The zander is a bit of an enigma among the fishing world. It is quite easily recognisable and they are a joy to catch, particularly on lighter Avon-type rods when targeting the smaller shoaling zander that weigh around the 4-6lb mark.
Zander were originally stocked into the Great Ouse Relief Channel back in the early 1960s, much to many people's dismay. They thought this heavily toothed species would descimate the whole river system, but it didn't! Zander have always hed their place well within the ecosystems of European waterways, where they help create a natural balance between species.
The Great Ouse Relief Channel cuts across Norfolk, and from there these rather impressive predators have since spread. Almost all Fenland drains and rivers contain zander now, and zander can be found as far and wide as the Trent system, the River Severn, the Warwickshire Avon, the Gloucester Canal and many more venues in between.
Zander have yet to spread into Scotland, Ireland and Central/West Wales.
The zander is easily distinguishable from most other species. Its head is quite small in relation to its body, the dorsal fin is pronounced and split into two (just like the perch), large and spiny and the tail is quite long with a large V-shaped fin.
Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the zander are its extremely large eyes (perfect for locating prey in the darkness) and the array of sharp teeth featuring four elongated front teeth - two at the top, two at the bottom.
The zander's body colouration can vary immensely, from grey in waters that are heavily coloured, through to a steel blue when living in crystal clear water.
Zander are perfectly equipped for catching their prey in the hours of darkness or in heavily coloured water due to its extra large eye.
They feed on live and dead coarse fish, often working in shoals to round up their prey, which comprise mainly of silverfish in the 4-6ins bracket.
Zander scour the bottom of rivers, drains and stillwaters, hugging the countours while hunting for their food.
It has been known for zander to take much larger prey fish like bream, but in the main they do prefer smaller baits. Anglers who fish with coarse fish up to hand-size, or eel sections do best. And the most frantic zander sport can be had during dusk to dawn, or in water that is heavily coloured during daytime.
Given the choice, and regardless of whether they live in still water or flowing water, you are most likely to find zander living in the deepest and darkest water. Here they feel at home, they feed best and they feel most comfortable.
Zander also use features such as bridges under which to hide. The reduced light levels underneath any man-made structure attract zander like moths to a light, so a carefully presented bait cast slightly upstream of a bridge will stand a very high chance of being taken.
Look out for...
Look out for bridges - they are a magnet to lowland river zander.
Night fishing offers the best chance of a big zander.
Drop-offs into deep water are a prime patrol route for zander.
Best baits for zander...
This enigmatic species can grow to epic proportions on the continent. In fact many hundreds of British anglers travel to the likes of the River Ebro in Spain to catch strains of catfish that weigh in excess of 100lb.
They are quite few and far between in Britain. They aren't an indigenous species so they are bought in and stocked into lakes where they thrive.
There are quite a few 'specimen-style' venues that stock catfish within their vast carp lakes. These would be the best venues to try for a chance of catching an impressive British catfish.
The catfish looks like no other British freshwater fish. It has a long body, tiny eyes and long tentacles protruding from its upper lip.
The body is smooth and scaleless. Colouration is mottled in cream, green, brown, olive and bronze, providing great camouflage for the young catfish, and for the more mature catfish for when they are hunting their prey.
Catfish are by far our longest and heaviest species and have an almost tadpole shape. The head tapers into an enormous tail that carries the enormous dorsal and anal fins. Their pectoral fin is also very large and paddle-like.
Wels catfish have six 'whiskers' protruding from their head. There are four short barbules located under the chin and a pair of very long barbules protruding from underneath each eye.
Catfish breed rather differently to the more haphazard approach favoured by most of our other freshwater species. Rather than find shallow, weedy and gravel areas, the male catfish waits until the really warm summer temperatures, heads off to a quiet area of the lake and builds a nest ready for the female.
The female lays her eggs within the nest, the male fertilises them and then remains alongside the nest until the eggs hatch.
Catfish have enormous wide mouths filled to the brim with hundreds of velcro-like rasping teeth that can grip their prey very well indeed.
In the wild catfish are both scavengers and opportunist killers. They will devoir any dead animal matter it smells, and it will hunt living creatures like fish, frogs, leeches and other amphibians. The feed mainly at night, but in coloured water the catfish will feed during the day.
To catch a large catfish requires substantial baits. Live and deadbaiting with coarse fish works a treat. Huge fishmeal-based boilies and large strings of fishmeal pellets also catch well, as do big bunches of whole lobworms set upon a large hook.
Fancy bagging a giant catfish? Mequinenza, on the river ebro in spain is a real hotspot!
Finding catfish in stillwaters is quite a difficult affair, particularly if you have never visited the water before. But there is one saving grace that can help catfish anglers enormously - catfish are quite territorial, so if they have been caught from one spot, there is a very large chance they will be caught again from the same area.
Look for steep marginal shelves - catfish love them - or areas that are extremely snaggy as these are prime zones for the catfish to hide, watch its prey and intercept it as it passes.
Look out for...
For best results, fish throughout the night.
Marginal snags are prime catfish hotspots.
Try fishing near lilies and weed for catfish success.
Best baits for catching a catfish...
The tench is one of Britain's most distinguishable and loveable fish, with its olive green flanks, tiny red eyes and powerful grey-brown fins. Anglers cannot fail but recognise this beautiful species, but by the same token, non-anglers recognise the tench too, due to its distinctive shape, colour and size, and due to the fact that many tench are sold in garden centres as pond fish.
If there's one word that best describes a tench it is power. Even tiny finger-long tench will wriggle and writh their way out of your hands in a flash. And their strength, coupled with the tiny scales and their mucus-covered bodies makes the tench a difficult fish to handle at the best of times!
The most common tench that we all know and love has an olive green body, but there are strains of tench that have golden flanks. They are available in all good aquarists, and some have made their way into stillwater fisheries.
It is possible to determine whether you have caught a male or a female tench by taking a glance at the fish's pelvic fins. The male's pelvic fins are spoon-shaped and have lumpy muscles immediately above the base of the fins.
Tench are pretty docile fish so the poor things tend to come a close second when competing for food in fisheries that hold carp. So for tench to grow large alongside carp the water needs to be extremely rich in nutrients.
