To tempt roach to take your bait you will have to be prepared to fish at dawn or dusk when your presence is less obvious and when this ultra-cautious species has little reason to be suspicious.
Every roach water has at some time or other produced fish of at least l|lb. But a water holding only the occasional specimen does not offer much of an opportunity for consis-tent success. To reap the best rewards you ned to hunt out those waters containing good numbers of the fish you are after. It matters not how beautifully you can control a float if roach do not inhabit the swim. Location, accompanied by the appropriate techniques to suit the swims and conditions, is of para-mount importance.
Most specimen roach are sought in reservoirs and deep, clear water lakes or pits unaffected by pollution, severe water abstraction and other potential perils.
Rivers with a swift flow and prolific plant life will also support good roach. Sometimes, a canal or the local duck-pond does turn up the oc-casional monster fish, but such a catch is rare by comparison with the numbers of big roach bred—and caught—in fertile waters.
Smallish rivers and streams are perhaps the most interesting roach waters. Here, by stealthily observing the stocks with the aid of polarized sunglasses, you can learn about the habits of big fish-knowledge which will stand you in good stead on all roach waters.
You will quickly discover that big roach can be extraordinarily shy, especially of clumsy footfalls, and are also acutely sensitive to light. The amount of light (bright, dull or dark), together with the condition of the water (clear, coloured or murky), is probably the most important piece of the specimen-roach jigsaw. Big roach will only feed on your bait if these factors inspire confidence. They live in a rich environment full of food, and do not really need a lump of flake or a bunch of maggots to survive.
You will quickly find this out while exploring small rivers in summer, when the water is crystal clear. No matter how quietly you have crept up on a shoal, or how carefully you have offered a bait, there will be times when they seem oblivious to anything offered them. Sometimes, stepping down in tackle to ultralight lines and hooks will bring about the downfall of a big fish. But such tactics often prove suicidal among thick summer weed growth— and a big roach lost is not the objective. So, having found your fish, approach them when they are vulnerable—at dawn or as dusk sets.
The roach taken in the Broads of East Anglia or in the Hampshire Basin is likely to be bigger than the national average, but a fish of 2lb represents a specimen anywhere.
10ft Avon 13ft through-action 9ft ledger (plus quivertip)
b.s. 2-3 lb
Lobworms, flake, maggot, casters
Hookbait, maggot, casters, mashed bread
Laying-on, trotting, ledgering, freelining in. Then, you, your rod and line are all less evident and you can present a large bait, such as a lump of flake or a lobworm, which will give accurate casting and will not attract the attention of small fish, on a suitable line and hook.
An 8-14 eyed hook, tied direct to 2-3lb line, is right. Dispense with any lead or float unless absolutely necessary, for the bites will be in-credibly bold—too bold for roach, it seems. But then poor light will give roach no reason to be suspicious and bites will be immediate and strong. Merely close the bale arm and ‘touch-feel’ the line with your fore- finger after casting, leaving a good bow in the line from bait to rod tip.
If you can see the line, then you will not need your finger to tell you when to strike, and if it is too dark to see anything clearly, your forefinger becomes your ‘eyes’. Sometimes, bites will come a few minutes after the bait touches bottom, and sometimes even while on the drop.
Small river fishing for big roach during the summer months is a wandering game with few items of tackle—just a light, short Avon-type rod (10ft is a good length), a small fixed-spool reel, a landing net and bait. Do not complicate matters by taking a whole range of baits. Half a loaf, plus a few lobs, will suffice, and will catch any ‘little river’ roach, once you have found them. There is never any need to bait or feed-up a swim—just introduce a few loose pieces of the hookbait before casting. You may need to add a shot or two on really fast swims, or a bomb when fishing small mill pools, but if you remember at all times to keep your tackle as simple as pos-sible, bites will always be positive.
But now consider that same little river during the winter, when the weed has gone and there is more colour in the water. The roach you sought a few months ago will have secured their winter quarters in the slowest, deepest swims, perhaps the very swims where you freelined for them. Or perhaps they will have moved a little farther up or down-stream, not far away.
Now your fishing can be more relaxed, although you still need to be stealthy. Trotting or laying-on with light float tackle is possible, using small baits like maggots or casters, particularly in cold water temperatures. However, in bouts of mild weather, and with low water levels, freelined, or laid-on breadflake will still catch good fish.
In heavy floods some of the largest roach your little river has to offer may turn up. They will be close to the bank, away from the heavy main flow, in tiny pockets of quiet water. Use a bait dropper to lay a carpet of maggots on the bottom and then lay-on, overdepth, with the float rubbered top and bottom. Terminal tackle is a swan shot link stopped 12in from the hook, or a single large shot—as the condition of the swim dictates.
Knowledge put to good use
Be wary of small hooks, which can all too easily pull out if a good fish rushes into the main flow. Hook sizes 12 and 14, holding three or two maggots respectively, are ideal. Tie them direct to a reel line of around 2lb b.s. Rod length for both trotting and laying-on should be 13ft, which allows you to sit well back from the water’s edge, yet still maintain complete control.
