It was a rainy Tuesday morning, as ever I was sitting and staring out of the window and searching for inspiration. What next? My tench fishing for the year was already over; I’d spent the last two months chasing shadows. Chris says I spend my time fishing for imaginary tench. Well sometimes it works out and rarely it works out fantastically!
I had spend my time before I moved to Germany fishing for big tench in the UK when I arrived in Germany I found that the tench scene was non existent and the problems facing tench fishing enormous! I have been lucky to find a few waters where I had the chance of consistently catching tench and even one or two which have given me specimen ones, I count a fish over three kilos as specimen. What follows is a true story, it addresses both the methods a modern tenchfisher uses and the problems of tench fishing in a carp oriented world! Why are you going to Switzerland? “ I was a little bit puzzled; why anyone should want to go to Switzerland in the summer was beyond my comprehension, or why anyone should want to go to Switzerland at all? A country full of chocolate and cheese eating Heidi and Peter look-a-likes, cuckoo clocks and watches. My imagination began to run wild; goats, watches, wine, cheese and mountains. Naturally as normal the Noddy wasn’t listening when the answer came. “Because it’s wonderful!” was the reply from my lovely (at the time new girl friend) Nadja. But sadly I was already thinking about a tricky tench water I was fishing at the time and only heard the half of it…………. Holiday and wonderful……… “I’m sure it is!” was my half hearted reply. Now the wind is a nice south west the fish may be up by the island I think a small spot of float fishing is the order of the day.
I didn’t check or chose to ignore the sudden drop of temperature in the room: My reply looking back was really designed to end relationships, not to promote them!!! And then she was gone, a month in the land of wine, cheese and easy living. That was it Stuart alone at home. I never really did crack those tench, one of the many waters over here where I really struggled, but that’s a story for next time!
It must have been two years later when Nadja said “Let’s go skiing.” “Mmh” I said “sounds interesting, but where should we go?” I was scared of heights and skiing was not really that high on my agenda of pastimes which I wanted to fill my limited fishing time with.
“Switzerland!” I replied, “I’ll think about it!”
Well as ever, using the skills and tricks that only women can, late one night in the heat of the chase I agreed. Mainly because I was totally distracted at the time and not thinking straight, maybe it was the beer or the heavy sport program I don’t remember, but as a man of my word I was hooked, played and well and truly landed. In fact you could say I was on the way to the freezer!
The months flew by, equipment was bought and at last the big day came. I had no idea where we were going or where it would lead to. I was on my way as normal to destination unknown! I looked on the map the day before we set off, 16.5cm, FUCK that’s further than Alfsee which was 5cm………… that probably means a long way. So off we went south towards Munich, we turned right a Nuremburg. On towards Frankfurt, then turned left at Stuttgart. After that the route that’s become so familiar was a blur of sleep, darkness and coffee stops; my wife slept and I drove in the dark. 100, 200, 500kms, forever onward and after approximately 1125kms we arrived in the dark, on a great big mountain. Worst of all there was snow and it was freezing. Well that evening in the best English tradition we had a cheese and wine party in the local pub. Cheese fondue and local wine, I didn’t know it then but I was already addicted.
We had a great holiday, I learnt to ski badly, discovered the wonders of traditional raclette and Swiss wines. But, best of all I discovered the blue lagoon. I wanted to write: it is nestled in a sleepy hollow in the alpine landscape. Sadly I can’t, the truth is I found a 20 hectar gravel pit which was still been worked, located in a park next to a busy motorway. In fact it was horrible; there is a miniature railway, well two really, which drive along the side of the lake! A camping site and even sculptures both in the water as well as all around the lake! At least it was quiet, even the restaurant that was situated at one end of the lake was empty………………. I didn’t think about the fact that it was the middle of winter and even Heidi and her friends don’t want to sit by a lake and enjoy ice cream in the middle of a snow storm.
On returning to Berlin I was full of it, Switzerland this, Switzerland that, I couldn’t wait to get back; the blue lagoon was never far from my thoughts. I started to investigate what must I do, where do I get a licence, can I get maggots and so on? First shock it was horrendously expensive a two week permit was two hundred quid, no night fishing, no pre-baiting, no ground baiting, minimum hook size, kill everything and of course you have to do an exam! No problem, I sent all my paperwork to a nice girl in Bern and by return got the certificate which says I’ve done the Swiss exam!! You see I believe there are no problems in life only challenges and solutions! Oh boy, if only it was always that easy.
