Thursday, 14 January 2010

Small Stream Adventures - Devil in the Detail

A fabulous catch of brook roach...
I'm never the pessimist when it comes to my fishing. I don't set out the door believing that I will not catch good fish, that some circumstance or another is already pitched against me, that my chances are anything other than fair to good, and on occasion excellent, or that luck has anything whatsoever to do with it, and so, despite failing to catch on my second trip to the brook I still had very high hopes as I set out upon my third.

You see I'm a numbers man - if a one pound roach exists in this tiny brook then it cannot possibly be the only one or even the largest one in it - there must be more and there must be greater. Once such numbers get under my skin then I am lost to the pursuit of the proof of the matter. I need to know one way or the other.

Roach over a pound in weight are an uncommon quarry in any fishery, even those that are supposedly the very best for specimen fish. The Dorset Stour or the Bristol Avon, say, are such fisheries where the capture of a fine large roach is not just an evens chance but a racing certainty, you may have been led to believe. However, it's not so, I'm afraid...

Mark Wintle, Dorset Stour roach angler of long and successful experience and talking here of the Stour, states that ~

"...some venues that I fished in the early eighties produced a high proportion of pound plus roach. Overall, I had a one in six ratio of pound plus roach in those days, and on some venues, it was better than that. The current ratio is ten times worse than that! That is one roach in sixty is over a pound, which I don't find especially encouraging."

This is precisely why I get so wildly excited by wild roach of such size when I come across them; not because of what they amount to, but because of what they imply. One such fish is cause for optimism but when two or more of this size are found in any one place and especially if each individual is young looking, fit and healthy then who knows what good things are coming along in the future? Having had number one, I now had to catch number two, and three...!

Snow as fine as caster sugar had fallen all day long and the footprints in the frozen mush of yesterday's minor thaw were smothered in fresh accumulations, an ice landscape archaeology. A water rail strutted furtively through the far bank cover grumbling about my presence. I fed the friendly robin (he always finds me wherever I fish!) with a handful of maggots, laid out my pitch and sat back to enjoy the evening, certain that events would unfurl nicely.

Patience Hatt, patience...

But they didn't . Bites were small affairs for the most part, little nudges and pulls so subtle I was afraid to strike for fear of spooking the fish. When I finally had a strong enough indication, I hooked up to a fish but it was just one of the smaller roach, half a pound or so, and then the snowfall intensified, bringing coin sized flakes so light and buoyant they could be sipped from the air as they fell - it lasted an hour and then it stopped, for good, the last gasp of it. Tomorrow it would thaw...

I re-arranged a Thursday morning portrait sitting for the Friday. I really wanted to make the most of the settled water levels avoiding the worst of the flood of ice cold water that was sure to push through the valley over the weekend, to try to bank a few fish before it became impossible to do so.

As usual I set up my tackle way back from the water, crept into position beneath the hawthorns and flicked a flake of bread under the overhanging branches allowing it to pull around and settle where it would. Under the opposite bank, water was trickling noisily from a storm drain flap - the thaw was well under way - not a good sign. You see I'd heard that 'snow melt' would be the 'kiss of death', the effective end of any useful fishing for some time to come. Even as I fished I started to believe this, and when no bites came within the first twenty minutes I was very nearly convinced - if were not for a single sharp and unexpected tug on the rod tip three quarters of an hour in, a bite that pulled me from the brink of a potentially disastrous collapse of confidence, I would have packed up and and left for home within the hour.

A move downstream was in order, far away from that tinkling drain, and a different approach necessary.

I chose a deeper and slower than average swim below a raft of rubbish that had accumulated in the trailing branches of a blackthorn bush. I began to feed nuggets of liquidised bread every five minutes, to try to turn every fish in the swim on to feed, and also pull more into the swim from stations downstream - a gamble that could kill the swim more likely than cure it in such bitterly cold water.

After just ten minutes the bites started to come, my feeding ploy seemed to be working, but as usual these positive bites were inexplicably missed, one by one. By now I'd tried every conceivable permutation of terminal tackle possible within the limits of bread flake freelining tactics - what is there to it? I mean, you need a small shot to sink the flake, and a hook tied to reasonably light line - the distance from shot to hook and the size of shot is pretty much all you have to play with!

All that was left to experiment with now, was bait presentation ~

If I have learned any one thing of importance in my first full year of pursuing roach, it is this ~ with this fish of fish, the Devil is most certainly in the detail - it's the tiny refinements that swing things, the overall coarseness of approach is neither here nor there - and, it had suddenly occurred to me that it was the way I was mounting the bread upon the hook, simply wrapping a small piece of soft flake around the shank and compressing it lightly, that was the very root of the trouble.

I had my Devil by the tail...

I tied on a fine wire size twelve, compressed a thumbnail sized piece of bread hard between thumb and forefinger and hooked it once through, as if I were hooking on a lobworm. A rough and ready bread-punch adaptation. Out it went, settling midstream just five yards downstream...

An improvement?

And well, what do you know? The tip bounced, pulled around, and the hook found a secure hold - after a short but feisty scrap, a roach of just under a pound weight slid over the lip of the net.

What followed on from this was quite extraordinary. I hooked up to each and every single bite from that peg from then on, the action only ceasing when I had seemingly emptied entirely it of fish ! In a little under an hour I had landed five roach ranging in weight from eleven ounces to one pound and three ounces. I would never have guessed that so many good fish could have been living in such a confined space.

Five fish a'flapping

Not wanting to faff around in the fast approaching winter evening gloom I decided to get the trophy pictures made and the totting up ritual over and done with well within in the remaining light. The pics were easily accomplished but when I attempted to weigh the lot in the damp landing net my four pound salter scales bottomed out, so I had no way of knowing what the final tally could be. Four pounds or so, for sure, but four pounds what ? My fishing challenge point really required that I pass the four pounds three ounces mark and I could only estimate the combined weight at four pounds give or take an ounce or two and so I needed one more good fish to be absolutely sure, and before dark...!

Just one more...!

I put the fish back some way downstream and returned to what had been a most productive swim thus far, but had not another touch in twenty minutes so made the snap decision to move back upstream to a peg in which I'd had a single missed bite the previous day, where, on the very first cast into it received a smart rap on the tip and another lovely fit roach came to the net - it really could not have been any easier, just child's play.


After this fish there really was no point in carrying on, my theories had proven correct, six lovely roach had fallen to a subtle improvement in tactics, I'd got my point on the board and I'd got it in style.

Now, according to my logical deductions concerning the nature of fisheries, numbers of inhabitants and relative size thereof, when this many roach are found of such a stamp in the one place, it necessarily follows that there will be a further, as yet undiscovered proportion of the total inhabitants of the stream, holed up in certain locations, that exceed this average size.

I have a few ideas...!


  1. Jeff,

    A nice little bag of Roach there, well done.


  2. Six for five (lb) is momentous from that ditch mate - nice work!

    It turns into a rivulet at the bottom of a school field round mine Jeff so you've inspired me to venture where only schoolboys currently tread.....

    Cheers, Keith .J

  3. Outstanding Jeff, particuarly in such dreadful conditions.