ALTHOUGH there’s an early morning chill in the air, James Robbins sets up his tackle for the session ahead full of confidence that he’ll be able to extract a handful of hard-fighting tench from the intimate estate lake stretching before him. “I came across this place through the owner Gary Howard. He runs Welham Lakes at Malton, and years ago that water used to be a tench Mecca,” he says while passing reel line through his rod rings. “Ton-up bags of quality tench used to come out of Welham, but then it fell into decline – just like many other tench waters of days gone by. It’s a shame, everyone seems to have gone carp-mad these days. That’s why it’s so good to see a venue like Carlton Towers being dedicated wholly to this superb species. Hopefully, I’ll catch a few today, and I want to demonstrate how easy it is to tempt them, as long as you adopt the right kind of approach,” he adds.
Three bites at the cherry
As James quietly sets up the rest of his kit, the first sun rays of the day begin to pierce through the stand of tall trees on the far bank. There’s a good reason that he’s at the water’s edge so early. He firmly believes that the timing of sessions can be crucial when targeting tench from natural venues. “In clear water venues the key feeding spells for tench tend to be dawn and dusk, so it can definitely be a case of the early bird catches the worm! However, in venues with coloured water, such as commercial fisheries, they will often feed right through the day. Although the water in this lake has little colour in it, to increase my chances I wanted to be up and at ’em early!” he says. “This modest-sized pool is fringed with reeds which are full of tench food, as is the deep layer of silt in which this food grows. We’re talking about snails and bloodworms for the most part, and a water like this has no shortage of them.” In order to stack the odds in his favour even further, James plans to divide his attention between several areas in his swim. “I’m a match angler at heart, but I love to pleasure fish for species such as tench. I’m going to think like a match angler today and feed three lines. I’ll regularly put down baitto encourage and stimulate the tench to feed but, because it’s still early in the season, I’m going to feed one line to my right, one to my left, and one a little further out. This will give me three bites at the cherry, and I’ll keep alternating between these baited spots until I find a positive response,” he says.
Tickling their taste buds
James has brought a small selection of classic tench baits along with him for the session. “Tench can be a bit selective in their eating habits at times, especially the fish in wild venues. Those living in commercial fisheries will see and consume more pellets, for example, but I’ve brought with me more orthodox baits such as worms, corn and the most effective bait here at Carlton – red maggots,” he says. James then explains how he plans to coax the fish into feeding over the next few hours. “I’ll feed 20 to 30 maggots, plus a few grains of corn every 15 minutes over each of my three spots. After plumbing the depth I’ll then set my rigs to fish with the hookbaits ever so slightly overdepth,” he says. On the rig front, James has two set-ups ready to go. The first one is a light and compact 11ft travel rod, sporting a reel loaded with 0.18mm line which should be ideal for coping with tench up to 7lb. He plans to fish this rod using the ‘lift method’, a very simple tactic that has stood the test of time. To set it up a short peacock quill waggler is attached at the base with a rubber bait band. This allows the rig’s depth to be altered quickly and easily. Two AAA split shot, which would ordinarily lock the float in place, are instead positioned down near the hook. These will rest on the bottom and anchor the bait, typically positioned anything from a few inches to a foot away from the split shot. When a tench comes along it will tilt its body down to pick up the bait off the bottom, before righting itself to a horizontal position. In doing so it will lift the split shot, negating their effect on the float, thus making the peacock quill rise in the classic ‘lift bite’ style. At first glance, this may appear to be a crude, insensitive way to fish, but it’s quite the opposite, because as soon as the tench dislodges the shots, a bite will be indicated. James is at pains to point out that when fishing the lift method it’s necessary to have a tight line to the float so that it sinks down to the tip. It’s also important to use a rod rest, and keep your hand hovering nearby, ready to hit the bites. The method is best employed close-in because casting any distance isn’t easy when the shots are so far down the line. James’ second rig is more straightforward, as he explains. “For this set-up I’m using a 13ft Match rod with a slimline, tapered balsa waggler float which is attached in the more usual manner with shots around the base. This rig is, of course, designed to be cast a little further out, and to fish the bait in the standard fashion,” he says. “At times the tench prefer a more gently falling bait, one which they will intercept as it settles. Also, with this rig, there is less risk of the hookbait disappearing into the thick silt. I call this my ‘twitching’ rig, because every now and then I’ll twitch the bait or lift it off bottom gently, to try to make it more noticeable to the fish. This simple tip can bring you a bite when you might think that the swim has gone quiet.
