Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Stillwater Roach - Hand Forging a Guiding Principle

After the trip to the Itchen was over, Keith and I had decided to stay on for a couple of days to fish a couple more venues for big roach and chub. The first venue was what we shall call the 'Roach Pit' to protect its location and identity, and I shan't publish a single picture of it here lest I blow its cover for others, for it contains fish up to three pounds, and over, in its waters. After a whole day spent catching roach, after roach, after roach on the float, but not one on the hot method for the venue of helicopter style, bolt-rigged maggots, in fact my sleeper rod did exactly what its name suggests without my hearing even a single bleep all day long, we packed down and went back to the B&B. I'll probably never return there, big roach notwithstanding, and for two reasons ~

Firstly, I love fishing for roach, don't care what weight they are and even enjoy fishing for tiddlers if that's all that's biting, but I can get such sport, for free, and with a better stamp of fish than we experienced and in much nicer surroundings, all within walking distance of home. Secondly, snaring roach, of all fish, with helicopter style, bolt-rigged rigged maggots is not my idea of fun, even if it is bandied about as the way to catch truly epic roach from still-waters. My reasoning is that my roach should not be caught this way, in fact I'll discount all and any roach caught by such methods, mine or yours, new british record or not (it will happen) as those caught by 'designful accident,' in that the catching will still remain an accident even if I do chuck out that rig on purpose, for there's no discernible skill in it apart from the tying up of the rig itself, and any fool can do that or if they can't, buy it ready-made, but, it takes a certain kind of other fool to fish for roach by art, as they are the most artful fish that bites.

And being such artful biters is precisely why roach are so interesting those anglers who have graduated and progressed to them from easier fishing, but of no interest whatsoever to modern tyros reared on an unhealthy stew of shelf-life boilies, spod mix and glug, and who cannot see why fickle roach should be of any interest to anyone. It is why large roach over two pounds caught by the skillful arts, are, a century or more since the records of the sport of roach angling began, still reckoned as perhaps the greatest prize in angling. It is why some spend a lifetime in pursuit of them. Those who have, finally, after a lifetime of chasing other fish, chosen them as the ultimate quarry, never tire of them. They cannot afford to, because after roach there is nothing else so worthwhile. If all fishing be a game of chess, then roach are the grandmasters you must, one day, aspire to beat, however, be warned before you take the plunge that it's a game that gets harder and tougher you more you practice, not less. They are only letting you win occasionally to bring you along. They cannot be beaten, in the end, by anyone, because life is just not long enough...

Don't believe me? Then meet up with one of these committed roach anglers I speak of and watch him fish (but they are a rare breed because I know of only one). There is no messing about, they get down to business to fish exclusively for roach, and roach only, though other fish are welcomed, it's true. They'll watch that float or quiver tip with a ferocity of intent unmatched in any other branch of the sport, but not for bites, they are not the point, they are watching between the bites for the signs that point the way to the right bite. And it is the right bite that is struck at (but it may never come!) not the wrong one. It is knowing the right bite and the way it happens that puts roach on the bank for the skillful, but few for the unpracticed, and it was ever thus, as the record books and the how-to books from years ago show, times when roach angling was taken so seriously that reputations were made or broken by dint of the consistency or otherwise of those who pursued them. The very best were so very skillful they could hook fish seemingly out of nowhere fishing a gin clear canal where the match onlookers could see no fish whatsoever, and rightly, were worshipped as Mortal Gods at the pinnacle of all angling.

Alas, nowadays, this bolt-rig maggot-feeder affair puts the attainment of good-roach-consistently-caught within the reach of anyone who cares to chuck it out, but without any work necessary to achieve the status. Now, I'm not saying for a moment that others shouldn't snare roach. It doesn't bother me if it doesn't trouble you. I am saying that I shouldn't because it does trouble me when I do these things out of curiosity knowing all the while that it scrapes harshly against my self-imposed principles. I am emphatic though, about one thing. It is unsporting. The fish and the angler must each have a sporting chance for it to be truly a sport, but here the fish has its sporting chance entirely denied. It's a hair's breadth from deadlining. For that is precisely what you are doing whenever you walk away from the rod whilst it fishes on.

