Friday, 1 May 2009

On Roach - The Purist Fish

Roach fishing is one of the only disciplines in coarse angling where 'how' a fish is caught is far more important than 'if' a fish is caught at all, in fact roach fishing has a hierarchy of preferable methods ranked according to the skill required to effectively fish them
, so we have stick float fishing on rivers at the top and bolt rigged swim-feeder fishing on gravel pits at the very bottom of the admissible method list and in their respective positions because the one takes a great deal of skill, practice and hard work to perfect and the other, none whatsoever.

Catching roach by accident though, is utterly beyond the pale, so the angler who skull hauls a chance three pounder on a hair rigged boily intended for carp has not caught a roach at all, well, not in the world of roach fishing he hasn't. Such a fish simply does not rank no matter how large, it's merely a fluke and flukes are, for self respecting roach anglers, simply unacceptable. Such a fish capture has just the one useful upshot and that's that it indicates that the water concerned does indeed contain large roach. One day it is possible, even likely, that a new British Record roach will be caught by a bald headed carp angler decked out in full camo, and camo so damned effective that all we can see of him in the trophy shot is his shining pate...

Heaven forbid!

Actually, while we are about it, the camo obsessed carp or barbel angler should know that the very best camo is actually a mirror by use of which you simply disappear into your surroundings, a mirror in fact, very like the silvery flanks of a roach. 'Camo' is exclusively for the bamboozlement of human eyes, not those of fish (who probably see more of your aura than you might think! ) Next season expect 'Real Tree' camo to be consigned to the dustbin where it undoubtedly belongs, upstaged and usurped by Hatt Enterprises 'Reflo Roach', the total reflection suit, boot, hat and tackle outfit...

I joke. Herons are grey, thin and tall, move very very slowly, they fish as if their lives depended upon it... Kingfishers are bright electric blue and orange and they too fish for keeps. Both are perfectly camo'd up....

I digress way too far. Where were we?

The number one method, trotting the stream with a stick float under which rides a carefully presented bait is rightly considered the ne plus ultra of roach angling because of its very high level of applied skill, but even this (deceptively) simple approach is then divided into ranks of worth; the aesthetics of roach angling demand that it is the case, and despite the fact that very few anglers after roach ever fish with them, that cane rods are superior to carbon. It then follows that centre pin reels are better than any other, with closed face reels second and fixed spool the mark of a trotting tyro. This is also complicated by the fact that an old centrepin is seen as better than a new one!

So, our perfect roach angler is one that only ever fishes with a vintage rod manufactured by a long defunct 'name' maker and a fine reel that cost him the earth to purchase. Of course this is bunk, but it happens to be true bunk. As a case in point, I fished the Itchen not so long ago and caught a fine roach at the end of the day. I'd fished all day long with a cane rod and centre pin reel trotting maggots and caught a long string of grayling and some trout and then as evening approached rigged up a carbon quiver tip rod with a fixed spool reel and began to fish a cage feeder stuffed with breadcrumb and flake on the hook. Of course this put the bait in the right place for the roach on the day and put one on the bank where the float couldn't, but I'd have far preferred to have caught that roach on the cane and pin, in fact the photo of the fish is a bit of a fib, no... an outright lie in fact, because the rod and reel pictured with the fish is not the combo it was caught on, but the pin does gives a reliable scale against which to judge the fish with its four and a half inch spool, and besides, it looks undeniably better...

I just don't want my first Itchen chalk stream roach to appear as if it was taken by the employment of a crude lead on the deck methodology and cold, hard carbon logic. I want fuzzy wooden logic and goose quills ambling downstream, line peeling off free spinning aero grade aluminium contraptions controlled by a hard won manual dexterity, and so, if you are brutally honest, do you!

I draw the line at horsehair lines and casts...

This brings me neatly to another level of worth, because where the roach is caught is also of prime importance; chalk streams such as the Itchen being preferable to other kinds of river, other kinds of river preferable to any kind of still-water, and with still-waters ranked according to the wildness of the fish therein, with gravel pits and reservoirs fished if needs must but commercial waters with large stocked roach almost off the scale and if fished if at all only because of convenience and then strictly for practice only. Ultimately it all hinges upon whether or not the fish are fed artificially by anglers or by nature and nature only. Canals, oddly, are hardly seen as places to be seen fishing for, let alone catching large roach despite the fact that the stocks of fish are truly wild and are thriving on neglect. Canals are also in specimen anglers parlance (roach anglers are emphatically not 'specimen anglers' no matter how big the fish they wish to target because you can't have big roach without first learning all about roach in general by wading through an overwhelming tide of small roach) 'rock hard' venues.

Even chalk streams are ranked. The Dorset Stour may be rightly seen as Britain's premier roach river but it's not a chalk stream even though everyone seems to think it is, but the Hampshire Avon (which is a chalk stream) is regarded higher as a historic and pure river and as for the Itchen, well that small swift river is lauded as the worlds greatest chalk stream, therefore my roach from it is by default a cut above the rest, and actually the finest one pound ten ounce roach on record...

Well, it would be if I had caught it on stick, cane and pin!


Well, bread-flake is top banana it being hard to put on the hook properly and even harder to trust once it's in the water, so it follows that an angler who has mastered the art of hooking bread and casts it out trusting that it is still on the hook at the end of the run down is the master of one of the essential skills of purist roach angling. Fresh crusty loaves look far better on the bank than gluey long life bread out of a plastic packet, the latter out fishes the former but there are aesthetics to consider here...

