Text & photo: Jörgen Larsson
In some countries the pelagic vertical jigging has been a revolution for catching big zander that is hunting in mid water. With this method you are learning a lot about the zander´s behavior and at the same time you get an exciting live show on your Fish-Finder that is completely addictive!
When I first revealed the technique and wrote about the "pelagic vertical jigging" in an article in Sweden in 2010, I was fairly certain that the method would revolutionize the zander fishing - and so have also been the case. The big breakthrough came in 2012, when no less than seven fish over ten kilos was caught in Sweden. Historically, usually this weight, at best, is surpassed once or twice each year, and for many people a zander over the magic ten kilo mark was almost unattainable, but thanks to the new method these dream fish was suddenly possible to catch.
Since the pelagic vertical fishing got its breakthrough, development has continued in the same direction and, thanks to the new method, more and bigger zander than ever before are caught on our northern latitudes. In 2014 at least ten zander over ten kilos were caught in Sweden and two of these fish exceeded the old record from 1988. The new Swedish zander record is now 12.53 kilos - a result of intensive fishing with a method that is directly suited for large zander.
Now the method has begun to spread to other countries and in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands the pelagic vertical jigging has started to break through during the last years. In many countries the technique is still only practiced by a few persons, and they are often very quiet about their fishing, but if you dream about a really big zander, read on...
Jörgen Larsson with a stunning zander from the Netherlands, caught pelagic during a cold day in the end of March.
In order to understand the point of the vertical pelagic fishing, or “sharp shooting” as the method is also called, it is necessary to know the zander´s behavior. In many waters the larger zander live and hunt pelagic during most of the year. This is particularly in the deeper lakes with prey fish in midwater.
Vertical jigging in midwater is most suitable for lakes with depth of 8-10 meters or more. In shallower waters, down to 10-15 meters, the zander can stand on the bottom when inactive and rise in the water to hunt. Even in rivers the zander can sometimes search for food in midwater, but most of the time it is more economical to rest closer to the bottom where it finds shelter from the current and consume less energy.
In deep lakes large zander lives much of the life pelagic. Along with other large predatory fish, such as pike and catfish, that are also hunting in midwater, the big zander rules in the free water masses. Here they have virtually no enemies and can live undisturbed, without even having seen an artificial lure throughout their lives.
Exactly what depth to find the zander varies between different waters and is controlled by a number of factors. When the zander is not active, it can back down to depths of 15-20 meters, and then rise in the water column when hunting. If the water is clear, the fish can be deep in the daytime, and rise higher in the water to hunt in the dark. In murky water the zander can sometimes be found only 2-3 meters below the surface, even in the middle of the day. But also prey fish, water temperature and oxygen content affects how deep the fish are staying.
In clear waters the author prefers discrete and natural colors like the 20 cm TwinTeez “Head Hunter” and “Real Deal”.
But generally, you should not be afraid to use big lures when fishing in mid water. Most of the time the author use shads from 20 cm or more rigged with a 30-35 gram jig head.
The pelagic vertical fishing was invented in Sweden and is based on finding large, individual fish using the fish finder and then to "park" the boat above the fish and presents a lure to it. With the help from a sonar you can see both the lure and the fish you are trying to catch. You see how the zander react to the shad, how the lure moves and hopefully when the fish runs up and strikes it.
Pelagic vertical jigging is a bit like sight fishing with the fish finder as your eyes under water. The method has not only given me lots of large zander and exciting experiences, but also lots of new and somewhat unexpected knowledge about the species' behavior. I have among other things learned that zander, even though it is a large predatory fish that has almost no enemies, are shy creatures that sometimes are very easily frightened. With this method you also get a thrilling live show on the sonar and are immediately notified if you use the right lure if it is presented in the right way.
Once you have learned the pelagic vertical jigging it is just like other methods. Sometimes it can be ridiculously simple where the zander will take whatever is served with big greed. But you will also experience frustrating times when large zander is almost impossible to outwit. Sometimes you may only have a short feeding period of 10-15 minutes during an entire day.
This is a screen dump shows the whole exiting scenario when catching a zander on mid water fishing. The small numbers on the photo marks each step.
To succeed in the pelagic vertical jigging some details of boat must be adapted to the method. Fishing can be practiced from all types of boats.
A small boat of 4-4.5 meters are more maneuverable, but on the other hand a big, heavy boat is steady on the water and is not as sensitive to wind once you have located a fish. Personally, I prefer an engine with a tiller, but I also have friends who drive with steering wheel and console with great success.
The key element in the pelagic fishing is placing the transducer to the sonar on a holder along the side of the boat so the shad easily can be dropped just beside the transducer while the boat is steered and controlled.
I myself have a transducer mounted on the transom as usual, but when I fish pelagic I connect a different transducer that is mounted on a bracket along the port side of my boat. Obviously it is also easier if the sonar is placed so it can easily be read during fishing.
It requires no expensive to use a sonar for vertical jigging in midwater, but it helps if you have a reasonably good fish finder with color and above all you must learn to set and read the instrument.
You need to adjust the sonar to the prevailing conditions and also learn how large and small fish shows on the screen.
Another hard fighting zander caught during pelagic vertical jigging. Notice the holder for the transducer mounted on the side of the boat.
The most important tool for the pelagic vertical jigging is undoubtedly the fish finder. During fishing you should use the narrow, high window at the right on the screen. Because it shows what is happening in real time, it is usually called "real time window" or “reality window”. What is shown on the rest of the display is history, it has already happened, and is therefore less interesting. During fishing we therefore use the real-time window to see both lure and fish.
A normal transducer of 200 kHz with a 20-degree cone angle is excellent. Since all water is different and variations occur during the season you have to work in manual mode to set up the fish finder optimal for every situation. Use as high sensitivity as possible without getting to much disturbances on the screen. If you are unsure, drop your lure. As long as you can clearly see the shad in the real time window you can also see a big fish.
Normally you will find the big pelagic zander in or close to the deepest areas in the lake. I usually search for fish in a speed of 2-3 knots but a good advice is to start slowly and then increase your speed as you are getting better in controlling the boat. In the beginning I used my rear-mounted electric motor, but now I drive exclusively with my petrol engine. Then I can search faster and maneuver the boat better.
It takes time to learn pelagic vertical jigging, but practice makes perfect and there is no other method giving the same chance to catch a real dream zander over 100 cm. In addition, you will also see the entire event live on the sonar!
"The most important tool for the pelagic vertical jigging is undoubtedly the fish finder. During fishing you should use the narrow, high window at the right on the screen."
When using this method you also have a responsibility NOT to fish to deep as the zander can die from the changes in pressure. Never fish deeper than 10 meter if you intend to release the fish again!