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Andy Black

Andy Black

A passionate predator angler, Andy travels all around the UK for his predator fishing fix. He can often be found Jigging for Zander on tidal Rivers, ledgering for Pike on the Fens, or even chucking Pike flies on the reservoirs.

An accomplished writer, with a diploma and a BSc degree in Fisheries Science, Andy is a regular contributor to various coarse and predator fishing magazines including Angler's Mail and Pike and Predators.

Andy's Current PB's

Pike: 29.15lb
Perch: 4.8lb
Zander: 18.08lb
Eel: 7.02lb
Catfish (English): 31.00lb

Ledger Stems

I confess to using ledger stems for nearly all my fishing if I'm presenting a bait on the bottom. They are great for keeping your mainline out of weed, or above debris on the bottom. Yes, they fold down when you tighten up to them, but that's not a problem, as they have done their job before this by keeping the run ring out of any obstructions. When a fish takes with open bail arm fishing, the ledger stem will pop right up again, and allow the main line to pull though the ring easily.

There are a lot of commercially made ledger stems that you can use off the shelf. I like the Greys Prowla Fledger ones but it's also relatively easy to make your own. The bonus of this is that you can make them as long as you want.

What You Need

  • Prowla Pop-up Pears
  • Prowla Lead Clips
  • Prowla T-snap Rolling Swivels
  • Prowla Crimp Covers (large)
  • A spool of 100 -150lb mono or fluorocarbon
  • Double barrelled crimps and a crimping tool

Method

1. Cut a length of heavy mono, this will be the length of your ledger stem so make it as long as you want. Dismantle the pop-up pear.

2. Firstly crimp on the t-snap swivel to one end of the mono.

3. Then thread on a crimp cover and push this down over the crimp and swivel. Then thread on the pop-up pear.

4. Thread on another crimp cover, then crimp on the lead clip.

5. Push the crimp cover over the crimp and onto the lead clip, then push the pop-up pear over the crimp cover and the lead clip, so it's a tight fit and only the run ring is showing.

Top Tips

1. If you want to fish a ledger stem with a weak link, to drop the lead quickly should it get snagged, it's simple to add a paper clip to the bottom of it, it's a trick I use especially on the rivers where there are lots of rocks etc., where your lead can get snagged easily. If your lead gets snagged, the paper clip can open up easily, with a bit of gentle pressure, and will ditch the lead. Obviously this is only ok for close-in work, you wouldn't want to go power casting with one.

2. Sometimes, when using braid, it can cut into some run rings on the ledger stems, and this can cause them not to run as freely, to prevent this you can use metal run rings such as those mounted on the Prowla Fledger Booms. An alternative is to incorporate a short length of mono or fluorocarbon from your main line to the trace for the ledger stem to run on smoothly. I like to use a 6 - 8ft length of 20 - 30lb mono for this, it also acts as a rubbing leader to prevent your braided mainline coming into contact with the fish, which can in rare instances cause damage if the fish rolls on it.

Pop-Ups

How many times does a Pike see a dead fish hovering two feet off the bottom? It doesn't. A dead fish is just that, dead. It either has no buoyancy i.e. it's sunk to the bottom, or it's been busy decomposing, and the internal gasses will lift it to the surface. So a bait presented in this way must look very strange to the Pike.

But why do Pike take them in the first place when really it must be the most unnatural presentation available? Pike might not be the most intelligent of fish and may think that anything could be food. So if a bait is presented right where they are swimming, it will be investigated, and often taken.

I tend to use pop-ups in two circumstances; firstly when fishing over weed where I want to make sure that the bait is sitting just above it and not fouled in the salad, and secondly when I'm fishing for patrolling Pike. Here I like to fish with the bait around two feet up from the bottom as this seems to be a good estimate of where Pike normally swim when moving from spot to spot. If you ever get to see Pike swimming naturally in the water they are nearly always at this depth. I have picked them up on side imaging moving around like this. I don't know why it is such a critical position, but they seem to like it, so it's a good place to put a bait.

