Spring Tench Fishing – by Rob Young

It’s 2.30 in the morning the wind is hammering in to my bivvy which is well pegged down but rocking in the gale. In the corner of the big pit where I am fishing there are 3-foot waves crashing in my swim spraying my bivvy, it’s pouring down with rain and I’ve just discovered my gallon of maggots are starting to crawl out the bucket. So, it is out with the maggot riddle and on with the kettle, I sat there thinking to myself ‘welcome to big pit 2020’.

I wish this was the case but it’s not looking good in the UK at the moment with covid 19 looming over us all. Hopefully my article will take your mind of the gloom for a while and inspire you to dust your tench fishing tackle off.

My real love in angling is tench fishing mainly on big pits where all my serious tench fishing is done. I’ve been doing this since the mid-1970s, Ithinkit’s fair to say I’m addicted to big pit fishing. But most of my ideas and methods will work on any water of any size.

Last spring was a fantastic time for me I decided to try and fish some new big pits, it was hard work but the rewards came in the end,  One two night session was one of my best as I was catching day and night continually casting the feeders during the day and spombing every few hours over the spots.

I started early last spring so I could adjust to the new venues and also, I wanted to spend more time on the bank doing what I love, it’s a real challenge but it’s something I need in my angling. I’ve gone 500 hours in between bites on a certain big water but that’s all part of it, the pain is real at times.

Where do we start from, location of course, in my book it’s the most important key to catching on big pits or smaller waters because if you haven’t got them in front of you, you are really going to struggle. Big waters can be very daunting so where do we start well if its local a lot of leg work is involved, walking the chosen venue every night trying to work the place out and what you need to do on it to be successful.

I really can’t stress the importance of location on big waters; in the past, I have spent hours trying to locate Tench are on the waters I fish. This is so important as you could be nearly a mile away from any Tench if you don’t get it right. Picking a swim near the car park or easy access point isn’t going to do you any good. If it involves emptying all your fishing tackle out the car and leaving it somewhere safe so you can spend time to find the fish, then in my opinion it has to be done.

My first starting point would be wind direction; without a doubt, the main factor for Tench location on big pits is the wind, even more so on waters with fewer features. The first thing to start with is getting a compass out or a phone app and work out which wind is going where. The priority would be working out where the southwesterly wind is going, as this is generally the warmer wind and the one Tench will eventually follow. On some waters where there are islands and banks of high trees, this will cause the wind to split.  A southwesterly wind can end up pushing into three banks then you have to take into account if it’s pushing into any bays, causing insect life, hatches, I.e. natural food to be pushed down by the wind which could well get caught up on bars and islands. We all know Tench like the margins; you can find large islands, which also have very good sheltered margins. This is not always a good thing because if it’s an island at 200 yards out from your bank, we may never see the Tench that feed on the distant margins and sometimes I’m convinced that some shoals of Tench can easily spend most of the summer in these island hide always mopping up the naturals. I spend a lot of time observing Tench from trees not like Carp spotting but finding trees that grow over the margins close down to the water level, and you will see the Tench following the margin line, I can then work out there patrol routes and the areas they like to feed in. If I can get near to the areas they feed in I put my chest waders on at the closest access point to where they are and if it’s weedy using a hand rake I will clear a small patch and using a baiting spoon to put my hook bait in position if it’s under the trees and bushes.

Then give them time to come back setting up as close as I can get to them at times this can be two yards from the bank, One of my best Tench had come in using this method, setting the traps the night before then at first light the rod was away and a high nine in the net.

I know some anglers like to split big waters into sections, but in my mind, this is only worth doing if the lake is in different sections to start with. Somewhere where which has two or three main bodies, the Tench tend to stay in the same areas at times as these areas are still about 50 acres in size it’s really not easy. In my experience, you can bait an area and get fish feeding, but as soon as the wind changes the fish will be gone bait or no bait. It is in their instinct to feed with the wind, and this is what they will do, and it is how they are used to finding food. I use the strength of the wind as a gauge to give me an idea of how far to go down on the wind to start looking. If there is a light wind, as a rule, they will not go down fully on it, as it gets stronger there’s more chance of them moving further down the lake as all the food will get pushed down and going in a full spectrum. If the wind is Gail force or close to it there is a very good chance, they will be well down the lake on the bottom of the wind but seeking refuge in a Back Bay or bay to the side or behind a point or outcrop of bank. At times this is going to involve looking for hour’s morning and evening, which is the most likely the time that they are going to show.

