Every weekend of the season, on river systems all over the country, thousands of fishermen set out their stalls for roach -the bread and butter fish of river angling. Roach are probably the most widespread of all river species, which explains their huge popularity, but there is more to it than numbers. Small to medium size fish – say up to 10oz – are such obliging biters that a competent angler can expect a netful if conditions are reasonable. At the same time the successful roach addict needs considerable skill in watercraft; he must be versatile enough to handle different rivers, swims, and weather conditions, along with the tactics, baits and tackle each demands. Occasionally decent bags are caught on stout tackle, but fine gear is normally the name of the game. Many anglers rate the skill and satisfaction of handling such delicate equipment as a prime reason for their fascination with the species.
HABITAT AND BEHAVIOUR
For all their abundance roach can at times be one of the most difficult of river fishes, refusing to feed however much skill is applied. Although tiddler roach are an exception, the better quality fish are strongly affected by light intensity and do not begin to feed until the light falls below a certain level. How do you know what that is? A long time ago Richard Walker and Fred J. Taylor used a photographic exposure meter to discover that critical point. Interesting as that may be, I do not expect anglers to worry about taking light readings before they fish. In more practical terms, the right level occurs when the sun falls below a certain angle – when it dips below the trees an hour or so before dusk. Feeding may continue for several hours after dark, then recommences during early morning until the sun rises above the critical angle.
Fortunately we see plenty of cloudy days when light is subdued enough for all-day feeding. We also encounter coloured water after heavy rain, and if conditions are right not only do roach feed all day, they provide spectacular sport besides. Shady, tree-lined swims can be worth fishing in bright conditions. In fact, overhangs may well be the only areas worth fishing when the sun shines strongly. Mists over the river reduce the light level, but they normally occur after a sudden drop in water temperature. In summer that may spur roach to feed; in winter it puts them right off.
Water temperature is more important in winter than in summer. The summer fisherman who confines his activities to early and late in the day is assured of good sport for temperatures are reasonably consistent then, not falling below the point at which roach stop feeding and rarely rising high enough to put them right off. In winter, temperature is vital. Generally, the higher it is the better; the lower it falls the less chance of a fish. At 42 degrees Fahrenheit or under you are better off fishing for something else. Fortunately, winter river temperatures are more often above 42 degrees, and in any case the most critical factor is whether it is rising, falling or steady.
A rising thermometer boosts my confidence; steady readings are good even in cold conditions; but when it is falling, even from relatively high temperatures, roach are unlikely to feed for long. Given the choice of a day when the water falls sharply from 48 degrees or when it rises a few points above 41 degrees, the latter would be my preference every time.
TACTICS AND TECHNIQUES
You often hear an experienced river fisherman refer to a particular swim or stretch as ‘roachy’ – something that must bewilder the less knowledgeable man. A year ago I found myself on a totally new stretch of river in which I suspected lived good shoals of decent roach. All I had to do was find them. The stretch turned out to be particularly interesting, since I discovered a whole variety of roachy spots, many of them requiring different tackle and methods. This is typical of many rivers, so follow me downstream while I point out the swims and suggest how to fish them. The first 50yd is shallow, rippling, fast water running between bare banks and over an irregular gravelly bed. Dace are here in plenty, or they were. Those mini bow waves scurrying in all directions downstream are caused by the shoal scattering in alarm because of our clumsy approach. Chub will often lie here as well.
The stretch does not look really roachy, but I point it out because there have been a few times when I accidentally hooked good roach whilst chubbing after dark on warm nights.
Quiver Tip Legering
Just below the shallows, where the river widens, deepens and the current smooths its way into the pool, live a shoal of sizeable roach. They much prefer the gentler, consistent flow over reasonable depth, which in this case slopes from the shallows into 4 1/2 ft of water, then quickly rises again at the tail of the pool. The swim does not suit trotting, my preferred method, because the pool is too small and the depth is too uneven to allow a reasonable length of trot. A longer run of even depth is best for trotting any species.