We set a date for our summer holidays in July and I began to count the days. Tackle was prepared and bait was sorted. My plan was to take around 10 litres of maggots, 25kgs of ground bait, 25kgs of hemp and wheat, not forgetting tins and tins of the jolly green giant. I knew that fishing in Switzerland was a little like fishing in the third world, no tackle shops and no bait services. I had the choice take it with me or do without.
The second week in July soon came. I loaded the tench mobile with my gear and even found space for the wife and son and their luggage. My wife asked more than once “What’s that smell?” I just smiled and said “Don’t know, maybe the farmers are spraying their crops with some chemical or other!” I tried not to thing what may happen if we got stopped at the border. I just kept thinking no risk no fun. Anyway to cut a long story short after a relatively uneventful journey we arrived at our destination and the beginning of a love affair which after nearly 18 years hasn’t dulled at all.
The first cast on any lake is something special, this time it was extra special. I was stood on a small peninsular with my plumbing rod. Whoosh and out went the float plus a 100grm lead. Splash, the eagle has landed, well it was more like a dead sparrow. As always I began to count the lead down, 2 seconds one meter……… 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9……………15,16,17,18,19,20……. I didn’t get it………… 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36……….. Maybe a pike had grabbed it, then donk, crash landing hard gravel. I let the float up 1m, 2m, 3m and so on. It turned out to be 25 metres deep in that swim. As I explored more of the lake the deepest area I found was over 60 metres. I had never experienced anything like it. The margins were mostly steep and very deep. Fortunately with a lot of hard work I managed to find a number of secret tenchy features. However I still didn’t know what the lake contained. It’s a real steep learning curve when you are faced with a set of circumstances you have never experienced before and of course when you have nobody you can ask!
For my first assault I decided on what I now call the beach swim, mainly because it’s the main beach on the lake! A lovely swim 2.5 metres deep at around 30 metres with a lovely silty gulley in the middle and then an endless drop off to around 18 metres or so. I chose a spot between the gulley and the drop off, a loverly gravel patch and this I baited with a mix of particles, ground bait and maggots. I cast out a simple paternoster and waited. The first bite wasn’t long in coming (wait I just have to check my diary); I arrived at the lake at 5:30am and baited the spot with a mix of ground bait, casters and maggots. The rigs were paternosters with small cage feeders and 4lb hook links. Diaries are so valuable, it’s amazing that we forget so much and remember what we think happened! 5:45 Right-hand rod, a butt ringer! A small perch took a worm. 6:15 Right-hand rod again this time I was off the mark! A lovely female tench of 2lbs 8onz, small but beautiful and The only time in my life I would catch my first Swiss Tinca! 6:30 I lost a mirror of around 12lbs. 7:00 Right-hand rod again another small female! It was great I caught many tench that first holiday to around 3lbs 8onz. They weren’t big, but I lost a few fish over the drop off because my gear was totally in adequate. The slate bottom and the weed that was like barbed wire did me every time. I was happy because as my mate Chris Turnbull always says “There’s nothing like cutting a new furrow!”
The first five summers or so saw me go onto catch many tench up to nearly five pounds. It was the first time that I had been confronted with such steep and of course deep margins. I found out through trial and error that the best summer depth was between two and four metres. At times it was very frustrating because although the lake is crystal clear you hardly ever see a fish, well besides the millions of bleak that is! Over a period of years I have found many features that were not always obvious at first. Little hollows in the margins that act like a larder. Weed bed edges had the function of roads and so on. It was great, so much to learn and nobody to ask! The lake was virtually unfished. The locals fished for the trout or pike. Virtually nobody knew of the tench or the carp!
The next summer saw me begin to bait a few of my secret places with a few handfuls each day. I fished all over the lake and caught many tench, and yes they were getting bigger, I managed to break the 5lb barrier. I’d found a dream area where there was a small channel and three parallel bars. Fishing in the gullies on the edge of the silt I caught many tench, but still had massive problems with small fish often making it impossible to fish with traditional baits.
Back in Berlin I began to make plans for the following year! I decided to go alone to the lake for five or six days in the spring. The beginning of April saw me load the car with all I needed for five days fishing and more. I took everything and more that I thought I may need. I had no idea how the weather would be and or if it was too early to catch anything. I needn’t have worried I managed one or two fish from a gravel bar with a gap in it, tucked away in a corner, again at a depth of 3 meters! It was hard work but paved the way for further successes later in the summer.
