Zander are large predatory fish which are incredible successful freshwater predators. Zander are found throughout Europe and North America.
They are renowned as a sport fish and have been introduced to many countries for this reason. They are sought out by anglers looking to catch this large and vicious looking predator.
Zander (scientific name Sander lucioperca) are a species of freshwater fish of the Percidae family. They are the largest species in this family.
You would probably be familiar with this family as it also includes perch. Common names for zander are “zeds” and “pike-perch”. There is a misconception that zander are a hybrid of pike and perch, however this is a fallacy.
The nickname probably arises due to the fact the zander’s body looks like that of a pike, but has the perch’s spiky dorsal fin. Zander are in fact a species in their own right.
In North America, zander are also known as pike-perch, but also European pike-perch and European Walleye.
Walleye is actually a North American cousin of zander and they can be difficult to distinguish.
Zander are non-native in the UK and they have become invasive in some locations. They are very damaging to the population of smaller native fish which they feed on such as gudgeon.
By law in the UK, it is illegal to return zander to the canal network. The Canal and Rivers Trust in the UK would like you to keep the fish for the table. A special license is also required to hold or stock them in water.
Zander are an incredibly popular eating fish in Europe and it is even farmed in some countries to meet demand.
Their flesh is said to be white, firm and flaky with a delicate flavour. Unlike pike, zander are not particularly bony and they can be filleted in a similar way to many sea fish.
In some countries such as Poland and Finland zander are a great delicacy and can be rated higher than salmon. They are also consumed in North America.
Distribution and Habitat
Zander are native to central and eastern Europe as far north as Siberia and Finland. The species has been introduced to most of Europe and as far afield as the USA, Morocco, China, Turkey and Tunisia.
Zander were introduced to England in the mid-1800s into the River Great Ouse and then to canals in the Midlands. They have even been recorded in Scotland.
The reason for introducing zander to other countries has been as a sport fish, aquaculture and even to remove some of the smaller fish from the waterways.
Zander are found in very murky and very coloured waters. They have incredible eyesight and feed by sight so their advantage is at its greatest when the other fish do not see them.
They are found in canals, deep rivers and in contrast to many fish they will happily live in heavily boated areas. Zander also happily live in stillwaters so can be found in lakes.
They require very oxygenated water to survive. They can survive in brackish water around the seas.
Zander are long and slender with a submarine like appearance. They are the largest member of the perch family.
They have a body which is somewhat similar to pike’s but very slightly more rounded at their belly. The body is muscular in order to chase down their prey.
Zander are generally green, dark blue or black on their flanks and a creamy white on their belly. There can be several dark lines which go vertically down their back.
They have very large eyes which are sometimes opaque which helps them to see in the murkier waters. Their eyes contain a special lining which helps them to see in dark and murky waters.
Zander have dorsal fins which are similar of those of the perch.
The first is large and contains sharp spines and the second is soft. The caudal fin is soft and the anal fin contains two or three spines.
The dorsal and caudal fins have horizontal rows of black spots, however this is most pronounced on the spiny dorsal fin.
The tail fin is dark whilst the pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are all a sandy white colour. There is one spine on the gill cover, however this is flat.
Zander have large and powerful mouths. Their teeth are fearsome. They have one or two large and sharp canine teeth at the end of the jaw.
They have been described as vampires for this reason. They have many other smaller teeth (but just as sharp) in their mouths.
Zander can grow on average to between 25 and 35 inches in length (approximately 16 – 90cm), although there are probably larger specimens which are over a metre.
Their lateral scale count is between 80 and 87. Zander can weigh, on average, between 7 – 9 lb. A specimen would weigh approximately 10lb and would be a fantastic fish to catch.
The British record for zander stands at a very impressive 21lb 5 oz (approximately 9.7kg) from 2015 – imagine the size of the teeth!
Zander can live for up to 20 years.
How they Feed
Zander are very aggressive feeders. They are carnivorous and aren’t particularly fussy about their food. The way in which zander feed depends on their age and size.
Unlike pike, small zander will hunt together in shoals. They will use their speed to surround their prey and will then attack, sharing the food.
Once zander reach a size of approximately 10lb, they become solitary predators, more like pike.
They are more particular about their prey when they reach this size which makes them harder to catch. They use their superior eyesight to identify prey and will bite and attempt to hold on to prevent the fish from swimming away.
This strategy is not 100% successful and you may find some coarse fish with wounds from zander. Unlike pike, zander will eat the fish either head or tail first (pike will always eat their prey head first).