It’s a balancing act
At the business end of his set-up, James always like to match the size of hook to the bait he’s using. “You can’t afford to fish too light when big tench are the quarry,” he says. “My favourite are Kamasan B911 hooks, which are a very strong pattern for their size. If it’s tough going then a size 18 baited with two or three maggots is a good pairing, while a worm and maggot cocktail is best on a size 16, and a grain or several kernels of sweetcorn are typically best with a size 14,” he adds. Keen to start putting his carefully laid plan into practice, James starts catapulting out a few freebies over his three lines, before deciding to kick off proceedings by fishing two rod lengths out using his standard waggler rig. “The aim is to allow the marginal spots to develop for a while before I target them. Maybe 40 minutes of feeding is required before I will have a try there,” he says. Presenting double maggot on the hook, James tempts his first bite after just 20 minutes, but misses it! “At least it’s a positive sign!” he jokes, while removing the pair of red maggots and replacing them with four fresh ones. “I always like to replace the hookbait after I’ve missed a bite, even if it’s intact. I often think that I wouldn’t like to eat food that has been in someone’s mouth already!” James waits a further five minutes, and then his float bobs once more. “Sometimes you just have to be patient with tench because they can mouth the bait for quite a while without taking it. This is when I like to try to induce a bite by initiating small twitches on the float. A half turn of the reel is usually enough, just to pull the bait away or make it rise up and settle. That simple twitch will often bring a much more positive take,” he says. Sure enough, as soon as his float resettles, it shoots under. James strikes with a steady sideways sweep of the rod, and is met with a powerful resistance. “Here we go!” he whoops, with a broad grin across his face as the first tench of the day tears off with all the power of a carp. “One flick of that powerful paddle tail and they can be out of sight!” he says, while struggling to control the initial forceful run. Soon, he has managed to steer his prize towards the net and, with an almighty final splash, it’s in the mesh, to James’ delight.
While all the excitement has been happening, James hasn’t neglected his other lines, making sure that they keep receiving a steady trickle of feed so they’re ready to be fished a little later on.
Topping up the swim
“It’s the one area where pleasure anglers slip up most I reckon. They forget to keep the swims topped up. Fish will clean out a bed of bait in next to no time, and if you don’t introduce enough to keep them in the area, they’ll vacate the swim quicker than you can say tinca tinca!” Another stunning tench, this time a fair bit larger, is soon leading James a merry dance after being hooked from the spot he has baited two rodlengths out in front. “Once again, another twitch of the bait enticed this stunning looking creature,” James reveals, as he holds the impressive fish up for a picture against the backdrop of the bright blue sky. Soon, he makes the switch to his lift method rig, and it duly delivers him two more lovely tench. “You’d be hard pressed to beat that kind of bite, they are virtually unmissable!” he says, while struggling to keep his quarry away from the reedbed at his feet. Like those before it, another olive green beauty is soon glistening in the sunlight like the biggest emerald in the world. By the time the sun reaches its midday peak, the bites have well and truly slowed down. “As I mentioned at the start, I place great importance on the need to fish at the right time of the day when pursuing tench. Even in coloured water, as we have here today, they have eventually switched off, so I’m delighted to have made the most of the
feeding spell. “I can’t wait to come back again in high summer, although I expect that may involve being here at four in the morning,but I don’t mind doing that one bit when tench like these are there for the catching,” concludes James, as he shows off his catch of five beautiful fish.