The favourite method is legering with a light action rod of about 12oz test curve and fitted with detachable or spliced in quiver tip. The rod is matched to 2VAb line and a slightly lower breaking strain hook length. I find the paternoster end rig most sensitive, used with a 48in hook tail. Heavy groundbaiting would soon spook the roach lying in the confines of this pool, so I loose feed sparingly with maggots, casters or pinches of fluffy breadflake. Many anglers have trouble connecting with roach bites whilst legering at close range, the reason being the short length of tight line from rod tip to lead. This is remedied by making longer casts from farther upstream, and by pulling off a couple of feet more line from the reel after the lead has settled. A bow of line thus lies between rod tip and lead. A quiver tip will bend slightly with the current’s pull, and bites register by the tip springing partially straight then bending again as the roach turns with the bait. Short range and tight lines result in indecisive rattles of the quiver tip which are indeed difficult to hit. Upstream legering into the pool produces better bite indication especially when the roach are finicky. Hook length and lead link are shortened, the lead being just heavy enough to hold bottom and put a slight bend into the quiver tip when all is tightened. Upstream bites are usually positive and unmistakable: the tip flicks straight and the line falls slack, necessitating a wide arc of rod when striking.
Although the river deepens again in the next 100yd, it holds too few roach for any spot to be classed as roachy. There are none of the nice steady glides that roach prefer to live in. But the outside bank of the first bend we come to is a different proposition. I call it Lazy Man’s Bend because I go there when I feel like a relaxed session and do not fancy working too hard for my fish. I can take it easy because the bend holds a better class of roach, and bigger roach do not usually come to the net one after another. The fish live there throughout the season except when flood water drives them across the river to shelter behind the bed of silt lying below the inside of the bend.
The current has scoured a 9ft deep run close in to the bank, and the best way to fish it is the much neglected laying on method using a 12 or 13ft rod with a peacock quill float set at a little over 10ft deep so that the hook length lies on the bottom. Enough shot is bunched about 3 1/2 ft above the hook to just cock the float. Then the bottom shot in the string, usually a No. 1 or BB, is slid down far enough for it to sit on the bottom. The float now lies at half cock, bites registering when it falls flat or glides along the surface before going under. The quality roach here respond well to light groundbaiting with mashed bread. Flake is the best hookbait.
The second bend of the ‘S’ is similar to the first in that it also contains roach, but since it curves in the opposite direction with the flow hitting the far bank and scouring out a deep channel, the roach are now at longer range on the other side of the river. Laying on is no longer practical because the current between rod tip and float would drag the bait out of position. In flood water, the hotspot is the slack behind the silt bed, just around the bend on our bank. Laying on there becomes viable in the right conditions.
I leger the far bank swim using tactics similar to those of the first pool but with 4 lb reel line and a small block end feeder instead of the lead when maggots are the bait. An open end feeder loaded with moistened white crumb is used when bread-flake, crust or worms are on the hook. Adding a few free samples of hookbait to the crumb accustoms roach to accepting hook-sized pieces.
Most shop-bought feeders do not empty quickly enough because the holes are too small. A half-full feeder retrieved across the river scatters groundbait all over the place instead of where you want it in the swim, so if your feeder still holds bait after five minutes, its holes should be enlarged. Carefully positioned groundbait is one of the most important aspects of river fishing whatever the species.
Ringing the changes with bait presentation picks up bonus fish. You can try shortening the hook link to just a few inches when fishing a block end feeder, and using crust or punched bread on a size 14 hook. Both baits are buoyant enough to rise above the bottom and lie suspended above the feeder. The feeder holes are enlarged and the body is filled with a fifty-fifty mixture of semi-dry crumb and sausage rusk. Rusk is so buoyant that particles pop out of the feeder and float upward past the hookbait.
Another dodge for those willing to experiment is to flavour groundbait and/or the hookbait with concentrated liquid flavouring available from suppliers of carp baits. Those I have used successfully include caramel, bun spice, nectar and butterscotch, though many others may be equally effective I suppose. Add the flavour to.water- about 10ml to !/2gall -then blend in the dry groundbait. Crust is treated by soaking a couple of cloths in flavoured water, wringing out the surplus, then sandwiching the crust between them. Finally, weigh down the package with a flat, heavy board and leave it overnight. Compressed, flavoured crust is a superb hookbait. I like to pull off suitable sized pieces, leaving a naturally jagged edge. The hook is inserted once through the middle.
