I turned the ignition. Splutter. Then again. Similar thing, a mild coughing, and a flat refusal to kick over. This was not how the day was meant to start. Four o’clock in the morning and already a set back. Typical. I gave the car a few seconds before attempting one last time. An intervention from the angling gods. The car roared (whimpered) to life and was duly left to warm up. Thoughts of pitting my whits against zander for the very first time.
It’s fair to say that I usually don’t travel very far at all in my weekly pursuits, mostly due to being equidistant from a number of great venues, some on the radar and others a little less so. But, I have always wanted to catch a zander, ever since I first saw one in the angling press as a child. They looked incredible and formidable in turn. Subtle colours and sleek lines. Fangs and spikes aplenty. One scary looking fish to a six year old. A sentiment shared by a large chunk of the country at the time too. Since then, thankfully, more anglers have embraced them as a species that is here to stay, rather than one that needs removing or culling, and long may it continue.
As I walked the towpath for the first time, I knew the day ahead of me was going to be a tough one, a steep learning curve more than anything. If I was to catch just one zander, of any size, then the day will have been a huge success. Although as we all know, sometimes just to be in with a chance of achieving something, is enough. With the boats still sleeping the canal was clear and accordingly I fished to features. Rushes, overhanging trees and of course, any moored up narrowboats. I used a natural coloured shad, one of ruffe or minnow coloration, working it at varying speeds and with different kinds of actions.
After two hours fishing I had not had any signs. No taps, nips or plucks. Nor had I seen anything follow the lure in. The rain fell and the wind blew but I remained positive and focused. Head down, watching the tip and line, for any subtle signs of interest from this lighting quick predator. In the distance I saw the first of the days boat near the lock. Accordingly the water began to run, pushing from the right to left as the lock was opened. Only a few more minutes left before the clarity would be lost. As soon as this boat passed through, the silt would stir and the fishing, I assumed, would become even more difficult. Closer and closer the boat came, until I found myself wishing the owner good morning, and watching on as clouds of dark orange swirled in front of me.
Angling instinct took over. What self respecting predator would not take advantage of this? Small fish, lost and disorientated in a freak, muddy fog. Keen eyes, adept to seeing where prey cannot. Ready to ambush. I thought I’d make it easier for any nearby zander and changed to the most gaudy and obtrusive lure I had with me. I cast out, allowed the jig to sink, brought it back, once, twice, before the most shocking hit vibrated up the line. Just as the lure passed the threshold from clear water into dark.
A bit like a wet sack, but with the pronounced head shakes of an eel, the fish pulled back. Rod tip followed, left, right and down. I gave the fish no quarter. It returned the sentiment. Left and right. Clutch clicking. Suddenly its head lunged from the gloom. Black eyes and a toothy snarl. My heart rate increasing dramatically. Zander! A moment to savour as it was drawn over the rim of the net. Dark grey fins, tipped with a pearly white, sprung dramatically from a khaki flank. They really are much more impressive in the flesh than in pictures. And that is saying something. A brilliantly adapted creature.
For the rest of the day I fished hard but the canal fished harder. I could not find any more fish until the last hour of daylight, when I had multiple follows, though I was unable to get a confident take. I had to accept that the day had already been made, hours before, when I first glanced that primeval grin. What fantastic memories. Time to head home and get warm. Now, would the car start?
Until next time,