Tag: fishing

Tench Fishing Tangles

I really don’t know if I am the only tench guide in the country but I am sure that between April and August there is a huge demand for the species that I have been trying to satisfy for years. There is something quite magical about fishing for Tench which is clearly appreciated by many thousands of anglers up and down the country.Tench can often be quite obliging to fish for but certainly not always! In this blog I take a look at why Tench can sometimes confound and what tactics pay dividends most often for me.

By and large i have been pretty successful. In the past 5 years catches have averaged between 800 and 1200 tench each  season which when you think about it is a hell of a lot. We are looking at around 10 tench per day which can be a killer to achieve in several weather scenarios. Tench are far more picky that carp and a whiff of an easterly will send them packing most of the time.

Gone Fishing

The popularity of Tench fishing and it’s challenges was illustrated while when I was working with Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer on the BBC2 series Mortimer & Whitehouse:Gone Fishing which I am the fishing consultant on. Paul and Bob were very keen to have a Tench fishing episode in the mix and who was I to argue. I baited heavily a number of swims on pits I thought I could rely on to deliver a fish or two. As is the way with mother nature on the day , yes you guessed it we had a easterly blowing.  After 5 hours of fishing we had caught nothing for the cameras. Whilst we had plenty of hilarious banter from Paul and Bob we needed a fish or two to make the show work. Fortunately finally late in the afternoon we managed a couple of super fish which was of great relief to me and the producers

Paul and Bob from Series 1


I’m well aware that much of the time success I have had over the years is down to the waters I fish. That is obvious. However, I have been fishing for tench since 1962 so if I haven’t got a clue by now it would be a sad admission. Of course , over 57 years, I have had to scratch my head a number of times but I can’t remember a year when the tench have had it so much of their own way. Every tench i have put a net under this year has been hard won and sometimes a fish has seemed impossible. What is going on??

As I see it, there are two issues.

Tench wise up

One. Tench on each and every one of the 14 lakes I guide upon have wised up to some degree. We all know this happens. Whatever the species, after a while you do get rumbled. I first truly realised the extent of this back on the Red Lion stretch of the river Wye in the early 90s. It became blindingly obvious that if you pressured a shoal of barbel there they would learn the game with startling rapidity. I began the practise of catching one or two fish from a shoal and then resting that shoal for days /weeks even months. The trouble was that on a public water you could not control the actions of others and the shoals that I was cosseting increasingly became blitzed by others. That’s fine. That’s life. That’s why I moved on.

A stunning float caught 5 lb Tench

Swim rotation?

Back to tench, that is why up here I have spent a long time building up a portfolio of private or semi private waters. At least that way I have some measure of control over which swims are fished when, how and to what degree. I certainly learned form my Red Lion days and I like to think I have treated my Norfolk tench waters and swims with kid gloves, rotating swims and moving anglers on to new swims and lakes once they have caught a certain, generally low, number of fish. And the approach I talk about in my top tips for tench blog has seen most of my success. The trouble is that as I see it, time has caught up with me. Despite my care, in all the lakes a certain proportion of tench have been caught or hooked or seen shoal members hooked and they now know the game. Back in Red Lion days, I saw it as a fact that once those barbel were educated to us , they never forgot, they never became unlearned. You could rest a shoal a month or a year but it never reverted to its virgin state. Is that now the state my tench have reached?

Heidi with a 8lb personal best. =you can see how happy she was!

A numbers game?

I am talking the roughest possible figures here. But let’s say that each of the 14 lakes hold on average 500 tench that equates to 7,000 fish, give or take quite a lot I know. Let’s now say that my clients have landed 5,000 fish and perhaps hooked or bumped or lost a further 1,000. Well you can do the sums on this one. Of course you can say that it is possible to try new swims-the lakes are large ones-new baits and new methods and of course these are the avenues I am exploring with some success right now. We’ll see and I’ll report back at every twist and turn. What this does make one realise is the immense difficulty of catching decent tench from day ticket and club waters where the fish are fished for on a daily basis. No wonder so many of my clients complain their home waters are beyond hard to crack.

