I got this season’s predator campaign off to a great start last week, when I tackled the Trent near Nottingham. After fishing elsewhere all day to try and catch perch, river carp and barbel, I arrived at the river about an hour before sunset, having caught none of the species I‘d been trying for. I hadn’t managed to catch any fresh deadbaits either, so all the zander bait I had with me was a frozen pack of 5 small roach. It was going to be tough to make them last, but targeting zander I was only expecting a couple of runs anyway.
I setup two rods with low-resistance run rings, which I’d adapted and added some small pieces of foam to pop the rig up and keep the line out of the Autumn debris on the riverbed. There are similar items on the market, called leger stems, but I’ve never been happy with their quality so I make my own. They’re simple and cheap and I’ll go through exactly how I put them together in a future feature. The run ring rests on a run rig rubber, which incorporates a small boom that helps the rig stay tangle-free, otherwise it‘s pointless fishing a low-resistance rig in the first place. My traces were pretty standard, consisting of a supple 49-strand wire in 20lb breaking strain and a pair of size 10 semi-barbed trebles set a couple of inches apart.
I’d chosen a stretch with a few overhanging trees that I knew to have some deep holes beneath them. The first rig went out into one of these holes and before I’d had chance to rig up the second rod, the rollover indicator lifted then fell, as the line slid off it and began spilling from the open spool. Spilling rig components everywhere, I dashed to the rod and struck into what I initially thought could be a zander. It turned out instead to be a pike of around 7lb. It was the first fish to grace the Cyprinus unhooking mat I was testing out. I was hoping to christen it with a river carp or barbel earlier in the day, but they hadn’t read the script quite as intently as this pike had.
After a couple of quick snaps on the mat, the fish was returned. Luckily, I salvaged the bait from the pike’s jaws and this time cast out both rods, but it wasn’t long before that bait was lost to a dropped run. This left me with just three baits and so far, no zander! Dilemma; should I go all guns blazing for a big fish with whole baits or hedge my bets that more runs were on the cards and half baits instead? It was only just getting dark and the night was still young, so I opted to chop the remaining baits in half.
A roach tail went back out into the deep hole and within half an hour a third run developed to this rod. I set the hooks well and very quickly I saw the fish roll on the inky river surface. My initial thoughts were that this must be a zander, but I soon had to re-evaluate because the fish woke up and gave me the most tremendous fight! I was atop a 6 foot-high bank and had low tree branches on both sides of me. In the pitch black I had to be mindful of where the fish was heading, as I couldn’t see the line entering the water and it could easily snag me close-in. I took the landing net in my left hand and crouched on the edge of the bank to try and net the fish quickly. I lost my balance and fell forward, plummeting towards the river. Somehow, I managed to land on my feet and luckily landed on the marginal shelf, before the depth fell away to 8 feet-plus and furthermore I was still connected to the fish! I managed to land the fish and clamber my way back to the top of the bank, where I could finally examine my prize. It was my first double-figure pike of the season, which after the whole encounter of the battle was a welcome relief. I returned the fish and cast out another roach tail.
I was just regaining my composure and realising how lucky I was with my near miss when I was in again on the same rod. It was another fish which initially gave the impression of a heavy zander, then burst into life and made a few very powerful runs. This was another pike, and a good one at that. It weighed 16lb 14oz and at this point I could well have packed up and gone home happy.
I decided to fish on though, and moved down to another swim, also with overhanging trees either side. I dropped a bait just a few feet out and sat back to tie up some new traces while I waited to see if there was a zander in this swim with my name on it. I was just making the final crimp on the first trace when my bite alarm signalled another take. Again I was fooled into thinking I’d hooked a zander, though this was obviously a much smaller fish. I netted it without too much hassle, but when I lifted the net up the bank it was empty! I netted the fish once more and soon it became clear how this finned Houdini had managed its daring escape; I’d caught an eel. Thankfully it was hooked cleanly in the top lip with the end treble, so unhooking was less of an ordeal than I’d feared and as it was so long since I caught an eel, I decided a photo was worth the inevitable slimy wrestle.
By this point I’d had a memorable evening but still hadn’t caught what I was there for. The emphatic action had given me confidence that there was still a chance, so out went my last roach head for a final roll of the dice. Within 20 minutes this bait was picked up and upon striking I felt a good fish shake its head, but otherwise it put up very little fight. Surely this was finally the zander I’d waited all evening for? As I lifted the net from the water, in the feint moonlight I could see that the tail shape was not that of a pike and it certainly wasn’t an eel! My after-dark hat-trick of predators was complete with this 7lb 4oz zander and it meant I’d broken my duck for the season for all three species, all in the same night.