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Following on from my writings about bream our esteemed editor asked me for a similar piece on tench so not wanting to upset him, here goes…

My first tench was caught, after quite a long time trying, from the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in Stafford and weighed 12oz. Over the following few years I gradually caught bigger tench from the canal, farm pools and the Great Ouse when staying at my grandparents in Bedford. Perhaps the pivotal moment in my tench fishing, indeed all of my future fishing, came in 1981 when the opportunity to fish a water with far bigger tench arose. Cop Mere in Staffordshire was run by a works fishing club based at the local GEC factory. A couple of my friends and I joined and initially fished one of their other waters just up the road from Cop called Pershall Pool, where we caught tench to just over 4lb.

Cop was rather daunting compared to what we were used to being big (43 acres) and very weedy, and most of the anglers fished from boats. Fate soon intervened, however. I was working in my local fishing tackle shop, Holt’s Tackle, and one of the regulars asked the owner Frank if he knew anyone who wanted to buy a punt. It transpired he had used the boat on Cop but it had been vandalised. He’d taken it off the water to repair, adding a 1/16th steel plate to the bottom, but then decided he couldn’t be bothered with the effort of getting it back to the water. Very quickly a deal was done and Adrian Cox and I were the proud owners of a boat! Adrian’s dad was able to borrow his work’s flat-bed truck and a week later after much straining due to the extra weight of the steel plate she was back on Cop. On our maiden boating session we float-fished for the tench and out of the blue Adrian’s rod was dragged off the end of the boat by what proved to be a 6lb 13oz tench. It looked huge, and I knew then that I had to catch a fish like that.

Early success was followed by blanks, lots of blanks. I didn’t keep a diary at the time so I don’t know exactly how many, but I suspect it wasn’t far off twenty. Two years later I finally caught a Copmere tench of 6lb 2oz, which, to this day, remains one of my favourite captures. As so often happens once you’ve finally achieved a long-term goal, another fish of 4lb 12oz followed later the same morning.

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At the start of the 1984 season Adrian and I were raring to get fishing. My exams at university had finished by early June, so we set about raking and pre-baiting a swim. But first we had to decide where to fish and we both wanted to stay in the area we’d fished the year before. Using a glass-bottomed bucket we drifted around looking at the bottom and found a thicker band of weed in that very area, about 80 yards from the edge of the reeds at the eastern end of the mere. A cane marker with a brick as an anchor and a bottle on top was carefully position before raking the thinner weed from in front of the weedbed to allow us to float fish onto the clear, silty lakebed.

Baiting started as soon as the silt had cleared and continued alternate evenings for a week and then every night for the last week. With a few days to go everything looked perfect as, when we arrived, large clouds of silt would appear as fish shot off, disturbed by the boat drifting overhead. We were sure they were tench as all the bait which included brown crumb, wheat and flaked maize together with plenty of chopped lobworms, was being eaten. We were confident that the only thing that could stop us was a change in the weather, but the forecast was good with no heatwave imminent that would trigger spawning.

In previous years we had started at midnight, but we had learned a lesson the hard way. Sitting in a cramped boat on a cheap garden chair with mist soaking everything was far from pleasant. A midnight start was abandoned in favour of a little before first light, so we baited one last time at about 9pm on 15 June before returning home to try and get some sleep. As we moored the boat one of the bank anglers was just arriving and I remember joking that he was wasting his time “as all the tench are in our swim”. A brave and somewhat cocky comment perhaps, especially given that I had only ever caught two tench from Cop, but our confidence was sky high.

We arrived together with another fried, Ian, at 3:45am and baited up and cast out not long after 4am. The first sign of tench came 45 minutes later when a fish rolled and at 5am the fun started with three fish in fifteen minutes. The first two were small but the third was a new PB of 7lb 3oz on maggots. Another fifteen-minute feeding spell starting at 6am followed, again with two small fish and another PB, this time of 7lb 6oz, on lobworm.

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More fish followed throughout the morning and by the time we packed up I had landed ten of the fourteen caught between us, with Adrian catching the largest at 7lb 9oz. Only one other tench was caught between about 20 other anglers on the lake. It wasn’t a bad way to kick off a fishing diary that I keep to this day!

The following year I pushed my PB up to 7lb 10oz and after a poor season in 1986, despite baiting harder than ever, I finally broke the 8lb barrier in 1987 with an 8lb 2oz fish followed 3 days later by an 8lb 7oz, both fish falling to float-fished worms.