In waters where carp far outnumber the tench - commercial fisheries are a prime example - the water will invariably be coloured and weed free. This poses a real problem for tench in that they simply don't have the stable and staple diet to sustain a great weight, therefore the tench will hardly ever break the 1lb mark.
The usual tench courtship begins with a few males chasing a few females, with egg laying occuring early in the morning during late spring and early summer.
Tench spawn within thick clumps of very soft weed and algae, with the female tench laying her eggs first, then the male tench passing directly overhead to fertilise the eggs.
Unlike the continual thrashing around caused by carp spawning, you would hardly know that tench are spawning - it's a very docile, quiet affair.
Female tench can carry an enormous amount of eggs; up to a quarter of its own body weight. A female tench that weighs around 8lb in late summer and autumn may weigh up to 10lb 8oz when it is fully laden with eggs.
The tench fry will remain within the weed feeding upon tiny plankton. It is unlikely that tench will come across an angler's hook until they are at least a couple of years old, when they have almost reach 1lb and feel secure enough to leave the sanctuary of the weed to search larger food items.
Tench are the perfect stillwater species, but they can be found in some lowland river systems where the water runs slow and deep.
Targeting and finding tench in lakes can be quite easy during certain months of the year. Firstly, tench are never too far away from vegetation or underwater gullies. They are a bottom-feeding species that use the sides of ledges and the stems of underwater weed as cover.
Tench can produce streams of tiny bubbles when they are feeding. These are created when the tench crushes its food, and the bubbles escape through the gills. So, if you find series of these pin-prick bubbles breaking the surface you know you are not too far away from a feeding tench.
Binoculars will help enormously when searching for these signs, as will a high vantage point.
But if the water's devoid of any bubbles, watch for signs of reed knocking around, lilies moving, coloured water close to weed and calm patches within rippled water all denote the prescence of a tench or two.
Look out for...
Watch reedbeds carefully - tench sometimes bump into stems.
Tench are synonymous with water lilies - they are never far away.
Look for marginal drop-offs as tench use them as patrol routes.
Best baits for catching a tench...
Physically, the rudd and the roach are very alike, although the rudd is slimmer in cross-section. It has a characteristic angled 'keel' between its vent and tail root, and the dorsal fin is set further back than the roach. The mouth is up-turned and herring-like, with the bottom jaw protruding upwards, used for surface feeding and catching falling food particles.
A rudd's fins range from orange to scarlett, depending on water clarity, and they will be brighter in clearer water. The scales are a reflective, burnished gold - in fact, so reflective that when photographing rudd in daylight, you often have to underexpose by one full stop because otherwise it is all too easily overexposed. An adults back will be a brassy bronze colour, whereas an adolescent rudd's back will have a green hue to it.
The golden rudd was bred specifically for the pond-fish trade (although it has found its way into angling waters and now interbreeds with common rudd) because it is easily seen from above due to its salmon pink back. It is even more intensely coloured than the common rudd, although they are a lot smaller than common rudd - anything from 1lb and above being a fine specimen.
Rudd are shoal fish, and they generally shoal with members of the same size and same year or spawning class. At dusk, when light values are low, they will feed particularly aggressively and with much less caution, although occasionally this will be reversed and they will feed when the sun is at its highest, and therefore the surface will be at its warmest. This applies particularly in the winter - being summer fish, fishing for rudd in winter can prove unfruitful, with them only really taking the bait an hour or so either side of midday, when the light penetrates deepest into the cold water.
Naturally, rudd will feed on aquatic insects, zooplankton, crustaceans and vegetable matter, showing particular partiality for algae growing on reed stems. Rudd also seem to be very susceptible to artificial flies, with a slow-sinking nymph in the upper water layers being what seems to be the best technique.
Rudd spawn in the months of April to June, in weedy shallows. Their eggs are translucent with a pinkish tinge, and tiny. When released, the eggs will latch onto anything available - soft weeds, rush and reed stems, tree roots or grass along the margins. Once there, they will take 10-12 days to hatch.
Due to rudd, roach and bream all spawning around the same time, hybrids between them are very possible. The rudd/roach hybrid causes the most confusion, with them generally looking just like a true rudd or roach. Some will have an extended bottom lip, like the rudd, but a paler body than the gold that rudds are adorned with. Others will be similar to the roach colouration and have a rudd-like angle or keel between the tail root and vent.
Rudd aren't abundant in any large river in England, although they are common throughout most river systems in southern Ireland. During the summer, they are easily spotted at dusk and dawn, as around those times they will often give away their position by porpoising. They can be caught at any depth from just under the surface, to just above the bottom at up to 20ft of water. The most likely place to find them would be amongst yellow water-lilies or bullrushes, just beyond the shallow marginal shelf.
Irrigation drains and canals
Rudd are most bountiful in waters that have substantial beds of bottom-rooted plants such as Canadian pond-weed, hornwort and mill foil and are clear for most of the season.
Estate lakes and meres
Specimen rudd are most likely to be found in meres and rich, weedy clear-water habitats, as this is where rudd fair best of all. Estate lakes are generally shallow one end, and increase in depth towards the dam wall at the other end. The shallows is where the rudd will feed in summer, whereas in the winter, they will be found in the deepest water, in a shoal.
Reservoirs and huge lakes
In large, natural lakes, rudd will be found in the biggest beds of reeds or lilies. In the evenings, they will furrow at the surface, catching flies and sedges.
The best way to locate rudd is attraction - when you have use of a boat, scatter a pint of floating casters, then retreat and watch through binoculars from afar. When they start to appear, get close enough to long float cast. Cast extra casters occasionally to keep them interested.
Look out for...
|Rudd love the sanctuary offered by lilies.|
|You will find rudd pimpling the surface of lakes on warm days.|
|Fish into the wind as rudd follow insects blown onto the surface.|
Rudd are also similar to roach in that they are common throughout Europe and southern Scandinavia. Southern Ireland is particularly good for rudd fishing, although Scotland it is quite rare.
Rudd are more widely distributed than roach, although they are no longer as widespread as they were, due to its intolerance to waters with chemical and farming pollution.
Best baits for catching a rudd...
The humble roach is one of our smallest freshwater species but it's one of our most sought after, especially when they reach specimen proportions.
