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