Tench fishing is a rewarding activity that captivates anglers, particularly during the warmer months. Renowned for their hard-fighting nature, the tench offers a challenge with their stubborn resistance when hooked. Their preference for dawn or dusk feeding times adds a layer of strategy to targeting them, making it a fishing adventure that engages both novice and experienced anglers alike.
Selecting the appropriate tackle and bait is crucial to land tinca tinca (its Latin name). Anglers commonly employ a variety of rigs and methods tailored to the specific conditions of their chosen fishing spot.
Tench fishing is a seasonal pursuit in the UK, with spring and summer being the prime time.
Appropriate bait and gear selection are fundamental to success in tench angling.
Adapting techniques to match tench behaviours increases the likelihood of a good catch.
Understanding Tench & Their Habitat
In this section, I’ll cover the essential aspects of the tench fish, focusing on species distinctions, the differences between the sexes, their habitats, and their unique behaviours.
The first step in catching fish is putting your bait where the fish are. Pick a stillwater or canal with low flow and a mud or clay bottom known for its tench so that you have a good chance of catching one. Gravel pits are traditionally a haven for tench, but knowing which one to fish can be a challenge; some insider knowledge is required due to the sheer size and depth of these big pits.
Tench tend to feed around the margins as the vegetation holds many of their favourite natural foods and provides them with a safe haven, especially from predators.
Tench will have just started feeding in spring but still want to be in the deeper, warmer water. They will only venture closer to the banks as warmer temperatures arrive.
As the water warms up, the tench move in with it and focus their feeding right along the edges of the margins. This is particularly the case in the early mornings. You will find tench right along the edge of the margins or at the first ledge (depth change) closest to the margin
Tench are relatively dormant during winter, waiting for the warmer water temperatures of spring and summer to start feeding again. Whilst they can be caught in the colder months, they can be somewhat elusive!
Tench Species and Biology
Tench, with their distinctive olive-green colour, characterised by their thick-set body and small, beady eyes, favour still waters and slow-moving rivers. They belong to the family of Cyprinidae, as do carp. As coarse fish, tench are known for their chunky and robust build. They possess a set of tiny scales and a thick, slime-covered skin which aids them in navigating through weedy environments.
Male VS Female Tench Differences
Male fish have large, spoon-like pelvic fins and oversized anal fins. In some cases, they can have fins that are extremely large and curled up
Male tench tend to be smaller, with an average fish around 2-3 lb, while females can grow considerably larger. It’s common to see female tench surpassing the 5 lb mark, indicating clear sexual dimorphism in this species.
Tench is one of the easiest fish to tell which sex they are; typically, the male tench do not live as long as the females. Hence why females, on average, are larger. Female tench have been known to live for over 15 years.
Natural Habitats & Feeding Behaviours
My observations are that they prefer still or slow-moving waters with plenty of cover. Weed beds and lily pads often harbour these fish, providing shelter and natural food sources such as bloodworms, daphnia, and small crustaceans. Their diet comprises these invertebrates, sustaining their growth and health.
A combination of weeds such as invasive elodea, silkweed, hornwort, milfoil or marestail are known to be the best natural food sources; additionally, many lakes also have silt beds holding lots of bloodworms.
Seasonal Patterns & Spawning
Not all tench spawn yearly, and their spawning requirements are specific regarding their habitat. When they do spawn, the water temperature needs to be above 18 °C, so they like it hot. This usually happens in July or even in August if the summer is cool. They reach sexual maturity once they reach a minimum of three years old.
During spawning season, tench use a lot of energy and must make up for it by feeding actively. Tench feed most aggressively in spawning season, making it an excellent time to fish for them.
Spawning sites are almost always between 18″ to 36″ deep and are often dense with vegetation, where females deposit eggs that stick to underwater plants.
Why Are Tench Called “The Doctor Fish”?
The tench is sometimes called the “doctor fish” because they were thought to be able to heal by rubbing themselves against the side of other fish. However, no scientific evidence supports this claim, but the claim continues.