A critically balanced bunch of live and fake maggots

Crack the code

This still does not explain why a handful of waters in my tenching life have been on the verge of impossible from the very get go. Lost Lake is a prime example. As its name implies, Lost Lake was completely virginal when I stumbled upon it 3 years ago. It has a good head of big fish and it is only four acres in extent , so location is no issue. Nor is it hard to concentrate tench and get them feeding on your bait. Day upon day, we have had swims frothing with fish very evidently on what we are giving them. Yet even a bite is a rarity and a fish cause for celebration. How can this be? The tench cannot have wised up. The tench are obviously feeding on bait. We have tried at least thirty different rigs, set-ups, baits, hooking arrangements-you name it and we have done it. It is not even as though the lake is crystal clear.
So the memory span of a fish is the supposed ten seconds is it?? tell that one to my Norfolk tench and hear them laughing all the way to safety.

Tench tactics and approaches that work

Having said all that I have to be pleased with the numbers of fish that I and my guiding clients have caught. Fish into double figures, probably in excess of 100 9’s and a high proportion of 8’s and 7’s. So what have I learned.

Float fishing can be devastatingly successful if you pay attention to minimising the visibility of line in the water and critically balance baits. See my Youtube video Tench on the float for more tips and advice.


Some of the tench floats I use created by Ian Lewis of Handmadefishingfloats

1. Ring the changes with baits

– this can really can pay dividends and especially naturals like bloodworm and caddis grubs when they become preoccupied.

2. Baiting swims in advance.

– If you have the time and the pit you are fishing is accessible baiting consistently,will draw fish in and on big pits this can pay off big time.

3. The biggest Tench tend to come to feeder and scaled down carp tactics.

– and often the bait will be boilies, they will often feed alongside carp and consequently have a diet of carp anglers fair.

4. Remember the way Tench feed is to suck in food.

– make sure your baits are critically balanced so that the force of the suck lifts your bait into the fishes mouth.

Well I hope you are cracking the code for Tench fishing on your local Tench water and I would love to hear about the approaches that have work for you when times get tough.


John Bailey


John Bailey’s 10 tips to become a great angler

In this article i look at my top tips for how we can all be good and even great anglers if we want to improve enough and if we think about the whole process deeply enough. I’m proud to have known many anglers who I have watched going from decent, to good, to fantastic. In my book, they are the real heroes and you could easily join them.

I’ve always said that if I haven’t been working, I’ve either been fishing or playing football. I’m going to mention the World Cup to try and show what I mean about greatness. I enjoyed nearly all the matches but what I was aware of constantly was that in my view good footballers were only a hair’s breadth away from being great. Think about the Japan Belgium game. Japan so nearly won it because they were good, organised, motivated players following a well-schemed-out plan. In fishing or in football, you can achieve all your objectives if you follow certain basic rules. I have talked about what i see as the foundations of how to catch more fish,so here i am going to concentrate on some of the intangibles that can propel you on the road to greatness.


So many of us are held back by the fear of looking silly. There is a great amount of peer pressure in some forms of angling and I’m like many people in that I don’t want to look stupid. But who cares? Does it really matter if you’re catching? Rob Shanks, whom I’ve often talked about, is not only a tackle dealer but a great carp angler. I’ve watched Rob spend an entire session not putting a rod up, just walking, watching, thinking. Most of the other carp anglers on the lake have dashed to a swim, thrown up their bivvies, whopped out their boilies and sat back to snooze. You might think Rob is an odd one but, given the time that family and shop allow, he catches shed loads. Don’t bother about how you look. Concentrate on what you catch.


