Text & photo: Jörgen Larsson

It does not matter how many super baits you have in your collection if the fishing is done on the wrong places. The first and most important step is always to locate the fish. Learn how and where to find the big midwater-zander in different situations.

The strong wind is blowing sideways over the lake. I have to slow down the speed of the boat, but finally we reach some shelter behind a big point on the other side of the lake. The wind is so strong that it turns around the point of the boat, but as we hoped the waves are a lot smaller on this side. In the beginning we hoped to try another spot, but we can´t complain. Here we can at least do some fishing. Earlier in the week a friend and I caught some zanders here, mostly smaller fish, but in the end we managed to catch a 90 cm beauty so I know there is big fish in the area.

With the eyes on the fish finder I slowly start to search but it is not until we reach the same spot that produced some fish a few days ago that we see the first zanders. A big plateau with depth between 10-13 meters goes straight out from the bank and on the drop off, that falls to 17-18 meters, we find some fish in the midwater. On the fish finder we can see big shoals of small fish that drifts with the current until they reach the drop off and then they follow it out into the lake. The zanders just have to stay put and they will be served a nice big meal!

Just as the last time it is mostly smaller fish between 50-65 cm, but we managed to catch one nice zander around 80 cm. Jonas, who is my guest today, have never tried the midwater fishing. I show him the technique and explain how it works and he smiles happy every time he hooks a zander.

A beautiful zander recovering and getting ready to swim back!

Unexpected feeding frenzy

Despite we are catching fish I am not happy with the situation. Several times I make the search area bigger in hope of finding more spots, but every time I am forced to return to the original place. The fish is concentrated to a small area, with of cause is good, but why are there no big ones?

Late in the afternoon the wind is slowing down a little bit and at the same time I get a phone call from some friends. They have not been successful and have decided to try a new area now when the wind has dropped. Since we are not catching any big fish we decide to follow them.

Further out on the lake, where the big point doesn't protects us anymore, I understand that we have been too optimistic. The wind is still strong and there is no chance that we can fish on the other side of the lake. Jonas and I decide to go back again. A decision that turns out to be very wise… 

Back on the old spot things had changed completely. Straight away we catch zanders of 80 and 85 cm, but it doesn´t stop there. I also hook and land a monster of 95 cm, and an hour later Jonas catch a new personal best of impressing 94 cm!

It is not easy to explain such a dramatic change, but I think the wind was the main reason for the unexpected feeding frenzy. Huge shoals of small fish were pushed against the drop off. The wind had also made the water a little bit murky and created perfect hunting conditions. In the end not even the big zander could resist the free dinner that was served.

Jonas Karlsson with his giant of impressing 94 cm from the first day of fishing.

A magic morning

The next morning the lake is calm like a polished mirror. Every normal fisherman would of cause return to the spot that produced the big fish yesterday, but against all common sense I manage to convince myself to go for another plan. Instead I steer the boat towards an area that had produced some big fish before, a spot that was pounded by the full force of the wind yesterday.
After searching around I am even more doubtful about my decision. The spot contains three sunken islands with depths of 14-16 meter between and on the east side there is a big plateau with depths of 9-12 meter. My hope that the wind had gathered the fish in the area turns out to be correct. The fish finder shows massive shoals of small fish, but we cannot find any zander. Did we choose the wrong place after all?
I am thinking about going back to yesterday’s spot, when I suddenly get an idea. Normally you find the zander in the deep water outside the drop off, but maybe the strong wind yesterday had pushed the fish up onto the shallower plateau?
There is no small fish on the plateau, but instead we find a lot of zanders and my friend Henrik and i end up having a magic morning. During a few hours we catch 20 zander with several fish of 75-85 cm. Henrik catch a 90 cm fish and I manage to put another true monster of 97 cm in the net!

Jörgen Larsson with a true monster zander of 97 cm. This was the biggest fish during two fantastic days where strong wind was the key factor.

''My theory is that the strong wind had pushed the small fish up on the plateau the day before with the zanders following. When the wind calmed down the small fish moved back into deep water and we were lucky to find the zanders before they also went back.''

Natural migrations

Most anglers that target zander have experienced the strange behavior of this species. Hours of hard fishing can in a moment change completely, and as quickly as a feeding period started it can be over again. Hot spots that one day produce fantastic fishing can be completely dead and abandoned the next day.

When inactive the zander can stand on the bottom or in very deep water and when it is getting more active it raises vertical. The more active they are the closer to the surface you will find them. In very nutritious lakes the zander is also found high up in the water during very warm summers because of low oxygen levels close to the bottom. The zander can also move from one area to another because of wind, temperature, food and spawning.

After many years of fishing I have got quite a good picture of the zander’s natural migrations in one of my local lakes. Immediately when the ice is gone the zander is found in only 1-3 meters depth during one or two weeks. Probably the zander and its prey are attracted to areas where the water warms up quickly. When the water temperature raises the zander moves back into deeper areas, before they once again return to the spawning places in shallow water in the end of April.

After spawning the zander slowly moves back to the deepest areas of the lake. Sometimes you have good fishing here in the middle of May and other years it takes another week or two before most of the big zanders have gathered in or close to the deepest areas. Here they then stay during summer, autumn and winter.

Ofcourse, the described migrations are a rough generalization. When it comes to zander there is definitely no rules without exceptions. There is always a variation between different waters depending on depth, bottom structure and what type of baitfish that is dominant. But some of this experience is possible to use on other waters.

Once you have located the big zander half the battle is won. Then it is more about being patient and wait for the feeding periods.

Finding the fish

So, how do you actually find the zander? In completely new water I always try to get a map over the lake. Then you can study the depth and interesting bottom structures at home and find areas to investigate.

In springtime you find the zander in deep water close to the spawning places, but during the rest of the year you find the big fish in or around the deepest areas in the lakes. In waters with few and small deep holes the interesting spots are limited, but in big lakes it sometimes feels like trying to find a needle in a hay stack. Try to figure out how the zander and its prey behave where you are fishing.

In some lakes the zander prefer to stay close to sunken islands or drop offs and in others you find them in open water. In small lakes the zander normally don´t move around so much and you often find them in pretty much the same areas. Big waters are more affected by the weather and here the zander tend to move around more. Areas that are exposed to the wind are always interesting and it pays off to check the wind direction the days before you go fishing. The warm surface water follows the wind and sometimes you can find areas where the temperature is 1-2 degrees higher and here you often find the zander. In cold conditions the zander sometimes prefer protected areas and if you don´t find any fish on the wind side of a deep hole you should try the opposite side.

If you find one zander I can almost guarantee there is more fish in the same area. I always mark the spots where I catch big zander on my GPS. When you have fished the same water for a period you will see a pattern. It is no coincident that a big fish is found on a specific place at a specific time. Once you know the hot spots you can return and harvest them many times. Then it is more about being patient and wait for the feeding periods.

Box with facts:

Quick guide to big zander (Map)
Many anglers say it is impossible to target big zander. Instead you have to catch as many as possible and hope that a big one comes along. In my opinion that is wrong. You can increase the average size a lot by fishing in midwater with bigger lures and by fishing the right spots in the right waters. Once you have found the fish half the battle is won. Systemize your search after these steps:

  • The deepest parts of the lake.
  • On and outside drop offs on the wind side.
  • On and outside drop offs on the sheltered side.
  • Deep places with a lot of food fish.
  • Hard bottom areas in or close to deep water
  • Structures that breaks the normal pattern.
  • Areas with warmer water.

Make sure you put a mark on your GPS every time you catch a zander you will soon see a pattern. When the hot spots are found you can return and harvest them many times.