Which Countries Can You Find Tench?
Tench are widespread across Europe and parts of Asia. You’ll find them in the UK in lakes, ponds, canals, and slow-moving rivers, indicating their adaptable nature to various freshwater habitats. Tench can also be found in some rivers in Australia and almost half of the 50 states in America!
What Is the Largest Tench Caught In The UK?
The official British record tench weighed 15 lbs, 3oz, and 6 drams. It was caught by angler Darren Ward at Sheepwalk Big Lake, Shepperton, in June 2001.
Selecting the proper gear is essential to successful tench fishing. Choosing the right rod and reel is less of a concern, but line, terminal tackle and your choice of rig can substantially impact your success rate.
Choosing The Right Tench Fishing Rod & Reel
When targeting tench, I recommend rods that balance sensitivity with the backbone strength to handle a tench’s powerful fight. The most suitable tench fishing rods typically fall within the 1.25lb to 1.5lb test curve range.
As for reels, a baitrunner system is invaluable when fishing with feeder rigs. It allows a hooked fish to take line smoothly before you strike. A reel with a good drag system helps maintain control during the fight and protects lighter lines.
If you own a centrepin reel, these can be used perfectly for tench, especially when using the lift method.
Tactics & Techniques For Successful Tench Fishing
In my experience, specific tactics and techniques can dramatically increase your success rate when fishing for tench. Getting these strategies right is essential, from your rig setup to understanding bite indications.
You have two methods when tench fishing: float fishing or legering. Legering is most effective in the spring as it allows you to fish deeper waters, while float fishing is ideal when fishing close to the margins in the summer.
Float fishing is a classic approach where I use a waggler float to present the bait on the bottom as naturally as possible. It’s crucial to adjust the depth accurately (always use a plummet to find the correct depth) – tench almost always feeds near the bottom. A simple setup would include:
A float/match rod of around 12ft long.
A fixed spool spinning reel
A waggler float secured with split shots.
A 4-6lb line
A wide-gape hook for natural baits like maggots.
Float Fishing Using The Lift Method
It’s the lift method (or laying on) that I started “tenching” in estate lakes in my teenage years, and it is probably one of the most simple yet effective methods. This method lets you have your bait on the bottom (where the tench feed). This is a subtle and sensitive technique I use to detect the shy bites from tench:
“Laying on” requires a light waggler float held at the bottom with a single float rubber. Attach a single swan or two SSG split shots (enough to sink the float) around 3″ to 6″ from the hook.
Plumb the depth of the area you want to put your rig and adjust the float around 12″ over depth. Make your first cast and check that the float lays flat on the water’s surface; your split shot rests on the bottom with the bait. Finally, place the rod on your rests, and gradually tighten the line till the float “cocks” up. Reel in slowly until the float is set around 1/2″ above the water level.
When casting, swing underarm so the weights go first. This gives you pinpoint accuracy every time and lets you drop your bait right next to the margins. This method is best done with a 12ft match rod, with the float positioned in the water no more than 4ft from the tip of your rod.
When a tench takes the bait, there are two possible bite indications. It lifts the weight, and the float risesup (and lays flat on the water’s surface), or the float will shoot under without lifting since the tench has taken the bait away from you. This is the classic bite indication for “laying on” rigs.
Watch also for visual cues; the float’s behaviour with sudden dips or drifts can signal a tentative tench bite.
It’s effective in calm waters and less windy conditions, where you can observe minor movements. However, it’s not a method for use in medium or fast-flowing water, as anchoring the weight on the bottom is difficult to achieve.
Feeder Fishing Strategies
Feeder fishing allows me to deliver bait directly to the target area. The two main strategies I employ are:
Maggot feeder rig: Ideal for constant bait delivery. I use a small feeder with a short hook link and a specimen hook.
Method feeder rig: For a more targeted approach with groundbait or pellets, the method feeder can be prolific at providing a simple bolt rig setup for self-hooking.
