What Is A Zander?
Before we get into the best ways of lure fishing for zander, let’s take a look at the fish itself.
The zander (or Stizostedion lucioperca) is a member of the perch family. They are predatory in behavior and will eat a variety of small fish species. Unlike their striped, spiky cousins they are not a native species to the UK and due to this, they have been routinely culled in ‘some’ British waterways.
In 1878 they were legally introduced into Woburn Park and later the relief Channel. However, they were also illegally introduced into several British fisheries since then where they have successfully populated alongside notable rivers such as the Ouse, Severn, and the Warkwickshire Avon.
As well as the Fen drain systems. All of these river and drain systems have produced zander to well over double figures and the current British record of an astounding 22lb came from such a venue.
In addition to these waterways, the zander has been very successful in populating the inland waterways we know as canals. To my knowledge, they inhabit (in no particular order) the Oxford, Trent and Mersey, Grand Union, Gloucester and Sharpness, Ashby, and South Stratford water waterways.
There may well be others. Unlike the other waterways described the zander on canals are routinely culled due to their non-native status. Due to this the zander population is regularly disrupted and large specimens are rare.
The Right Fishing Tackle For Catching Zander
In this section, I am going to concentrate on this species of fish and how to target them on the canals using lures. This ever-increasing branch of the sport has seen exceptional growth in lure fishing for zander in the last 10 years. With that, the diversity of fishing gear has increased, as well as the pressure on our smaller predatory species.
Fishing For Zander With The Right Rod
A typical small lure rod will be compact and light. Anything from 6 to 8 ft is ideal. Gram weight on these rods can vary but for most light lures you can use anything up to 10 grams when using soft shads and ned rigs, and up to around 15g when using hard lures.
Fox, Dragon, Gunki, and Westin are a few brands here that will have rods to suit the angler’s needs, varying from the cheap to the extortionate in price.
My own particular preference is the Westin W3 Street Stick (2 to 7g) which is 183cm in length (or 6ft 1 inch). This is an exceptional rod that is really light and perfect for twitching small soft shads or neds when roving along the canal path. The beauty of this rod is that it’s short.
This means that you can stand closer to the canal edge when fishing out in front. This may seem like a mute point but on restricted pathways, with people passing behind you I like to stay in contact with the lure and use the braid as detection. This saves having to stand side-on when retrieving a lure.
For hard lures, I prefer to use a slightly bigger rod such as the Dragon Nano LITE XT80 Spin, 213cm in length with a casting weight of 1 to 10g. I originally purchased this for small hard lure fishing for perch on the rivers but I have had great fun with this flicking small hard lures on the local canal. Price-wise, you are looking to pay £85 to £95 for this particular model.
Fishing For Zander With The Right Reel
Fixed Spool Reel
With a small lure rod, you will need a balanced small lure reel. For the type of fishing for zander that I am doing, I favour Shimano or Daiwa in either the 1000 or 2000 models.
Currently, I am using the Daiwa Ninja 18 2000 model and the Shimano Stradic Ci4 1000. Both of these reels have been excellent to use but the price difference varies. Whilst the Shimano is an absolute dream to use, very light and smooth, the price tag of between £150 to £180 for a new reel will turn some people away.
The Daiwa Ninja however has a much lesser price tag of £65 (+/- a few quid). For the money, it certainly is a very good reel to use. Smooth, light, and trouble-free. This reel is certainly popular amongst light lure anglers who are enjoying their sport on a budget. Well worth the money.
I have listed some other types below for your consideration. This list is not exhaustive and other brands such as Okuma and Spro for example should not be dismissed. The ‘would be’ light lure angler can also find good quality second-hand bargains on eBay. For example, should they persist (my Shimano Stradic came from eBay).
HTO Hooligan Series: £35 to £40
Korum Snapper Speed SL: £35 upwards
Gunki CFV: £28 to £35
Daiwa Ninja Series: £42 and upwards (depending on model and size)
Shimano Stradic series: £150 to £180
My knowledge here is limited purely because I have never used one for lure fishing for zander. For me to wax on about the benefits of using one over a fixed spool reel or suitable models would be dishonest of me.
However, from reading about people who use them and watching others on the bank with them some lure anglers have a definite preference for using baitcasters over fixed spool reels.
In terms of brands, Okuma, Abu Garcia, and Daiwa ore 3 that stick out and can range from £45 upwards.
