Tag: tench

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


Teaching an old dog new tricks – a lesson from the carp fishing boys

Throughout my angling career i have been lucky enough to learn from the best Ivan Marks,Fred Buller,Fred J Taylor and of course my dear friend and recently departed John Wilson. But as they say you are never too old to learn and i had a great example a few weeks back when i fished with ‘two young’ guns of the carp fishing world.
For reasons I cannot divulge yet, I was down Essex way last week, on a hot carp lake. Tom and Dan were my on-the-bank experts and, blimey, were they skillful or what? Half my age or less, they made me feel like the beginner out of the three of us.

Attention to detail

Of course, my pro carp days are a quarter of a century behind me but I was never a patch on these two who, incidentally, work for the tackle giant, Nash. Blimey, I can see why they do. Their casting. Their technical mastery. Their watercraft. All extraordinary, but it was their attention to detail that I took home with me. Especially this. Cutting to the chase, their obsession with ultra needle-sharp hooks fascinated me.

You are probably like me. Whatever you fish for and however you like to fish, you know a hook is better sharp than not and you will have a good look at the point before some, if not most, of your sessions. With Tom and Dan, though, sharp has become a religion. Nash make a hook sharpening kit commercially and they use theirs to the limit. Or Dan does. Working for Nash, Tom will use a hook for just a single cast and then replace it with a new one. On a top, rough, carp water, a cast can last a good while out there, but this habit still comes in at 50p a pop. Most of us would prefer to invest in the sharpening kit, I guess, but why take hook love quite so far?

Hook Points

According to the dynamic duo, the simple fact of being in the water can blunt a hook point as the acids work on it. Reeling in can be disastrous as the hook ricochets against gravel, stones, branches or even swan mussel shells. Hooking a fish and then removing that hook can be a point killer, too, they said. You have to get that file out or tie on a new hook altogether once the fish has been caught.

These boys were fishing self-hooking rigs, so blunt hooks cannot be compensated for on the strike. They are also fishing waters where a couple of runs a season are the norm, so a take is not something you want to miss, or risk missing. Not many of us are quite fishing on such a cliff face. Or are we? Fly, bait, lure, freshwater or salt, if we put a hook into a fish’s mouth, surely we have a responsibility to land it if we possibly can.

My Tench fishing

In that department, I stink. Back in Norfolk, I looked at my tench rods, set up with feeders. The three of them were still made up from the last warm autumnal sessions after the species. Those hook points could not have penetrated a bowl of custard. The more I thought about them, I realised, uncomfortably, that the hooks probably had gone on the rigs in April and stayed there for months. That equates to hundreds of casts. Endless bait-ups. Plenty of unhooking operations and a depressing number of tench bumped, played a second and then lost.

The more I replayed my summer, the more tench I remembered coming unstuck. Don’t get me wrong I had my fair share of good fish, and i think i know a thing or two about Tench fishing, but you always wonder about the ones that got away. The takes that never turned into hook-ups. I know we all have the importance of sharp hooks lodged somewhere in our consciousness, but I bet a lot of you are as casual about them as I have been. I hope this exhortation might land you more tench, trout, tope, or whatever in the future.


I’m less apologetic when it comes to knots. Tom and Dan had a list of them up their sleeves, notably 5 turn grinners. I’m a half ‘blood’ knot slob and have been for decades. Okay, if I have to, I can muster a few specialist knots to cover occasional situations when the ‘blood’ just won’t do. Ninety five percent of the knots I’ve tied in my career, though, have been ‘bloods’, either double, single or tucked or not. Whatever variation, the ‘blood’ is almost universally reviled, but it has done me proud, almost without exception. I have suffered endless knot snobberies but still managed to put as many fish on the bank as most. Perhaps confidence in what you do is paramount.