Having a good understanding of the underwater features is a massive help and a must in my book, in one of the big pits that I fish the Tench will readily roll and show themselves. In another 120-acre water, they seem to be very shy at doing this, but there are signs like fizzing and tail slapping, which is obviously a massive help. As we all know Tench like weed and are nearly always found in the vicinity of weed either for food safety from predators and on some waters where I fish the weed can grow up to nine or ten feet in the water. Tench seem to like areas where the depth changes, i.e. marginal slopes, ledges, steep drop-offs, islands, bars, plateaus and humps are all good starting points. As we know on smaller waters, there are normally swims that hold Tench on most days but on bigger waters the Tench are more nomadic even more so with a water with fewer features. However, when the wind pushes them into an area, there will always be areas where the food collects or blood worm beds where they visit when in these areas which they do tend to prefer and at times they can even seem resident there till the wind changes. It is finding these spots which is important and using three rods is a great help, once this or these spots are found it is amazing how much angling pressure these Tench can take and you just have to sit and pray the weather forecast is wrong when they predict a wind change because they will move no matter how much bait is there. The Tench are quick to move off a wind but seem to be slower moving on it; they seem to arrive in small groups to get to an area on a consistent wind and on the second and third day of this wind more Tench will drift into the area.

Margins: as I said earlier if I can find them in the margins, it’s where I like them. For all my margin fishing and up to 30 yards range I use 1.5 TC through action rods small bait runner reels filled with a quality 10lb line like Hydrotuff [Low viz green] at any distance over three-rod lengths I always use distance sticks so I’m always clipped up and bang on the spots every time, as. There’s a significant advantage of fishing at a short distance as I am able to rake the swim just enough to fit the number of rods I’m planning to use. If I’m at really close range, I use a hand rake and baiting spoon to get the bait in position as I mentioned earlier, on all my rods I use Gardner flying back leads to keep the line down unless there’s swan mussels and other obstacles that can damage the line or effect the line lay.

Mid-Range: 30 yards plus: Most of my fishing at this range is done with 2.0 TC rods, which are a little bit stiffer than my lighter rods, slightly bigger reels filled with Hydrotuff [Low viz green] 12lb line. You can’t rake the weed at this range, so I spend the time needed to make sure I’m fishing clear spots, or if there isn’t any, then I feel for the lighter weeded spots and fish baits popped up over the top. If I’m working feeders, then I’m casting them as often is required to keep the maggots going in and bringing the fish down to my hook baits. Either casting every 20mins to an hour, it pays to remember an empty feeder is a dead feeder so as soon as it empties recast it, if you want to slow down the maggots leaving the feeders then tape up some of the holes to lengthen the release time. If you are fishing helicopter rigs, then tape up the lower holes, so the maggots escape upwards and vice versa if you are using inline feeders. I use all types of feeder’s, maggot feeders and open-end feeders, either inline or with swivels on the end for Heli rigs.

Long Distance 60 – 100yards

I use 2.5 TC through action Rods for my long-distance fishing greys prodigies are my weapon of choice, big pit reels loaded with Hydrotuff [Low viz green] 12lb line. It’s not something I like doing, but if the fish are showing at range in holes in the wind I want to be able to get to them, using these rods in an incoming wind I can cast to the spot first time, not thrashing the water to foam trying to hit the spot with lesser rods. I usually fish a lead clip system at range with a Gardner PVA mesh bag loaded with casters, Maggots or pellet when fishing with corn. I’m casting out for up to 12 hours at a time and spombing over the top every so often to keep the bait going in.

On some waters, in the past, I have just fished the days returning each morning and going home at night, but these days I much prefer to be bivvied up three or four days at a time. Getting up at 4 am every morning looking for fish and getting the feeders working I will keep this up till dark, its hard work but it will pay you the dividends. Every cast making sure my line is clipped up and hitting the spot if I’m catching fish then spombing every so often to keep the bait topped up. If I’ve got a rubber caster rig out and not using a feeder, I will spomb over the top.

