Friday, 3 March 2017

How to... Catch Your First Zander

Zander; the enigmatic, Marmite species of our waterways. Maligned and revered in equal measure, I once read an article in Match Fishing magazine, where the author referred to them as "vermin". For other anglers, however, the zander provides unrivalled levels of fascination and intrigue. Perhaps this is due to the fact that, unless you catch one, you are unlikely to ever see one in the flesh, for they hide in murky waters and seldom make their presence known.

For those of us who live in the Westcountry, hitting the M5 is essential if you want to catch yourself a zed. The Gloucester Canal and the Severn may contain the real brutes, but for almost guaranteed success, I can recommend nowhere more highly than the Midland canal network, where this species has thrived and multiple catches are not just a possibility but actually very likely.

A lot of nonsense has been written about the zander over the years, ever since the days when it was considered a hybrid of pike and perch. Lure fishing was once considered a non-starter, yet today it accounts for eye-watering numbers of zander. Indeed, the erstwhile pike-perch is the very backbone of much of the canal fishing offered by the Warwickshire-based Lure Anglers Canal Club.

Mick Newey shows what is possible from the Midland canal
network, with this 7lb-plus specimen. You can expect the average
capture to weigh much less however, and a zander of more
than five pounds would require no shortage of luck and a good
dose of local knowledge to track down.
Whilst those old wives' tales are now widely accepted as fallacies, the zander still has attached to it the misconception that it is a pernickety feeder; resistance-shy and only willing to accept the freshest of baits. My own experiences, and those of my angling pals in the Midlands, suggests otherwise, at least in relation to those fish which inhabit the canals in those parts. I have heard stories of days when zander have been caught on the mankiest pieces of old fish. Idler Jeff Hatt even boasts of having caught zander on deadbaits which have been used (yes; cast into the cut), refrozen, and then used again, whilst half of my own captures have taken a liking to fish baits caught half a week previous, which were simply kept in the boot of my car.

But what of the tackle required to fish for zander? Ledgering certainly works, however my own approach is to use a pair of Avon rods and a couple of overshotted loafer floats taking eight grams of shot, attached bottom-end only. The float is fixed to a monofilament mainline of 10lb breaking strain, between a couple of 2SSGs. The mainline is then tied to a swivel, which is attached to a 12lb wire trace of around 12" in length. Immediately above the swivel is a third 2SSG shot, which would be enough to submerge the float. The depth should therefore be set such that the final shot is laying no more than a couple of inches on the bottom, so that the float is visible.

The key components of my zander float rig
Zander tend to pick up a bait and move off with it quickly. It is not difficult to imagine the sequence of events playing out between the biter and his shoal mates as the float zips off in different directions before sliding under. The Benny Hill theme tune would be a fitting accompaniment. A bite which sees the float submerge purposefully and without diverting its course provides even greater excitement, for it is characteristic of a much better fish.

I have yet to mention hook selection, and this is because the choice of hook is the most contentious issue in a zander set-up. This fish has an exceptionally hard and bony jaw which is difficult to penetrate with the point of any hook. We must therefore seek to position the point of the hook in the most fleshy area of the mouth prior to striking - the "scissors'. In my mind, there is only one way to do this, and that is by using a circle hook.

To set a circle hook, an angler does not "strike" in the traditional sense, but merely points the rod at the fish and steadily takes up the slack until resistance is felt. This ensures that the hook is pulled to the front of the mouth (the in-turned point prevents it from catching before then), prior to it rolling around the jaw and finding purchase as the fish turns away. The behaviour of a feeding zander and the visible aspect of float fishing enables you to determine the fish's direction of travel before tightening. As soon as a run starts to develop, I will pick up the rod and then position myself on the towpath in such a way that I create the greatest possible angle between the fishes direction of travel and that of the line being reclaimed by the reel. An angle of 180° is optimum for a successful hook-up, which means that the fish is swimming directly away from you, however it is not essential, and the setting of the hook must not be unduly delayed if this angle does not perfectly present itself.

