Monday, 31 January 2011

River Roach - My Quest for the Magic Two - Maverick Decisions

I love fishing the river at Stratford-upon-Avon. Not only does it contain some of the largest fish of the many species that it is possible to catch along the whole river, it also has tons of character and the whole gamut of river fishing possibilities going for it.

My first love is fishing the weir-pools at Lucy's Mill. You never know what's coming along next
— fish maggots and you might get big bream, huge barbel, fat perch besides everything else that swims (there's even some tench below the bridge) fish bread though and besides the odd tackle bending barbel or rogue carp that might take a shine to it (it's happened to me twice now, one lost, one banked) and of course the bream too, you also stand an enhanced chance of contacting the 'mythically' large but elusive roach that swim there as river roach love bread above all else — soft sticky white bread that has been compressed hard between the thumb and forefinger and hooked through once only is a surprisingly resilient and buoyant hook-bait that puffs up three times its size in the water, is easily struck through (if it ever comes back then you got it wrong) and big roach just do not seem to be able to control themselves when it blips on their radar, homing straight in on it like a dog to a butchers bone even if they have never seen or eaten in their entire lives.

Trust me. Bread's the ne plus ultra of roach baits.

A brace of lucky roach, the best exactly a pound in weight, caught whilst fishing for bream with bread and maggot cocktails at Lucy's Mill last Summer

They are never easy to find these Stratford Roach. I have been lucky once or twice and had fish to a pound from various places, Danny had a one-four from opposite the church and there are rumours lately of a two pounder caught from opposite the theatre. How much water that rumour holds very much depends upon the veracity of its sources and of course, as Danny pointed out, match anglers rarely weigh their fish and bankside appraisals of the actual size of roach are usually wildly over-guesstimated.

Still, there's no smoke without fire, and though I can find no secure evidence that such monster roach swim at Stratford, I'm willing to bet that they do. I have a hunch that won't be shaken easily. Of all the marks I know of in the area local to Coventry (apart from the canal of course) that might hold the fish I'm targeting, I have settled upon Stratford as the most likely of all.

We, that's Danny and I, spent the first hours of an early Sunday morning wasting our time down in the pre dawn darkness of the Seven Meadows stretch below the bridge - Danny fishing for Zander while I was all out for roach and fishing bread on both rods. I had bites at first, but nothing worth striking — as the light came up these bites ceased all together and when a pair of Stratford AA match stewards began pegging out in readiness for a nine o'clock start, we cut and ran up to Lucy's Mill.

Here we found things looking as they usually do but with the bank covered in mashed reed stems from the recent flood waters. We pitched next to each other in a clear spot and fished straight out into the big area of slack water where the bream, and sometimes roach come from. It was dead slow, I only had a couple of little plucks and pulls in the next hour and Danny, who was now fishing meat for the outside chance of a winter barbel and a feeder full of ground-bait he had no faith in, was faring similarly. It was looking as if another blank was in the offing...

I was growing increasingly bored by this state of affairs and as we had just had a conversation about maverick fishing decisions and how they often pay off when things are really desperate, I decided to go visit a little spot of unlikely looking but nevertheless 'roachy' water that I had found almost at darkness late one winter evening last season and had earmarked for a return visit at a more opportune time.

A lure angler and his son nattering to Danny. That little boy can cast with the best of them... he's one to watch for the future!

I wound in both rods and took one down to the spot, its feeder filled with a fresh load of liquidised bread and its hook baited with a fluffy piece of flake. I had decided that if I got so much as a nudge on the tip from this one cast then I would up-sticks and move directly to the swim.

I cast in, put the rod down on the bank, tightened up, and before I'd time to settle the tip pulled around two inches, stayed put for a second and then sprang back.


I was fishing there within ten minutes having promised to keep Danny informed by phone should I catch.

