The Pleasure angle


Mark Hodson
An angler since he can remember, Mark Hodson almost literally lives, eats and breathes fishing. A match angler in his youth, fishing for the junior Starlets, he turned to the dark side and joined the ‘floppy hat’ brigade in his college years. He worked in the tackle trade for ten years, on a part time or full time basis at Chaplains, one of Birmingham’s busiest tackle shops and managed the specialist department there for two years.

He now fishes just for fun, although the ‘floppy specialist hat’ still dominates his angling, his writing concentrates on getting the maximum enjoyment from your angling and trying something different from the norm.

Alternative Challenges, The Grand Slam

A new baby that arrived two weeks early and the chaos that ensued have prevented me getting out in the last two weeks.

Last minute adjustments to the ‘new nursery’ (my study and place of sanctuary is no more) and the resetting of the family routine to accommodate baby Archie and his endless need for nappy changes and bottles have kept me from the banks. Parental leave has been and gone, so with a few DIY challenges well and truly ‘bodged’, our bedroom still half decorated and the garden tidied, Mrs H should be placated and busy with Archie until the depths of next winter well and truly arrive, leaving me free to enjoy the wonders of piscatorial pursuits once again.

A catch all lure scores again
A ‘catch all’ lure scores again

With my fishing batteries well and truly charged to maximum capacity it’s time to revisit a challenge that has preoccupied and frustrated me in seasons’ past. I always have a go at this particular angling challenge during late autumn and this year will be the same. This particular challenge is one that few will ever accomplish, in fact few have ever tried. It is one that requires all the elements that make up a supreme angler: watercraft, species knowledge, tackle choice and of course the one thing that no angler should be without – a bucketful of luck!

The Grand Slam

For those who are confused already, let me just put you straight and inform you that this has nothing to do with grown men playing with their odd shaped balls and grunting in a pile of bodies, neither does it involve a large earthquake style bunker busting bomb designed by Barnes Wallace (a shame I know because we all like a big bang!).No, rather it involves the challenge of catching all of the UK’s common predatory species, Pike, Perch, Zander and Chub, on artificial lures, during one day (hours of daylight), from one venue.

Easy eh! Nooooo.

Problem One – The venue

Venues that hold all of the common predatory species in numbers to make the challenge a practical (and just about possible) one are few and far between. However, living in the midlands I am better off than most. Within 50 miles I have the Warwickshire Avon, the Severn, the Trent, and of course miles of canal, which all offer possible venues for fulfilling the Grand Slam challenge. This is one of the major problems to solve when contemplating the Grand Slam challenge, you need a venue who’s distribution of the predatory species is wide and of such numbers that the possibility of catching one of each of the four species in a day, on an artificial lure, is realistic. Because of this, venues that are renowned for specimens of above average sized fish can often be ruled out, as generally, the fewer predators, the bigger the average size.

The perfect situation for the Grand Slam completion would be numerous small fish of each species, competing for food and thus increasing your chances of catching them. That’s why the canal system in the midlands offers such a realistic possibility of completing the challenge. River venues with notable consistent match lengths are worth a try, as are match lengths that have tuned up the odd small zander to maggot or worm baits. I have yet to hear of a stillwater venue capable of fulfilling the challenge.

The one golden rule regarding a venue when it comes to a canal or river is that it encompasses an area that is traversed on foot, so there can be no catching a pike and perch from one stretch then driving five miles downstream to another stretch to fish another part of the river/canal that would offer a better chance of completing the challenge. Now if you walked along the river for five miles you would technically still be fishing (looking and assessing potential swims), so this would be allowed.

Problem Two – Where to start?

So you actually decide on a suitable venue and you get to the bankside and now comes the next problem, where do you start?

  • Do you target each specific species at a time?
  • Do you select a general, got-a-chance-of-catching-anything lure and see what comes along?
  • Do you try stalking fish?
  • Do you try swims that might hold all of the species?

The combinations and quandaries are endless and are part of what makes the Grand Slam such a challenge.

