We have all been there, sat at home on the computer checking wind speed gust strength praying that the fishery staff will let us out. Opportunities have been so scarce this year with the diabolical weather conditions it has taught me that every second counts when you’re eventually afloat. In this article I will be sharing the preparation and tactics I employ on my hunt for big zander on our day ticket reservoirs.
Since we spend much time thinking about our next trip, I like to use this time positively, doing all the small tasks that take only a few minutes on the day but can add up to half an hour or so when you look at them as a whole and that half hour at the end of the day in what I refer to as 'the witching hour' is ‘zander gold time’. I always take three rods to cover the following methods/tactics:
Vertical jigging – I prefer a baitcaster combo for this particular method, as it allows me to control the sink rate of my bait and most importantly sit comfortably in my hand for hours on end not having to change my grip to get comfortable and end up missing that one bite. It is essential that the reel is loaded with braid of a low diameter; this reduces the drag on the braid providing a more direct line of contact to the lure. I attach the lure to a short length of fluorocarbon via a snap link the snap link, which allows the changing of lures quickly and easily… even with cold hands. Fishing this method when drifting I will release the spool gently thumbing the braid controlling the descent of the lure. Once it hits the bottom I turn the handle to engage the spool, at this point I will make a mental reference between my rod tip and water surface knowing my lure is hard on the bottom. I find most success is achieved through imparting subtle movement into the soft plastic lure with very short movements upwards and then controlled lowering of the rod tip until the bottom is felt, which should be around that mental point of reference.
Drop shot - I use a fixed spool for this set up, again spooled with fine braid to minimise drag or bowing of the braid that reduces contact with the lure. I combine it with a tubular tipped rod, and a fluorocarbon leader connected to the hook via a Palomar knot. For all of my drop shotting I favour the VMC 7119 super light drop shot hook, the drop shot weight is as always tied/clipped to the tag end of the knot. I prefer to mount the bait onto the hook as opposed to lip or nose hooking the bait. I always use a stinger, as on some of the venues I fish, you are fishing for just one bite! This rig can either be fished close to the boat or casting to the side if you can see structure on your fish finder.
Dead Rod - This is an identical set up to that of the vertical one, with the only difference being the way it is fished; ‘static’. It is best presented directly under the boat so you can clearly see your jig in the cone of your transducer, the lure can be produced close to the bottom or mid water. I started experimenting with this under the guidance of my long term mentor Andy Lush and it never ceases to amaze me how devastating this method is and the amount of interest it attracts. Looking on the finder screen, shapes detach from the bottom contours and rise to inspect the jig, sometimes instantly returning to the bottom but sometimes tracking for minuets at a time just watching the lure, which can be real heart in mouth stuff! I always have my dead rod to hand when on the drift as it can also come in handy if you see a mid water fish that you can target, commonly referred to as ‘pelagic’.
Lures - this obviously comes down to personal preference, but importantly down to zander preference, taking into account how actively they are feeding. When very active, larger lures with plenty of action work best. When not actively feeding (which is the majority of the time) then subtle lures with little action are best. I have not found colour to be important, but have most success on natural colours, probably due to the fact I favour this colour based on personal experience. Two things I always ensure are: My lures are rigged with stingers ideally pre rigged using a carp type stringer needle to draw the connecting braid or mono through the bait to stop it tangling during the jigging. This is one of those things to do during telly time! The second thing is bait rub I won't go afloat without my scent attractant and regularly reapply between drifts.
Other essentials are: A comfortable boat seat - I use a fly fishing type telescopic bench with a leather swivel seat. This ensures I am sitting parallel to my rod and my spine is not twisting for long periods afloat, which can cause damage and pain to your back. My seat has a channel type tray to the front which accommodates the baits I have selected for the day.
Fish finder - Well that’s a piece for another article…However one of the most important tools is a good transducer mounting. If you have your own boat and are lucky enough to have it permanently mounted, it is not an issue, but on the hire boats you need to mount your transducer in the most secure way possible to give you the best possible reading. It's no good if the finder’s getting pulled at a right angle as you motor to a new drift. I have used many variants, but hands down, my current model is by far my favourite. It is quick to install, sturdy and manoeuvrable even at full speed. Based on a Minn Kota electric engine shaft it has a double screw clamp wide enough to accommodate all gunnels, the composite shaft has a neat block on the end to which you can easily attach a skimmer and structure scan transducer mounted securely at right-angles. Relatively new to the UK these can be hard to obtain, but I got mine from The Lure Box.