They are a sleek fish having silvery blue flanks, large orange-rimmed eyes, white/cream underbelly and red fins. The lips of this fish are level, unlike the very similar size, shape and coloured rudd, whose lower lip protrudes.
Roach tend to undertake a slight colouration throughout the year. In summer their flanks become quite brassy, while in winter the scales upon the flanks take on a really attractive blue tinge.
The dorsal and forked tail fin are darkly coloured and tinged with crimson.
In normal conditions the average size of roach caught on rod and line will be around the 4-8oz mark. In lush and food-packed venues it will quickly pile on weight and can quickly ascertain a specimen size of 2lb and over.
If there weren't any anglers the roach would be content feeding upon its natural larder consisting of freshwater shrimps, midge larvae, insects and small molluscs. They prefer their food small, but, as most of you will know, even tiny roach will take triple maggot intended for a much larger fish.
Great baits to try for roach are bloodworm, caster, pinkie, maggot, squatt, half a dendrobaena worm, sweetcorn, breadflake, hemp and tares. These are the most widely-known roach baits of many years, but since the angler's bait table has developed over the past few years, so has the roach's taste - you could also tempt roach on luncheon meat, mini boilies and pellets.
Roach (to the right) and hybrids
Depending upon water temperatures, roach spawn between the months of April and June, moving into the shallower areas of lakes and rivers in the search for weed.
Here they will thrash around on or near to the surface for hours, ultimately laying their eggs on submerged weed or on the underwater roots of trees.
But during this time it won't solely be the roach that have breeding on their minds. Bream and rudd will also be working their way towards the shallows to breed, and often they will mix to produce roach/bream hybrids and roach/rudd hybrids.
Roach can be found in almost any venue - lakes, commercials, canals and rivers. They generally prefer a decent amount of water having a fairly substantial depth - generally over 3ft. They also prefer still or slow-moving water - very rarely will you find them in torrents or very fast-flowing water.
Roach thrive in steady-paced water so if you are targeting this species on a small, narrow river, look for long glides immediately downstream of a bend - roach will be found shoaled up here. If there are swirls and eddies on the water's surface move elsewhere - roach do not like rapid changes of water direction.
In big rivers, when temperatures are high and the river is running slow and low, roach may be found in the most unlikely spots, from the shallow margins holding cabbage beds, through to the swirling water of a wierpool. But in winter, when the water is cold and clear, they change their habits completely.
In these conditions the roach shoal up tightly for added protection, moving to areas that offer some additional protection, like overhead bridges, trees or even steep marginal shelves where the water runs slow and deep.
Never ignore feeder streams and backwaters because roach will move into these areas when the main river is high and flooded - it's possible to find literally thousands of roach taking shelter in these small, shallower areas.
Roach also thrive in canals. In summer, when the canals are rich in food you may catch the odd roach anywhere along its length, from the nearside marginal shelf, right across to the far bank shelf. But in winter things can be very different indeed.
They will shoal up tightly in winter leaving many yards of bank devoid of any fish and areas that are simply packed solid. A steady walk along the banks of a canal, armed with polarised sunglasses will help locate these fish as they occasionally pimple the surface, or you notice the swirl of a pike or perch chasing the shoal.
Roach in ponds can become over-populated and therefore stunted as they compete heavily for whatever food they find. In these venues it will be near impossible to find any substantial-sized roach. Only a stocking of predatory species might help thin the population down and allo the odd roach to grow large.
Commercial fisheries and estate lakes will also hold roach, but because they will be living alongside larger, hungrier and more brash fish, the roach will lose the food battle, so they again often become stunted.
Old, well established gravel pits are the place to target if you are seekign a roach of specimen proportions. In these venues the abundance of leaf litter, the many dips and indentations in the lake bed and the overghanging trees and bushes all combine to provide the roach with a rich source of food, and protection - that's why they can grow so large in gravel workings.
Look out for...
Find the crease between fast and slow water and you'll find roach.
Evenly paced straight glides are sure to hold plenty of roach.
Find roach in tributaries when the main river is in flood.
Best baits for roach...
As far as fossilised remains show, pike has been around longer than all other freshwater species in the British Isles, showing that it is not only the ultimate predator, but also the ultimate survivor.
A pike's large, powerful tail propels it forward at impressive speed. A pike will catch its prey fish more often than not, however, due to its poor timing it will miss every now and again. Its colossal jaws allow is to swallow anything little smaller than itself - fur, feather or scales.
Almost regardless of the weather, pike can be caught at any point from June through to March.
In most fisheries, a pike around 20lb, usually measuring around 40in, is considered the specimen size to aim for, although its ultimate weight potential is probably around 50lb.
Pike are not only physically better equipped than any freshwater fish, in the hunting senses of sight, hearing and sonar but they are also unequalled in its fantastic colouration and camouflage pattern.
The grey-green colour with zigzag markings across its back and the intricate pattern of spots along its flanks are accentuated in clear water. Cleverly, the pikes colour will change accordingly when in heavier coloured water.
Embedded in the lower jaw of a pike are large, sharp teeth, that the pike will use to hold and incapacitate its prey. In the upper jaw, smaller teeth in their hundreds point backwards, preventing any prey from going anywhere but towards the pike's throat.
Most commonly, pike will lie in wait between reed stems and ambush prey from there, however they will also group together and drive a big shoal of fry or small fish into an area such as a small bay, where there will be no escape other than gritting your teeth and swimming for it! Pike will also scavenge dead or dying fish that they find, from the bottom. It will gulp down small fish immediately, however with larger meals it will grip its food sideways tightly until it is almost dead, then, using its sandpapery tongue, it will turn it and swallow it head first.
The pike will eat far less and far slower during times pf severe winter weather, due to its metabolic rate being greatly slowed down, causing the pike to take more time turning and swallowing a meal than it would in the summer. This is something worth bearing in mind when presenting large baits - the bait probably will not have been turned by the pike when you strike, so when the pike feels pressure from the rod tip, it will open its mouth and let go of the bait.
It will eat other fish, rodents, water birds, amphibians and the larger crustaceans such as crayfish.
Pike generally spawn in April, earlier than most other coarse fish species, then going onto feed on the thousands of other fish that spawn several weeks later. Three or four males will accompany a female who is heavy with spawn, and together they will find shallow weedy areas where the eggs can be laid. The eggs, once laid and the males have sprayed milt over them, will hatch within two weeks and the fry grow fast, feeding on plankton and tiny crustacea, then aquatic insects, and also the fry of other fish, while staying close to the weeds for safety.
