Saturday, 18 February 2012

Avon Roach and Dace - Madness, or Method?

The Warwickshire Avon is a moody river. An hour spent in last weeks 'barren' swim brought no bites, yet again. Though conditions once again seemed on the perfect side of ideal, it was a no show. I tried three or four alternative swims nearby but the result was the same, the river was sleeping. I thought about staying, and thought about going downstream below the millpool, where, in my prior experience of this place, the fishing is good when the upstream stretches fish poorly. In the end I thought I'd try the millpool itself before moving to known roach swims further down...

The spanking new solid oak bridge across the Avon at the Saxon Mill. It's heartening to see something built to last more than a decade in this day and age...

I've dropped into the millpool only once or twice in all the time I've fished these waters so it was almost an unknown quantity. I've seen other anglers catch a few bits and pieces there, a nice perch on a spinner springs to mind. There was once a carp angler who had some success by fishing luncheon meat right under the wall in a place where you'd think carp would never be, and I once saw him land a bream of at least six or seven pounds, a species I have never caught, or even heard of being caught, in the very 'breamy' looking deep waters available above and below the weir. I once had three river carp on consecutive trips whilst fishing for chub. As for chub themselves, the largest I have ever caught around these parts was a fish of just under four pounds -- excepting its large population of chublets, large chub are a rarity there. Eels, I've had two. Amazingly, perch, though they do exist, and I once saw dead fish of at least three pounds, I have had not one.

The roach hotpot is along the edge of the white foam at the junction of the flow and the back eddy. Left or right, too near, too far, and the bites tail away to nothing. It seems to be the rule for roach in weirpools...

I like fishing weirpools and millpools for roach. I love the technical nature of it. There's a spot just off the edge of the fast and turbulent main flow and near the tail end where they seem to like to lie in wait for morsels of food. My first cast was made to that area. A bite was got almost immediately and it was a roach bite for sure, only the result was somewhat smaller than I anticipated. A roach of perhaps two ounces, but no more. This was not what I was hoping for!

It's almost a truism that the first roach of the day from any given river swim, surely predicts the rest of the day, the larger that first fish, the better things are likely to pan out by close of play. Down at Lucy's Mill in Stratford upon Avon, whenever my first roach has been a 'pounder', the rest of the fish to follow have always been, more or less, in the same bracket with the smallest fish in the keep net at the end of the day, a half pounder, the largest approaching a pound and a half. Conversely, whenever the first fish has been under the half-pound, I have never managed to top the pound, or even get within four ounces of that target, with any subsequent fish. Not surprisingly, with river roach, I consider the one-pound mark to be the most important indicator of swim potential, fish falling around that weight, inside limits say three or four ounces under or over, are what I'm looking for. On a much better roach river than the Wark's Avon (shame they are so far distant!) I'd consider a pound and a half the target weight, but here, one this river, a pound roach is a very good one indeed.

Unseasonably warm, my jacket was redundant

Of course freak lucky fish can turn up out of the blue, a big one pound plus fish or even a two pounder amongst a netful of small bits, but roach fishing is not about freak accidents, it's about consistency. Find the right kinds of roach shoal and you will certainly catch the best any river has to offer, find the wrong kinds of roach shoals and you will expend an awful lot of energy catching tiddlers and merely hoping for improvement, which in my experience never comes along.

I think this wall was built in the late nineteenth century. If I'd caught a two pounder I would have etched my own name into this rock with the end of a bankstick!

The trick is in finding the exact location of those shoals of big fish. They might conceivably move up later into a weir pool swim, where water condition are never static one moment to the next, and today I was hoping to catch some surprises, or at least establish if surprises in the form of big roach were to be got at a later date, but as that first small roach predicted, they never were to get above the half-pound mark. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile operation, and over three or four hours, I managed to winkle out a few pounds of mixed fish (best bait out of bread and maggots was undoubtedly bread) including a few dace, best a six ouncer, which was carefully measured for my new dace length/weight curve at 8.5 inches, and chublets, which considering the river was apparently dead above the weir, was better than sitting up there all afternoon doing nothing.

Bits and pieces. 

In the evening I returned upstream, finding that the fish there had switched on to feed hard, landing three or four dace and a brace of half pound roach (best bait out of bread and maggots was undoubtedly maggots!) in an hour, but none were any larger than those caught in the millpool, so I might have well stayed put there and seen what the evening hours would bring. 

I suppose the problem with such densely populated stretches of rivers as this is that getting to big fish is a matter of wading through hoard of small ones, so perhaps we should not complain when either the river is packed solid, bank to bank, or apparently devoid of fish across large expanses. The former is either a match anglers paradise or for a specimen angler, a fantastic practice ground for honing technique and laying the foundations for later success, the latter the exclusive haunt of the specimen angler prepared to wait, or more productively, search for those desired larger specimens, armed, or at least the wisest are, with the priceless experience of the former.

What would you rather do, try to find a big fish needle in a haystack of small fish stalks (and without the aid of a metal detector!) or try to find a big fish haystack, on a moonless night, in the middle of a large field, blindfold?

The first is always going to be a matter of slog, or luck, the second a matter of method, and luck.

Which is it to be? Method in madness, or madness in method?


  1. Nice post Jeff, haven't been up Saxon mill for a few years will have to get a book again, as it seems to be providing fairly consistent sport.
    Looking forward to getting out on the Avon Monday

  2. Thats a lovely looking pool Jeff, one look at that and I want to go and fish a weir, now!

  3. It's probably one of the country's best weir pools, because it has a pub ! Trouble is, fishing alone you can only watch the customers supping, but can't leave your gear alone to fetch a pint and you can't fish with a mate as there's only one swim!

  4. Sorry Jeff but according to the Warwick association rules fishing just below the weir is not allowed,
    Quote: No fishing under Saxon Mill weir or from the small island left bank immediately below the weir

  5. Oh, I thought it was just the island that was out of bounds and the weir wall belonged to the pub who allowed anglers to fish that side of the river. I won't fish there again anyway as the roach aren't the stamp I'm after.

    I just checked and you are right about that rule though

  6. The wall at the weir pool is nothing to do with the warwick club and any one can fish it . The no fishing below the weir applies to the left hand bank below the weir that belongs to a house opposite it.I have seen personally maps of the clubs waters and no fishing areas.

    Feel free to continue enjoying the weirpool Jeff.