Zander are scavengers and will consume dead fish (something to remember for bait!).
They will also consume crustaceans such as shrimp and freshwater mussels. Regarding fish, they will generally eat smaller fish than pike do.
More specifically, they tend to go for ruffe, roach and gudgeon. Zander are cannibals and consume smaller zander in the same way that pike eat juvenile pike.
The spawning of zander is determined by their environment. When the water temperature reaches between 10 and 14 degrees the fish migrate. This is usually in April or May.
Zander will only spawn in freshwater so those living in brackish areas will always move to freshwater habitats for spawning.
Zander migrate to areas which are suitable for spawning. These are usually surprisingly shallow areas. They require areas of sand or gravel or areas with exposed roots from vegetation.
The male zander are territorial and they create depressions in the bottom (approximately 10cm deep by 50cm round) of the water where the females can lay their eggs.
The female zander lay their eggs during the night or at dawn which the males then fertilise.
The eggs are a pale yellow colour and are between 1 – 1.5mm. The females can lay up to 400 eggs per gram of their weight, which can be significant when they can weigh up to 10kg!
After spawning, the females leave the area and the males guard the eggs. The males constantly fan the eggs with their fins to keep them clean and oxygenated. The eggs take between 5 to 10 days to hatch.
The juvenile zander consume their yolk sac and then survive on tiny planktonic organisms in the water.
Once they grow to around 5cm they become predators and feed on insect larvae and very small fish fry.
The juvenile zander are a silver colour before developing their colouration as they grow.
How to Catch
There is really nothing like fishing for these predators and large ones will surely bring a smile to many an angler’s face!
Zander thrive in murky areas such as canals and deep rivers. Before fishing, have a good look around your environment and look for any features such as bridges and large trees which cast a shadow on the water. This works to the zander’s advantage as their eyes are more developed which allows them to see clearer than other fish.
Zander generally feed during the night as they have specially developed eyes which gives them an advantage over their prey.
Although you are likely to have more success at night, you can also find them during the day.
In terms of bait, you could try livebait (always check with the owner of the water if this is permissible), deadbait or lures. With any bait, remember that zander prefer smaller prey than pike.
For livebaits, gudgeon or smaller roach would be the way to go. For deadbait, you could try herring, sprats and mackerel from the sea, however you are likely to get mixed results from these.
For zander, our preferred bait is bleak, gudgeon, roach, rudd and dace which all work fantastically as zander, in our experience, seem to prefer freshwater fish.
We won’t advise you specifically on lures during this article, however spoons, jigs, crankbait and jerkbait all find success when fishing for zander.
There are a huge range of lures on offer and some will no doubt meet with more success than others. Our recommendation would be to experiment with a few different ones to find what works for you!
Zander can be successfully caught with float, ledgering or spinning.
Although you will be targeting zander remember that pike can also go for the same bait. You will therefore need good strong tackle in the event that you accidentally hook a pike.
We prefer ledgering with deadbait to catch zander. If you are using deadbait, use two to three hooks to keep the bait in place and for the zander you are targeting.
A good rod with a test curve of 2.5lb as a minimum is perfect. A wire trace at 12 inches minimum will be required as, although the zander is unlikely to cut through, if you hook a pike their razor sharp teeth can slice through your line.
We recommend monofilament line at around 15lb, although you could go down to 10lb as a minimum. Use hook sizes between 6 – 8 but nothing smaller.
You might want to try a couple of different areas for zander as they may be lying in wait for their prey!
You can successfully fish for zander from boats so this may also provide a new and exciting challenge. It also allows you to be more mobile to hopefully find the bigger fish!
Although zander appear to be fearsome predators, they are in fact delicate fish.
As with all fish, make sure you have a good, big landing net which is commensurate with the size of fish which you are aiming to catch.
Do not allow the fish to be dragged on the banking but lifted out of the water and placed on a good unhooking mat. Again, the mat should be commensurate with the size of the fish.
Be careful when handling zander as their first dorsal fin contains spikes which, although not poisonous, could give a nasty prick.
As with perch, zander feel rough when touched when compared with other fish so you should be able to handle them relatively easily.
It probably goes without saying that you will need good, long forceps to remove the hooks from the zander’s mouth as you don’t want to be putting your fingers in there!
There is specialist equipment available such as gloves if you want to give yourself extra protection.
Allow plenty of time for the fish to recover. Do not remove any of the excess slime from the zander as this protects the fish from infections and parasites.
If you would like more information on how to fish for zander, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!