Pike will occasionally group together although not as a shoal as such. The pike's prefered habitat will need to be found rather than the individual fish - unlike fish such astench or carp, who send up bubbles and reveal where they are, observation alone will not often tell you the position of pike. To find a likely pike spot, knowledge of the various ambush habitats of pike, along with imagination and perseverance will be needed.
Pike are very lazy, so subsequently you will very rarely find one in rapid, turbulent waters. They are generally found in areas that shoals of roach, bream, chub or dace live, as they never like to be too far from their next meal. As they prefer to ambush fish, they will be hiding in clumps of bullrushes, tall reeds, sunken trees, in slow back-eddies, deep channels, sudden depressions in the river-bed, in holes on the bends, at the confluence of a ditch or side stream and the main river, in weir and mill pools and so on.
The summer will see pikes in amongst the leaves of the yellow water-lily, along the margins of slow-moving rivers and backwaters. In the winter, when the water-lilies have gone, pike will hide in deeper areas.
The deep water habitats where pike are found during winter months are not always obvious. Stillwaters require preparatory work with a plummet to work out a plan of the bottom contours. This is much easier if you have use of a boat. Even quicker is an echo-sounder, such as the Humminbird fish-finder, although only a small percentage of anglers use these currently.
During low temperatures, shoals of small fish will seek refuge in the deeper parts of the water. The pike is aware of this and will therefore be in the same area mostly, although they can be found in the margins beside reed beds, lily roots etc.
Look out for...
Locate river bridges and pike won't be too far away.
Fallen trees and overhanging trees will attract pike.
Marginal reedbeds offer perfect camouflage to a pike.
Pike is the most widely distributed fish in the British Isles, helping to maintain a balance between predator and prey. People fish for pike right across the entire northern hemisphere, from North America and Canada to Europe and Northern Asia.
Best baits for catching pike...
The perch is one of the most successful predators out there, partially due to its fantastic camouflage. They shoal according to year class, and its not unusual to catch them one after another.
Anything above 2lb, and 16inches in length is considered to be a fine catch.
The only fish that perch could possibly be mixed up with is a small ruffe. Its back and shoulders are a dark olivey colour, which fades gradually into a lighter olive, sometimes with a golden tinge, along its flanks, with a silvery cream belly. Perch have between seven to nine vertical stripes, giving them the nickname of "stripies".
Its tail, pelvic and anal fins are a bright orange-red, and behind its sharp gill plate are its pectorals, which are completely translucent. It has two separate dorsal fins (here, the ruffe is different, which a continous dorsal fin) - these bristle when the perch is chasing food or alarmed. Its front dorsal has spikes and dark patches, whereas the second dorsal has soft branched rays.
The perch has very rough scales and a has no teeth, as such, in its extremely large mouth - its expandable bony jaws are capable of engulfing a fish nearly half its size.
At a young age, perch will eat aquatic insects, and will then progress to small fish like minnows, gudgeon, roach, rudd, bleak, dace and even baby perch. Deadbait is very effective with perch particularly in heavily coloured water, but when using it, it is most effective when freshly killed. Perch will also take single maggot or caster, and all perch love worms. Another thing they will go for it artificial lures such as small spinners like Ondex and Voblex and spinner baits.
Perch spawn in early spring, generally around April. Their eggs are stringy and white, and they will drape over wilow roots, reedlines and sunken bankside trees until ready to hatch. This generally takes about a week.
Perch can be found in most rivers and stillwaters, close to and among habitat features. They will use their camouflage to blend in with reedstems, fallen trees, wooden pilings, and thick weeds. As well as hiding like this, they will also be happy in deep, clear water where they can clearly see any enemy.
Look out for...
Perch love to hang out tight to bridges and their stanchions.
Overhanging bushes and trees are perfect perch hotspots.
Perch will hide close to reedbeds where they ambush their prey.
Perch are generally very widely distributed - they are common throughout all British Isles, and also in Europe and Asia. They will also be found to be doing well in Australasia, north America and south Africa.
Best baits for catching a perch...
There are quite a few other British freshwater fish that anglers may encounter from time to time, and here they are:
The ruffe resembles a small perch. They grow to around 4 inches and tend to be olive brown to golden brown along its back with a yellow/white underbelly. The dorsal fin protrudes proudly just like that of the perch, plus it's spiny.
Sometimes called Ide, the orfe can be golden or silver. They are not an indigenous species to the British Isles, with some orfe stocked into stillwaters dotted around the country. The fins of ide tend to be a shade of red, the brightness of which will vary according to the clarity and quality of the water. They will feed at any level in the water, from the bottom silt to the surface.
Sometimes called the Miller's Thumb, the bullhead is a boisterous little fish that has a large head that tapers into a long catfish like tail. They have brown flanks and backs with a cream underbelly. Their backs can slowly change colour to suit the background, ensuring that they are always camouflaged. They can be found throughout Europe, mainly in stony clear streams.
This tiny barbel-like fish has six barbules protruding from its lower jaw. It has dark olive-brown mottled colouration over the flanks and back and a creamy underbelly. It prefers stony rivers and streams, particularly in the south and mid-areas of England and Wales.
These tiny fish can be a bit of a pest when fishing with maggots as they shoal together and attack small baits. They are up to 2inches long and are brown/green on top with a dark line along the flanks. They are found in rivers, lakes, ponds and streams across Europe.
There are two types of stickleback: the common three-spined and the much less common 12-spined. As the name suggests, they have sines on their backs, just infront of their dorsal fins. They are olive brown with mottled backs. The males' bellies turn rosy red just prior to spawning, and the males also build small nests in which they attract the females to breed.
This is one of the smallest of all British freshwater fish. When the male is fully grown it is around 3 inches long, while the female is a mere 2 inches. The male assumes wonderful colours during the breeding time, and that's why it is sometimes called the Rainbow fish. They are extremely rare in Britain - you may encounter the odd bitterling in the southern counties.