Mechanics of a Pop-Up

There are several ways to pop-up a deadbait- some are simple, some are a bit more complex, and they all have their benefits.

Injection

Arguably the simplest way is to inject air directly into the bait with a hypodermic needle. This is an easy method to use. You need to put the needle into the fish's body cavity and gently fill it up like a balloon. I like this method as it's easy to do and you can quickly change the buoyancy of the bait. It's not permanent though, the air will eventually leach out and the bait will eventually sink. You can make the bait slightly buoyant without too much fiddling and after a while it will sink, so it's ideal for presenting a bait above soft weed or silt where you want the bait to settle gently on top of it. The disadvantage of this method is that you need to use a defrosted bait, which can mean that casting can be tricky.

Poppers

These are generally foam or polystyrene balls that are attached to your trace, usually via a secondary piece of wire. This is then threaded through the bait with a baiting needle and clipped to the main hook trace to stop it coming off. The advantage of this method is that it's permanent; there will be no change in buoyancy so the bait won't sink over time. This is a great method for presenting a bait in the two foot patrol zone as it will stay there. It is a bit fiddly to do however, and you need a semi-defrosted bait to thread with the baiting needle, and it can be a bit dangerous to do with cold hands.

Inserts

These are normally balsa or foam sticks that are pushed into the bait to make it buoyant. This is a really easy way to convert a deadbait to a permanent buoyant bait.

I like to use the Greys Prowla Dead Bait Pop Up Floats for this. They simply screw into the bait so you can even use them on frozen baits. I also like the red sight blob on the end that adds a bit of colour to the bait once it's popped. These, like standard poppers do need to be wired in to the main trace however, as you don't want to lose one on every take!

Safety

When you are using pop-ups for Pike fishing, especially with float rigs, you need to be aware that (depending on the angle) the mainline can be very close to the baited trace. This can lead to bite-offs as the Pike can swim into the main line when going for the bait. The simplest way to prevent this is to use an up-trace. Really, if you're fishing float rigs for Pike anyway, you should always use some sort of up-trace to prevent bite- offs. Prowla make the Safe System Ready-Made Up Traces that are available with different weights, so there really is no excuse for not using one.

For fishing over weed or in deep water, I like to use the Prowla Safe System Pop-Up Boom. This works by using some stiff boom tubing between your hook trace and the mainline, and keeps them apart on the descent. The weighting system is such that it sinks parallel and this not only prevents tangles, but it means that it will sit nicely on top of any weed, assisting your slow sinking pop-up to also rest gently on top of it -where a Pike might be feeding.

Extreme Range Pike Fishing

There are some situations where long range fishing is necessary in order to catch Pike. Some anglers using specialised kit and casting techniques can reach reasonable distance when fishing with small deadbaits but, if you want to use large baits or livebaits, the only real way to do it effectively is with the use of a bait boat. A bait boat offers the opportunity to fish at extreme range for Pike, well out of casting range. When fishing at such long distances, there are some things that should be taken into account, not least the ground that you will be fishing over!

Why fish at long range?

Obviously on most waters Pike can be caught within comfortable casting range, and I would say for 90% of my bank fishing this is the case. There are some waters however where you need to fish at long range - usually to get into the correct depth of water where the Pike are feeding. I find this is especially true on large reservoirs, especially those with fluctuating water levels, that can have relatively shallow water for a long distance out from the shore.

There are other reasons to fish at long range; such as to put a bait further out than most anglers are fishing, but the majority of the time I am only fishing at long range to get into a suitable water depth.

Bait Boats

Bait boats come in many shapes and sizes - some are more suited to the Pike angler than others. It's probably fair to say that most are more Carp- orientated, but some of the larger versions have applications in Pike angling.