Matching nature

Over the years, I have tended to choose flies, baits and even lures that have merged with the natural foodstuffs that fish are eating. Tom and Dan rather rubbished that, baiting up with pink and white boilies. Why not? Sweetcorn? Orange ‘blob’ flies? Fluorescent lures? On my first trip out back on the Wensum, the pink boilies that the lads gave me caught chub like I wouldn’t have believed.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for much of the winter. You will find me on the rivers with a pink bait attached to a blood-curdlingly sharp hook, tied to the line by means of a half ‘blood’ knot, of course.

I will finish where i started- you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks,and fishing with the new generation is as valuable as the old. So get out on the bank with a few ‘young guns’ yourself you maybe surprised what you learn. And watch out for those pink boilies!

John Bailey

Some painful fishing lessons in the sun

Naturally-born fish in clear waters under a bright sun can be a nightmare to catch. No. Make that impossible.

No 1 – the carp

It’s last Wednesday and Steve and I have crept into position on the carp lake. We are out of the northerly wind, facing a pocket of calm, warm water. Sweat is on our foreheads. Horseflies are playing around our arms and our ankles. We are watching two very large carp looking suspiciously at our piece of floating crust.

I’ve made sure that the hook is hidden and that the line close to the bread is buried under the surface film and nigh-on invisible, but the carp aren’t liking it. One, the bigger of the two, comes so, so close and simply noses it, almost letting the bait rest on its forehead. Suddenly, as though a secret word has passed between them, they swirl and power off into the depths of the lake. That’s it. The end. How on earth had those carp divined our presence?

No 2 – the chub

On the Friday, I have dressed myself up to look just like Davey Crockett and I’m pushing through the riverbank undergrowth as invisible as a man can be. I’m watching my footfall and keeping my eye on my shadow so that it never falls on the water. I haven’t even got a rod with me and I’m simply watching for chub, plotting their future downfall. Hah! Not a chance. Within the hour, I have found 10 chub, five of them I would say are pretty large. I know I have not disturbed them because I have looked at them all in detail, noting their scale patterns and any possible blemish or old wound. The point is this. I have thrown pieces of slowly-sinking flake to each one of those chub and all 10 have scattered in terrified haste. Nine barrelled off downstream and just one fled up. Catchable? Not a chance!

No 3 -the trout

It’s the weekend now and I’m with Robbie Northman. Robbie is drop-shotting expertly for big perch in a secluded mill pool. You can see his tiny, silver lure glinting about four feet down, perhaps, attracting shoals of minnows and the odd baby perch. Then, from the lilies, a massive, colossal brown trout emerges. Robbie says it’s seven pounds, I am thinking eight. The fish, spotted like a leopard, roars into the attack, its mouth agape. It’s a heart-stopping sight but the fish stops short and, in a boil of angry water, disappears. What a fish. What a dream shattered. How on earth did the alarm bells ring for it at the very last moment?

No 4 – the tench

It’s last Thursday morning, very early and I have a tench swim, all weed dragged out and heavily-baited on the previous night. It’s a cool dawn but the swim is a cauldron of bubbles produced by feeding tench. I have fed hard with boilies, chopped worm and corn so these are the baits that I am advising Anthony uses on the hook. We fish each bait in turn, but the float never dips or wavers. Calm confidence is giving way to vocalised desperation. The sun climbs higher in the sky and in the crystal water we begin to see a legion of dark shapes, tench coming in to feed and going down over the bait. We can even see their mouths working as they drift back to mid-water, munching on the food. They are balletic in their poise, their effortless elegance and completely baffling in their brain power. Our conservative guess is that there are 50 fish there in the swim and yet, we are hopelessly outfoxed. Right at the end of the session the float dips and one fish comes to the net. We suppose it is a triumph but one of sorts.

No 5 – the barbel

Finally, after two years of working on a particular barbel swim, perhaps one of the last to hold Wensum fish, I achieve my aim and actually hook one. I’m tooled up, I think, to cope with a bus. But not with a barbel of furious magnitude. My clutch is screwed spanner-tight. My 10lb line seems impossible to break, the rod, though, is my weak point. Its give, its softness is my undoing. The fish powers towards sanctuary and I face oblivion. I pile on every ounce of pressure that I can muster, almost holding the rod straight at the fleeing fish. It’s to no avail. I’d woefully underestimated the sheer, roar brutality of an enraged double-figure barbel. In previous days, I’ve been done by the brain power of my fish, this time by their athleticism.