Some fisheries stock goldfish of all sorts in their commercial fisheries - a cheaper way to bulk up their stocks. They can range in size and colour, from brown through to blue, and all colours in between. Brown goldfish are very often mistaken for crucian carp. To catch a goldfish or two, simply use the same tactics as you would when fishing for a carp of any size.
The gudgeon is a very short, small, lightweight but powerful fish that can easily be mixed up with a baby barbel. It very rarely reaches lengths above 4-5ins, and weights over 3oz.
They are quite easy to catch, and once you catch one you can normally catch plenty more as they are a shoaling species that roam around the bottom of rivers, canals and stillwaters in fairly substantial shoals.
They may be small fish but they are great fun to catch on very light tackle or when using a short whip and fishing 'to hand'.
The gudgeon is a very sleek little fish that is perfectly shaped to ensure that it can easily combat powerful flowing water. The head is very aerodynamic while the body tapers away steadily.
The fins are long and sleek, the tail is long and the mouth is underslung, clearly giving the ganme away that the gudgeon is a bottom-feeding species.
Colouration of the gudgeon is quite different to that of the barbel - barbel are a bronze colour while the gudgeon is a silver/blue colouration.
Both the barbel and gudgeon (and the stone loach) has tentacle-like barbules hanging down from the underside of the mouth. These are used to locate and search for food within sand and gravel on the bottom.
Gudgeon can be found in lots of different venues right across England and Wales, but the low temperatures and very different water quality in Scotland proves a problem for the gudgeon and they are few and far between over the border.
This little powerful fish thrives and does best in rivers of all sizes, particularly when the water flows over long glides of gravel or sand.
Gudgeon have made their way into canals across the country. Here they seem to have adapted quite well even though the water tends to run over either clay or silt.
By far the second best place to find good colonies of gudgeon is in the many gravel pits dotted across the country. Here they will find great feeding areas (over the gravel and sand) but no flowing water. This doesn't seem to pose these little bottom-feeders with any real problems.
Breeding amongst the gudgeon fraternity takes place in the late spring where the shoals group together tightly and seek out shallower areas of gravel or soft weed. The females lay their eggs and then the males frantically intercept the freshly laid eggs to fertilise them.
The tiny gudgeon eggs take only 10-12 days to hatch.
The favourite morsel in a gudgeon's diet has to be the freshwater shrimp - they adore these protein-packed invertebrae, but gudgeon will seek out any organisms living within the sand or gravel bottom, from water fleas to tiny moscs - the gudgeon will eat them all.
Gudgeon are also very fond of groundbait too. They particularly like dark groundbait mixes that sink to the bottom like stones before breaking down and releasing their scent particles.
Look out for...
|Find gudgeon in open water swims in gravel pits and lakes.|
Given the choice, gudgeon prefer streams and rivers running over gravel.
Many canals hold gudgeon - try fishing the nearside shelf with a whip.
Best baits for catching a gudgeon...
There's no other species of British freshwater fish quite like the eel. It really is a fascinating fish that, believe it or not, makes for a fantastic target to those wishing to catch a very big eel.
You would be hard pressed to not immediately recognise an eel, with it's long, snake-like body, tiny eyes, tiny pectoral fins and a dorsal fin that begins a third of the way down the body and extends right back to the tip of the pointed tail and along the underside of the belly.
The head of an eel is very streamlined and small, with the mouth full of rows of tiny teeth.
Colouration varies. They tend to be a yellow/brown but this changes to a metallic silvery bronze before the eel makes its arduous journey to the sea to breed.
The breeding of eels is absolutely fascinating. For years the eel will live happily in stillwaters across Europe, then suddenly the urge will be too strong and they will head towards the sea to breed. They will even leave the sanctuary of land-locked stillwaters, wriggling over wet grass at night to find rivers that link to the sea.
Once at sea they cross the Atlantic to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn. The Sargassum seaweed that thrives in this area gives the eel eggs and the young plenty of protection.
Once the eels hatch, the wafer thin and leaf-shaped fry drift helplessly with the Gulf Stream towards Europe. As they near the European coast they quickly shrink into cord-like elvers and then continue their migration by wriggling in their millions into freshwater.
The gulf stream takes the fry back to Europe
Some don't make it to freshwater - they simply remain in estuaries or in the sea - while others continue their journeys up river. Some remain in the rivers while others wriggle overland to find land-locked stillwaters where they will remain and grow large.
Eventually the life cycle of the eel begins once more.
Eels feed upon all kinds of aquatic life: insects, crustaceans, small fish, amphibians and so on. They become a great deal more aggressive in their feeding at night - the best time of all to catch a big eel is to fish during thundery conditions when the air temperature is high, the water temperature high and the air humid.
Almost every single river and canal in the British Isles contain eels and they are quite easily catchable using baits like maggots, casters and worms. In fact, many anglers try their best to avoid catching eels as their strong writhing and slimy bodies makes them a real 'nuisance' to those who aren't prepared to go to the extra effort of unhooking them.
Location is half the problem though, when it comes to finding big eels - those over the 3lb mark. Don't bother with rivers - you ought to seek land-locked stillwaters close to a river or a canal system as it is here you may find eels that have taken up residence for many years and have had the chance to grow large up all that the lake offers.
Look out for...
|Look for steep marginal drop-offs as they hold big eels.|
Night fishing is by far the best option when eel fishing.
Overhanging trees or marginal snags are eel hotspots.
Best baits for catching an eel...
The humble dace is a wonderful river species that inhabits tiny little streams through to huge waterways like the Severn and Wye.
It loves fast water, particularly the rapid, shallow and highly oxygenated water immediately downstream of a wierpool.
They are quite small fish, in fact the British record currently stands at a mere 1lb 5oz 2dr. An average day fishing for dace will bring fish of around the 3-5oz mark to the net. An angler who catches a 10oz-plus dace ought to feel very proud of himself indeed.
Dace have slim, rounded bodies with small and flat scales. The head is small and the mouth quite dainty.
You will find that dace have silver flanks, white underbelly and dark brown/green backs. Both the forked tail and the dorsal fin are an almost translucent grey, while all the fins on the underside of the fish range from a dirty yellow to pale pink.
The main way to distinguish the dace is to take a look at its dorsal and anal fins - they curve inwards (concave).
Immediately prior to spawning - around April - the male dave become rough to the touch with their abundance of spawning tubercles. This is the only time of the year you can immediately tell the difference between a male and a female dace.