It’s worth remembering that if you are struggling in the weed with feeders use leads clip systems to avoid any damage to the fish.

Baiting up: For all my baiting up and marking I use a Gardner application 4.1\2 TC rod. For years I have used parti mix with pellets, maggots and casters. But most recently I’ve been using a lot less bait, and it’s been working for me. To start the session, I will put a cup for Super Seed hemp over each spot followed by one to two pints of micro pellet which is presoaked in Krill & Tuna oil for about a week or longer, then maybe a handful of maggots, plus a hand full of castors, then topping it up with feeders as I go. If fish are feeding and showing in my swim and I feel the feed is being cleared. I will spomb out a very wet Special G Green mixed with a sloppy method mix, I tend to use two mixed together Krill & Tuna and Sweet Coconut, remember keep them sloppy with lots of maggots and Krill & Tuna oil. This will cause a cloud and bring the fish on to my hook baits as you spomb them out.

Using this pellet oil method gives me a massive advantage because as soon as a fish moves over my oily pellets a slick will rise to the surface and I will know I have fish in the area and I can react to this.ie recasting feeders or spombing over the top of my hook baits to get a response. For this reason, I will keep an eye on my area constantly.

Rigs: as with all my rigs I keep them very basic using four inches of Gardner Super Soft ultra-skin Green or brown, depending on the bottom coated braid striped back half an inch with inline feeders or Heli rigs and 6 inch of the same coated braid striped back half an inch for a lead system.

When I’m fishing a short popped up rig, I use 10lb Mirage fluorocarbon hook links using Gardner Red Zig-Rig Foam with live maggots.

Hook baits: most of my hook baits are various combinations of plastic baits on the hair with live maggots on the hook.

Two or three rubber casters with a small mesh bag of real casters attached. Rubber maggots normally three rubber maggots on the hair and two live maggots on the hook. Rubber corn is often my nighttime rig, a single plastic corn balanced by the hook sat upright.

Popped up maggots straight of the feeder. Consisting of a small piece of Gardner Red Zig-Rig Foam cut to the shape of a maggot on the hair then I’m using a size 12 hook three live maggots on the hook.

Having tested the Gardner Target Specimen hooks in size 14,12 and 10 for my Barbel fishing last winter I’m am 100% confident in using them for all my Tench fishing as I believe they are the best hooks out there.

On most sessions’ situations change so be ready for anything, making sure you have spare clothing, spare batteries, tackle, i.e. line etc., water and food in the car for back up as the spring weather conditions can change at any time.

Over the years as I change venues it’s amazing how the Tench change their habits from water to water, On one water I use to fish the Tench could be rolling in your swim for days with no indication of them feeding then all of a sudden the rolling stops and then all hell breaks loose. Feeding times can also change from venue to venue. I keep a log of every fish I catch and the time and bait.

For the last part of this article, I have decided to log my last two Tench sessions with the first one being four nights and the second three nights on a big pit. Whether I catch or not I’m going to log everything from highs and lows of a long session, how I go about things from the beginning to the end. On the ultra-hard waters, I have fished over the last few years I have been averaging about ten Tench a season. I highly recommend joining the Tench fishers’ group I’ve been a member for about eight years and write regularly for their bi-yearly magazine.

I arrived after work on a Tuesday afternoon the prime time on most waters is early morning, so I try and get in position the night before everything set up and baited. Checking the wind on my weather app, it was all over the place, and I was guessing the fish would be in the central zone of the lake; the area I wanted to fish was taken so I got back in the car and drove round to the other side.

I loaded my barrow up as there’s no car park here and I’m leaving my car out on the main road so you can’t risk leaving anything of any value in the car. It’s very deep water, but the margins are shallow in places so using the marker rod and chest waders to cast about’ it’s not easy as there are no proper swims as such and to cast correctly you need to wade out in the water due to overhanging trees. I slowly worked my way down the lake the first three areas were solid weed and minimal features. The fourth area I waded into was very tight, but there was a deep gully at 40yards range it felt good, I got one of my regular rods with a lead and hook on it off my barrow to cast around the marker, it felt good just very tight and with a steep bank. Walking down the bank, I managed to find a safer access point to the water with a little bit more room to cast. The wind was coming in at me, so it would be a good starting point. 

