Tench (Tinca tinca)
In the UK, tench typically grow between 16-28 inches (40-70cm) in length, and weigh between 2-5 lb (1-2 kg).
In Europe however, tench can grow to impressive sizes of over 12 lb (5 kg), however a fish of 3 lbs (1.4 kg) or more would be considered a great catch. Tench are closely related to carp and so provide swashbuckling fights, giving anglers fantastic sport in both playing and landing.
Also known as
LC – Least Concern
The tench is a stocky fish with a humped back that gradually slopes up from its rounded head. One of its most distinctive features is its eyes, which are particularly small and red-orange in colour, located on both sides of its head. The mouth is narrow with thick rubbery lips and a small barbule on either side.
Its back ranges in colour from pale olive-green to brown-green, the flanks are usually a brilliant green-golden colour, the underbelly is cream/pale orange in colour and is virtually flat (as is the case with many bottom feeders). With the exception of the tail fin, which is square in shape, every fin has distinctly rounded edges. The tench has very small scales which are set deep into the skin, it is also covered in a thick slime. The result is a fish which is particularly soft and slippery and therefore a real pain to keep hold of once it’s out of the water! This slime was said to cure all ailments, giving rise to the tench’s nickname of the ‘doctor fish’.
The tench is a shoaling fish. When the fish are small, these shoals are large and gradually decrease in size as the individual fish within the shoal grow in weight and size. Tench above 7 lbs (3kg) have a tendency to be found in small groups or just pairs.
Warning: Tench will leave behind a considerable amount of slime, this means that landing and keep nets will require a thorough clean after a session. Otherwise, a stiff, crusty mesh that smells particularly bad will form on the net.
So how do we catch one?
The tench’s natural diet is made up of bloodworms, small crustaceans, molluscs and microscopic organisms such as daphnia.
The most effective baits include worms, black slugs, red maggots and casters, as tench are instinctively attracted to such baits. Bread flake, pellets, sweetcorn, prawns and boilies can also be used to catch tench. In some regions, green peas are said to work very well. Some experienced anglers will swear by them as the best bait. In other regions and waters though, success with green peas is limited.
Using cereal groundbaits will often get the tench in the swim and interested. They are also attracted by hemp, which is a great tool in the spring when using maggots as your hookbait. Your groundbait should be fine, with the occasional freebie here and there. Don’t use particle loaded groundbait as this will lead to the fish focusing only on that, making them harder to catch.
A Note On Spawning
Compared to other species of coarse fish, tench spawn significantly later in the year, as they require warm water temperatures between 18-24°C. Therefore, spawning typically takes place between June and July, although if the summer is a particularly cool one, they may have to spawn as late as August.
The spawning itself takes place in the early morning, with a couple of males or so chasing several females. A healthy female can produce between 300,000-400,000 eggs per kg of body weight. The females deposit these eggs in shallow areas of thick vegetation, with the males fertilising them soon after.
The eggs are adhesive, sticking to the aquatic vegetation and branched plants in the area. The larvae emerge around 4-6 days later. Around 4-5mm in length, the larvae have coloured eyes and a black stripe spanning from the eye to the lower part of the tail, which acts as camouflage. During this period they hang from the vegetation, absorb the egg sac after 5-10 days before detaching themselves and swimming off.
Initially, the tench fry survive on algae and other zooplankton in the water, this sustains them until they reach 12cm. After which they become mainly carnivourous, consuming very small particles of food such as insect larvae, bloodworm larvae and other tiny insects. Once large enough, they begin to feed on worms, freshwater molluscs and small crustaceans.
Catching young tench is rare as they tend to hide within thick weed beds where they consume zooplankton, however, if you do catch one, look out for the black stripe in front of their caudal fins.
The tench almost exclusively is a summer feeder, ideal times to fish for them are early mornings or late evenings during the summer or early autumn.
Winter tench are very rare, once the first frosts have emerged, tench will remain largely dormant until the spring. With that said, tench will feed in the winter if there is a prolonged mild spell. If such a mild spell does present itself, tench will feed for an hour or so in the middle of the day, making that the best time to fish for them.
The tench is found in still waters, with a preference for clay or muddy bottoms and plenty of aquatic vegetation. It is rarely found in clear waters with stony bottoms. Carp waters often also hold tench, as both fish thrive under similar conditions. Tench are slightly more hardy than carp though, and can endure higher levels of pollution and lower oxygen concentrations.