Some have propellers, others have water pumps and jets, some are noisy whilst others are quieter, but essentially all bait boats do the same thing - they drive your rig and bait out to the area you want to fish.

The noise aspect of bait boats doesn't bother me at all. In fact I sometimes think a noisy boat helps attract the fish, a bit like a noisy lure does. One thing to look for in any bait boat though is the size and shape of the hopper. Most are designed for dropping boilies and particle baits for Carp, not large deadbaits and bits of chopped-up fish. I like to use a bait boat with two hoppers, it just gives you more options. Normally I put my bait and trace in one, and the lead and any free-bait in the other.

Some other things to consider are which bait boat is right for you, and do you want an echo sounder fitted to it? They obviously give you a huge advantage if you have not fished a water before and, make it a lot quicker to find those interesting features that the Pike like. However, on most waters where I use my bait boat there is also access to full size boats and, to be honest, I normally fish areas that I have gone over previously with a good echo sounder in a proper boat so find little use for one fitted to my bait boat.

Battery life is also a major consideration when choosing which bait boat to have as some can drain batteries at an alarming rate. Especially in the cold temperatures most Pikers will be using them. It's always worth investing in a few extra batteries, these can be a pain to lug around, but it's more of a pain to see your bait boat floating helplessly in the lake!

Tackle

When fishing at long range using a bait boat, obviously you don't need the same heavyweight tackle you would have to use if you were casting, right?

Well no, even though you won't be casting, you still need some fairly beefy tackle, primarily to deal with setting the hooks at long range, but also to deal with the weights you will be using - more of that later.

I use the 12ft 3.5lb test Greys Prowla rods, and they seem to cope well with the abuse I give them. They are powerful enough to handle pulling in a big Pike from distance, and can drag a large lead back without "folding over" at the tip - an important factor if you don't want to lose too may leads on the way back. I prefer not to use big pit reels, I find them uncomfortable to play fish on, and my 6500 Baitrunners hold enough braid for my needs. I use 50lb Power Pro for long range fishing - a bit of a compromise between strength and diameter and it's about right for the waters that I fish.

Indication

In my mind, this is the most important part of long range fishing, as anyone can buy a bait boat and drop a rig off at 200yards without a second thought. However, it's not just fishing with a bait boat that can cause problems with long range indication. We have all heard the horror stories of anglers pendulum-casting mackerel baits out at Chew, and then clipping bells on to their rod tips.

It would be nice to think that the majority of anglers know better, but one of the most common mistakes that anglers do when fishing long range in relation to indication, is not at the rod end, but at the rig end. These days, with the exception of the afore-mentioned bell on the rod tip, most bite indicators are very good and up to the job of detecting the slightest movement.

I like to use an indicator with a good level of detection and sensitivity control. I nearly always fish an open bail arm, and so I use a drop off indicator on the rear rest.

It's important that the line is tight to the spool when you clip the indicator on, that way there will be little slack in the set up, and to make sure your alarms detect the slightest movement, you need to make sure you have a tight line to the bait, and for this you need to use enough weight at the rig end. This is where a lot of anglers fall down.

Weights

What weight should you use when fishing over 100yards, 3oz? 4oz? 8oz? Well, it depends on a number of factors, braid diameter, undertow, wind direction and speed, wave fetch, etc.

For the majority of time when fishing 100 yards + I normally find 4 - 6 oz suits the kit I use, if I'm fishing over 150 I normally up the weight to 8oz.

This may seem a lot for many anglers, but at these ranges it is near impossible to tighten up effectively, unless you use heavy weights. What you want to be able to do is tighten up to the lead without it moving at all, even in flat calm conditions there will be considerable drag on the braid from surface tension alone.

A lot of anglers will also be worried about having 8oz of lead bouncing around on the line when playing a fish, but in most cases, with the correct tackle, it's not a problem, more so if the lead is able to fall off easily via a weak link.

