Tench are medium sized fish found throughout Europe and Eurasia. Tench are beautiful fish and arguably one of the best looking fish in the fresh water ecosystem. They are a treat when caught on the line and the larger tench are excellent fighters.
The Tench (scientific name tinca tinca) is a freshwater fish of the Cyprinidae family. Many of you will probably be familiar with this family as it includes carp, minnows and barbel. The tench has earned the name “doctor fish” as it was historically believed that when other fish with parasites or other ailments rubbed against the tench’s slime, they would be cured.
It was even thought that a tincture made of boiled tench slime could cure human ailments. However, none of these claims have been proven.
Tench have been introduced to many countries as an angling fish including Australia, North America, South Africa and India. They were also introduced as a food in some countries and were imported for this reason into 36 states of the USA from Germany in the nineteenth century.
In the Middle Ages, monks grew tench in their stew ponds for the table. The large manor houses also grew them in manor ponds and moats for food and likely as a natural way to clean the waters. In the UK, tench caught are now required, by law, to be returned to the water.
In modern Europe, tench are threatened by man-made changes to the modern waterways and other forms of fresh water engineering.
Distribution and Habitat
Tench are common across all of Europe, except for Northern Scandinavia, Northern Scotland, the Crimea and the western part of the Balkan Peninsula. They can be found in Western Asia, in many states of the USA and in the mildly salted Eastern Baltic Sea.
Tench prefer shallow lakes, rivers and backwaters with a lot of vegetation. They are a stillwater species so will be found in slower moving rivers. Tench tend to keep away from heavily boated areas. They live in quiet, shallow canals with clear waters and a lot of vegetation.
Tench are hardy creatures. They can survive in polluted waters and areas with a low oxygen content. They can survive in these conditions longer than their cousins the carp can.
Tench are a stocky, heavy and deep-bodied fish with a small humped back which slopes to their triangular head. Their eyes are quite small and have a slight red-orange colour and they have two barbels on the side of their mouths.
The mouth is narrow with thick lips. The scales are relatively small and are set in the skin. The lateral line scale count is 90 – 120. A thick slime covers their skin and their pectoral and dorsal fins are rounded whilst the anal fin is squarer.
Tench have two predominant colours, however both form part of the tinca tinca species. The colours vary from green, gold, red and even blue. Green and gold are the most common and will be outlined below.
Green tench are usually an olive green colour with a slight shimmer of bronze. This contrasts with their black fins and makes for a really attractive fish. The colour can also be green-brown, dark green or almost black. The underbelly of the fish is a creamy white colour.
These are a variety with a different colour to the green tench. They have been bred for several centuries for use as food and as ornamental pond fish.They are rather unsurprisingly a brilliant gold colour.
The golden colour really intensifies with age and the fish develop black spots which contrasts with the golden colour. They are similar to goldfish but with smaller scales. This is a truly stunning fish when mature.
The average length of tench is 40 – 70cm (15.75 – 27.5 inches). The average weight in the UK is 3 – 6kg (6.6lb – 13.2lb) and the British record from 2015 stands at 15lb 3oz (6.9kg).
A fish of over 3lb is thought to be a good catch. The male tench over 5lb are considered to be specimens and are prized as good fighters, even more so than large females. Tench grow larger in Europe compared to the UK and weights of over 12lb are more common.
The average lifespan of tench is approximately 15 years, although some specimens can live for 20 – 30 years.
How They Feed
Tench are omnivorous and their diet is diverse. Known foods include snails, mosquito larvae, algae, plant matter and pea clams. Tench prefer to eat living organisms and their favourite time to feed is during the night.
Tench use the barbels on the side of their mouths as sensory organs to detect food at the bottom of the water. They are bottom feeders, so are efficient at finding their food in this way. They will root around in the mud and silt to find their food (in the same way carp do).
This complements their diet as bottom feeders as they can dislodge molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic insects. Tench are known to feed on the surface for some insects, however this the exception rather than the rule.
Tench are so efficient at feeding that they are known to clean the bottom of ponds and to keep any waterways clean and healthy. For this reason they are often stocked in artificial ponds and aquariums in order to maintain their cleanliness.
Juvenile tench will feed off of zooplankton and algae. After they reach 12cm they become mainly carnivorous as they eat insect larvae, before moving on to bigger insects. Fully grown tench will eat whole crustaceans, insects and molluscs.
Male tench tend to reach maturity at 2 – 3 years of age at 9.5cm, with the females maturing a year later at 12.5cm. Spawning occurs in late spring or summer. This is later than many species as the tench require warmer weather to spawn.
The female will lay her eggs approximately every 15 days until the temperature drops. Males chase the females and fertilise the eggs as soon as she has laid them in beds of algae or vegetation.