Despite tench being known for their unpredictability when it comes to feeding, overall, they are easier to catch compared to carp and anglers very rarely have to wait hours for a bite, unlike their wily cousins.
Favourite Feeding Places
Tench prefer to inhabit areas with thick mud, silt and vegetation. Whilst it is true that tench occasionally rise to the surface to feed on the insects which are found there, the bottom is the ideal place to fish for them as their natural diet is made up of crustaceans, molluscs, worms, water snails and aquatic insects. Just like carp, they forage in the mud and silt at the bottom for such meals.
Tench rarely stray far from weed beds and marginal shelves, which provide the fish with both cover and food. They often give their location away themselves, by producing streams of small bubbles as they search the mud and silt at the bottom for food, these bubbles tend to appear in distinct meandering lines. The movement of weeds and lilies can also be another giveaway. These signs are rather subtle so the use of binoculars will assist greatly when trying to spot them out on large waters.
It is not uncommon for anglers to identify some or most of these signs, only to discover that the fish are preoccupied with tiny natural baits. There are only really two solutions to this scenario, keep going with small baits or move to a different swim where the tench may feed on the baits you are using.
An ideal spot for tench
Tench are powerful fish and fantastic fighters, providing excellent sport for anglers. When caught on the line they make good runs and often change direction to seek sanctuary in weed beds and lilies, if present.
Tench fishing is very popular, as such there are rods and other tackle pieces designed specifically for them. Despite this, any rod with medium action and a test curve around 1.5 lb will do the job well. Use a mainline between 4-6 lb and hooklinks between 3-6 lb, if fishing in an area with dense vegetation or weeds, increase both to ensure that the fish is not lost. Balance your tackle depending on the conditions you are fishing in and the size of fish which reside there. Strong hooks are essential, go for a hook between size 8-18, depending on both the size of the fish you are trying to hook and the bait that you are using.
Tench are primarily bottom feeders, as such the bait needs to be presented on the bottom, close to reed beds and lilies.
Using a waggler float is the way to go when float fishing for tench, fish an inch or two over depth. Tench are known to ‘play’ with the bait, this can lead to the float lifting and dropping slightly, if you see this, do not strike, instead wait and float will eventually disappear below the surface once the fish has taken the bait properly.
Maggot feeders work especially well over a bed of hemp and open-ended feeders plugged with groundbait and free samples of the hookbait can also work well. Alternatively, using a semi-fixed bolt rig with a PVA bag of pellets fastened to it is another effective method for catching tench. Tench are fussy customers, if you’re lacking bites try different baits until you find something that they like. Just like with float fishing, bites can initially be nervy so don’t strike straight away, give the fish a bit of time and a confident take will likely register.
Tench are meek fish and are out-competed for resources in waters which also stock carp. Environments where natural food sources are abundant are perfect, waters such as weedy gravel pits can lead to monster tench being produced. Conversely, fisheries where carp outnumber tench significantly can lead to the water becoming almost entirely weed free, meaning that the tench’s natural diet is somewhat limited and so smaller fish are produced.
Pre-baiting swims can give you a significant advantage when after tench. It’s a particularly useful tool when you are trying to draw the fish out of their sanctuary, typically a weedy area or a reed bed. Because you are persuading the fish to come to you, rather than having to find them, ensure that the baited area is easy to access and as snag free as possible. Be aware that if the water you’re fishing in is known to stock roach and bream, these species will also be attracted into the area, therefore lowering your chances of hooking a tench.
Don’t pre-bait the swim by giving it a big one-off introduction of bait, instead, opt for a little and often tactic, preferably one which is well thought out and kept to. If you are lucky enough to be able to access the water even on days when you are not out fishing, introduce bait every other day before your session. Pre-baiting is most successful during spring, as tench are starting to wake from their slumber, but it can be useful during the winter, too.
A good pre-baiting mix consists of brown breadcumb, combined with sweetcorn and chopped worms, you can also include chopped boilies and casters, but this will increase the cost.
Tench have broad fins, and when hooked can utilise them to give the angler some exciting sport. As mentioned previously, don’t strike as soon as the float starts to bob, as this can often lead to a lost fish, instead wait until the float moved well under or across the water.