I also like to use gripper type leads, such as those used by barbel anglers on large rivers, or crab leads as they are sometimes called.

Rigs

I use fairly simple rigs for the majority of my Pike fishing, and this is the same for long range bait-boating. I use a simple ledger rig, with the lead on a small ledger boom. I don't think that this keeps the line off the bottom, as when your lines are tight, they will fold over in direction of the rod tip.

However, when the line is pulled from the clip, they will float up so that the line hopefully isn't running along the bottom and won't snag while the fish is taking from the open bail arm. Another advantage of putting your lead on a ledger boom, is that the lead is not directly attached to your braid, so should your lead get snagged you can usually pull the lead off the boom, instead of losing everything.

I like to use a simple paperclip as a weak link to the lead. These bend out easily, and are a cheap and easy way to make sure your lead can drop off - should it get snagged.

After the lead on the boom, comes a stopping bead, then swivel, I then like to incorporate a small 12inch section of stiff heavy mono to a clip, and then a standard trace. I put the mono link in as it's stiff and keeps the wire trace away from the braid when it's dropped from the bait boat. Also, with the clip on the end, it means it is easy to swap and change traces easily.

Free Bait

Another benefit of using a bait boat is that you can put some free bait directly in the vicinity of your hook bait. It's not a tactic that I confess to using very often, preferring just to have one bait out there that the Pike is going to eat, but on some waters putting chopped fish and other attractants in with your hook bait certainly helps.

I know one good Pike angler who swears by putting trout pellets in with his free bait, and he does quite well doing so. Whether the Pike are attracted to the trout pellets, or bait fish come around the hook bait because of them who knows, but it works for him.

If I do use free offerings around my hook bait I like to make sure they are well chopped up so as to fill up any Pike that come into the area, but emit enough scent to attract Pike from a large area. It's always worth adding some extra attractant in the form of oils to any chopped bait. Salmon and mackerel oils are my favourites.

Set Up

Normally, the waters that I'm using long range tactics on are large trout reservoirs, some of these waters are concreted all the way around, others have large rocks or gabion cages on the bank, and as such bank sticks aren't much use to me. Hence I prefer to use a rod pod. Now running the risk of being called a "CarPiker", I think that in situations of long range fishing, it's not so important to have your rods spaced out on single bank sticks, as if you angle the bars on the front of the pod you can have your rods pointing at your bait anyway. Also, I find that spacing rods along the bank is a bit unnecessary, as you can space your baits out by the distance you put them, i.e. Drop one at 100yards and one at 150yards and in effect your baits are 50 yards apart. Want to put your baits on the same feature, but spaced further along it? Simply angle your pod to point to the feature at a shallower angler, that way it is possible to spread your rods along the feature. Remember, unless you're cramped for bank space with other anglers, you don't have to fish straight out from any swim.

The procedure I use to put my baits out is quite simple, firstly, prop the rod up in the air against the front bite alarm, open the bail arm on the reel (I have seen some anglers use the bait- runner facility as a way to take the bait out, but this causes all kinds of line twist, and can wear down the bait-runner gearing).

I then load my hook bait and trace into one of the hoppers, and put the lead in the other hopper, leaving the ledger stem sticking out. The trace should be tight to the ledger stem, and make sure the ledger stem hasn't twisted around the braid.

I then drop the boat in the water and pilot it out to the required spot. In a cross wind, I like to pilot the boat at an appropriate angle into the wind, so to avoid a big arch or braid that occurs with constant "L" shape corrections.

Once the boat is on the required spot, I drop both hoppers at the same time, and let the bait fall on a slack line. It is important that the bait falls on a slack line if you have also put free baits in the hopper, as, if it falls on a tight line, the lead will swing in towards you, and your free bait will be a distance away from your rig, depending on water depth. Don't worry about your bait tangling when dropping on a slack line, I have never had any problems with it doing this- most of the time I am using frozen deadbaits anyway and they will pop-up for a while until they defrost, and this aids in getting a good presentation.