The summer trip came and I was exited, it was clear to me that I was close to catching a big one! Sadly the weather was excessively hot and I only managed a few tench, but I caught catfish!!! Some bright spark thought it was a great idea to introduce them illegally in to a few lakes in the area. They were mostly small up to around 70cms and they were a pain in the bum. The bites would start on dark, piep, piep, pieeeeeeeeep, stop and eventually they would take the bait. The biggest that summer was 1metre 11cms. The weight I don’t know because I put it back without weighing it. The down side of course was the tench population was reducing! What would the future hold?
Spring 2012 saw me on the lake for 10 days, all short sessions. 4 hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, just how I like it. In between there was time to shop, eat and generally relax. I baited swims round the whole of the lake with pellets and maggots. This proved to be one of the best periods I ever had on the lake. On a very windy Wednesday morning I landed, from my favourite swim, my fist Swiss six pounder, a new personal best and an uncaught specimen! I also went on to catch a cat of around twenty pounds, I was happy and sad; I had caught a big tench but also the number and size of catfish had increased. Was there a future for the Lake? Only time would tell.
2013 came and went with nothing really spectacular happening; I caught tench but not many, In the beginning it was not unusual to catch 20 in a morning session, since the introduction of the catfish I was lucky if I caught 1! I didn’t know it then but that was the beginning of the end!
That winter I talked with Chris at Enterprise Tackle about plastic baits and their use. I had previously suffered on the lake with hordes and hordes of small fish. Particularly bleak, which are a real pain in the arse at times! It was here I developed my fizzy ground bait. It contains many floating particles to draw the small fish away from the tench food. I spend weeks before our summer holiday making casters and freezing them. Sorting out mega hemp from Belgium, and a special micro pellet mix to dry the casters, so I could use them in pva mesh. I went on many experimental trips to local lakes to tune my rigs! At last I was happy and of course ready; let the slaughter begin!
The first trip saw me in the beach swim, the first time for five years or so! I chose it as my starting point as it was always a banker swim and perfect for the beginning of Swiss tench reloaded. I arrived as ever at 5:00am, baited the swim, the same gravel patch between the silty gulley and the drop off, with a mix of casters, hemp, wheat and sweet corn. I put in around 15 cones (a cone is a tenchfishers spod, it enables you with practice to lay down a bed of particles and not little piles as with a spod or spomb). My rigs were simple rotary rigs and a 15cm 10lb Berkley XT hooklink and a number 10 hook. This was tipped with a PVA stocking full of casters and pellets. I didn’t have to wait too long for the first action. 5:30 left-hand rod, beeeppppp! Wow that was quick. After a short scrap I put my net under the first tench of the trip 5lbs 5onz! Was I happy? You bet, things were to get better, at 6:00 am left-hand again a lovely female of 6lbs 4onz!!!! Three plastic casters was the bait and I was totally happy. I fished the beach another three times and had another five and a 6lb 3onz female. I also caught many bream up to around seven pounds, which is strange because I have never caught any bream from the lake before! The next trip I changed my swim, more out of curiosity than anything, I chose a nice hollow in the margins that I had found a few years previously. The first morning produced another six, at 6lbs 1onz and a four both females. Sadly after this I lost touch with the fish as I tried a few new swims around the lake! But like every year the holiday was over too quickly and it was time to head back to Berlin!
I wanted to write a happy ending; in my mind it went something like this…… I returned the next summer, the weather was great and the fishing better! I caught from the off, tench to over 7lbs in numbers with the outlook of a possible 8 pounder! The reality was different in that the weather was great and I caught well from the beginning, I caught 7 and 8 pounders, five or six each day, sadly carp. I caught so many bream I couldn’t believe it! Catfish were an absolute plague! All that from a lake that never had bream and the only carp were old and wily! I did manage two or three tench: two in two casts, I hoped that maybe……. But sadly I found myself fishing for, as Chris always says “imaginary tench!”
So that brings us up to date really: the death of tench water BUT I’m still searching, there’s gold at the end of the rainbow, and I’m looking forward to more adventures in the land of cheese and wine. I’m still learning about fishing deep lakes and because I can’t get there often there’s enough to interest me for many years to come. I just heard about another lake this time close to Berlin…………watch this space!