Carp, chub, trout, tench and barbel. I’m sunburnt, crestfallen and battered by them all. Still, what on earth would I rather be doing this glorious Norfolk summer of ours?

John Bailey

What i’ve learned from the fishing greats

Throughout my fishing life I have been lucky enough to learn from and fish with some of what i think, many people will agree, are the fishing greats. You will undoubtedly have your own list but i thought i would write a series of blogs on those that have influenced my fishing the most. In this article i talk about Fred Buller and Fred J Taylor.

What I learned from Fred Buller

Fred is perhaps best known for his 1971 text book Pike and his 1979 compilation of big pike stories The Domesday Book of Pike. I got to know him when I was writing my own book The Great Anglers in 1989 and, believe me, Fred was great in every sense of the word.

He was our greatest angling researcher and scholar. He had worked in fisheries for years and knew fish intimately. he was great angler too, catching pretty well every UK species on the list. He was generous with his knowledge and his time. He was great company, witty, insightful and possessing a great wine cellar. He came into my life at just the right time after I had just left teaching..he taught me to believe in myself but to try to be modest and always listen to others. he taught me to put the fish first and to worry about baits , flies and approaches secondly. Above all, he showed me that true fishermen are part of a brotherhood and that above all, we should strive to be kind, to help and to understand.


What I learned from Fred J Taylor

You could never call FJT an unsung hero but he was to a degree outshone by his relationship with Richard Walker-a fact he personally resented. Fred was not one of our great 20th century writers but he never set out to be. He wanted to get across the new ways of fishing that he and his “joyous gang” we pioneering. The “Taylor Brothers” were at the heart of most of what was happening from the Fifties onwards and you always read Fred with huge interest.

What did I personally take away from his books and articles? Obviously, FJT and deadbaiting are synonymous. It is hard to believe now we never thought a pike would ever pick up a DEAD fish!! Today, 80% of my pike come on deads and each and every time I give up a silent prayer to Old Fred.

Without doubt, the biggest lesson FJT taught me is the potency of pre baiting for tench. The Taylor Brothers did this big time and it worked in the 60s just as it does now. In fact , all things being equal, as Fred once said to me in person, the more you put in, the more tench you get out.

I don’t want these pieces to become mindless hagiography. I met Fred several times in the 80s when we were writing for one of the artworks that were in vogue at the time. Unlike virtually all of his contemporaries, Fred was always fairly cold towards me. He would talk but I always felt unwillingly and with more than a dash of arrogance.Of course, I could have been seen as one of the young pretenders but I always found it a little hurtful, especially as he had long been in my pantheon of heroes.

So what do i conclude from this? Well the two Fred’s definitely shared a passion for angling and each in their own way were innovators, who thought deeply about fish behaviour, and that is something i have tried to carry through in my fishing approach. 

Who are your fishing heroes?

John Bailey

An angling week that has left me with more questions than answers – part 1

When everything doesn’t go right in an angling life, it can lead to deeper questioning and sometimes more profound answers. Here i look at some vexing issues that have really got me scratching my head about my spring tench and bream campaign. 

That’s how it has been for me. And probably for you, given the outrageous ups and downs in weather systems that we’ve been experiencing these last few weeks.

If there’s one thing we all know it’s that fish appreciate stable conditions, to an extent, either good or bad. They like to know where they are if they are going to feed with anything like confidence and that goes for all freshwater fish.

The tench above were  caught by Mick and Enoka on a red letter day , which sat between many frustrating days of .. well frankly not much!

I’ve believed for two or three years now at least that a heavy baiting campaign will pretty much always switch tench and bream on when the approach is applied to our gravel pits. It’s an attack that has barely ever failed for me and I accept that it is a means of buying your way to success. Simply filling a swim in with food and waiting for the fish to congregate there isn’t the most intelligent form of fishing but it can be very productive and it virtually always is.

