Salmon Fishing Hood Canal

Zander have an amazing ability to hunt in conditions of poor visibility. This one managed to locate the author’s fly on a muddy section of the Grand Union.


Love or hate them, zander are now an established feature of many British canals. Non-native they might be, but the species has a sinister charm all of its own, adding a dash of murder and intrigue to our towpaths. With an angular frame, spiked dorsal fin and fangs to boot, you would struggle to find a more thoroughly menacing predator. Although zander have spread as far south as the Gloucester Canal in recent years, the interlinked canals of the Midlands could rightly be considered the heartland of canal zander fishing, with miles of potential for the angler.

Salmon Fishing Hood Canal Photo Gallery

So why does their presence ignite such an adverse response? It’s perfectly true that zander populations are an ‘accident’. They can and do alter eco-systems, especially in the short term But as with pike, suggestions that they ‘eat everything’ are simply nonsense. Like any predator, in time a stable balance is established with levels of prey fish and you won’t find the one without the other.

That zander are voracious hunters is beyond doubt. Small shoal fish such as roach and bleak are particular favourites for this vampire of the fish world. The old-fashioned title of ‘pike-perch’ is inaccurate however, as the zander has a distinct character all of its own.

The Way of the ‘Zed’

Taking a cursory glance at the typical canals where zander proliferate, it’s little surprise they do well. Their large eyes give them a big advantage in conditions of low visibility, hence urban areas where the bottom is continually stirred up with boats suit them perfectly.

Zander are a deadly and unpredictable quarry to add to your species list.

A smaller head than the pike betrays a killer that prefers numerous, smaller meals. So is it any surprise that canals teeming with one ounce roach, perch and bleak make such happy hunting grounds?

Lure angler John Cheyne took this fine beast with a soft lure presented close to the bank.

Zander might display impressive dentistry, but their habits are very different to pike. They are roving, pack hunters rather than solitary ambush predators, although the large zander become loners. These habits already yield clues to zander location. While you might think of searching different ‘lairs’ for pike, the zander fisher often thinks more in terms of patrol routes. Junctions, connecting arms, bridges, bays and boatyards are all places where a well-aimed bait or lure is likely to be intercepted by zander as they move between areas.

The other giveaway is any place where prey fish congregate. Find any concentration of small roach, skimmers or bleak and you can bet that the zander will carry out regular raids.

Large eyes denote a killer well-designed for hunting in murky places.

Zander particularly like the sloping shelf on each side of a canal too, using these like corridors on a waterway. In murky water or at times of low light, however, they will venture right into the shallows to go on the attack. Dull days, evenings or even night times tend to be productive for zander fishing, but this idiosyncratic hunter is far from predictable. Bites can arrive in the middle of a sunny day as well as the dead of night and this is in essence part of their allure. Zander fishing is a matter of not only location, but experimentation and fine-tuning methods.

A potent groundbait mix with chopped fish helps to draw in predators.

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