Time was getting on; I only had just a couple of hours before dark as this whole swim finding process had taken over two hours. I rapidly got my three rods out then spombed over the top, which often brings me a bite if I’m on fish this took about an hour and then I set up camp all the time watching the water.

It was nearly dark at this point, so just before my last recast, I got the rods in and went to move my car a bit closer. Then I realized how far I had pushed my barrow to find a swim as it took me nearly 30 minutes to get back to the car. Lucky for me there was a friendly farmer who let me park at the edge of a field about 200 yards from my spot.

I got back to the rods and put them out for the night, I know a lot of Tench anglers don’t fish the nights but I’ve done well at nights and I don’t want a shoal of big females visiting my swim at night then moving on the wind and not coming back.

Just before dark, I started to see the odd Tench show at about 80yards in front of me which was a sight for sore eyes; it had been a long day starting at work then straight down the lake.

The wind direction was changing all night, and at first light, a very big Tench popped right up on my spot.  I gave it a while then recast the rods two with feeders and popped up maggots, as I didn’t trust the bottom. I was getting line bites, and nice flat oil spots kept appearing over my area. At about 9 am my middle rod was away, it went straight into the weed I managed to slowly get it moving with everything looking good, I got in the water to meet it with the net, and the hook pulled. I quickly changed the hook link and checked the first 40 yards of line on the yardage sticks for any damage and got it back out.

That was it not another knock or show, most the morning I had been stood in the water watching some of the lake I could see and about half a mile away I had seen fish showing and at 2 pm I went for a walk with a marker rod and the fish still seemed to be there. I made a massive decision to move, yes there was a good chance I was moving off fish, but I really wasn’t feeling it, there was defiantly fish in the new area. The sun was out, I’m not getting any younger, in fact, I’m old, and that barrow push killed me marking and spombing a new swim was really tough going.

But as my friends know when I’m fishing, I’m none stop. The next morning came and went, and nothing happened the whole lake looked dead as an easterly wind had picked up. I decided to sit it out in my current swim and was rewarded on the third morning of my session with a 8.14 female. Then on the last morning, I managed a 6.6 female tough going was the word, but I went home happy.

The second session couldn’t come soon enough, and after a full day at work I was on my way. This time when I got to the water, I only had two hours before dark, and there was a southwesterly wind coming in. I couldn’t see any other anglers and decided to go into the same swim as last week. I got the spombing and everything done before dark, nothing was really showing, and I watched the water most the night and, in the morning got to work but the first 12 hours were tranquil, fish started to show over my area. I had a take on the first morning and straight into weed and through the line of my other rod and resulting in a quick hook pull gutted. I decided to go down to two rods, and I decided to stop fishing feeders at this point, as I was sure they were backing off them. But I would spomb over the top with a wet mix of ground bait.

Nothing happened the next 24 hours other than me beating myself up for losing that fish the pain was real. On the second morning, more fish started to show, and I had a missed take at 7 am, and then after a quick recast, I had a take resulting in a 6.8 male which was a good feeling followed by another male of 6.2. Carefully using a small spomb to apply a sloppy mix I then had a one toner and epic battle with a PB male of 7.10, I put it in the retainer to sort my camera and tripod, and my other rod was away this time a female of 9.6 Came to the net what a brace and what a feeling.

That afternoon I had another two fish, a 7.0 male and an 8.2 female. The last morning arrived, I was out of food. I had some water, and the maggots were getting low, but I was on fish. I was running out of PVA mesh, but luckily for me, I managed to find a small tube of it in the car. I like to do my own thing, find my own waters and keep myself to myself. Well, the last morning went in a blur I managed four more Tench, all of which were males 7.4-7.3-7.4-7.6 in that order happy with that ten Tench in a session from such a difficult water. I could catch 7lb+ male Tench all season to be honest; they are such a pleasure to catch.


Rob Young

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