I’ve got to flag up Chris Yates here. He is typical of those great anglers who have an affinity with fish that is impossible for me, or for anyone, to put into words. They just click with fish, sense how fish are feeling and thinking and it pays massive dividend. A lot of great anglers have fished from childhood and I guess that’s something to do with it. They were brought up with fish in a way that anglers taking up the sport in middle or older age just can’t get their heads around. You don’t have to be an angler from childhood but I guess it helps when it comes to feeling at one with the water and the fish that the water holds.


            In large part, you become a fish whisperer by simply watching the water. If you do this long enough and intensely enough, you will begin to start seeing fish that you never knew previously were there. The great anglers know this. Richie Macdonald once told me that his binoculars were the most important part of his kit and a string of bubbles sighted at a hundred and fifty yards could change his season. On the other hand, a great mate of mine, sadly passed away, was Bernie Neave and he was eagle-eyed at watching fish just a rod length out. He could interpret every bubble, every swaying reed, every twig rising from the bottom. Watching the water and interpreting what you see is a fabulous gift and is one that can be learnt if you take the time to do so.


This is a vital one. All the great angler I have known have good kit, good bait and good methods. They’ve worked to put all these together and then they totally forget about the mechanics. They’re just not bothered about the hardware anymore, it’s the fish and the fishery that consume them. Too many anglers fret about their gear session in and session out. It’s a complete waste of your energy and it deflects you from what you should really be thinking about. Get gear, bait and approach right, then move on to the important bits.


I’ve already alluded to this aspect talking about Robert Shanks and Richie Macdonald. The fact is that if you just rush to the water, set up like a lunatic and get fishing, you are going to miss ninety-five percent of the opportunities throughout your fishing life. At its most basic, you might just miss some feeding fish in your haste. More importantly, you won’t sense what the water is telling you, you just won’t go with the flow. The more you strategise, the more you sink into the rhythm of the river or the stillwater, the more confident you will become and the more your ideas will flourish.


Now, importantly, I’m not talking here about the Alan Wilson approach which is to sit in a good swim, in a good water for months on end. I’m talking about taking your challenges with you in your head. Think about what you want from a water before you fall asleep, or on the tube, or in your lunch hour, or in any idle moment. You might be at work or on the motorway or wherever but in your soul and in your mind you are back bankside. If you live your fishing this way, it becomes part of your psyche.


All the good to great angler I have known set themselves up so that they can be mobile and can move at a moment’s notice. They’re not anglers who rush to what is supposed to be the best, going swim. Rather, they will take each fishing situation at its face value and plot where the fish are going to be. if they pitch down in the wrong place, then they are not so bogged down with stuff that they can’t get up and keep searching for where the fish are feeding. Rod Hutchinson would listen to weather reports and drive to a different part of the country or even to a different country depending on what they said. That’s extreme but you won’t catch a great angler sitting in a swim that his gut tells him is not going to produce.


Great anglers are like lions. They might spend the majority of their life asleep but, deep down, they’re watchful, waiting for waters to spring into life. A change in wind strength or direction. A sudden, intense cloud cover. An approaching storm. A change in barometric pressure. There are a score or more of natural phenomena that will spark the great angler out of lethargy and into life. Most big fish come during small windows, during short feeding spells. The great angler is alert enough to profit from these.


Start with the margins. Many, if not most, of the greatest anglers have been experts close-in. It’s when you can see fish and when you know a piece of water intimately that you can make proper advances. Often huge advances. One of the truly great anglers of the modern era was Lenny Bunn. Lenny was a carp angler who took Norfolk apart, Redmire apart and then the whole English carp scene apart. He was the co-inventor of Black Magic, the forerunner of all modern baits. But above all, Lenny was the master of the margins. He never put baits out at random, only in tight feeding areas, often with a pea-shooter or perhaps even down a drainpipe. Along the margins, he could use his mastery of close control and above all, read the fishes’ exact reactions. This intimate approach can teach you huge amounts about fish, how they behave, what they like and what they’re afraid of. It’s an essential step to greatness.