A female tench can produce as many as 300,000 to 400,000 eggs. The eggs are extremely sticky as they need to attach to the vegetation and the larvae emerge 4 to 6 days later at around 4 – 5mm in length.
The juvenile tench have coloured eyes and a black stripe down their back for camouflage. They remain attached to the vegetation until they have fully absorbed the yolk sac. It takes approximately 5 – 10 days before they detach themselves and swim off. In some cold summers the tench are unsuccessful at reproducing at all.
Tench are one of the only species where you can identify the sex at any time of years due to their differering shapes of their pelvic fins. The males also have stronger muscles around the fins, whereas females do not.
Tench exist in large shoals when they are small. The shoals decrease in size as the individual fish in the shoal grow larger and heavier. Tench above 7lb are known to roam either alone or in pairs.
How to Catch Tench
These beautiful creatures are highly desirable fish for both pleasure and specimen anglers to catch due to their fighting nature and their distinct appearance! They often make very good runs on well balanced tackle and can rapidly change direction to seek the shelter of vegetation or margins.
The best time to catch tench is almost always in the summer and, most typically, they feed in the early mornings or late evenings. Tench will rarely feed in the winter, so once the frosts begin they will go dormant.
If there is a mild spell in winter, they may start to feed again. In this case, the best time to catch them will be for a short time (around an hour or so) at midday.
The best places to catch tench are still waters, with clay or muddy bottoms with plenty of underwater vegetation. It is best to avoid clear waters with stony bottoms as the tench will rarely venture there.
As a general rule, if you are fishing in an area where carp are present, it is likely that you’ll find tench in the same place (subject to the areas of low oxygen which carp cannot live).
Tench will rarely venture out of the weed beds and margins. You can sometimes locate them by the bubbles which they create through their gills as they search the mud for food. The bubbles will form in wavy lines. Another way to identify them will be the rustling of vegetation above water and binoculars will help if you are fishing on large areas of water.
In terms of bait, it will be hard to match the tench’s diet of worms, molluscs, small crustaceans and microscopic organisms. We have found that worms, slugs, maggots and castors all work well as the fish are naturally drawn to these.
Other good baits include bread, sweetcorn, prawns and boilies. Some anglers swear by green peas as successful bait. We haven’t tried this, and although we are slightly dubious, it has been said to be successful in certain areas.
We recommend using a decent groundbait to get the tench interested.
We think a cereal groundbait or hemp would be a strong choice! If you are using maggots for your hookbait then hemp could be a perfect combination.
If you have found a secluded spot, you could pre-bait the area over an extended period for good results, although be aware that roach and bream will also go for this!
In contrast to catching carp, tench are unpredictable when feeding but easier to catch. You will rarely have to wait hours for a bite, unlike big carp fishing. I’m sure many of you will know the feeling, despite your best efforts, of not getting any carp bites for extended periods!
Tench fishing is very popular and there is a range of dedicated tackle to explore which will no doubt increase your chances of catching the beautiful fish.
In general, look for a rod with a 1.5lb test curve and medium action – this will help in giving you some control in keeping them away from the weeds and will allow you to enjoy the fight too.
A mainline of 4 – 6lb should be ample with hooklinks between 3 – 6lb. If you are fishing in a heavily weeded area, you could increase these so that you don’t lose the fish. Use some good strong hooks at between sizes 8 – 18. This is a wide range as it will depend on the type of bait you decide to use, what environment you are fishing in and what size of fish you expect to land.
As tench are bottom feeders, you will need to present the food near the bottom.
Try to keep relatively close to the reeds, where the fish will likely be – be warned though they will dart for the cover of the reeds against once they are hooked!
Float fishing by using the waggler and lift methods are successful. Tench tend to play with bait so be prepared to strike once they confidently take it. Ledgering also works very well.
We have found that maggot feeders over a bed of hemp works extremely well, but try different baits until you find what works for you. Whatever method you choose, just take the time to enjoy the fight from this strong beauty!
Tench are not particularly delicate, but like all fish, they should be handled with care to ensure that their fins, skin and scales are undamaged. A quality unhooking mat will ensure that they are protected. Use a good landing net to bring the fish in.
As tench swallow their food whole, it is recommended to have a disgorger on hand in the event that they are hooked in their gullet. They are notoriously slimy so it’s probably a good idea to take an old towel or wipes to clean your hands after handling.
Do not use the towel or cloth to hold the fish as this could damage it, by removing its vital slime. They are hardy creatures but it is our responsibility as anglers to ensure they are returned as strong and healthy as possible!
Once you have finished you will need to clean your unhooking mats and landing nets as, if it dries, the slime forms a crust with a potent smell.
If you would like more information on how to fish for tench, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!