The long, straight below the ‘S’ bend is classic roach water, the stream gliding smoothly over a level bottom nearly 6ft deep between rush-lined banks. The section offers perfect trotting, in my view the method that gives more enjoyment than any other whatever the species – though I would not mind betting it was originally devised by some imaginative angler who had roach in mind.
Outwardly, the whole straight looks like one roachy glide, and indeed it is. However, certain spots still produce better catches, one being a small depression in the river bed just a few inches deeper than its surroundings. Little features like this have to be pinpointed by trial and error with a plummet but are well worth the effort involved. Whilst plumbing this stretch I located a clean gravel area. I felt the plummet scrape over the hard bottom instead of mud – the feeling transmitted through the rod is quite distinct. Roach love gravel in a medium depth swim, so this patch is probably the best swim of the whole fishery.
Bulrushes may provide a clue to gravel’s location because they usually grow on fairly firm bottoms, sometimes sandy shingle, sometimes alongside a gravel bank. These are the dark green, thin, round stem variety not to be confused with other rushes that grow profusely in mud and silt. Silkweed is another hotspot in- dicator. Who knows why roach like it? Perhaps they are partial to the weed itself, for at times they can be caught on strands of it; more likely the abundance of larvae and snails that silkweed contains holds the key. Whatever the case may be, a patch of silkweed in a steady flow usually has roach close to it.
As 1 have said, roach like low light. That is why the overhanging willows on the far bank conceal a good sized shoal. So do the submerged lily leaves waving in the current at the end of the straight. Cabbages they are called due to their resemblance to that vegetable. I think roach like them because of the security they offer, their shade, and the moderate current. Laying on with stronger line or allowing a free falling nip of flake to flutter down under a self-cocking float are two of the best ways I know to extract roach from cabbages. The fish are usually of a good stamp.
The other hotspots we have covered on this straight stretch respond best to trotting with a 12-13ft match-type rod, 2 lb line, 1.7 lb hook length and hook size appropriate to the chosen bait – an 18 to start with for maggot and caster, a 16 or 14 for small pinches of flake.
On calm days or into an upstream breeze my preference is for a wire stemmed stick float. Provided it is well shotted down, a large one carrying four or five Bbs can be used. A big float gives superior stability and tackle control as it rides down the . -’»J?>– A, •* . ilvTw •’*:-«• :-l
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Eks stream and is especially useful when you mend line. Stick floats are pushed along too quickly in a downstream wind and thus create unnatural bait presentation. A waggler fixed bottom end only is then a lot better. The stronger the wind, the longer the waggler should be so that line between float and rod tip is well submerged and unaffected by the wind.
Many anglers claim to trot effectively with a fixed spool reel. I can only admire their skill since I find them poor tools for the job. Excessive line twist, poor spillage from the spool and the necessity to trap the line with your forefinger before striking, then having to close the bale arm once the fish is hooked are all unacceptable to me. A closed face reel is better though the inadequate gearing gives poor line retrieve and handling when the rod is under load, such as when a big fish is hooked.
A free running centre-pin knocks both into a cocked hat when it comes to trotting, allowing perfect control over the float’s progress by feathering the revolving drum withyour finger or thumb to produce just the right amount of line tension. Admittedly they are not the easiest reels to cast with, though for trotting up to two rod lengths out casting is not required anyway. The tackle is simply swung out. Those who master the art of casting longer distances will find the centre pin perfect for far bank trotting in medium sized rivers as well. Long casts are made by either pulling off successive loops of line from between the rod rings and then releasing them during the forward cast, or by setting the spool spinning with a flick of the rim and simultaneously swinging out the tackle so that line is pulled neatly through the rod rings. Spinning the reel too fast produces overruns; too slow a reel impedes the float which falls short of the mark. Do not load a centre pin with too much line. Overlaid coils tend to dig into those beneath, giving poor line flow; 50yd is ample for any roach swim. Loading the line on backwards improves its flow because then it leaves the top of the reel instead of the bottom and thus passes straight into the butt ring. Friction is much less than when the reel is loaded the usual way around. Line billowing between reel and butt ring can be a problem in strong winds, but you can reduce it with an extra ring placed about 12in from the reel.