During February and March male and female dace separate. The males move into fast shallow water, while the females move into deeper and calmer water.
Whe the time comes, the females move upstream into the fast shallows to lay their eggs. The males immediately fertilize them, and some three weeks later the eggs hatch. This spawning process always takes place under the cover of darkness, for reasons of safety.
Dace feed naturally upon all forms of aquatic insect life, taking small mulluscs off the river bed, to interpting flies that inadvertently land on the surface - to all regions between the two.
Dace love the faster water. If you are faced with a wide river, search for areas of the river that are narrower and therefore faster than the rest, as it is here you will find dace queuing for food.
The best places to find and catch dace are tiny swift chalkstreams. Dace love places like this.
Dace aren't too keen on bends in the river, instead much preferring to take up station in long straight glides.
A great place that is always favoured by the dace is the run-off of a wier. Here the water is fast, shallow and boily - perfect for these little streamlined fish to intercept their food.
Look out for...
Look for where a river narrows and speeds up - here you will find dace.
Dace can be found in the turbulent waters downstream of wiers.
|Long and straight glides are perfect places to catch dace on the float.|
Best baits for catching dace...
The crucian carp is a lovely, enigmatic fish but, by the same token, one of Britain's most frustrating. Catch a big crucian carp and you will be amazed by its fantastic gold colouration, but catching a crucian carp of any size can be a real challenge in itself as they are the most delicate of feeders.
Crucian carp don't grow anywhere near as large as common carp and a 2lb crucian carp is a very worthy fish to have caught. The current British record stands at a very impressive 4lb 9oz 9dr, caught by Martin Bowler.
Crucian carp are short and dumpy creatures. Colouration varies greatly between venues, like all carp, but in the main crucians have a rich golden colour.
They do not have any barbules, and that's certainly a great help when determining between a true crucian carp and a 'normal' carp.
The fins are very rounded and note the dorsal fin. It too is rounded but convex, unlike all other carp which have concave (rounded inwards) dorsal fins.
Like all carp, crucians can spawn any time and even twice between the beginning of May and the end of July. All they require is warm weather and warm water and they are off!
The males follow the females until they are ready to release their eggs, then spawning occurs in a really frantic way in the weed-lined fringes of stillwaters dotted all around the country.
Due to the size of the eggs (around the size of a No8 split shot) and the water temperature, the eggs hatch really swiftly - in only 6-10 days.
Crucian carp are just like all other carp - they are very aggressive feeders. They feed on almost anything that lives in freshwater, from leeches to snail eggs, and daphnia to emerging insect life - they will take it all.
They will feed by sifting through the bottom silt as they hunt for bloodworms, right up to taking flies from the surface - nothing really escapes a hungry crucian carp.
But, once a crucian carp is caught a few times it soon learns and they can be the most frustrating of all British fish to catch. They seem to gently nudge the bait, sucking it in really very gently to test it for hooks - and for that reason the best way to catch them is to use the tiniest of floats dotted right down to a mere millimetre or two poking above the surface.
If you have too much float protruding from the surface you simply won't spot the tentative and delicate bite from these beautiful golden fish.
Look out for...
Crucian carp like drop-offs into deep water.
They can be found close to marginal reedbeds.
Lilies are like a magnet to crucian carp.
Best baits for catching a crucian carp...
The bream is an angler's favourite. Why? Because if you catch one there's a very high chance you will catch another. And another. And more.
Bream are a shoaling species. They are the equivalent to an underwater herd of cows, travelling together and feeding slowly, methodically and ravenously.
They grow quite large and will very quickly mop-up a massive amount of food when a shoal of bream move over it.
Bream can reach very impressive weights when living in food-rich waters, or those that are heavily fed with high-protein carp bait. The current record stand at an enormous 19lb 12oz.
Bream are fairly easy to distinguish from all other species of British freshwater fish. It has a very deep and flat body, a mouth that protrudes quite far from the fish's head, long dorsal and tail fins, plus a coating of thick and rather smelly slime.
This slime will adhere to keepnets and cause a tremendous pong if it isn't washed off quite quickly, as any ardent Irish or Dutch angler will tell you!
Colouration of the bream varies enormously depending upon the age and size. Young bream are very deep-bodied yet extremely thin. Their bodies are a silver colour, sometimes almost white, and when these fish are caught they quickly rise to the surface where they can be skimmed across the top of the water straight into the net - that's why young bream are nicknamed skimmers.
Older bream - those over the 2-3lb mark - tend to have creamy undersides, bronze flanks and dark brown backs.
Breeding of the bream takes place in shallow weedy water in late spring, when water temperatures increase. You can easily identify when a male bream is nearing the breeding time as they grow quite hard, white tubercles on their heads and shoulders.
Bream use these tubercles to help trigger the females into releasing their eggs, as they rub against the females in the shallows.
The females lay thousands of pale yellow eggs over soft weed, which hatch within eight to 12 days.
At this time of the year other species are breeding too, in particular the roach. They use the same breeding areas as the bream and because the DNA of both roach and bream are so similar, cross fertilisation sometimes takes place, where a male roach will fertilise bream eggs and vice versa. The inevitable outcome are plenty of bream/roach hybrids.
Bream are predominently bottom feeders, rooting through silt and gravel to hunt for crustaceans, leaches, other fish eggs and midge larvae, which they absolutely adore.
In clear but silty waterways it is quite easy to spot a shoal of feeding bream - once they 'get their heads down' and begin rooting through the silt they colour the water, giving away their prescence quite easily.
Bream absolutely adore groundbait too. From simple brown crumb to any of the more complicated and additive-packed continental groundbaits, they love most of them.
If you introduce a good helping of groundbait either through a feeder during your session, or by balling the groundbait in by hand at the start of the session you will give the bream a great reason to come and feed in your swim.
Some of the most productive groundbaits for instant bream success are those that contain inactive fishmeal particles.
Bream can be found almost everywhere in Europe, from stillwater to commercials, canals to rivers. They aren't that widespread in Scotland though, only worth targeting in some southern-most lochs.
The perfect habitat for bream are deep stillwaters and deep rivers, where they thrive, but bream can be found in clear shallow rivers - here the best place to locate bream are in the deep and slack areas of wierpools.