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By 1990 the swim we were fishing was still the same, but our tactics had changed. We had started to leger from the boat with rods set on banksticks taped to 8-foot lengths of 2×2 timber pushed into the deep silt. We shared a central swim, legering with one rod in front of the boat and then each of us had a closer swim out from the boat at about 45 degrees, which we float fished. My rig was a simple running rig with a 1.25oz Terry Eustace Carp Bomb on a running rig with an 18-inch hook-link with a Size 12 Boilie Hook. A tiny piece of polystyrene was threaded onto a hair of 1lb nylon with a fine sewing needle and then three pairs of white maggots were superglued back-to-back so that the bait popped up off the hook.

I don’t think I will ever tire of sitting in a boat on Cop, as dawn breaks the with mist rising from the water and that sense of anticipation that only an angler understands. To be honest, often reality turns out to be less than the preceding hope and expectation; but if it didn’t the good days wouldn’t be so special. The 16 June 1990 was one day when reality exceeded expectation as after tench of 4lb and 7lb, I had a third bite on popped-up maggots. This one immediately felt bigger and as it swam past the boat in the clear water, I was confident it would beat my PB. However, that didn’t prepare us for what lay in the bottom of the boat shortly after. We concluded it must be a ‘9’, and sure enough it was, the Avon’s pulling round to 9lb 13oz, which whilst still a good fish now, was a huge fish back then.

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I continued to fish Cop at the start of the season for many years and still do more often than not. The tench fishing gradually declined and I knew that if I wanted to beat this fish it would probably be from a different water. The removal of the Close Season waters in 1995 meant many venues could be fished in the spring, but not Cop, which is a Site Of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and governed by byelaws, which maintained the Close Season. As a result, I started travelling more for my fishing, initially to Stoneacres at Linch Hill. In amongst the big bream I caught lots of tench, including several ‘8s’, but after two seasons my best tench from there was an old-looking fish of exactly 9lb. I decided to head to pastures new to try and find a double figure tench.

My travels took me to Hollowell and then Manor and St Johns at Linear. Whilst sat on St Johns I received a text from my mate Rob to say he’d been catching some big tench over the last two seasons, including five doubles – from Stoneacres! Day tickets were strictly limited by the bailiff Fletch but there was a chance of one if I could join him midweek. Too bloody right I could!

On my first session with Rob I had a couple of 9lb+ tench and on leaving booked to return in a fortnight. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas. I knew there were double figure tench out there, but would I catch one or would I end up with the equivalent of a pair of socks? After plumbing a few spots I settled for the ‘9s’ swim again. I cast out at 4pm and by 11am the following day had caught just a solitary tiny tench of just over a pound. I began to think about a change of swim and an hour later decided to pack down with a view to a move. With everything but my rods on the barrow I heard a bite alarm sound and the middle rod was away. I knew the resultant 7lber would not be on its own, so it was a case of back up with the bivvy in exactly the same spot!

My optimism slowly dissipated as I lost a fish to a hook-pull and then caught an eel in the dark. Nevertheless, I beat my morning alarm and was up spodding at 5am. Just over half an hour later I had a bite on three rubber casters and despite getting weeded a number of times soon had a big tench in the net. I expected it to be another ‘9’ but on 6/6/06 had achieved a tench-fishing milestone with 6oz to spare.

Incredibly, just over 24 hours later one double became two with another 10lb 6oz fish, this time on red maggots. Before leaving Fletch approached me and asked if I wanted to join the syndicate – you can guess the answer to that!

The winter of 2006-7 seemed to drag on forever as I looked forward to getting back to Stoneacres. May finally arrived and on my first visit I opted for a swim with a large gravel plateau at 100 yards and decided to hedge my bets and fish mini boilies in the hope of either bream or tench. After baiting heavily on my first night I was surprised to land a 9lb 2oz tench within an hour and three hours later I equalled my PB with a third 10lb 6oz tench. It was a great start to an incredible 24 hours.

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A 10lb 14oz tench came in the middle of the night and late the following afternoon I was just about to wind the rods in prior to baiting up when I checked one of the rigs that I intended using that night. I found the hook point was blunt so delayed baiting until I’d tied another rig. As I was tying it, I had a bite and after a good fight in the margins netted another big tench. My luck was definitely in as not only had I caught a fish simply because I had left the rods out whilst tying a rig, but on peeling the net back I saw the hook had fallen out. My third piece of luck was that at 11lb 2oz the fish was a third PB in less than 24 hours and what a stunning fish it was too: the shape, colours and condition making it the perfect tench in my eyes.