I watched a carp angler while I was about things and mulling all this over in my head. He banked three fish during the afternoon, but not even the largest of all of them put a bend in his rod. He'd snared them all one by one and then skull-hauled them in on heavy line suited to a rod that was nothing less than an expensive, high-modulus carbon broomstick that had no place being used on a lake no larger than a couple of acres, only then to dismiss them as unworthy captures because they were not of his intended target weight of thirty pounds or more. The only perceivable satisfaction he derived from the exercise, because I could see his face plainly, was that he was out-catching every other carp angler, of whom there were many, and making a well-honed dumbshow of his dismissal of those unworthy fish (of his?) to let everyone else know just how very high his standards were. I failed to see any true sport there, but that other manly sport of one-upmanship. I failed to see any standards either...

I think, now I look back, that it was shameful of me to even try the rig out, but I took a great deal of satisfaction from the knowledge gained over just the first three casts, that there was no way my rig would ever catch a roach, because each and every time I retrieved my fiendish, but quite useless, rig, the maggot on the fine, short hook-length, was tangled around the mainline and too close to it to ever allow a roach to hook itself. I should have retired it, but I didn't. I should have bitten it off and packed down the rod, because if I had broken my personal best by its use, then I would have had sleepless nights haunted by the ugly notch I'd have been forced to gouge into the bedpost, but I didn't. I fished on, because it takes at least a day to hand forge a guiding principle, ignoring it while concentrating on the rhythm of receiving bites, and more not than often, catching roach on the waggler.

I retired from the day disappointed not to have caught a decent roach on the float, but truly happy that the helicopter rig had failed, and so I'll vow, on this day 28th February 2012, that I'll never, ever, try it again and that the offending rig will take its place where it truly belongs, in my own personal black museum of modern angling arts alongside the practice of drowning fish in air on charter boats, which not only spoils the flavour of the fish, but is both lazy and cruel when a 'priest' can always be found or improvised, using snap tackles for pike and zander fishing, which is just plain messy in my experience, live baiting, which I detest to use myself, and the abhorent bolt rig which laid to waste the sport of carp fishing and opened the door on a new era when carp were made mugs of themselves, and a mug was made of me for believing in it.

I hasten to add, before I am accused of tub thumping here,  that all of the above earned their places in my black museum through my own doltish experiences. So I haven't a clean slate to preach off. These are my principles, and mine only. You do what you think fit. Sit beside me and do it, I won't blanch. Catch what you like, how you like, I ain't concerned. Show me a bad un', a potential candidate for my black museum, and I'll like as not try it out just to know for sure if it earns a rightful place there. How else would I know, but otherwise? I'm not concerned what you or what anyone else does,  I'm only concerned about how I do things for myself.

As I say, it takes a day to forge a principle, and one was forged that day at the Roach Pit. And so, in a roundabout way, my eight quid ticket was eight quid well spent.  I learned something, and I gained something. I may have had to sacrifice a bishop to steal a move on the board of the game of chess that roach fishing is, but my queen is now better placed than she was before...

The game goes on and I'll play along. Though I'll never win, and know it full well.


  1. I am staggered, in the 'modern' day, to be able to find someone writing such enlightened words.
    You have hit (part) of the reason I gave-up fishing back whenever it was on the head and taken it to a new level.
    I would have had all those same feelings of guilt under those circumstances myself had I had the misfortune to endure them.

    I also congratulate you on the ability to engineer an opportunity in which to air the word 'gouge', great piece...'best yet, for me

    [If you feel the need to respond to this comment you could also feel free to increase the number of roach anglers of the type you describe and that you are, albeit loosely, acquainted with to two!]


  2. I wouldn't count any roach from stillwater whatever the method. Roach means river in my collection of prejudices.

  3. Got to admire the principles behind this article, however, I wouldnt know a helicopter rig if one landed on me

  4. Well George I seem to be going through something of a soul search where fishing is concerned now that I've hit fifty! I think it high time I had a good spring clean and a realignment of direction, so, I'm glad that you feel its hit the right tone.

    It's a bit spiky on rereading though! Grump old git that I am...

    Soffit, Canal roach are pretty difficult too, still-water roach are like another species though, I agree.

    Ian, it's a kind of self-tangle rig, I think.

  5. Steve in Colorado1 March 2012 at 04:00

    Good for you, Jeff.
    All we have as men is our honor...