Winter fishing these little rivers when the water colour is thick often allows you to take several fish, or even a respectable bag, so do not be impatient to move on as you must when summer fishing. Use knowledge of the water and how many fish you expect to inhabit a par-ticular swim as your guideline here, proving all the summer’s fish spotting well worthwhile.
Big roach in streams or little rivers usually prefer swims offering both the cover of lush weedbeds during the summer and the security of quieter water during the winter, when the river may be swollen. The shoal of some 30 big roach ranging from 1lb to over 2lb living in a particular swim on a narrow length of the Upper Waveney, in Suffolk, are certainly no exception.
In summer roach love to patrol between the midstream weedbeds along a sandbar which runs from the upstream shallows down to a point opposite the end of the dyke. Below this, the water is very shallow and so they are content within their boundaries. They feed on the rich animal life of snails, freshwater shrimps and the nymphs of various water flies, such as caddis and sedges, which live among the weedbeds, to which the shoal retreats in times of changes.
In summer too, the main shoal often splits up, fish of around the same size usually grouping together. But when the summer weed cover dies off, they pack together close to the bottom in the deeper water opposite the dyke entrance.
With high and dirty water, when the main flow becomes too strong, roach move into the mouth of the dyke, which becomes a slow eddy and offers the shoal a suitable habitat and a regular supply of food brought down by the current.
When the river becomes exceptionally swollen and bank-high, even the eddy is uninhabitable, for the current changes direction every few minutes. Then, the entire shoal will move well up into the dyke, taking sanctuary in almost static water only 2ft deep, which, in summer, is either fairly heavily weeded over or during periods of low water levels, may even dry up altogether.’
Unlike streams and small rivers, in medium-sized rivers—although the water may be crystal clear during the summer—visible location is not always possible, usually because of extreme depth or weed growth. Unless you own a boat and can quietly search midstream for shoals of big fish, your specimen fish-finding activities must take on a new form. You will need to do a good deal of walking the river at dawn or dusk, when most big roach give their presence away by rolling on the surface, especially when mist is
hugging the river. Do not waste time during hot sunshine or during heavy rain, but confine your searches to times when the river is most fertile and take a float rod along to plumb depths as you wander.
Mapping surface activity
Deep, weed-free swims, such as on bends or long, even-depth glides, will still be worthy of attention, even if you see nothing on the surface. Elsewhere, pay attention to those areas where good fish can be seen breaking surface repeatedly. Make a drawing of the river if it helps, marking where you see each good fish roll. You will soon get a mental picture of the big roach potential and of which swims hold the shoals. Then plan a campaign of several evening sessions, starting an hour before dusk and fishing on well into darkness. Again, bread will be hard to beat for big roach.
Whenever possible, introduce mashed bread into each swim you intend to try, even on evenings when you are not fishing. Three or four slices to each swim will suffice. Then pick a cloudy evening, when the temperature will not drop much after dark, and creep to the upstream end of the swim an hour before dusk to introduce a little mashed bread.
Set up a 13ft rod with a fixed-spool reel and 3lb line. Terminal gear can be either a running linkledger or a simple paternoster with a 12in hook link and a No 8 hook tied direct and holding a thumbnail-sized piece of fresh bread flake. Other items needed are two rod rests and a beta light ledger bobbin. A torch shining away from the river can be used to light up a non-luminous indicator or silver paper, but light ruins your night vision for accurate casting and the landing of fish. Learn to use your eyes in the dark and you will be sur-prised how much you can see.
Start by casting across, and slightly downstream, leaving the flake on the bottom for 10-minute intervals before recasting at a different angle—farther downstream. You can work your entire section of the river in this way until bites materialize. If the flow is strong, you will need to angle the front rod rest upwards and maybe pinch a swan shot on the bobbin line to counteract the pull. But in a gentle current, it is best to point the rod downwards at the bait, with the tip close to the surface.
Bites are invariably strong from roach which have not received much attention, and will raise the indicator as much as 12in right up to the butt ring, particularly during windy weather—excellent night roaching conditions. In response you can either shorten the bobbin drop, and use smaller hooks or even charge baits, or move to another swim into which you should have regularly introduced mashed bread.
This is a great method of taking big summer roach from a river whose fish have a reputation of being hard to tempt. Such a reputation during daylight may be perfectly justified. At night, however, big roach are there for the taking.
As the nights shorten and summer turns into autumn, with chilly, misty evenings, feeding periods often diminish to a single hour after dark, and then sport ceases. But if you pick your evenings carefully you could enjoy sport until the first of the frosts come and the weeds start to decay.
During this period, from mid-October to mid-November, many river roach feed spasmodically, the water is still clear, but weed cover is disappearing fast, and so, unless you are really enjoying success, it is best to wait for the first floods and for the river to colour, when long trotting really comes into its own. You can still ledger flake, of course, but the weather does need to be mild. On the other hand, small baits like maggots or casters can give excellent sport on float tackle.