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A week later I returned and after catching a PB bream decided it was time to target tench. An angler in the far corner had caught a few tench on tangerine-flavoured boilies. I was confident that if he was catching numbers of tench on boilies there must be a plenty in the area. A quick recce in the boat enabled me to locate the gravel hump I knew to be in that corner of the pit. I then placed some H-blocks to allow me to locate it from the bank. After getting far bank markers and distances recorded I baited the bar and removed the H-blocks. As it was only a small gravel bar I decided to only use just two rods. After losing a fish to a hook-pull I was confident of more bites and within an hour was playing a fish which kited to the right. When it was about two-thirds of the way in the alarm on the other rod screamed out. I left it to run and hustled the first fish into a net before grabbing a second net. The alarm was still sounding occasionally so I was optimistic the fish wasn’t too heavily weeded. As I increased the pressure I could feel the fish thump and after a dour rather than spectacular fight it was soon in the carp net which I secured over my boat whilst dealing with the first fish which was significantly smaller. The second fish had a distinctive split in the tail, but the fact it was far from mint like the 11lb 2oz, was soon forgotten when the scales recorded 11lb 7oz.

That tench remained my PB for a long time and after three more seasons on Stoneacres I left and fished Linear Fisheries for four years. Linear was great. I arrived there thinking my rigs and tactics, in particular maggots fished in a feeder, would catch tench anywhere. I soon learnt that was not the case, which proved to be a blessing in disguise. I knew one angler, Joe Chatterton, was catching on Dendrobaena worms but I hadn’t used them myself as initially I was catching well on red maggots and plastic maggots. One day I was certain that there were tench in my swim and I decided, more in hope than expectation, to try a worm alongside my normal maggot rig. Initially I tied a longer hook link on, about 12”, as I thought a larger bait would be more effective fished that way.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d caught one on the maggot – I would probably have wound the worm rod in and put another maggot rig out. As it was the worm rod screamed off within five minutes. I put it down to a one-off but recast another worm and less than ten minutes later had another tench, whilst the maggot rod just feet away remained untouched. I continued to catch on worm and later in 2011 caught my first double on one. Whilst in the swim I caught it from, I collected all the litter, as I do in any swim I fish, and found a cap off a rod tube. It was a perfect receptacle for chopping worms in and pouring them into the feeder, without getting worm goo all over my hands. I’ve still got that lucky cap!

Though I was catching plenty of tench with the initial rig I discovered there was one issue with it – the worm was free to crawl about, which lead to problems such as the worm getting hooked up on a swan mussel and the worm crawling into the feeder, and even on one occasion into the feeder and out the other side. My solution to this was to revert to the short hook links like I used for maggots on a helicopter rig. Surprisingly I found that I still got good bites and hooked just as many, but another problem surfaced. While the rig was fine at close range, I found there was a tendency for the worm to fly off when casting 30 yards and beyond. I suspect with a short hook link it was made worse as the worm could catch against the main line on the cast. Whatever the reason I wasn’t happy with the possibility of fishing with no bait on the hook and started thinking of a solution, as I wanted to continue using worms as it was clear that the tench loved them. I decided to try worms on a hair rig as I knew match angers did so on occasion with a single section of worm and if it worked for them, it was worth a try.

Initially I planned to pop the worm sections up using a disc of foam as I thought the foam would also act as a buffer and help keep the worm sections on the hair. To get it to sit right I wanted the hook link to be flexible so decided to try with a coated braid with a short section stripped back above the hook. Three short sections of the largest worms in my bucket were cut and threaded on followed by a disc of foam and then I had the fun of trying to get a hair stop through the loop of braid covered in worm guts. I had been struggling that spring as it was both cold and wet, more memorable for mud than tench, so I was rather surprised when I had a bite first cast. A few experimental casts afterwards confirmed the worms would stay on, so my confidence in the rig rocketed.

Over time the rig evolved. Firstly, I dropped the foam and found it made no difference to the number of bites I got. Then I tried mono as it would be easier to get the hair stop through and again, it worked just as well. Next, I started using a quick stop pushed through the worm sections which made life so much simpler. The following spring, I spoke to the match angler Neil McKinnon and told him about the rig and said the only issue was the knot on the quick stop could tear the worm. He solved that problem instantly, “tie them on with a loop”. The simple solutions are the best! He also showed me how to tie hook links to a precise length with a loop tier, thereby enabling lots of hook links to be prepared in advance and stored in a hook-link box and then quickly attached using the loop. By spring of 2013 the worm kebab has ready to wreak havoc at Linear and that spring I did just that as I landed over 125 tench including a memorable morning on Manor when I caught 39 in about seven hours’ fishing. Catching so many tench gave me huge confidence in the rig and proved to me that if you want to experiment, do so on a well-stocked water as then you can see if it is working. Trying new things on a water where you can expect one fish a trip is definitely a bad idea.

The problem, when you find somewhere you enjoy fishing but feel you need a new challenge is where to go next. My mate Rob Thompson and I discussed it and decided that Medway Valley Fishery was worth a go. On my first trip on Larkfield I managed a scraper double on rubber casters (plastic baits are now banned) and after a session on neighbouring Road & Island lake I returned to Larkfied for a four-day session. After much deliberation, I settled on a swim I had liked the look of the instant I had viewed an aerial photograph of Larkfield. It is known as The Rushes due to a large reed bed to the left, but it was the distinct gravel bars that appealed to me. I started baiting both with two rods at just over 60 yards and one at 40 yards.