As soon as the bait and rig have been dropped, I then pick up the rod and tighten down to the lead as tight as possible. It takes a while for all the slack to come out of the line, so I tighten up the best I can, then put the rod in the rest with the bait runner on, while I pilot the bait boat back.

Once the bait boat is back, I then go back to the rod and tighten down to it again. By now the line should have sunk a bit more, with the wave action, and absorbed a bit more water, and so can be tightened up again.

Once the line is as tight as I can get it, (hence the need for heavy leads) I then open the bail arm and clip on my drop-off indicator. It's important that your drop-off indicator, in whatever form, is heavy enough to show drop-back takes. In theory, you should not get any, as any taking fish will pull the line through the run ring on the ledger stem, the heavy lead acting as a pivot... but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Playing Fish At Range

Playing fish at range can be a bit strange if you're not used to it, and often even quite good fish can feel small until they get close to the net! The major factor to be aware of when fishing at distance is that because of the amount of line out, the fish can kite in a very big arch, which can catch some anglers out, especially if there are snags or areas where you don't want the fish to go in on either side of you.

The best way to deal with kiting fish is to tilt the rod down and apply side strain as much as possible, in the direction they are going, this often causes them to swim the other way. Sometimes it's worth moving down the bank and trying to keep a parallel pull on the fish, and try and get it to turn the other way with this tactic.

It can be easy to apply too much pressure, and even pull hooks out if you're not careful. It's important to remember that there can be significant water pressure on the line at distance and add to that the weight of the lead, and you have quite a lot of pressure before you start - add a large Pike into the mix and it's a lot to contend with!

Conclusion

The main thing to remember is that extreme-range fishing is a string in your bow, you don't need to fish massive distances to catch fish on a lot of waters and sometimes it can disadvantageous to do so. I remember putting two baits out at around 150 yards on a large trout water in order to reach a drop-off from the shallow bay I was fishing. The drop-off went from 5ft to 10ft. After about an hour a boat pulled up and anchored further down the bay about 30 yards out from the bank, and cast his baits into approx 3ft of water. Certainly a newbie who didn't know what he was doing... Or so I thought. After he caught his second Pike I wound my rods in and cast them 30yards out!

An Introduction To Jerkbaiting

"Now is an excellent time to get into Jerkbaiting for Pike. With a lot of the Trout waters open, it can be a devastating and often neglected method to target Pike on these large waters where they want a large bait.

"A lot of anglers now simply use big rubber baits and crank them in. Although this is a good method, the Pike can often get used to the same type of lures being dragged over their heads and, in cases such as this, the unique action of a Jerkbait can give you the edge. Unfortunately, you can't use your standard tackle to cast these lures which are sometimes big and heavy. I use the Prowla Platinum Power Jerk for the majority of my Jerkbait use. It's a strong pokey rod with a casting rate up to 150g which suits all but the heaviest Jerkbaits. You do need a stiff rod like this to work the bait in the water however, this one, unlike some Jerkbait rods does bend when you get a fish on.

"You need to use heavy braid as well. This is generally to prevent crack-offs rather than for playing the fish. I use 90lb braid for all my Jerkbait work, and this is on a 6500 sized multiplier. Multipliers work better than fixed spools for handling this heavy braid. I also find they handle the stress of casting and retrieving these big lures better then a fixed spool.

"For traces I prefer a single strand titanium trace in 150lb test. These are nearly indestructible and don't kink like steel wire so you can land fish after fish on them. (In fact I am still using one of mine that has lasted 5 years, and hundreds of fish!)
There is a trend for using heavy fluorocarbon as trace material and, to be honest, I haven't found it to be any better, or worse than titanium. The obvious advantage is that it's harder to see in the water and, because it's a lighter material it doesn't pull the bait down so much in the water. I do find the titanium a more tangle free though, as its stiffness prevents it tangling especially with active glide baits that can overrun the trace in certain circumstances.

