When asked to describe the character of the River Welland, most anglers would probably think of the river as it is below Crowland — slow, deep and haunted by shoals of bream – but like all rivers the Welland has its upper reaches too. Mick Dinnigan, three-times winner of the Drennan Cup weekly award, acts as our guide to some of his favourite specimen roach swims on Stamford Welland Angling Association’s stretch at Tinwell.
Roach are shy and Mick stresses the importance of keeping quiet. He uses a low chair and just pushes the end of the rod out over the top of the bank, while keeping well back.
Mick entered a 2lb 12oz (1.25kg) Welland roach for a Drennan award but ended up taking it with a 5lb 8oz (2.49kg) chub from upstream of the bridge.
Says Mick: “If you strike at tiny knocks then you miss bites. This spooks the fish and ruins the swim.” Wait for the soft glass tip to go right round before striking in a controlled manner.
Big roach are the quarry and roving is the approach. Mick might fish up to 12 swims in a session. Plenty of bankside cover – such as the hawthorns above – a green tinge and slow water inside the crease are the main points to look for.
Day tickets are not available, but SWAA club membership books can be bought from Bob’s Tackle Shop, 13a Foundry Road, Stamford, Lines PE9 2PY (Tel 0780 545 41). Winter Open matches are occasionally held along this stretch of the Welland.
Much of the bank is fringed with dead grass and weed . Sometimes this can supply enough cover for big roach -especially when the banks are undercut. So don’t write a swim off just because it doesn’t have overhanging trees.
Flood debris hanging from branches provides additional cover .
Tinwell is situated by the A1, two miles west of Stamford in Lincolnshire. From the south, take the A1 to Stamford. Shortly after passing over the river, take the A6121 west. Take the next turning on the left and park on the verge at the end.
A chub dives under a raft of debris. Note the absence of cover on the far bank. These swims are better for bags of maggot-caught small fish rather than specimen roach.
Mick fishes a 2SSG link rig with 3lb (1.36kg) b.s. line straight through to a size 10 bronze specimen hook. He uses a 11/2lb (0.68kg) b.s. link so that if the shot snag up then the link breaks rather than the main line. He uses a soft glass tip.
Mick tries to free a big roach from a snag in the ‘hump’ swim – but to no avail. In the distance is the mill pool bridge. Mick makes his feed by rubbing a slice of bread between his palms (above). He then squeezes the flake lightly to form a small ball (below). Usually he’ll feed no more than three balls in each swim.
The roving roacher
Mick is a specialist angler and even though his Drennan awards were for big chub, his main interest when visiting the Welland here is its roach
Rather than choosing one swim and sticking with it until the bitter end, Mick always adopts a roving approach. Typically, he’ll choose a swim and try for one, or maybe two fish, before moving on. Anglers have access to both banks. Mick says that he prefers to start on the Tinwell (north) bank where he has six favourite swims in about quarter of a mile of river, downstream of the fence. “Normally I’d fish these out, only going on to the other side if I hadn’t done any good over here.”
So what does he look for?
Classic roach green
According to Mick the colour of the water is important. “The Welland colours up very badly after a flood,” he explains. “It starts off brown but as it drops there’s a certain point where the water turns a browny-green. Today is perfect for roach. It’s cloudy – so light levels are low – it’s mild and there’s just the right tinge of green in the water.” It’s odd that roach should like a certain green but this seems to apply to other rivers and canals too. Water that is over clear or too murky is best avoided.
Pace is the key
Mick’s favourite swims are on the stretch downstream of the mill pool bridge. “It’s slower and deeper down here,” he says. “Upstream it goes as shallow as two feet. (Though there’s one pool that’s around eight feet). You get more chub up there but the ones down here tend to be bigger.”
The swim we’re looking at now is typical in that it’s about 14m (15yd) wide and about 1.5m (5ft) deep. Unlike larger rivers, which usually have a stepped profile where the depth changes suddenly, the profile here is U-shaped. So there’s a fair depth close to the bank in nearly all the swims – including this one.
The pace of the water is a key factor. “For roach you’re looking for little pools and inlets,” says Mick, pointing out a patch of water downstream and close to the bank where the flow is slower. “Roach are always happier in the steady water.” But you need to look at the swim more closely – some parts are better than others.
In the crease
Often, water craft is allied closely to method and that’s the case here. Mick tackles all the swims by quivertipping. With the exception of very high, coloured water -when he uses lobworms – he prefers bread-flake. He feeds by squeezing together a golf-ball of breadflake and tossing two or three into each swim.
It’s a delicate approach. The light feed can’t be thrown far and is quickly subject to the vagaries of current and flow. In other words, not only does Mick have to pick the right type of swim, he has to concentrate his efforts on a specific part of it – often only a very small area. Get it wrong and he could miss the fish completely with his feed and hookbait. “What I look for is the crease between the slightly faster water and the sluggish water on the inside,” he says. “I want the bait to end up inside that crease.”
The crease which Mick refers to is actually a visible line on the surface of the water – like a seam joining two separate bodies of water. It’s an uncanny phenomenon that the keen-eyed angler may have noticed before. The line may shift about a little as the current changes, but in general it stays in the same place.
You need something more than just the right colour and pace of water, though.
Deep, dark cover
Each of Mick’s choices has bankside cover of one form or another. In the first swim there are two features. First, there are the hawthorns and elderberry bushes which hug the water’s edge. Their branches hang over the water, bedraggled with flood debris. They might not look pretty but they do reduce the light and provide extra security and a good source of food for the roach lurking beneath.
The second feature — a common one here — is the narrow raft of dead grass stalks forming a band along the margin. Typically it’s only 60cm (2ft) wide but in some swims the water may extend for another 60cm-1m (2-3ft) in towards the bank if it is undercut. “You have to be careful not to tread on it by mistake,” says Mick, casting a wary eye at the floating grass, “else you’ll go straight into deep water!”
Another type of cover is to be found in the next swim downstream. The bank is high and there’s no way for the angler to get down. Mick positions himself on top, well back from the edge (so as not to scare the fish). Below him and slightly downstream a small hump juts into the river. Mick explains how the current sweeps into the bank here and how it has scoured a deep undercut beneath the hump. “I’ve had two pounders from this one,” he says.
Just below the hump the current breaks away from the bank, heading for midstream once more and forming the essential strip of slow water into which Mick drops his breadflake.
Although his main task was to show us what he looked for in a good swim, Mick actually hooked a very big roach here. Unfortunately, the fish found a snag that Mick had forgotten about and escaped. But it just goes to show that they’re here if you know where to look!