Legering is a great tactic when most tench prefer to stay deep in the warmer waters of early spring. Fishing with a maggot feeder while legering is excellent for tench, especially when using maggots, worms, hemp, and mixed with a bread-based groundbait.
Always try to use a sensitive bite alarm such as the Sonik Vader X or Sonik SKS when legering, as the bites can be subtle. Also, since they are known to be very fussy, don’t hesitate to change baits when you are not getting any bites.
Line, Hooks, and Rigs
For line, the choice often falls between braid and monofilament. When considering the mainline, an appropriate breaking strain is crucial. Always choose a quality mainline such as the Maxima brand; a breaking strain of between 5 and 8 lbs is ideal.
When it comes to hooks and rigs, precision is key for tench. Smaller baits demand smaller hooks; choosing a size between #10 and #14 is ideal for average size fish. Effective rigs include the classic feeder rig or a simple leger rig. Both should allow for a natural bait presentation.
Bait Types & Their Effective Use
When I go tench fishing, bait choice is paramount to my success. Tench, with their discerning tastes, respond well to various baits. They can be tempted by using maggots, bread flake, sweetcorn, pellets, and boilies.
My all-time favourites are sweetcorn or red maggots and occasionally prawns when seeking to entice larger tench. However, most other fish will also be attracted to these same baits, so it can be frustrating if you don’t hook into a tench. A useful tip to improve your chance of catching tench is to use groundbait mixed with particles like casters, hemp, and corn to attract them to a tight area in your swim.
Using Bait Correctly
Anglers need to understand that when tench fishing, it’s less about quantity and more about the quality and presentation of what’s on your hook.
I ensure that maggots are fresh and bunch three together, presented neatly on the hook. For longer sessions, sustaining the bait’s freshness is crucial. When fishing with any worm, their natural movements and scent make them irresistible.
Maggots: I find these to be versatile and highly attractive to tench. They’re excellent when used on a float or a maggot feeder rig.
Worms: Large dendrobaenas or lobworms serve as a reliable change bait, especially if the tench are finicky.
Casters: The chrysalis (shell) of a maggot is highly effective as a filler to groundbait.
Hemp: Used in groundbait mixes, these small “snail-like” seeds can be a game changer.
Redworms are also a staple in my arsenal, a bait that tench seldom ignore, especially when used as a “cocktail bait” with maggots or casters.
While I usually prefer natural baits, there are situations where artificial options can be potent:
Soft pellets – Ideally, 6 or 8mm for smaller fish and 10 or 12mm for larger specimens.
Imitation (plastic) – such as casters, corn, maggots and bread.
Boilies – Typically, 10mm to 14mm works best.
They love to forage for worms, snails, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic insects on the bottom, just like carp.
When pre-baiting, a mix of casters, hemp, and krill groundbait is an excellent concoction that keeps them feeding in your swim. It is also wise to sprinkle a few maggots or corn (whatever you are using on your hook) into your groundbait, just enough to get them interested but not so much that they ignore your hooked bait.
If you are unsure what bait to use, try traditional baits, such as maggots, worms, and sweetcorn. Modern alternatives like boilies and pop-ups, whilst less effective, can yield impressive results when used correctly, especially when legering for specimen size fish.
Finally, it’s important to align the bait presentation with tench behavioural patterns, which can change throughout the summer, presenting an evolving challenge for the angler.
Top Tips For Catching Tench
Now that we have covered all the main aspects of fishing for tench in spring and summer, let’s get into some useful tips that will hopefully increase your catch rates.
Best Time For Tench Fishing
If you want the best opportunities, get up early and be at the lake fishing at dawn! This is the prime time for spring and summer tench fishing. Evening sessions, a couple of hours before sunset, also increase the chances of tench biting. During the summer, daytime can be frustrating and inconsistent, as they tend to go off the feed during the hottest part of the day.
Look For Tench Bubbles
When tench feed in their natural habitats, they disturb the bottom sediment, releasing tiny bubbles that rise to the surface. These ‘tench bubbles’ are a subtle indicator of their presence and give their location away to us anglers. The phrase “tench fizzing” is a commonly used term.
