Catching big river roach

Roach wizard Joe Bailey has a very simple approach for big river redfins – he legers a nice fluffy piece of flake. The hard part is finding the fish…

By tradition, any roach of 2lb (0.9kg) or more is a specimen. This weight remains a kind of magical national target, reinforced by the angling press, but from many British rivers it isn’t a realistic one.

At the top of the scale there are rivers like the Hampshire Avon, Wensum and Dorset Stour, where a 2lb (0.9kg) roach is a good one – but they have to be over 254lb (1.1kg), at least, to be considered ‘big’.

From most other rivers, however, a 2lb (0.9kg) roach really is the fish of a lifetime, so don’t destroy yourself chasing ‘super-roach’ if they simply don’t exist in the rivers you fish. Roach of (0.57-0.79kg) are very big ones anywhere and monsters from most rivers.

Big roach in residence

Choice of swim is vital.’ Look for one with slightly greater than usual depth. In water averaging 1.2m (4ft) deep, 1.5m (5ft) will do. If the river is generally 2.4m (8ft) deep, then look for a 3m (10ft) hole. Big roach just love such depressions, probably because they act as food traps. Water speed is important too. Look for a slightly slower area, close to the main flow. It doesn’t have to be still, but big roach definitely favour the slacks just off the current – provided the bed of the river is reasonably clean. They will not tolerate too much rubbish or mud, preferring harder sand, gravel or chalk.

Overhanging trees play their part as well. Many of the best river swims for big roach slide under alders and willows, possibly because their branches keep a little light out of the water and provide some shelter from cold winds.

Marginal reed beds are also important; big roach like to forage around the roots for beetles, snails and shrimps.

Not all these features guarantee the presence of big roach and you will have to show some ‘fish awareness’. Try to get down to the river at dawn, the best time to see big roach rolling. Observe the swim very, very carefully, for big roach often send up tiny strings of bubbles as they forage.

Winter warmers

The prime months for big river roach are from about the beginning of October to the end of the season. The very best conditions at this time of the year are when air temperatures in the day are around 7-12°C (45-54°F), with a westerly wind bringing cloud and light rain. Conversely, the worst winter conditions are an easterly wind, clear skies, overnight frosts and daytime air temperatures below freezing.

But whatever the weather, don’t despair – big roach always feed at some time. Generally, they feed best at dusk, or even in the late afternoon if the weather is mild. Strangely, the worse the conditions, the later they tend to come on the feed. Often this is between 8:00pm and midnight – if you can stand the cold.

Dawn is another excellent time to catch big roach. This is especially true in summer, but first light can also be a good time to fish through the autumn and winter, particularly if the night hasn’t been too cold and the wind is slight.

Of course, big roach can sometimes be caught in full daylight, but generally they strongly favour the protection of the low light levels of dawn and dusk.

River in trim

For your best chance of a big roach, the river should be neither too clear nor too coloured – a slight tinge so you can see 30-60cm (1-2ft) into the water is perfect.

Think bread

Make no mistake, bread is THE bait for big roach. Other baits do work, of course, but nowhere near as well or as selectively.

Prebait your chosen swim or swims with mashed bread as often as you can – at least once a week and ideally every day. Once bread starts appearing in a swim, big roach begin expecting it and stop there in their wanderings to look for it.

How much bread you put in a swim -either when prebaiting or actually fishing – is crucial. You must put enough in to tempt them but not so much that it fills them up. Weather and river conditions dictate this decision. As a guide, in cold, clear water a big roach might eat half a slice of bread, while in mild weather when there’s a touch of colour in the water it might eat a whole one. Given that most shoals of big roach number only three to six fish, the mathematics are easily worked out.

Big roach tactics

The best way to catch big roach is to leger a piece of breadflake firmly on the bottom. Float fishing does work occasionally, but most of the time big roach prefer to pick food up off the river bed at their leisure.

A simple 1-3 swan shot link – depending on the flow – with 2 ¾-3lb (l.l-1.4kg) – line straight through to a size 8-12 hook is all you need. A white quivertip in a torch beam is easily seen, though a butt bobbin is excellent in slow water. Bites are generally confident and hard to miss.