Bread-punch - a bit of a cheat and unsporting even though it is a killer. You can't even feel as if you are dressed in blue let alone have any item of blue about you when roach fishing, bread-punch being a match anglers thing is therefore to be used with caution.

Hemp? Yes please. 'The seed' is hard to hook and almost impossible to trust unless hooked through the shell so it's a skill well worth having in the pure roach anglers kit bag. Also its proper fishing requires infinite patience and restraint, very keen eyesight and deft fingers and that's all very, very good. On the down side, it was introduced by Belgians so you always will feel a little too continental for comfort on any English riverbank.

Tares? An easily hooked substitute for those who can't hook hemp properly - roach don't eat tares they just mistake them for 'the seed' that you are feeding them when tare fishing and, this is clearly deception (a form of lure fishing and lure fishing is the purist bait angler's worst nightmare) and into the bargain somehow they're just a tad too working class for their own good! You have to know that roach anglers consider themselves natures born aristocrats of the fishing world, so such a view is understandable, if reprehensible.

Elderberries? Funny one this. As with tares, another substitute for hemp but one with a certain up market cachet. Unusual and exotic, far less of a deception than tares because they do fall naturally into the stream of their own accord, picked from the tree on the way to the peg so no cash exchanges to sully things, very Compleat Angler and therefore perfectly fine to fish with, but only in season...

Maggots? Yes, if you must. Lots of fish of a small stamp with the outside chance of a specimen. The small roach anglers bait.

Gentles? Exactly the same as the above, but sounds totally archaic and much, much better because of that, so yes, why not? A big roach anglers bait.

Casters? Yep, fine. Caught out the 'English' record roach (Ireland is non native roach country with all roach there the offspring of stockies imported from England last century - broken pedigree, I'm afraid - so the current British record is void so far as roach anglers are concerned) under a stick float and on the Dorset Stour (that third rate 'chalk' stream!) too, but remember that this would have been a far better fish if landed from the Itchen on bread-flake fished off the stick, cane and pin...

Worms? Oh yes indeed. Big roach do love a worm, though not on all waters, for some odd reason. Canal roach in the larger sizes eat big lobs in the harshest winter weather imaginable when they will take little else. The most aesthetically perfect bait of all - no deception and no cash exchange unless you are too lazy to find your own, can be dug from the bank with a bank-stick if you run out, means having to construct a wormery in the back garden and that's immediately appealing to all boys, and they look good on the hook. The downside is that perch adore them and chub too but at least these bonus fish do tend to be very large ones if the worm used is also a big un'.

Silkweed? Old fashioned and practiced by hardly anyone nowadays but no serious roach angler is completely made up until he has tried and caught with this bait. Have I? No...

Trout pellets? Food for stockies, farmed trout, garden pond ornamentals and those sickly looking, undersize, ragged finned 'sea bass' that taste of nothing more than the food they are stuffed with and are a national fishmongers disgrace but that the uninformed public regards as most flavoursome and pays a pretty penny for - a fish that any decent angler knows simply as bass (they don't live in rivers or ponds) and those who have caught, killed and eaten one within the hour know to be one of the very best fish the sea has to offer the palette. So, absolutely no, not on your nelly, never no how, non-admissible. To be struck off the Roach Anglers Register for!

Sweetcorn? Tench bait. Too bright. Colour clashes with everything in the environment and of course, comes out of a tin. Ok, but only on occasion.

Stewed wheat? Old fashioned so fine, but why bother with the faff?

Boilies? Not allowed under any conceivable circumstance.

Plastic baits? It is an ghastly offense of the first order against mother nature to take roach on anything made of plastic. If a maggot is sucked clean without the hook ever catching hold then the bait has entered the throat teeth, your end tackle is out of kilter, and you learn something, and if bread is robbed off the hook without the hook ever catching hold, you either have loads of small fish out front that can't swallow the lot or you are hooking the bread badly, and you learn something. Fishing with fake plastic bait for roach is the very worst crime of all.

Whilst still on the subject of bait, the bait tin should be old, round and knackered, modern square black plastic tins that work efficiently are for match anglers.

What to wear?





Anything faded green or tan brown, scruffy, crumpled and old fashioned is fine. A good roach is only a good roach when caught dressed in the right attire (you, not the fish) so any of the above no-no's will have a seriously detrimental effect upon its relative quality no matter where or how it is caught. Blue plus camo plus Ray-bans plus New York Yankees cap costs you all rights to claim the fish as your own. You may as well not fish at all dressed like this.

New items of fishing attire will spook any roach for miles around so take new items along to a place where you can waste your time fishing for say, barbel, or even better, bream, and use it as an unhooking mat to get it truly worn in. There is nothing better than fish slime as a clothing conditioner so disregard the protestations of the missus and just do it.

Hats are a personal choice (except baseball caps) when roach fishing but must always be as eccentric as possible so long as they never veer into Australian outback or American Wild West territory. Coats ditto - trench coats, yes, dusters, no!

Why no sunglasses? American for a start, and not necessary with the right hat. Helps you see the fish of course but remember with big roach above all other fish, if you can see them it's bloody certain that they know all about you. I'm finishing with a piece of hard won advice - never look directly at a roach, never even try to see them, indeed never even try to imagine them in the swim - take the greatest pains possible to do this and your roach fishing will improve out of all recognition...

...and of course without sunglasses to aid you in the folly of staring at roach, any caught are bona fide and credible in the eyes of other roach anglers.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed that thank you!

    Especially the bit abotu no skill being required with bolt rigs. Not just me then, keep on...