I settled in, filled the feeders, baited the hooks, cast one rod right of the area and one right into the area where I thought I'd cast the first time. Within seconds of the left hand rod being put in the rest the tip bounced once, and relaxed. My hand hovered over the rod waiting for the return visit, heralded within ten seconds by a proper bite - the strike was made and the rod hooped over as a fish, obviously a good chub, began kicking back hard against the carbon...

It stayed down for ages boring away and getting dangerously close to the near bank as all chub always do but eventually, and with a little bullying, the fish came into mid water and then with a further firm pull on my part, up to the surface where I suddenly found myself confronted with not the chub I'd expected, but an unexpectedly large roach...!

Now, losing a middling chub to a hook pull is no big deal but a roach like this one is another matter entirely, a matter that exists in an altogether higher dimension of importance. However, I kept my nerve, didn't panic and just thrust the net aggressively under the fish and swung her up and onto the soft and grassy bank. Phew...!

And what a fish to be opening the campaign with. "Not a two, but she's all of a pound and three quarters" I spoke, out loud, to myself...

I whipped out the phone, called Danny with the news and urged him to 'get the *uck down here,' got the keep-net in the water and the fish in a green plastic bag ready for the weighing.

One pound six...


I jiggled the bag, and the scales too just in case mud had got into the tube but no, still they registered the same.

Blimey! Who'd have thought a fish so apparently big was actually not so very big after all?

Still, a cracking fish by any standard, so I wasn't complaining.

Danny arrived in no time and sat to my right. I retired my right hand rod which hadn't had a knock and we shared the tight space available in order to both have a chance at a fish or two.

My next cast produced a fish of a pound, and the next too. Within half an hour I had five roach in the net of increasingly small size and down to ten ounces but all very, very welcome. Danny, however hadn't had so much as a knock in all that time and had to endure me winding in fish after fish and all from an area not much larger than a billiard table.

I urged him to get below me and take advantage of the lie downstream of my hotspot as it was plain that the area above was dead. Here, at last, he started to get bites only they were now proving impossible to hit, as were those I was now receiving. These bites were tentative, twitchy affairs in stark contrast to the unmissable pulls that had brought my rash of fish.

It would transpire that Danny had missed out on the chance of a decent roach by a matter of just minutes. Something unknown had happened down there in the murky depths of Lucy's Mill.

Of course it should have been obvious. All you seasoned match anglers are nodding your heads right now, and smirking too, aren't you? You've been here before, and many, many times right? But it was not clear at the time and we kept on chucking in feed and baits in vain until there came a time when a bite could not be bought.

Then we had the brainwave of brainwaves. Maggots. Sure enough the bites returned and Danny was soon into what was clearly a good roach. Unfortunately Danny had drawn the day's short straw, had grasped the shit end of its stick, and of course, the hooked pinged out before we saw the size of it.

Still smirking, you match boys ?

Soon I was into another big roach only this was a roach that had changed its coat and turned into a fat perch! A nice fish of a pound and seven ounces to join the net of roach, but we still didn't get it... Then, when Danny picked up two small perch in succession, and then hooked something decent that turned out to be a three or four pound pike that finally, and after a heroic struggle against the odds, severed his two pound hook-link, the penny finally dropped...

We'd created a predator cauldron down there with our incautious feeding and the precious roach shoal that might otherwise have provided either or both of us with a whole season's best fish, had split long ago.

But heh ho, you live and you learn!

Inevitably, hometime came around despite Danny having delayed his Sunday lunch as long as possible. I hauled the net and Danny got his first view of the big roach. His astonishment, like mine, was ill founded - the fish really was only a pound and six! A fish with an aura, I'd guess. And so it was days end once again but with such a cracking picture of the brace of the best of the day (cheers Dan, how you held the camera still and did not crack it over my noggin is anyone's guess...) this was a day that I am unlikely ever to forget.


  1. Well done that man ! that'll be the Roach to beat I think, I doubt I'll even get close - esp as it'll need a new PB to do it. Hard luck Danny, at least you know where they are!

  2. Particulalrly like the broken reeds' stems pic (of course the roach are pretty as well).