Kevin Wyatt gives advice on handling and Unhooking Zander.
I think its a very important part of any predator fishing is knowing how to handle them on the bankside so I’m going show you how to handle and unhook a zander as at some point you will no doubt catch one for your first time. Firstly I’d strongly recommend that you go with someone who is experienced and can show you first hand how to go about handling and unhooking them before you go out on your own. If not this should at least give you some insight into knowing how to handle them yourself as theirs nothing worse than getting your first zed on the bank while on your own and not having a clue how to unhook it like I did.
Now like the pike the zander are not as tough as they look and will easily die if not handled properly so great care should be taken when handling them while they are out of the water. The zander has a rough feel to the body which I can only describe as being like sand paper so taking hold of them should not be to much of a problem, which makes handing smaller zeds a lot easier. You can do this by picking them up across the back just below the head but be very careful when trying this because they do have a spiny dorsal fin like its cousin the perch and the last thing you want is one of these spines into your hand which could be quite painful if you are not to careful. Another point I’ll make is that the gill plates are razor sharp along thier edge and again can give you a deep cut so when handing them out be totally aware of this when trying to hand them out for the first time, but if you are not at all confident then use the a landing net!
Once you have got your zander carefully take it up to your unhooking mat to go about unhooking it, if your are not using a unhooking mat find some soft grass to lay your zander on. When unhooking a zander its not really that different to unhooking a pike, but its important that you make sure you have all the required forceps, scales, weigh sling and dry cloth to hand by your unhooking mat as you have to remember a lot of zander get caught after dark so you don’t want to be fumbling around looking for any of your forceps ect, this way you can stay with the fish at all times making unhooking it much quicker and less stressful for the zander.
So with your zander laying on its side you can now carefully slide your fingers along the underside of its chin through the gill cover and into the bottom of the mouth taking great care not to damage any part of the gills, this will be more difficult the smaller the zander is.
Now you should be able to gently pull its lower jaw open, this will now allow you to locate where the hooks are but remember please be very careful when doing this as the hooks will more than likely be near your fingers when doing this .
Now if the zed is hooked near the back of its mouth you might have to put the forceps through the gill cover as trying to reach a hook near the back of the throat through mouth with long forceps can be difficult if you need to invert the hooks .again great care should be taken here as not to damage any part of the gill rakers, but once you have located the hooks gently turn them and the hook should pull clear especially if you are using semi barbed hooks.
I have had the odd stubborn fish over the years that refused to open there mouths and a great tip which was shown to me by one fellow zander anglers was to, gently force the forceps into the front of its mouth and then open them out by doing this its open the zanders mouth easily for you to go about unhooking it.
Once its unhooked you can weigh your prize when weighing any fish use a wetted weigh sling and its important that you don’t forget to zero the scales properly. There are some very good weigh slings on the market I use one of the many safety slings that are on the market as this hold the fish safely while weighing and making releasing them that little bit less stressful as well.When returning zander don’t just put them in the water and leave them as zander will and can die very easily especially if they’ve not gotten there balance or strength back just hold them in the upright position till they are ready.
To do this hold fish just above the tail by the wrist and with its rough feel this can be done very easily until the fish wants to go on many occasions when doing this I’ve been watching the zander and I’ve observed its first set of its pectoral fins seems to always lay flat against its flank and a minute or so before its ready it will flare both sets of pictorial fins out , as the zander has two sets of pectoral fins (which gives them better maneuverability while ambushing there prey ) this indicates to me when it flares them out its getting its balance back after being out of the water and is less dependant on you gripping it ,at this point it will try and kick to get away from your grip but just hold it for a while longer then it should kick away strongly and disappear into the murky depth of the drain.
Now if a zed is taking longer to recover this might be due to being out of the water longer than normal due to a deep hooked fish or warmer conditions another method to employ to allow it to recover is to stake out the zander between two bank sticks one either side of the zed just behind the pectoral fins to hold it up right this will stop it floundering on to its side and dying on you this just help allowing it to regain its strength and balance until its ready to go and by doing the above you will now will not have to stay with the fish but its very important to keep checking on it to make sure its ok until its ready to go.
Now when taking pictures I all ways have the camera on a tripod set up so all I have to do is unhook it , press the timer button and pick the fish up wait 5 seconds and my pictures are done I do this so I don’t have to mess about having the zander out of the water longer than it is necessary , but not every one will be ready so what you should do is either put it in a staked out retaining tube or place the landing net with the fish back in the water while you prep the camera so no harm comes to the fish. If I retain any zander in a retaining tube for any reason I like to use one that can be opened from both ends with rigid rings along its length to allow the zander to have plenty of space around it, like the one below and it also does not have mesh with big holes either this allows me to be able to get the fish out head first from the tube with ease and not get any of its spines caught in the mesh and doing any unnecessary damage to them Make sure you wet it before introducing the zander to it this will making staking it out easier to as it will sink into the water better when wetted first.
I don’t fish in the warmer month for zander as I don’t think personally they tolerate the hot weather to well and not wanting to lose a good fish because of this I tend not to go until late autumn but that’s just me.
So if you do decide go during the summer months take a lot of care with your prize fish I know some zander anglers who regularly venture out after them in the summer months and some will not even bother taking pictures because of this.
So if all goes well you and you’ve handled it properly you could be holding an impressive zander like this for a photo.
Kevin Wyatt Nov-08