            Unlike football, fishing is a sport where you often get better as you get over. There are a lot of promising anglers who simply burn themselves out. The Angler’s Mail through the decades has been full of fishermen who have made a splash, if you’ll pardon the pun, but disappeared after a season or two. Really good, verging on great anglers, have long track records. They are in fishing for the long haul, for life. There are plenty of young anglers I admire tremendously but it’s words of wisdom from the oldies that I’ll really cock my ear to. Rock on Archie Braddock my old friend.


  • Master the basic skills and then, confident, move on to fishing’s endless subtleties and satisfactions.
  • Don’t bog yourself down with the mechanics of tackle, bait and rig. Be happy with what you decide upon using and then clear your mind for the important stuff.
  • Eyes. Binoculars. Polaroids. These are your most essential aids so learn how to use them.
  • Matt Busby once said it only takes a second to score a goal and it’s the same in fishing. You are better spending four hours watching, thinking and feeling and then make one successful cast. Great anglers live a quest, a water, a single fish can even inhabit their dreams. The more your fishing becomes a part of your mental world, the better you will be at it.

John Bailey


A few days back, I might just have seen Norfolk’s most important fish. I doubt if it weighed an ounce. It was a tiny crucian carp that just fitted into the palm of my hand yet, it was a major miracle.

I’ve written glowingly before about Dr Carl Sayer (Captain Crucian) and his team of wizards who are busy restoring crucian carp to their ponded strongholds around East Anglia. This tiny example of their work, though, might just be the most significant. The little lake in question was stocked a couple of years back by Carl and his merry men but I and the owner felt sure the attempt had failed. Yet, at the start of this month, when trial nettings took place, this juvenile crucian along with fifty of his brothers and sisters were found to be present.

Crucian Preservation

Carl is a scientist working at University College London and he does all the office, laboratory, teaching and writing stuff but he also gets out there, in wellies, in the cold and the wet, actually doing things. And crucians are well worth doing something about. They are simply heart-warmingly gorgeous. Chubby. Golden. Of all the carp species, crucians are perhaps the hardest even to catch.

When Carl, I, and perhaps you, too, were kids, crucians were everywhere. Every farm pond held them. Diss Mere was famous so too was Saham Toney Lake. Crucians of two pounds were so common there in the early ‘70s you could catch them simply by raking a landing net through the marginal weed beds. In all my experience, they were the only crucians actually easy to catch. It was like the species hit a brick wall some twenty years back. Before then, waters holding ‘twos’, the usual crucian carp benchmark, seemed to be everywhere. Then, within a year or two, populations at Roughton, Lenwade, Swanton Morley, Gorgate and a host of other locations simply appeared to collapse.

I use the word ‘appeared’ because, as I’ve said, crucians can be as difficult to catch as any species I have come across. There is a lake today, not far from the north coast, which Captain Crucian’s netting has proved to be full of them. In half a dozen trips I’ve yet to register a bite. I’m not completely useless but those fish, like many crucians before in my life, have run rings round me. My suspicion is that crucians are uniquely happy to exist entirely on the natural food a lake has on offer. If there is a surfeit of bloodworm perhaps, they are quite content not even sniffing at a maggot or a piece of corn.

Crucians under the radar?

I suppose what I’m getting at here is that there could well be crucian lakes out there, some even holding big fish, that exist wholly under the radar. It could well be that modern methods and baits frequently don’t help. Larger pellets and boilies on self-hooking rigs are not going to get near putting a crucian on the bank. Very few of us these days fish close-in with fragile wagglers, gossamer gear and a tiny ‘pinkie’ maggot on a size 20. Perhaps we ought to have a crucian convention of some sort. I’d love a meeting sometime, somewhere of all the crucian lovers of East Anglia. My suspicion is that there is a good number of us out there, almost as secret squirrels as the species we love. A pooling of knowledge might well help the species and, as a by-product, perhaps let us a catch a few fish we otherwise would not have done.