Tench Fight Hard
You are in for a fight once you have hooked a tench. Tincas are packed full of muscle, and they use this combined with their wide fins to break you off.
Set your drag quite high, then try to keep the fish from going into the margins and snagging you in lilies and thick rush beds. Don’t put too much pressure on the fish, but just enough so that you can guide them into open water.
Don’t Set The Hook Right Away
Tench tend to play with their food quite a bit and will do the same with your bait. When you detect a bite, do not set the hook immediately; take your time on the strike, or you will lose quite a few fish.
This guideline is key when float fishing: try to wait for your float to fully submerge or lift totally out of the water and lie flat if you use the laying-on method. When legering, wait for your bite alarm to sound for a couple of extra seconds before lifting into the fish.
Pre-Bait Little & Often
Pre-baiting your swim is a great way to tempt tench into your area. But, if you put in too much pre-bait, you will attract lots of smaller fish, such as roach and bream, in your swim, taking away from possible tench bites.
Instead, pre-bait little amounts often and consistently. This will move tench into your area and reduce the number of other species biting on the end of your line.
For any fishing in the margin areas, it always pays to keep quiet and still. Tench, in particular, are finicky and can be disturbed easily when they feed. Even throwing in bait and using a gentle cast are key to preventing spooking them when float fishing at very short ranges.
Targeting Big Tench
I’ve learned that different venues offer unique challenges and opportunities. For instance, deep gravel pits are renowned for holding larger specimens up to 15 lbs. Shallower estate lakes often feature greater numbers but smaller fish around the 2 lbs to 5 lbs range.
Joining projects or groups like the National Tench Heritage Alliance also provides access to selective membership waters where specimen fish are known to dwell.
Best Tench Fishing Lakes
Dedicated lakes for tench fishing have become rare over the past 20 years as the interest in carp fishing has taken preference. However, a few still exist, and my top picks are as follows:
In the heart of the Wensum Valley, near Fakenham, Norfolk is the Mill Lodge Farm Fishery, which has a good head of pristine conditioned tench of up to 5 lbs (and crucian carp), and you can also book the Wensum View cottage for weekly stays.
Located in Milford, Surrey, the Marsh Farm complex consisting of three lakes (Hill Pond, Harris Lake, and Richardson Lake) has specimens up to 8 lbs. Day tickets are available through the Godalming Angling Society. The lakes have good accessibility for disabled anglers, including parking behind the swims and disabled facilities.
Horseshoe Lake at Lechlade, Gloucestershire, is a famed 60-acre lake set in the Cotswolds and produces specimens to 11 lb+. The lake is known for its number of carp, so avoiding them can be challenging if your only target is tench. The weedy and shallow Summer Bay produces the majority of the Tincas.
Finally, Linear Fisheries in Oxfordshire, located approximately 5 miles west of Oxford, is a prime example of a carp fishery holding some tench of over 11 lbs. The Hunts Corner Pond has fewer carp and provides more opportunities to catch double-figure specimens.
It should be noted that many specimen tench fishing lakes are syndicate waters and can be exclusive with a long waiting list and high membership fees.
Prior knowledge of venues, tactics and selecting the right bait is crucial when pursuing specimen tench. You can maximise the chances of landing that prize specimen by understanding their behaviour.
Their shimmering scales and spirited battles make tench a prized catch for many coarse anglers. Pursuing these marvellous fish requires a blend of skill, patience, and a touch of obsession, as these fish are challenging to hook, fight vigorously and make for a stunning photograph.
Steve is a seasoned angler whose lifelong passion for fishing has not only shaped his personal life but also laid the foundation for Positive Fishing—a community where he and his team of dedicated fishing enthusiasts share their love for the sport. With an impressive repertoire of skills honed over five decades, Steve has mastered both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Steve holds a special place in his heart for the mighty Carp and the elusive Tench