didnt look like they had recently been getting down and dirty. That night also saw me lose a good fish which might have been landed if I had not been so hard with it. Obviously I didn’t want to lose them to the weed but I felt I was giving it just a bit to much welly.

The following morning I was up at 3.50am and sat and watched the lake for 20 minutes with a coffee as the sun started to peak over the horizon. Things looked good for a fish or two with some good tench rolling over the baited area. I cast my float out at 4am and although fish were showing we couldn’t buy a bite from either a tench or a silver. I was using a variety of baits on the hook from my usual cocktail of corn and caster, to worm, pellet, red maggots and even bread. By 7am it was starting to heat up and I thought my chance had gone for this session however I said I would not move until I got at least one bite.

My chance came half an hour later when my float baited with a favourite combo of 3 castor and 3 red maggots slid away out of the blue and I struck into what was obviously a decent tench. Remembering my mistake the night before I was a little more gentle with the fish and apart from one or two runs towards the rush beds I was in control of the fight. Into the net she went and at first I thought it might scrape 6lb, however my mate Craig said I was off my rocker and it was a proper lump. It wasn’t until I lifted her from the water that I noticed the frame and weight of it. Surely this wasn’t it.

Craig said will we get her on the scales straight away and I agreed still rambling on about it being a mid 6lber, however he was slagging me saying I was well off and it was well over 7lb. We put her into a bag and onto his calibrated scales that were zeroed and it went down to 7lb 10ozs. I had done it and by quite a bit.

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Over the moon was not the word and only after cradling her in my hands for the pictures did I realise the actual size of her and how lucky I was to have landed such a fish. Her bulk was immense but in proportion to her body with her not being overweight from spawn. The fact that it was only 8 or 9 ounces under the long running record only dawned on me whilst sitting down with a celebratery cigeratte and a coffee ten minutes later. I was literally grinning like a cat for the next few days.

Having read Keith Berry’s insperational article in the Tenchfishers book about catching his impossible tench of 8lb9ozs after setting several targets for himself over the years, I think that have to set my target now towards an 8lb tench no matter how hard it will be. Whether I will ever see let alone catch an Irish 8lb fish is another matter as they are as rare as hens teeth. I know a few people who have achieved it over the years and although it will be difficult, you are always in with a chance if you are fishing a water that contains them. As the saying goes, you can only catch whats in front of you and if you are not on a water that holds fish of this size then no matter how hard you fish you are never going to achieve your goal. So I will continue to fish the lake in the hope that I have not caught the biggest one in there but still savour every moment on the bank no matter how big the tench are I catch.

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One thing I don’t want to do is get blinkered and devalue smaller fish along the way and forget the reason I first fell in love with them in all those years ago.

For the rest of the season I will still be doing some sessions for tench but I also aim to try and get myself a double figure bream and a wily carp or two from one of the relatively unfshed waters I have on my doorstep before the pike season rolls in.

Until next time, tight lines.