STEVE LYON on Zander Fishing

As I lay here in the bivvy , the wind is howling and the rains bouncing off the bivvy roof ! I pull the sleeping bag a bit further up and wonder what makes a middle age man of supposedly reasonable intelligence! put himself through this week in week out all seasons of the year. BEEP BEEP, out of the bag wellies on and to the rods. Is the line moving? The bobbins dropped, the wind and the rain make it hard to be sure if its a run at first but yes movement, a steady wind down and just keep winding until I cannot wind anymore. Fish on! !As I stand there in the darkness, wind howling and with rain running down my neck none of it seems to matter I have a fish on. Could it be the much longed for double  figured zander or a pike which has decided on a midnight snack and just makes you think its a zander! A fish rolls in the beam of the head torch a zander and a good one too. No more thoughts of why ,but just confirmation that the fishing bug that bit forty five years ago does not look like letting go soon !Fish sorted a few quick photos on the mat and the zander is slipped back into its Middle Level home. Dried off and back in the bag for a bit of warmth, the minds in gear a nice fish 8lb + but where are all the double figure zander the Middle Level is famous for.  
Over the last five years I have fished the Middle Level quite a lot even though its one hundred miles from my door. I know the Level very well I have walked both banks from St. Mary's at the Ouse end to the Mullicourt Aqueduct.  Maybe not all in one go but there is not a stretch I have not walked and photographed. I say this to show that I have done plenty of home work on my venue of choice .I have read as much as I can on the Level and at times you get the impression that double figure zander are not too difficult. The reality to me anyway is far different . When I first fished the Level my main line of attack was the ledgered live bait and I have caught a lot of zander using it. I also have great faith in eel section another bait which has caught me plenty of zander but amazingly I have put a lot of time in on the Tidal Trent this year and eel section just seems a non  starter.  I will come back to the Trent in a while. I have stopped counting the zander caught between doubles because I've only had one !!!! That was my thirty ninth Middle Level zander since then I've had another ten Level zander the last three being two at three pounds and one at five pounds! So as you can see I have not worried the Level doubles greatly! I was talking to two lads recently on the Level and when I told them I was catching three to five pounders I don't think they believed me. I've enclosed a couple of photos of small zeds caught from the Level, they claimed nearly all their zander where 8lb +....
I quizzed them on what they where doing different to me and they were very open and as far as I could see nothing. Baits caught from the Level and the same size as the ones I was using ! So I just do not know ! A friend of mine who I meet on the Level has really struggled to catch zander , plenty of pike but not many zander.  He's not doing anything different to me .I had a strange experience recently while on the Level, I  had gone down and started fishing on the Friday night as normal when I was woken at 5 am as someone brushed past my bivvy. When I eventually got up and emerged from the bivvy I was aware that someone  was fishing just up to my right. I wished him good morning and he likewise to me. I realised he was an Eastern European. He wandered over and we had a brief chat and he went back to his rods. I could see he did not have the best of gearand it was not too well set up, but he seemed a friendly sort and provided he had a ticket and put his fish back I had  problems.....
I asked him if had caught much in the past and he told me he had caught three zander in a morning about a month before. “Any size” I asked? “10lb 15lb and 20lb”  “Oh and what did you catch them on ?” “mackerel he said” I went back to my bivvy and put the kettle on laughing to myself. I was sat supping my coffee when my new found friend wandered over and held a mobile phone under my nose one of those large flat screen jobs. In the  photo three zander laid on the ground and while there was nothing to gauge them against, one of them looked very much larger than the other two !Then he scrolled to the next photo and WOW that looked big! Its always hard judging from a photo but the fish could be anywhere between 15 and 18lb !I sat wondering just what size the fish was when the bailiff turned up. Matey had a ticket and after talking to the bailiff we felt he may have put the fish back .The bailiff thought the fish looked between 14 and 15lb but we will not know for sure.
I will keep my fingers crossed that one day that zander may pay me a visit, then I will be sure of its true weight !   As I mentioned earlier I have put a fair amount of time in on one of my local waters namely the tidal Trent.  If I thought I knew anything  about fishing for zander then fishing a large tidal river for them was a very steep learning curve.  
I did have a bit of an advantage in as far I have caught double figure barbel and several mid twenty pound carp off the tidal so all I had to do was adapt to the zander! I decided that as there where lots of live bait bans on the river at least to start with I would stick to dead baits. The first few trips (nights) produced some very strange takes and pulls, which could  have been anything from mitten crabs, chub or zander !
On two occasions I ran out of bait going through two dozen dead baits between dusk and midnight. If I was not already bald I would have been after these sessions. On one occasion I did hook and land my first tidal Trent zander of 6lb and pulled out of something that seemed larger. Although not much it gave me the confidence to carry on. I have tried many forms of bite detection and adapted some swingers to fit in separate rod rests which stand at the side of the rods. These  can be used with an open bail arm , and though not perfect I started to catch zander. At the time of writing I have had twenty five tidal zander a figure I am quite pleased with. I have not managed a monster but have had fish of 8 and 9lb plus a number of 7s. The most interesting thing was that I had got to a stage where I was catching every trip and it was just a case of how many and how big. Then came October and it was if a switch had been thrown.  It was as if  someone had cleared all the zander out of the river because the fish did not dry up they stopped dead and from catching every trip I could not get a run to save my life. As I write this remains the situation.
I have put in over 15 nights since October and not a run. I cant believe it as I have fished a stretch of a couple of miles long and caught all along the stretch. I suppose this is what makes this wonderful sport of ours so interesting and will hopefully keep me going another forty five years !I have just treated myself to some of Barrys rollover indicators so I am looking forward to trying these out on the river as I think they are possibly the next step toward a better means of run detection.....

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