As a kid, my bedroom was lined with tanks holding the fish I caught around the Blakeney area. Half the occupants were crucians, testimony to just how plentiful they were in the past. I soon noticed that they, by far, preferred the softest, sloppiest food I could give them. Bread mash with the consistency of porridge was a favourite. Maggots would be sucked in and blown out over and over till they were little more than liquid held loosely by a wrapping of skin. That knowledge helped me catch hundreds of crucians in the course of my life, perhaps a little bit of crucian lore that has been forgotten in the modern angling period. Let me return to the miracle one ‘ouncer’ of my opening paragraph. You might remember me talking about the proposed recycling unit at Lenwade in the heart of the Wensum Valley? Well, this little crucian lives in a pond thirty feet away from the designated run-off lagoon for this RDF plant, if the authorities were ever unwise enough to grant permission. Almost inevitably, this particular crucian haven would become contaminated and Captain Crucian’s efforts there would have been in vain. I have to add, the Wensum itself is a mere seventy yards further away and ground water seepage into the river would be an unspeakable calamity.

We anglers have a reputation for complacency but let’s shed this image. Visit the Norfolk County Council Planning site. Look up the Atlas Work’s proposal (C/5/2017/5007) and, as fishermen, let’s all object to it. Norfolk is still a wonderful, special county and not just for its crucians. Let’s do our darndest to keep it that way.

John Bailey

Bailey and Tench – Catching Tench on the float

Tench are undoubtedly one of my favourite species.They signify the coming of spring in the fishing calendar and pound for pound they fight as hard as any stillwater fish. In this first of my series on the why’s and where for’s of catching tench I share my approach to tackling them on the float.

Using a float for tench isn’t some old fashioned Crabtree traditional twaddle. There are times it works better than any other method. Equally there are times when it is out of its depth, so to speak.


The perfect use for the float is when you are fishing the first drop off. Most pits have a deep gulley running around much of their perimeter. This might be 10 or more feet deep and you find the shelf dives deeply down only feet from the bank. Tench love following this feature and they love feeding along it. However, bear in mind that if the pit is very heavily fished, they might move further out.

On most occasions I will use as small a float as I can get away with. I am not casting far, five yards at the most, and I am not having to control a float at distance. On the vast majority of the lakes I know 2 BB shot floats will be more than enough. In part, I want the float and shot to land as quietly as possible and secondly I want the tench to feel as little resistance as possible too.

I will use a waggler of one sort or another and I will nearly always put the weight up around the float itself/ I might have a BB-but no more- a foot away from the hook but if I am using a small boilie as bait or something similar in weight I prefer that as my anchor rather than shot. I do not like shot on the line as tench see it and feel more resistance when they pick up a bait. Or rather suck a bait in.

These floats from Ian Lewis at Handmade Floats are the type i will aim to use .

I like to fish with the float 12-18 inches over depth. I don’t use a standard plummet because they make too much disturbance. I just nip an SSG onto the line by the hook and that will sink the smaller floats I am using. I like the line then to be quite slack from float to hook as  a tench won’t be too spooked by it if it touches it or brushes against it in passing. A tight line feels less like a weed strand and is more threatening perhaps.

I have mentioned using 10mml boilies on very short hairs and size 14 hooks as tench love them and they give casting weight and anchor weight . Other larger baits like lobs work equally well and tench love these. If I am using small baits like corn or maggots I might use a number 6 shot 6 inches up from the float as anchor if the undertow is not too great.A boilie has the advantage of avoiding small fish and you can pretty well leave it till you get a bite. The less casting, the better I feel.

A tench in the upper eights for Tim.

So, you see, I am getting close to free-lining a bait as using a float as an indication. I don’t use the classic laying on method as the pressured tench I fish for don’t like the SSG on the bed and rarely dislodge it. My approach is softly softly catches Tinca and it works. Mostly. If not, I move on and try something else.

Next in the series will be ‘Tench on the feeder’ and ‘Tench watercraft’,which is probably the most important skill of all.

John Bailey