To late bream in the warmer months head towards swims where the breeze is hitting you straight in the face. Bream always follow a wind, so if there are waves lapping against your feet or seatbox, bream won't be too far away.
Look out for...
Bream love the darkness and security of deep water.
Wide open swims are perfect for big bream hauls.
Always fish head-on into a warm wind to locate bream shoals.
This tiny little bream is a species in its own right and is often confused with baby bream. They have the same body shape, but their eyes are larger and the body is almost slimeless.
Two other differences are that the mouth doesn't protrude as far as the more prolific common bream, and the fins are a shade of pink.
Breeding of the silver bream is exactly the same as that of the common bream.
In Europe the silver bream thrives in lowland rivers and lakes, but unfortunately the silver bream is almost an endangered species in the British Isles - only a few shoals exist in East Anglia.
Best baits for catching bream...
The chub is a fairly aggressive fish that is by far one of this country's most greedy species but, by the same token, it's one of the most wily of all our fish. Creeping close enough to catch feeding chub, moving out from under weed rafts of a clear, shallow stream takes some stealth. As soon as one notices the skyline being broken or senses heavy footsteps it will take the whole shoal downstream or under cover, never to appear again for hours.
This coupled with the fact that chub can ascertain great weights and they have the fighting power to back their weight up, makes these fish a very worthy target indeed.
There are three species that have and always will confuse anglers - chub, dace and grass carp. At a quick glance they all look very similar indeed. In fact the Angling Times has been sent pictures of record-breaking chub caught by pleasure anglers claiming the weight o be 12, 15 even 16lb.... if only the angler looked closely they would realise that their prize chub was in fact a grass carp.
Characteristics of a chub are:- a large head with protruding upper lip, a large mouth and thick-rimmed lips. Colouration of the chub is simply dark grey/brown along the back running into a brass colour along the flanks. Both the dorsal fin and tail fin are dark grey, while the underside pelvic and anal fins are a shade of orange - the colour of which will depend upon the clarity of the water.
The main point that helps anglers distinguish chub from dace (especially when small) is the shape of the dorsal and anal fins. The chub has rounded, concave fins - the dace has unwardly curved concave fins.
The chub's natural diet consists of many things - as we said, chub are extremely greedy fish! They will eat all manner of aquatic insect larvae, small fish, snails, shrimp, crayfish, any insects that accidentally land on the surface, even lobworms that are washed into the river in times of flood.
Anglers have found that the larger the bait, the better chance of it being taken by a chub. Triple maggot, a whole lobworm, a big chunk of bread flake, a lip-hooked minnow, a large blob of cheesepaste, even 20mm boilies will all account for big chub.
Spawning amongst chub takes place in the late spring or early summer. The females distribute their eggs within the likes of willow moss and amongst gravel. The males immediately pass over the eggs to fertilize them.
This is when hybrids are created as there are times when the breeding of other fish takes place in the same area at the same time.
One point to remember about the chub is that they absolutely love hiding away. If there are floating weed rafts, overhanging trees, undercut banks, areas of streamer weed or submerged roots that's where you'll find them. They are an angler's dream when it comes to providing the fisherman with great sport, but they are an angler's nightmare when it comes to lost tackle in all those snags!
So, if you are seeking chub in any flowing water, look for features such as those mentioned and you won't be too far away.
Chub in stillwaters are a little different - they could be anywhere as they will feed at any level in the water, from the very surface right down to the deep, dark depths.
Look out for...
You'll find chub in the smallest of streams countrywide.
Cast your chub baits tight to any marginal snag.
Weed rafts are a magnet to chub who hide beneath them.
Best baits for catching a chub...
The carp is by far Britian's most popular species. It graces almost every single stillwater and has found its way into almost every river and canal. Carp can even be found in the infamous Norfolk Broads system too.
It is a fabulous species that, when small, provides great year-round sport. But when they have grown on and packed on the pounds, they offer a real challenge to those anglers who are prepared to sit it out and wait for a specimen to come along.
Carp originated from Eastern Europe and Asia, when monks brought them into this country to rear in stew ponds for the table. They grew quickly in these small, food-rich ponds and therefore provided a reliable year-round food source many moons ago.
There are different varations of carp - in terms of their scale patterns - but they all feature the same physical appearance: an extremely powerful, paddle like caudal (tail) fin, long and distinct fan-like dorsal fin and a protruding mouth featuring a pair of barbules either side.
Common carp are fully-scaled. Their scales are of an equal size throughout the length of their body. These carp tend to be slightly thicker across the body than other carp, and have the ability to pack on the pounds very swiftly indeed, given the right conditions and a plentiful supply of natural food.
Mirror carp have scales of different sizes running the length of the body - some scales may be the size of your thumbnail, while others may be as long as your index finger. They are very pretty fish and, like the common carp, will quickly increase in weight until they reach net-busting proportions. There are fully-scaled mirror carp (bodies covered in differnt sizes of scales) and linear mirror carp (having a line of scales running along each side of the fish).
Leather carp are quite rare. They are completely devoid of any scale patterns at all, or sometimes having a feint line of small scales alongside their long dorsal fin. Again, leather carp can ascertain great weights given a plentiful food supply.
There is also the crucian carp, which is a totally different strain of plump little carp. Click here for details on this great little fish.
In the main carp tend to have cream bellies, golden flanks and chestnut brown backs and shoulders, but this colouration will depend upon the water clarity and quality. In heavily coloured stillwaters the colouration tends to fade with the fish being rather pale, but compare that to a fish caught from a crystal clear, well oxygenated gravel pit and you'll find hues of silver, ble, bronze and even gold adorning the carp's flanks and fins.
There are strains of more exotic carp available to tempt anglers too. Quite a number of fisheries stock the smaller and more plump crucian carp (Carassius carassius) that is great fun with light tackle and small baits. You may come across the long, sleek and chub-like grass carp (Ctenopharyngoden idella), possibly a ghost carp or even a koi carp, but these species are few and far between in most British waters. But of the new variants of carp available you are most likely to encounter the F1 strain of carp, bred specifically to provide great and frantic fishing in all weathers, and also to pile on the pounds rapidly. These carp are a commercial fishery match angler's favourite.