I do not recommend livebaiting on these canals for the simple reason that catching a fish of the right size can take some time and eat too far into your zander session. My own first foray into canal zandering saw me include a whip and half a pint of pinkies in my arsenal. Two hours later, I was still without an indication and so committed myself to the two rod approach with a half a small dead chublet on each (dead bleak is also a bait I have had a lot of success with). Within half an hour, I'd caught my first canal zander.

Exploring the canals is great fun
The bite from that fish came in a turning bay, seconds after a boat had passed, churning up the bottom and leaving the canal with less clarity than a Louis van Gaal post-match interview. Yet this event had provided the perfect environment for this unusual predator to hunt in; its large, glassy eye giving it the advantage over its prey in the gloomy depths. Boat traffic and locks in operation may be a nuisance where they constantly require you to reposition a bait, but the angler should also consider these incidents as opportunities to capitalise upon; the catalyst by which a previously inactive fish is spurred into feeding.

Fishing early or late in the day will help you to avoid boat traffic, but as zander will feed throughout the day (another myth debunked), then you may want to find ways to avoid the boats when they are at their busiest. Look for barges moored on the near bank - zander can be caught extremely close in - or consider crossing the canal and fishing in the overflows of lock flights. The latter feature will also give you the added draw of regular turbulence which, as already discussed, can often prompt a pack of zander to start hunting. Other features are the same as you would expect for the other predatory species; overhanging trees, junctions, turning bays, and the like. Often zander will respond very quickly to a deadbait dropped nearby, so keep moving until you find the fish and, when you do, you can expect more from precisely the same spot.

This article is not for those who wish to know exactly where to catch their first zander - that information is already easily accessible via a quick Google search - but to give an overview of my own approach to catching zander and point you in the general direction of where I feel your best chance of grappling with one lies. Hopefully, the advice contained herein will give you the confidence you need to give this beguiling fish a go for yourself.


  1. Many thanks to Mick Newey for permission to use the first photograph in this article. Those interested in zander fishing on the Midland canal network can do worse than check out his blog at

  2. Great article, a bit confused though about the optimum hook-up angle. Earlier you mention pointing the rod directly at the fish then later mention 180 degrees creating the greatest possible angle?

    1. Hi GW, many thanks for the feedback. That part is poorly explained and could probably do with rewording or at the very least some clarity here:

      When a Zander 'runs' and you begin to take up slack, you have a force pulling line in two directions; that which the fish is heading, and that being reclaimed by the reel. Between that there is a pivot point - the rod tip. So that's where the angle is created, with 180 degrees being the angle from fish to reel, around the rod top, if you are pointing the rod directly at it. Remember that we are talking about direction rather than simply position; therefore you could have a rod pointing straight at the fish, but if that fish is swimming towards you, then reel and fish are pulling line in the same direction, so that's a zero degree angle, not a 180 degree one! To get that angle to 180, you would have to stand in the canal, which few of us are willing to do, so in that scenario you would try and create the greatest possible angle, which would probably involve a few steps right or left, to create an angle of about 90 degrees, and that is often enough. You might ask why you can't simply point the rod to 90 degrees from your same position, and you could, and it would increase your chance of hooking up, but I also believe that the probability of a successful hook up, with a circle hook, is inversely proportional to the force absorbed by the rod tip as the hook takes hold; I.e, the more the rod bends on the hook setting, the less likelihood of a successful hook-up.

      So create that angle, and point the rod at the fish so it doesn't bend when you take up line, and you will hopefully get a decent hook hold.

      I hope this helps. Otherwise, I might have to include diagrams!


  3. Many thanks for the explanation, and sorry for my lateness in replying (I couldn't remember which blog this article was on!)
    I think I'm there with your explanation, which is interesting as I've tended to use the bend in the rod to help set the circle. But I have missed a few when I felt I shouldn't so played around with the presentation thinking that was the issue.
    Looking forward to trying this out, many thanks.