The only way is up! (roach article, entry 72)

‘Thriving on neglect’ is a phrase that is rightfully applied to pike. In other words, where they are not pressured in terms of angling attention, they can offer great sport to the fisherman that goes off the beaten track and specifically targets them. However, I also believe that the term applies to other species too. Hence, with winter well and truly upon us, I have decided to target a fish that is often neglected these days – the humble roach.

The popularity of the ‘big’ species such as carp, pike, barbel etc means that the ‘juniors’ of the fish world often don’t get a look-in. After all, with a maximum of just 4lb, the appeal of a roach half that size is diminished when one considers the weight that other fish reach. And it is true that we live in a ‘big is best’ society, and without doubt that has affected angling too.

In my younger days, roach fishing was very popular on the nearby River Severn. Although the barbel was King even then, it was true to say that Mr Redfin was not that far behind, and would definitely fill the shoes of the title of Prince-in-waiting. Of course, with the advent of the commercial waters, whilst barbel fishing has gone from strength to strength, the roach has almost slipped off the scale. But they are still there, just that they are not being fished for as they were thirty years ago.

Hence I decided to tackle the mighty Severn and see how I would get on. As with all species location is the key, and to be honest I didn’t have a clue as to exact details! Still, that’s half the fun isn’t it? I guess there is a sense of the adventurer in all of us! For my first trip I headed for the lower reaches of the river. In these early exploratory days of the campaign, I am going to fish with maggots. That way I can get an idea of what is to be caught, before I decide to switch to more focused baits such as pastes.

I fished well into dark and although I did catch a few roach, none of them were over the 1lb mark, which is the target weight I am looking to catch some fish at. Of course, a 2lb roach would be superb, although if you talk to some anglers they catch them at that weight every cast! I did have one heart-stopping moment though when I hooked into what felt like a good fish. However, it turned out to be a 2lb+ chub, which is a nice enough fish of course in its own rights, but it was roach that I was after.

For my next session, I headed for the middle reaches of the Severn. Again, I had no idea as to the details of the stretch, but headed for a nice steady swim on a big bend, as the river wound its way through the countryside. It certainly looked ‘roachy’ to me! I fished with a cage feeder filled with dead maggots and crumb and had a bite first cast, which proved to be a small gudgeon! I caught regularly through the day, mostly gudgeon but also the odd dace. I hardly ever fish with maggots on the hook so rarely catch these species.

As darkness approached, I was hoping to really test the roach potential of the venue. Then an hour into dark I struck into something that was definitely more substantial than the dozens of ‘tiddlers’ I had been catching all day! After a brief struggle the line suddenly went lose and I retrieved to find that I had foul hooked a fish – evident by the scale that was now on the size 16. But what was interesting is that the scale looked very much like a roach to me! I was certainly encouraged by that, and a couple of hours later I once more I found myself playing a good fish, although I suspected barbel on this occasion. I never got to confirm my suspicions though as I got broke.

They say that ‘things come in threes’ and that was very applicable, as later on in the evening I hit a third decent fish which also evaded capture – this time a hook pull. Again I suspected that a barbel had taken the bait. Driving home I was already thinking ahead, and desperately wanted to return to the venue. Hence, settling into bed well into the early hours, I was up again at the crack of dawn, so that I could do some work before once more heading off to the Middle Severn.

As I arrived back in the same peg, a male Merlin flew over the swim. I enjoy bird watching while out at the water’s edge, and in the main the style of fishing that I do allows me to incorporate other things into it. The bird took my tick list to the year to 107, which is beyond the initial target of 100 that I set myself back on January 1st.

Fishing wise, it was very much a case of more of the same, as a succession of gudgeon and dace were landed – but still no roach. However, some of the latter were of a decent enough size – particularly when you consider that the British record is not much more than a pound, they were quite good ones. Due to the previous lost fish, I had stepped up hook length from 2lb 8oz to 4lb, and when I struck into a decent bite in the afternoon, at least I felt a bit more confident.

I very quickly realised I was playing a barbel, and after several lunges when it saw the net, I eventually got it out of the water. It wasn’t a massive fish, going a little under 6lb. I got a decent photograph though ready for this article. However when time came to download it, I hit a problem. Although it was on my camera, I couldn’t transfer it to the computer. After trying everything I finally gave up! So along with the plump dace I caught, you will have to take my word for it, but I did catch it – honestly!

My second Middle Severn session ended with no roach, but just as I was packing away I did connect with a big barbel. The odds were always going to be against me, and even though I had stepped up to 4lb line, there is obviously a limit on how high you can go. After all, there’s no point in roach fishing with 10lb line is there? And anyway, if I had caught the fish I wouldn’t have been able to retrieve the photographs. Now that would be frustrating…

So in conclusion, my roach campaign has got off to a slow start. But that doesn’t bother me too much, as it’s not so much how you begin but how you finish. Angling campaigns are more akin to a marathon than a sprint. But with two roach blanks out of three sessions, it’s true to say that the only way is up! Anyway I hope you will join with me over the next few months as I pursue my dream of a 2lb fish.

 (Originally published November 2004)

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