Carp are voracious feeders, particularly in stillwaters. Their bulk and somewhat aggressive nature see them bully other fish out of the way so that they can engulf what's left of angler's baits thrown in after a session. They feed at all levels of the water depending upon the water temperature. They are equally content hoovering up food that has settled on the bottom as they are taking insects, bread and floating baits off the surface - and of course anything that falls inbetween.
They will eat both animal and vegatable-based food - nothing gets past a carp when it's hungry!
Look out for...
The margins are a magnet to feeding carp of all sizes.
Night fishing offers the best chance for mega specimens.
Surface fishing tight to lilies is brilliant during the summer.
Best baits for catching a carp...
Of all our tiny British freshwater species the bleak is the fish most sought-after by anglers. The reason for this is because they are easy to catch, they swim in huge shoals and they allow match anglers to put together great weights in a very short time.
Bleak are tiny fish - the British record is just over 4oz! They are long, flat-sided and sleek fish - much like a stillwater herring, really. They have large eyes and a turned-up mouth that is ideal for taking food off the surface or in the upper layers as it falls.
The tail is forked, the scales are quite large (they fall away from the fish easily too), and the fins are a transparent grey/yellow.
The flanks of bleak vary between pure silver through to an almost metallic blue/green, depending upon the water clarity and quality.
Spawning of this species takes place in the late spring, like most of our British species. They seek shallow water running over soft weed in which the female lays its eggs. The male intercepts the eggs to fertilise them.
Given good water conditions and a steady temperature the bleak's eggs will hatcgh within 10-14 days.
Competition between bleak is almost always quite frantic due to the size of the shoals, so not a lot gets passed a bleak. They will feed on all manner of insects that accidentally drop onto the surface of the river.
Their staple diet comprises: water fleas, daphnia, emerging insects, midges and the likes - bascially anything small that drifts past their little noses!
To catch bleak on rod and line, or better still, a whip, you don't need anything too complicated. Maggots will do the trick - two or even three maggots on a size 14 hook should be enough to catch five or more bleak before you need to change your bait.
When there are hundreds in your swim you will quite easily catch bleak on maggot skins, as proven by many match anglers who take on the shoals that inhabit the mighty River Wye.
Bleak flourish in rivers, particularly lowland Midland and Southern English rivers where the water is slow-moving, but they are doing extremely well in the River Wye and its tributaries.
Bleak tend to feed and inhabit the upper layers of the water - generally the top third of water, unless temperatures are so low that these silvery fish are forced towards the bottom.
Look out for...
Search out lowland rivers for hoardes of bleak.
Evenly paced swims offer the best sport for bleak.
|You will find bleak in the main river or its tributaries.|
It is no coincidence that the barbel's elongated, powerful shape bears resemblance to a long carp - the barbel is part of the cyprinidae, or carp family of freshwater fish. This is not the only similarity - it is also similar in habits and physical characteristics.
Barbel is happiest in well-oxygenated river water, and will often be found in fast runs over gravel or a clean sandy bottom, although it can also thrive slow moving rivers.
Most river barbel are in the region of 3-6lb, and generally group together with other barbel of the same size. Any barbel exceeding 8lb is considered a fine specimen.
The barbel has four sensory barbules, one pair at the point of the snout, the other at the rear of the top lip. When netting and retaining barbel, extra care must be taken due to its strong, serrated spine that starts at its dorsal fin - this spine can become entangled and then broken.
Its front is triangular and skate-like, and its tail is large and forked, the top lobe being sharply pointed, the lower being rounded. The scales are small and lie close to the body, the colours going from an even olive-brown to brown-grey at the back, and pale brass flanks, with a matter white belly.
Barbel can be reluctant to take the bait during lighter hours of the day, feeding more confidently from dusk through the hours of darkness. However, if they have a sanctuary they can continually nip in and out of (ie sandy runs between beds of tall bullrushes) they will feed well during daylight.
Winter barbel fishing can be slow - the last few weeks of the season being the best time. Weed cover will be lessened by frosts which makes barbel shoal in much tighter groups, becoming far less spread out. There are certain conditions can prompt aggressive feeding from barbel: a rising river, points at which clear water starts to colour, when, during winter, there is consistently high air temperatures or mild spells.
Although they occasionally take their food to the surface, the majority of its food is found on the bottom, so most of its feeding will be done there. Its diet consists of shrimps, snails, crayfish and aquatic insect larvae, which it will probe for at the bottom, using its the sensitive taste paids on its long whiskers. Barbel will also eat small fish such as minnows, loach, gudgeon and lampreys.
This usually takes place during late April / early May. White tubercles appear on the males' heads and backs, distinguishing them from females. This is the only time of year where there is any distinguishable difference between male and females.
Several males will gather round the female, who is now heavy with eggs and use their noses and shoulders to nudge her to stimulate her to release the eggs. Once released, the males will distribute their milt over the small yellow eggs, and they flow downstream to stick to stones and rooted weeds. Once fertilised, they eggs take up to 14 days to hatch, although this can depend on water temperature. After that, they are thrown into a hostile world where most will fall prey to other fish, including its own kind.
Barbels choose homes where they feel that they are safe - this will often be somewhere that they have cover over their heads, or close by. Particularly good for barbel are swims with dense beds of flowering weeds or beneath lines of trees whose lower limbs are part sunken.
Barbel can generally be located visually in clear water, during summer except in the deepest rivers. Buying a good pair of scratch-resistance polaroid sunglasses can help barbel locating dramatically. Yellow lenses provide increased brightness - helping close observation of the river-bed in low light, such as overcast days and at dusk and dawn. For the middle of the day when the sun is high and bright, standard grey or amber lenses are really helpful. A pair of lightweight binoculars are essential for observing the river's flow patterns and distant swims.
Look out for...
Gravel beds of rivers are perfect feeding grounds for barbel.
Barbel love fast water, particularly downstream from wiers.
Look closely behind streamer weed as it's here you'll find fish.
Barbel can be found in several English river systems where they have been introduced over the last 30 years, the Ouse being particularly well populated. Yorkshire is the most northerly county they can be found, and they're not found in Ireland. They are also common to rivers throughout Europe.
Have you caught a barbel of 4lb or over? Click HERE to see if you've qualified for a Shimano Mission Accomplished badge and a chance of winning quality tackle with Catch of the Month...