Encouraging ‘depressed’ roach
As on small rivers though, some shoals may have repositioned themselves in, for example, a small depression, or within the quieter water immediately downstream on the inside of a bend. These roach will need finding by careful, light groundbaiting with loose maggots or casters and then a search with a float. Big roach hate chasing a bait, so ensure that yours is presented as close to the bottom as possible, and actually dragging it over the bed where it is clean.
In slow, medium-depth swims a stick float, correctly shotted at regular intervals and held back gently, takes some beating.
But where the flow demands floats carrying shot upwards of 3AA put your faith in an Avon trotter —fixed top and bottom—or, for windy conditions, a long length of peacock quill or a waggler with a bulky expanded polystyrene base, fished bottom end only. The bait must be presented at the same speed as the flow close to the bottom, which is nearly always much slower than the surface speed, so do not be frightened to use a float carrying a good deal of lead.
Fishing ultra-light, even in calm conditions, does not present the bait slow enough for big roach to suck it in. They want it almost drifted into their mouths, not whisked by. A chub may chase after it, but few big roach will—a point worth remembering. A 13ft rod with a fast action, yet lightweight, is ideal for long trotting with either a centrepin or fixed-spool loaded with 2lb line.
Do not be tempted to fish lighter if a big fish over 2lb is on the cards. Such roach can show a surprising amount of power against a strong flow. Size 16 and 14 hooks should prove small enough for a double or treble caster or maggot, especially in coloured water. There will be days when the river runs clear and you will need to fish lighter in order to get bites, but if you use finer than a No 18 to a 1lb hook length you increase your chances of losing a really big fish.
During bouts of extremely low water temperatures, or when the river is really pushing down and bites are not materializing, even with heavy float tackle, switch over to ledgering, because the roach will welcome a static bait. Purpose-built quivertip rods, with the tip actually built in, are ideal for sensitive ledgering in fast water. But a separate quivertip screwed into a standard 9ft ledger rod will suffice.
You can either loose-feed with a catapult, well upstream into the head of the swim, or use a small blockend feeder. The blockend is certainly more effective, especially in cold weather, when the shoal is localized and not willing to move to the loose feed. But you need to think of where the shoal will be lying and then cast repeatedly to the same spot. Casting all over the place— except in a straight line down the swim—will certainly split the shoal.
The terminal rig should be kept to a simple paternoster, with the swimfeeder on a 6in link to a hook link of 12-24in. Experiment with hook link lengths if bites do not oc-cur, or prove hard to hit. Hook sizes, of the same strength as the reel line—2-3 lb—from 12 to 16, should be tied to a link. Bites with the quivertip are invariably both sudden and short, unless water tempera-tures are very mild. Use a front rest and balance the rod butt between your legs on the edge of your seat, or rest it on your lap, and you should hit a fair percentage of the bites.
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 sur-face gives their presence away to the dedicated fish spotter.
Apart from such observations, a local knowledge of productive swims, or putting in much work with a plummet, followed by fishing on a ‘hunch’, there is very little you can do to locate a shoal of big roach in a huge water. They could be anywhere. Pre-baiting will work in some waters, if roach are the predominant species, but not if bream are plentiful;
However, some waters, particu-larly 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, £lb, put on weight rapidly with less fish to share the food. In such perch-populated pits and reservoirs, you rtLivitN rruN JVVJ ±J—=r-. usually catch only very small or very big roach. Middle-sized fish must exist, of course, or there would not be any big roach, but curiously, they are rarely caught.
Whatever the Stillwater you choose to concentrate on, begin your campaign to find a pattern, of feeding locations and times in the summer. It will help enormously as winter approaches when few fish will betray their presence on the surface. With the help of a plummet draw a picture of the bottom topography (either in your mind’s eye or on paper), marking in the deeps, the gullies, the plateaux, the weedbeds and other relevant features. ‘Priming’ at dusk when fishing, steer away from ex-treme depths and shallows, looking instead for the middepth plateaux. The bars which shelve steeply up from great depths to form large plateaux of an even depth are great feeding areas much loved by roach. The fish can often be seen playing on or near the surface, or ‘priming’ around these middepth areas at dawn, but more often as dusk sets in, particularly after a hot day, when midge larvae are hatching.
Bites, however, may not actually materialize until darkness falls. Then, when the hatch finishes and the roach move down towards the bottom, ledgered breadflake has a chance of being taken. Use ground-baits sparingly—just the odd ball of cereal containing a little mashed bread will suffice.
During daylight, apart from a short feeding period at dawn, roach shoals may seek the quietness of the deeper gullies, particularly in over cast conditions. But when the water is really warm after days of continual strong sunlight, you could find them basking in the upper layers over both deep or shallow swims. You may not be able to tempt them even with ultra-light tackle, but at least you will have a fair idea of their numbers and size. This will help considerably with groundbaiting on future sessions.
In most weather conditions, ledgering is by far the best method of tackling these Stillwater roach, because your casting will always be accurate and the bait static.
The keen sliding-float angler will be able to score on occasions during the daytime but as more bites can be expected during low light towards dusk, watching a beta light ledger bobbin is usually a better method.