"As for the actual fishing, each Jerkbait will fish in its own way and it's really down to the angler on how to fish them most effectively. Some, like Burts, require long sweeps of the rod, followed by a long glide / hang time. Others, like glide baits, work better with quick taps of the rod before the pause. Confusingly it's not set in stone like this, sometimes a sweep bait can work well twitched and vice versa.

"One thing that you need to do however is make sure that once you have moved the bait with the rod you take up all the slack braid quickly for the pause period as this is often when a Pike will take them. If you don't keep in contact with the lure then the Pike can hit it and you won't get a good strike in because the line will be slack. This erratic stop-start retrieve is unlike any other lures that the Pike see, and this is what makes them so effective.

"If you are new to this method of fishing, or are trying a new bait for the first time always try it out in the margins or by the side of the boat first, so you can work out how to work the rod to get the best out of the lure.

"Obviously you need the right unhooking gear to deal with the big hooks needed on most Jerkbaits. A small pair of forceps are simply not man enough for the job. Luckily Prowla do a fantastic range of specialist unhooking tools that can easily handle this tough job. I often find it's a lot easier to cut the hooks rather than fiddle about pushing and pulling to get an awkward treble out. You can always put another treble on your lure and they cost a few pence. You can't repair serious damage to a Pike and they are priceless. For this reason my ‘go to' tool in most cases is not the Prowla Long Nosed Pliers, but the Prowla Side Cutters - it is a simple matter of snipping the hook points off, removing the lure (which can often block access to the hooks) and then use the pliers to remove the rest of the metal in the fish.

"Also, don't think about using barbless hooks either, it's a common misconception that barbless hooks do less damage because they are easy to get out. In reality they do a lot more damage than barbed trebles! The reason for this is that barbless hooks often slip in and out during the fight and the Pike ends up like a pin cushion. Often, with big hooks and big lures, these ‘flying hooks' can even stab the Pike in the eyes and other sensitive areas, as they slip from the initial hook hold in the mouth. If you use barbed trebles this doesn't happen, but you do need the right tools to make unhooking easy.

"Jerkbaiting is an addictive method, and it can be devastating on the right water at the right time of year. With new soft rubber Jerkbaits becoming more popular, it offers some exciting possibilities of deep water fishing, as well as the normal range. But it should be remembered that it's a method best used when the fish are active. Yes, you can catch using Jerks in the depths of winter, but for me, it's a method I'll use in early autumn and spring. Give it a go, and enjoy some fantastic sport."

A Good Start To The Predator Season

"The traditional start of the Pike season is October 1st however, a few of the large Trout reservoirs have started to open offering limited access for lure fishing a few weeks earlier in September.

"I find September is one of the best times for lure fishing as the Pike are still quite active and hunting around for prey fish. I always try to book a boat well in advance so I don't miss out on this often productive time of year.

"From previous experience I had already decided to target the water using small jerk baits and rubber shads as the water is normally bombarded with bigger rubber lures that, in all fairness, often work well, but sometimes something different is required for the bigger fish.

"The reservoir was quite busy on the opening day - there were only supposed to be five boats out however, when I saw the fifteenth was loaded up with Pike gear I knew it was going to be a rush for the good areas. Sure enough within half an hour there were quite a lot of lures being cast in the usual areas, but to little avail. I hadn't seen any fish caught so I decided to try a different spot that I hadn't tried before at this time of year, after a bit of searching around I found a small group of fish in a tightly packed area in 18ft of water.