So, when Simon and David came down to fish with me the other Monday that was the attack that we decided upon. We spent a couple of hour’s spombing out bait – what a wonderful word that is – along a deep channel between two plateaux where fish are often seen. The whole project was set up with extreme precision, no heed for the amount of bait and the tackle was finely tuned. We sat back to wait.

And, cor blimey, did we wait. We waited all Monday, all day Tuesday and till four o’clock on Wednesday when the only run of the session was missed. We might just as well have thrown a hundred quid in coins into the swim rather than feeding it with the most lavish of fish goodies.

Simon did manage to winkle out this bream he saw feeding alone on an adjacent pit while on a break from the monotony of simply no action.

How on earth do you account for all this? The Tuesday, admittedly, was pretty dire but, still, pressure was rising and warm weather was on the way, so you would have expected the fish to have responded to that. We tried absolutely everything in our combined repertoire of skills and experiences. The only thing we did not put on the hook were caddis grubs, the bait that worked phenomenally well last spring. The reason? We couldn’t find any! Explain that? Why does a lake heave with caddis grubs in 2017 and seem completely bereft of them 12 months later?

What have been your experiences this spring so far?

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

My top tips for spring tench

The cold winds are starting to abate,so now is the time to get out there and target tench. My favourite species can be maddening to catch at times but when everything comes together they really can deliver brilliant fishing. Here are my top 5 tips to get the best out of your tench campaign.

1.Watch the weather

Northerlies and easterlies can be an absolute killer for tench. If it’s a northerly aim for sheltered bays out of the wind,if it’s an easterly and you have the option postpone till the conditions improve. If there are warm mild spells in May get out there,they don’t always last!


If the rules allow and the location is accessible pre-baiting can crack the hardest lake.Spread the baiting out to perhaps every other day for a week beforehand. I’m conscious many people don’t have the time for that so do as much as you can. Use Vitalin as a cheap base and add corn and hemp plus a hand full of pellets if possible to get the tench rooting around. The simple rule is the more you bait the more tench you attract.That’s nature.It’s like your garden bird table.

3.Hook bait

The one constant through my tenching life has been worms. Amazing! Lobs are No 1 and dendrobaenas a close No 2. They work on there own or as a cocktail with maggots or corn.I know that is not necessarily a revolutionary insight but it’s the truth. They work. Of course maggots,corn,pellets and increasingly boilees can be very successful baits in certain lakes and conditions. Lots of silver fish can make maggots or corn a problem but sometimes plastics can get over this. However the most exciting bait for me over the last few seasons has been the caddis grub. I’ll put a soft landing net in the margins to see how prolific they are in each swim and if they are I will carefully place 2 or 3 on a size 14 or 12 hook. I have had a situation where i spent 2 days on a lake with barely a bite and out of frustration i switched to Caddis and within a hour i had 4 fish on the bank and after 3 hours we had caught 20 between myself and my guiding client. So my tip here is don’t be afraid to ring the changes and experiment. Even slugs have worked for me when all other baits have failed!

4.Float vs Feeder

I would say the majority of my clients favour float fishing for tench. But there are occasions when feeders are the way to go,obviously when the fish are at distance but not always. On bright sunny days a float and line cutting through the surface can spook the tench and in this case a feeder (maggot or Method) with line pinned down on the lake bed can catch them out.

I have to confess float fishing with a centrepin is my preferred approach,up close and personal if you like. Teamed with a 14ft sensitive but robust rod and strong line 6lb minimum and if there are big tench of 8lb+ present 8-10lb line is essential. A 10lb tench fights unbelievably harder than a 6lb tench.

There is something so captivating about seeing a float disappear and playing a hard fighting tench on a pin where you are completely in touch with the fish.

My one particular tip here is perhaps obvious but often overlooked-accurately locating the depth. 2-3 inches of line on the deck is a good place to start but again don’t be afraid to extend this to 5-6 inches or more.


So that’s it. Nothing complicated but with these approaches you will succeed.Unless of course those easterlies blow in!

John Bailey