Fishing For Zander With The Right Line
Braided mainline is a must when lure fishing for zander on the canal. This will aid with casting those light lures and detecting those finicky plucks that are indicative of zander taking your artificial bait.
Typically, on a canal, you are not fishing for a British Record and the size of zander you are usually targeting will be from under a pound to 4 to 5lb. Therefore the tackle should match your quarry. I have had no problems fishing with braid from 7 to 10lb. Although I do personally favour 10lb braid throughout.
This I will couple with a suitable fluoro hook length of similar breaking strength. Some of you may think this is too light for the use on the snaggy cut, however my take on this is that if I get snagged and need to pull for a break it will do easily.
I would rather leave a lure and a short length of fluoro in the canal (and that is only if I have to) rather than potentially leaving lengths of braided mainline as well.
If you have pike in your section of the canal or you are getting bitten off then you will have to consider using a wire trace. If you do, then increasing the breaking strain of your braided mainline would be a sensible approach.
Whatever you choose here the setup should be balanced with the rod you are using. You need to remember your rod and reel need to be as light and balanced as possible. This will make lure fishing for zander a lot more enjoyable.
What Lures Are Good For Zander On The Canal?
There is a vast array of lures available on the market to suit your needs. Whether these be soft plastics which have really increased in popularity in the last decade or the more ‘old fashioned’ hard lures or crankbaits.
Choose the type that best suits you. There is no right or wrong when choosing between them.
The Fox Rage Pro Shads
When fishing for Zander these will typically be anything from a soft shad with a paddle or curly tail to a crayfish or ned rig that sits upright on the bottom and is twitched or bounced slowly back towards you or at its location.
The size of the lure can be dependent on the day or prey fish you have in front of you (if known). I do tend to use soft lures from 7 to around 14cm in length. With neds, I prefer the smaller size that is 7cm in length. The same goes for the crawfish/crayfish patterns.
In terms of brands, there are many. However, availability can be a bit of an issue with some. I am an advocate of using whatever I can get hold of either in shops (or in these strange COVID times) more available on the internet.
Fox Rage Pro, Daiwa Prorex, Dragon V Lures, Westins Shadteez, or Craws are all readily available on the internet, with some having more range in colours than others.
However, if I was to pick one brand that I have had a lot of success with and is available in single or multi-packs then it would be the Fox Rage Pro lures. When using the Ned Rig either Zman Finesse soft baits or the Korum Snapper Squirmz will do the job.
Whatever you use ensure you have the right jig head. Some may come up short so you may find you have to up the lure size. I have recently been introduced to Cheb weights and it means I can mess around with hook to weight ratios when bouncing a lure along the bottom of a soft, muddy canal.
Accessories For Zander On The Canal
In addition to the above it is sensible to take with you the following:
Landing net (There are a range of nets for the lure angler that packs away and can be carried easily)
A suitable pair of forceps
Crimps and wire (if you are using a wire trace
Small mat (the canal pathway can be devoid of soft grass, therefore taking a mat is kinder for the fish)
Scales and sling (I like to weigh my capture, although some prefer to go by length)
Luggage: This can be a dedicated piece of luggage designed for the lure angler or a small rucksack that can easily be carried on your back and will contain all of the above easily)
Location And Time Of Day For Zander
The cut is pretty standard in that there is a near and far side shelf that both gradient down into the increasing depths to the centre boat channel. In addition to these, you will find moored boats, near and far bankside shrubbery, and trees that overhang and sit in the water.
Bends, bridges, and sections of the canal that are surrounded by trees and therefore retain more warmth (especially prevalent in the winter months) will all have zander marauding along the length.
When targeting zander, for me, all of the above will be targeted. From late Spring to Autumn I tend to go at first light when the water tends to be slightly clearer or at last light. For some reason, I find that zander switch on then and will be seen striking at fish or swirling alongside moored barges.
Being active hunters (rather than hiding covertly waiting for prey) zander will be caught right across the canal. I have had a lot more success in open water in the centre of the canal at first light rather than against features.
In the winter I tend to look for concentrated shoals of fish. I am fortunate to have miles of canal very near me and a dog that likes lots of walking. I will therefore look for dipping shoals of small fish and target these areas. This seems to work well. Favoured spots are where it is slightly warmer or closed lock gates where it is slightly deeper.
Bridges are also a favourite.
In short, if you want to go fishing for zander on the canal, find a light setup that you are happy with. Find a variety of lures to suit different situations, travel light, and ensure fish care is paramount. Above all….please enjoy yourself whilst lure fishing for zander.