The Tench – Tinca tinca
Considering the extensive liberations that are known to have taken place in the 1860s and the subsequent world-class fishing available to South Islander’s as a result, the tench is still a little-known species. In fact, tench were introduced some years before brown trout, brought here from England via Tasmania and established south of Oamaru through Christchurch and Hokitika.
Oamaru is known to hold the largest stocks in its abundance of small streams with many of these fish growing to over 10lb. Yet ask any of the locals where you can catch one and you are bound to be met with confusion and head-scratching. Even the trout anglers who fish these waters are usually unfamiliar with this mysterious fish, perhaps because of its bottom-dwelling habits, or its attraction to the dense weed jungles and inclination to avoid bright light, although on warm nor’wester afternoons it can sometimes be seen by the observant angler basking under the shade of impenetrable willows, lazily drifting close to cover. If startled it invariably slowly sinks into the shadowy depths.
A slow-moving, deliberate fish is the tench. Slow that is until it is hooked! Even small tench fight with incredible power. The first run is always unbelievably athletic – not so fast as the rainbow trout – but every bit as strong and twice as determined. These powerfully built fish just do not give up, run after run after run. Once landed they recover from their relentless struggle amazingly quickly. On releasing the fish they usually tear off at full speed, rarely if ever, requiring to be held facing upstream to allow the oxygenated water to flow over their gills, the way you would an exhausted trout.
Powerfully built and beautiful to look at, the tench is stocky, deep-bodied and muscular in appearance. The fins and tail are round and paddle-like, seemingly oversized, (particularly in males when compared to other species). Colouration varies from an exquisite buttery gold to the more common deep olive, but always the tench appears as if it has been varnished, a quality attributable no doubt to the thick layer of slime that protects this fish from the snaggy bottom and the networks of willow roots
where it is often to be found. Surprisingly, not at all unpleasant to the touch, as unlike other species similarly endowed such as eels, tench slime does not come off onto your hands.
However, the real attraction of these fish lies not with their appearance or even their powerful struggle, but more so with the whole atmosphere of tench fishing. Far from the rugged, windswept and bouldery mountain streams and lakes tramped to by the fly angler or the barren blustery river mouths lined with busy salmon fishers, tench fishing is a peaceful art, invariably practised in the tranquillity of reed ‘ lakes set in park-like areas with willows and pastures. Warm dewy mid-summer mornings are the preferred times, from sun-up to breakfast time, when the air is still and the lake surface glassy and shimmering with the reflections of the lush bankside greenery. Stillness and tranquillity, yet always with an air of excitement and expectation.
The tench angler carefully selects his position or swim, as he will not usually move once started, somewhere offering some degree of shade, as tench prefer filtered light. Rushes, water lilies, overhanging willows or dense weed beds are all favoured features, particularly when accompanied by a hard clay or shingle bottom. Here the tench angler will prepare his swim several days in advance, by raking the bottom to clear a weed-free area to present his bait. On subsequent days he may deposit samples of hook bait to attract the fish.
Float fishing is invariably the preferred method. A long rod is used, often 13 to 14 feet in length, yet light enough to be balanced with a 3 to 6 lb line. At the end, a small hook, size 16 to size 10 is tied, depending on the choice of bait. Bread, sweetcorn kernels, luncheon meat, worms or maggots are preferred.
Above the hook at exactly the depth of the swim is the float. A slim antenna of balsa, cane or peacock quill, slim enough to ensure minimal resistance to the incredibly wary tench, buoyant enough to allow it to be weighted with sufficient lead shot for accurate casting and correct presentation. The float is the coarse angler’s connection with the hook, unseen below. Any movement of the bait will result in an obvious indication of the float. Seasoned coarse anglers often can interpret these movements and predict how the tench is feeding and when some other species, such as perch or rudd, are present.
The float is to the coarse angler what the fly is to the trout angler. Often we own many more brightly coloured floats of different sizes and shapes than will ever be required for any of the conditions we will encounter. We sit for hours, mesmerised by the float, waiting for it to slide away under the water.
Often the tench, feeding vigorously on our samples of hook bait deposited in and around our swim, sends up clusters of tiny bubbles, inadvertently signalling their arrival in our swim. This is the moment of the greatest excitement. We wait, hand hovering above the rod with eager anticipation, waiting for the float to rock side to side, dip slightly then slide slowly away under the surface of the water. You strike!
Fishing Licence Needed
The tench is classed as a freshwater “sports fish” in New Zealand, as described in the First Schedule of the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations 1983. Therefore you must purchase a Fish & Game licence to fish for tench. The same applies to brown trout, rainbow trout, American brook trout or char, Lake trout or char, Atlantic salmon, Quinnat or chinook salmon, Sockeye salmon, Perch and Rudd (Auckland/Waikato Fish and Game Region only). A Fish & Game licence is required to fish for any hybrid of the above.
The 30 things you wanted to know about tench but were afraid to ask!
1. Tench have been in New Zealand since 1866 BT (Before Trout!!)
2. The Canterbury Float Fishing Club tench record has gone from 5lb 1oz in March 1995 to 7lb 7 1/2 oz in November 1998.
3. Female tench are bigger than the male. On average 2lb heavier for the same age.
4. Male tench are different from the female by having paddle-like ventral fins.
5. Female tench carry over a quarter of a million eggs at spawning time.
6. Tench have a natural lifespan of around 25 years.
7. Tench have pharyngeal teeth similar to carp. This enables them to chew up large food items before swallowing.
8. They can live in poorly oxygenated water and can stand reasonably high levels of pollution.
9. A tench has tiny scales estimated at over 30,000 per fish.
10. Tench caught in November and December are likely to be heavier due to spawning.
11. During summer the best times to catch tench are just before darkness and the first couple of hours of daylight.
12. Tench like sweet flavoured baits.
13. Stillwaters tend to have larger fish than rivers.
14. A tench’s colour can vary from dark green to light brown. The colour varies according to their environment.
15. Tench have great eyesight and hearing and the slightest disturbance on the bank will scare the fish away. BE QUIET!!!
16 Pre-baiting is usually successful. Tench seem to have regular patrol routes.
17. Their natural diet is crustaceans, insects and larvae (especially midge larvae).
18. Biggest bag of tench in one day in the South Island is 19.
19. Tench love cover. They can be found close to weed beds.
20. Tench ‘stand on their heads when feeding. The lift method is a good way to catch tench.
21. Gravel pits seem to produce large tench.
22. You can tell when tench are feeding by the distinctive pinprick bubbles they produce when feeding on the bottom,
23. ln autumn tench tend to move to deeper water.
24. Tench are actually a member of the carp family. The Latin name is ‘Tinca tinca‘.
25. A gentle raking of your swim a few days before fishing will entice tench to feed.
26. Flavoured sweetcorn can be a great bait for tench (they have a sweet tooth!)
27. Tench under one pound are rarely caught because of their pre-occupation with tiny organisms like larvae.
28. Tench eggs develop in 4 to 8 days. After a year a tench will be 30mm long. Reaching 100mm after 3 years.
29. Very big tench tend to be as fat as they are long. Our club record was 605mm long and 585mm round its girth. It was heavy with spawn.
30. Tench like to be treated gently when caught. Always wet your hands before touching them.