Roach are not much to look at, but their variety does begin with colour and shape. There are two extreme forms of coloration in mature fish. Most anglers are familiar with the bronzeflanked roach found in the Rennet or Hampshire Avon, as well as with the more common silverflanked fish found in most areas. Both varieties are nevertheless found side by side in many waters.
The body shape of mature fish varies in that most roach are slim and streamlined, reminiscent of the dace, while, also found but less common, is the fullbodied, deepbellied fish that is to be seen among the angler’s specimens.
The haunts of roach are as variable as their shape and colour. However, they prefer gravel, rock or hard bottoms and will settle over hard clay or mixed sand rather than silt or soft mud. Often they have little choice as the waters in which they are found vary from the swiftest chalk streams to the most sluggish and coloured lowland streams and small ponds. To survive, shoals must locate good feeding. For this they turn to the weed beds, not only for their plant food but for insects and other creatures. Roach, therefore, often shoal within easy reach of such natural larders, which also offer them protection from predators.
In roach fishing the colour of the water is important. In bright conditions and with clear water, even the finest tackle is quite visible. You must then be ultracautious, be as quiet as possible, and use bankside shrubbery to camouflage your silhouette. As it is a shoaling fish, the roach is highly sensitive to alien vibrations, surface shadows, or anything suspicious. One frightened fish can easily lead the shoal out of the swim or make them disinclined to feed. Therefore the best roaching, particularly for larger, wiser specimens, is done in coloured water, at dusk and dawn.
A roach weighing a pound is a good fish in any water. Over this it is excellent. Two pounders are not common, and specimens above this size are, for most anglers, the fish of a lifetime.
Tackle for roach fishing
Despite the wide variety of conditions and waters in which roach are found, two rods suffice: a 1213ft match rod and a 9ft ledger rod. The reel can be either a fixedspool with a sensitive clutch for light lines, or a freerunning centrepin. The former is probably better because long and accurate casting is sometimes called for. Two spools are needed, one with 2 lb b.s. Line for float fishing, the other with 34 lb line for ledgering.
Do not collect hundreds of beautiful different patterned floats, because you will not know whether your float is wrong or your method of fishing, although it will nearly always be the latter. A sensible range would be a set of four stick floats, carrying shot from 1BB to 5BB, for trotting in slow to mediumfast swims; a set of Avons, also for trotting, but taking shots ranging from 4BB to three swan and used to combat much faster, even turbulent water; a set of zoomers or antenna floats, with shotting ranging from 2BB to 4AA for sensitive presentation in stillwaters; and a few tiny floats for ultrasensitive work.
As far as hooks are concerned, roundbends take a lot of beating. For large baits, such as worms and breadflake, use eyed hooks from No 10 to No 6, and tie them directly on to the line. For small baits, where neatness of presentation is essential, spade end hooks are better.
A good selection of split shot is also required, plus an assortment of small swivels, Arlesey bombs, and openended swimfeeders for fishing far out or in fast water. The easiest spots to catch roach are Stillwater lakes, pits or farm ponds. On such waters, many different techniques can be tried until you have success.
The basic technique
On a small, wellcoloured water in summer, for example, start off float fishing with a 2BB quill float, with 1 in of the tip showing and a size 14 hook holding two maggots. Begin by fixing both shots 6in from the hook and set the float overdepth to lay the bait on the bottom. Then scatter a few maggots around the float every so often and you will soon have the roach feeding.
Ledgering is also useful on slow or stillwaters, particularly for larger fish which prefer the bottom. Baits can be large, such as a bunch of maggots or breadflake, and tackle should be kept to a minimum. Use just enough lead to reach the swim or to hold bottom, set the rod low to the water in two rests, pointing at the bait, and use a ledger bobbin clipped on the line between the butt and second rod ring to indicate bites. By using a luminous bobbin, you can fish that last hour of daylight and even later into darkness, when the biggest roach show up. A more exciting way of taking a specimen roach does not exist.
Stillwater roach differ from their river counterparts in one very important way—they are nomadic. During the summer months especially, roach in really large stillwaters may cover huge distances in the course of 24 hours. But, luckily, they do have certain habits, visiting preferred feeding areas at around the same time each day, particularly early morning and late evening. This is when the roach characteristic of rolling on the surface gives their presence away to the dedicated fish spotter.
However, some waters, particularly gravel pits, possess certain characteristics which help the Stillwater specimen roach hunter. For example, pits which contain large concentrations of perch as well as roach are potentially very big roach waters. This is due to a process of elimination, for the perch decimate the young roach shoals, and the comparatively small numbers of roach which reach, say, Mb, put on weight rapidly with less fish to share the food. In such perchpopulated pits and reservoirs, you usually catch only very small or very big roach.
Every roach water has at some time or other produced fish of at least lilb. But a water holding only the occasional specimen does not offer much of an opportunity for consistent success. To reap the best rewards you need to hunt out those waters containing good numbers of this most popular of the coarsefishing species.
Fishing is like stamp collecting, it is best to specialize to gain most satisfaction from the sport.