Grand Slam lures, small and flashy
Grand Slam lures, small and flashy

Generally I have always started with a ‘catch all’ type of lure like a spinner, in the vein of a Mepps’ Lusox or Mepps’ winner, a small plug in the Big S style, a small spinnerbait, or a small soft bait, knowing that any of these could induce a take from any of our predatory species. Hopefully, with a following wind blowing a lot of luck you could take two of the species in the first couple of hours, usually pike and perch leaving the rest of the day to target those that are left with more specialist lures, in specific swims and using more suitable retrieves for the remaining species.

Problem Three – they are all so different

Because each of the predatory species is so different in the way they hunt, the amount of lure styles, retrieve techniques and swim variations you use makes for a hard day’s fishing. This is no relaxing walk along the bank, for you will end up contemplating numerous lure, retrieve and swim formulae to try and unlock the elusive Grand Slam. Your day will be full of what if’s and maybes.

Perch, probably the easiest part of the Grand Slam
Perch, probably the easiest part of the Grand Slam

I take only 20 lures with me, my favourite five for each of the predatory species. This keeps me constantly searching and thinking rather than going through the motions with numerous lures. If on a canal I take only one rod, a 6’6″ Penn Powerstick that will deal with pike over 20lb and yet has the light flicky tip to make a 8oz perch enjoyable and enables you to cast the smallest of lures with ease, when combined with a 2500 size fixed spool reel loaded with 20lb Berkley Fireline. When on a river venue I also take a 9′ Drennan Spinflex to cater for larger lures and the bigger chucks to far side features. Again when combined with a fixed spool reel, this time a 4000 size loaded with 30lb Berkley Whiplash; this gives a very usable and, more importantly, versatile option.

Different days mean different ways

As with all fishing you’ll find days spent trying for the Grand Slam will sometimes be without rhyme or reason and you’ll think the goal is unattainable. I’ve had one day when I caught over 50 perch in two and half hours from two swims, all under a pound in weight and some of which I’m sure were repeat captures. They were just going mad for anything retrieved past their nose, even making a grab for 6″ plugs. On evidence like this you’d think that on any day the perch part of the Grand Slam would be the first and easiest part of the challenge on the venue on any given day, but for the next two weeks I never caught a perch from the venue. Likewise I’ve had days when a pike appeared in every swim slashing madly at lures yet not hitting them properly, but disturbing every other one of the predatory species I was targeting.

So as you can see each attempt will bring its own challenges. On the balance of probabilities pike and perch will be the easiest part of the challenge to fulfil based on their eagerness to attack a lure and their wider distribution. The two harder species, zander and chub, can be just as eager to attack a lure but their location and lesser distribution will be the largest challenge you face in taking up the Grand Slam.

Golden Rules

Always use a wire trace, never be tempted to offer a lure without a trace in the thinking that it offers better presentation for a chub or perch, in such circumstances it is inevitable that a pike or zander will put in an appearance and disaster will strike. The presence of a trace, especially the modern soft or fine wire traces, makes little or no difference to presentation in my experience and it is always better not to hook a fish rather than leave a lure and its hooks in a fish.

The Warwickshire Avon, Grand Slam country!
The Warwickshire Avon, Grand Slam country!

When it comes to lures I have found small and flashy to be the best bet when trying for the Grand Slam, small plastics and grubs will take all of the target species, as will small plugs.

Always carry at least one small floating plug, like a Manns baby minus or a Mean bugsy, chub love them and will eagerly take them as they are worked past surface snags or beneath overhanging trees, plus they can be trotted or drifted into positions that cannot be cast to.

So if you feel like an alternative challenge, have a go at the Grand Slam. Catching all four of our common predatory species in one day, from one venue, on artificial lures is an achievement I would put on par with the capture of a 30lb river pike, double figure Zander, 4lb perch or 7lb Chub.

And if you’re wondering, no, I have yet to achieve the Grand Slam. On two occasions I have caught three of the species, failing on the Zander on the Avon and failing on the chub on a canal. This is in 10 years of trying.

But it is a true challenge, and a test of a true angler.