"On the first cast I had a nice fish of 20lb 4oz and then a couple of smaller fish around 15lbs before it went a bit dead. I knew there were still fish there as I kept having a few follows - one from a very big fish indeed. After a few drifts over the spot I decided to anchor up over it to give better lure presentation and it allowed me to really cover every inch of the water. As I kept getting follows, it showed the fish were interested but I hadn't quite got the right lure on or the presentation right, and it can be quite frustrating when this happens, so all you can do is keep changing lure colour and size until you find one that they want. After a few swaps to a darker colour I managed a good take from an angry 21lber. This was a fish that bit back though as, during the unhooking, the Pike managed to flip around in the sladle and badly cut my finger. Unfortunately, even with the best handling in the world these things sometimes happen, and it's part of the territory if you fish for Pike - at sometime or another you are likely to get the odd cut.

"Lucky, I've learnt my lesson in the past, and now I always carry a first aid kit in my tackle box. After sitting down and several towels and bandages later I managed to patch myself back together, though I knew there were several deep cuts on my finger that needed stitches, and the boat looked like a scene from a horror film. So I knew I had to go and get it looked at professionally. But I couldn't help myself, there were fish there, big ones, and they were feeding, and if I could still hold the rod and crank the reel, no force on earth could make me pack up without having at least one cast -before heading off to hospital.

"I'm glad I had that last cast, as soon as the shad hit the bottom the big one grabbed it, and when I managed to get her to the side of the boat I could see it was one of the big fish that had kept following the lure in, previously. She was a lovely golden coloured Pike that really put the new Greys Prowla Platinum Specialist Pro rod through its paces as she dived around the boat. However, with my finger throbbing I managed to wrestle the fish into the net, and gently unhooked her. On the scales she went 27lb 8oz I was more than happy with this, and decided to call it a day, taking few trophy shots before heading off to get some stitches!"

Alternative Start To The Season

"Normally each year I am itching to get on the rivers on the first day of the season however, this year I had the offer of a week sea fishing on the Bristol Channel. This turned out to be a good choice as, with localised high rain fall most of the rivers were a washout for opening day.

"We were to target Bull Huss and Congers from a little bay on the South West Wales coast, but there was always a chance of a good thornback from the spot we were fishing.

"Bull Huss are one of my favourite fish and, though the small ones can be a pain, catching a big one is quite a rarity, and I've had a few good fish from this area in the past. The Congers in this area are usually in the 8 - 15lb mark, but add some excitement as they fight really hard.

"There is a small floating jetty that requires a boat to get to, and from here you are casting into fairly deep water, with a sandy bottom and plenty of kelp, ideal Bull Huss hunting ground.

"Using a Greys Advent Uptide Plus rod, and baiting my 3/0 Pennel rig with a large Mackerel bait, I whacked my rig into the deep just as the tide was ebbing.

"After about 30 minutes I had a few taps on the rod tip that caught my attention, but before I could react the ratchet screeched, and I had to leap to grab the rod before it was pulled off the tripod. Straight away I knew that it was a big fish, and definitely not a Bull Huss. The rod almost doubled over with the strain, and I had to work hard to get the fish clear of the kelp beds. When I finally got it to the side of the pontoon, we could see it was a good Conger- then came the problem of landing it. It was a real struggle to get it into the net because of its length, and it took about ten attempts before we finally managed to get it ashore.

"I don't like the usual upright holds common with most Conger shots, as holding them this way can damage the gills, so I had to struggle with a writhing 30lb of angry Eel to get the fish- friendly sideways hold that also looks a lot better in photos."

Zander

"The last few days of the season are always a hectic time for me as it normally coincides with an increased work load, and the choice of targeting river Pike or Zander when they are at their largest.

"I had already had a good Pike season, so I thought I would spend the final few days after some large river Zeds. I'd had a good catch the week before on the tidal river with fish to 14lb 4oz from the bank however, I had a last minute change of tactics for the last session of the season. I had really hoped to take my boat down to a stretch on the tidal river, but after looking at my tide book, I opted not to fish there, as the tides were so big over that weekend that it would have been dangerous, so I fished further up the river, on another section that I'd had a few good fish from before.

