Peak Forest Canal Fishing

Dead and Loving It

Various methods will catch zander, but bait fishing is the first port of call for many anglers hoping to attract and tempt zander in the murk of a busy canal. It makes perfect sense to offer them what they are already looking for, namely small coarse fish. Locating and catching a few of these can be a worthwhile exercise in itself, since concentrations of juvenile silver fish will also often reveal areas where zander like to dine. A whip is ideal, along with tiny hooks and baits such as pinkies to select the smaller samples.

Live baits will certainly work, but many waters ban this practice. I must confess I also dislike live baiting, and in any case have found a small dead fish is seldom refused and much easier to present in a tidy fashion. Typically such offerings are much smaller than pike baits, to accommodate the zander’s comparatively smaller mouth. A roach, rudd, skimmer or bleak of 58cm is perfect, although somewhat bigger baits can be cut into bite-sized sections.

Peak Forest Canal Fishing Photo Gallery


A simple running leger rig works perfectly for zander, but I also like to add some refinements. One of these is to replace the lead with an open-end swimfeeder, into which I pack a mixture of fishmeal-based crumb groundbait along with chopped fish pieces. I firmly believe that this helps zander home in on my bait. Another tweak is to incorporate a small piece of foam near the hook to gently ‘pop up’ your dead bait. A split shot then anchors the bait to the bottom. This is especially useful on debris-strewn canals or those with regular boat disturbance, where casts can be wasted by unwanted crud ruining presentation.

Small deadbaits are best for zander, while a feeder improves the scent trail.

Zander can be surprisingly picky feeders, so large crude treble hooks and thick wire are not ideal for traces. Wire is essential to prevent bite-offs and accidentally-hooked pike, however. Modern, ultra-supple wires are perhaps the best compromise, together with small barbless treble hooks. Another alternative that is kinder to your quarry than two trebles is to hair rig a small fish using just a single size 4-6 carp hook.

Zander are rightly renowned for their dislike of resistance. When legering, a ‘drop off’ system can be used as you might employ for pike, whereby the line pulls from a clip on the take and the fish can then run off freely. However, I much prefer to have the rod at an angle and watch the tip for bites, much like a quivertip angler. This system of laying the rod more or less parallel to the bank also suits many towpaths, which can be limited in terms of space, as well as rather hard to push bank sticks into.

In terms of rods for bait fishing, zander are not the strongest opponents and can easily come adrift using overgunned tackle. It’s also desirable to use a rod that will give a satisfying bend with the average canal zander, which will often be under four pounds in weight. A light specimen or avon rod of 1 %-1^lbs test curve is ideal, or even a barbel rod with a coloured tip section to detect takes. Line strengths should be a minimum of 10lbs, but I much prefer 20lb braid.

The best advice I can give with bites is to strike promptly. As soon as you get a positive pull on the rod tip, just strike. Zander can be quite gentle in this respect, certainly less full-blooded than pike. If you delay there are two possible outcomes: a dropped bait or a deeply hooked zander, neither of which are desirable. You will never connect with every bite, but those missed are likely to be the smallest ‘school’ fish, not the bigger ones that have no trouble devouring a fingerling roach in a split second. I would rather strike promptly and miss the odd small fish than risk hooks being swallowed, which could kill your quarry.

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