On the first morning I was woken just before dawn by a carp, but thereafter the tench moved in. By the final morning I had landed 7 doubles to 11lb amongst about 30 tench, the vast majority on worm kebabs, including six of the doubles. Not surprisingly, I was up at first light and after recasting put the kettle on. My early morning brew of Yorkshire tea was still too hot to drink when I had a bite. The fish kited left and ended up coming towards me through the rushes. By keeping the rod high and guiding the line around the rushes I had successfully landed the five or so tench that had followed this route so was confident I could land it – until I saw the size of it! My mate Paul Thompson was in the adjacent swim and had heard my alarm go and was standing by me and said: ‘That’s got a big mouth” as it came to the net before turning tail. I replied: ‘It’s got big everything’ and managed to turn it back from the reeds and into the waiting net. I knew instantly it was bigger than the previous six doubles, in fact not just bigger but a lot bigger. First reading on the scales it hovered at 13lb 4oz, so we zeroed the scales again and re-weighed her and with the needle midway between 3 and 4oz settled on 13lb 3oz. Paul shook my hand and told me I’d just beaten his Tenchfishers’ record. As I released her and I watched her swim off I thought it was quite likely that I would never see, let alone catch, a bigger tench.

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Earlier in the year I had secured a ticket for Fen Drayton fishery in Cambridgeshire, primarily to target the bream. With the tench still likely to be feeding well, I decided to leave Larkfield and try for a Fen tench before targeting the bream there. Once again I looked at satellite images – Bing were better than Google – and I was drawn to two areas. One was a corner swim with a lovely plateau in front of it and one was a gravel bar running, 40 yards out, parallel to the bank. After plumbing the corner, I decided that was where I would start but as I walked away to collect by tackle a nagging doubt set in and a little voice was telling me that corners are great swims, but only IF you know the fish are there. In the end I went back and grabbed my marker rod and went to explore the “parallel bar”. As soon as I found it with the marker float, I knew that was where I wanted to be.

Most of the anglers who fished at Fen at that time, were carp anglers who used boats to place their baits. I feared Spombing might spook the tench as they would not be familiar with such activity, and decided to bait heavily in the early evening rather than rely on regular Spombing throughout the day. After 24 hours I hadn’t seen a sign of fish, let alone had a bite, but after my Kent success I was still very relaxed. I rebaited again, predominantly with casters and maggots as I suspected the pellet and hemp from the previous night had not been touched. Just before dark I saw a tench roll close to my baited spot and when there was a twitch on the bobbin of the right-hand rod my heart missed a beat. I left it and with no further signs ten minutes later, decided to recast it as it would be out all night, only to find a fish on. It swam straight to the marginal shelf and after a short fight, up popped a 3lb 10oz perch, a pleasing first fish for a new water.

I recast fresh baits at first light – worm kebabs of course! A single bleep at 6am had me on the edge of my seat but ten minutes later I was back on my bedchair when I had a bite on the same rod. The bobbin dropped and I struck into a fish that once again swam straight in and I was wondering if it was another big perch until it started head shaking and fighting. I suspected a male tench until it a large female came into view. Once in the net I could see it was a double, so I pegged the net in place with a bivvy peg and readied the unhooking mat. When I looked into the net prior to lifting it I realised that, initially, I had only seen part of the flank as it was sitting slightly deeper in the water and thus slightly tilted; it was a lot bigger than my initial assessment! My diary reads: ’Then I looked in the net. Holy shit, fucking hell, it was huge’. Huge indeed as the Avon’s nearly reached 6 o’clock on the second rotation. My mate Mark Simmonds had gone into the corner swim I had nearly fished, and he brought his scales, which had been tested only weeks earlier at a Tenchfishers’ meeting, and a weight of 14lb 12oz was confirmed. I never imagined I’d catch a fish exactly 14lb bigger than my first ever tench. Shortly afterwards another friend, Tom Critchell, came and took some amazing photographs.

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Having caught another double of 10lb 7oz in the afternoon I decided to fish the same swim on my return the following week as I suspected the females could be gathering in the area prior to spawning. Fish of 10lb 6oz and 10lb 12oz confirmed this to be the case and I also recaptured the big girl an ounce bigger, making it the biggest reported tench caught by design in this country. With a 10lb 12oz fish coming less than two hours later it also made for possibly the biggest brace of tench ever.

I think it’s safe to say I won’t ever beat 14lb 13oz but my tench travels continue with a double-figure fish still my target and a 12lb fish to fill a gap would be great. But now more than ever, it’s a case of smelling the flowers along the way which means fishing nice waters in great company.