"Due to work commitments, I didn't manage to get out as early as I would have liked, but when I finally arrived it was a lovely bright sunny day.

"Some would say that it would have been the worst possible conditions for Zander, as they are often considered to be nocturnal hunters, A lot of people believe this and think they are only worth fishing for after dark, but on the Severn I find that fishing in the day is much better, and some times the nights are a waste of time, unless the river is low and clear, so I was quite confident of catching something..

"I dropped in and anchored up at a nice looking swim with a large sunken tree to fish to, and had only been fishing for 10 minutes before I had a tap on my rod tip, but it didn't materialise into anything.

"I like to simply ledger when fishing for Zander from the boat, no floats or anything that may put them off, I just watch the rod tips for bites. Zander bites can be quite subtle, just a quick knock on the rod, and you have to hit them straight away. I use the Greys Prowla Platinum Boat Rod for all my boat fishing and find this to have a sensitive enough tip for this type of work.

"I re-baited with another Roach with the head cut off, and re filled my swim feeder with chop, then, almost as soon as the bait hit the bottom something hit it and it was away, and I knew straight away it was a lump, as when I put some pressure on it, it started swimming up river against the current, which normally is a sign of a good fish.
The fish was tempted on a small 4 inch Roach dead bait presented on size 6 Prowla trebles and Prowla 49 strand wire, and fished with a large swim feeder of chopped fish.

"The fish fought really hard, and to be honest I think I was very lucky to land it, as when it finally popped up at the back of the boat, it was only just hooked on one hook point, right on its beak, and I was praying it wouldn't flip and rid the hook before I netted it, as I could see it was big fish. I didn't know how big until I got it on the scales, and it yanked them past 18 for a final weight of 18lb 02oz, a new river best for me.

"The fish was huge and fat with spawn, but it also had a massive frame, and would have easily been at least 15lbs if it didn't have any spawn, I can easily see this fish going over the record if it is caught next season.

"My personal best Zed is 18lb 8oz which came from Grafham Water, and I have since been told that I'm the first person to have caught 18lb + Zander from two different waters, which just goes to show how rare Zander of this size are in the UK."

February Zander Tactics

"From now until the last couple of weeks of the river season is the best time of year to target really big Zander. Every year big fish are caught around this time and it's because Zander spawn later than Pike and are still actively feeding while they move to their spawning grounds.

"Jigs and drop shots can be good at this time of year. I like to use them to initially find the areas that are holding Zander. However, some of the larger fish will be less inclined to take a jig if it's moving too fast, so it's important to slow the movement right down. Also, don't be afraid to use quite large jigs - I like to use 5 to 6 inches at this time of year. Remember that you are looking to target large fish, not pick up lots of schoolies. With big jigs like this you may have to use heavy jig heads, especially if the river is flowing hard, which is typical at this time of year.

"Another method that is very good at this time of year is to fish a dead bait on a fire-ball jig. This has an advantage in that it's not a lump of rubber on the hook, but a real fish, that smells and tastes attractive to the Zander. I like this method as it works well even without imparting too much movement to the bait, so you can keep the bait hanging right in the Zander's strike zone for a long time. It's important to use nice fresh coarse fish baits when fire-balling and again, don't be afraid to use baits in the 6 to 8 inch size range.

"My set up for fire-balling is slightly different then my Jigging set up. I prefer to use the Prowla Heavy Drop Shot Rod for this method. I like this rod as it's got a sensitive tip to see the bites, but has more power down the blank that is needed to set the hooks. I use a small fixed spool reel loaded with 10lb braid. This may seem quite light but a low diameter is required to prevent the bait dragging around too much in the current. Plus in effect you are fishing more or less over the bait so any fish caught are pulled up and away from snags on the bottom. A wire trace is needed in case a Pike comes along, but it's important to be flexible so as not to impair the movement of the bait. I use the Prowla 49 Strand Wire for this as it's nice and supple."

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