Thursday, 2 August 2012

River Roach & Silver Bream - God's Own Billiard Table

An exploratory mission this. To Oxford, and Old Father Thames. Judy went shopping, but I of course forwent the attractions of Bicester Shopping Village, and with a heavy heart denied the spurious pleasures of burning cash at the Altar of Mammon, went off light-stepping to a spot of fishing with half a loaf of Warburtons Blue instead.

I found myself in the largest open field I have ever seen in my life. I'm well used to big fields from my previous life as a metal detectorist, delving about on farms where agribusiness practice once saw fit to grub up and plough out hedgerows in the name of efficiency, and create 100 acres or more of unbroken swaying corn, but never have I seen anything quite so massive as this field. I estimated it to be, at the very least, 300 acres, and possibly 500. It was hard to imagine how big it actually was because it was as flat as God's own billiard table. Just a huge sward of inch high grass cropped down by ruminants that extended as far as the eye could see.

One of the largest fields in England — Port Meadow
Oxford in the far distance. The town is near two miles away, and there's little else but cows between.

Naturally, without a tree within a mile and a half to break the Eastern aspect, wind was going to be something of a problem, even on a mild day like this. Unaware of the circumstances of the unique landscape surrounding this fishery, you wouldn't have looked outside prior to a first trip here, and thought wind would be much of a problem if the trees in your neck of the woods weren't swaying. You'd assume that the same would apply there if the weather looked settled and stable across the country.

Well, the wind was constant. Like a sea breeze. It wasn't unpleasant, because it was warm, but bloody hell! I can't imagine what it would be like in winter on anything other than the calmest frost laden day imaginable, when anything resembling a north-easterly breeze, let alone a Siberian blast, would freeze you half to death in moments.

I'd chosen my swim in advance on Google Maps. What an amazing thing it is to have such a resource at our disposal. When I got there, it was exactly as I'd imagined it. A conjunction of two parts of the river with a sluice gate on the far side creating a run of turbulent water rather like that of a weir-pool where I just knew the roach would be, but requiring a 50 yard cast to reach.

I elected to fish by my usual tactics. The rig is an improved standard roach paternoster. It comprises of a paternoster link to the feeder of 12 inches of 10lb mono tied to a swivel, the swivel tied to the mainline of 5lb test, which takes the strain of casting every two minutes, or less, in its stride, and a hook-length of 18 inches to 3 feet of 3lb mono attached to the bottom eye of the swivel by a long double loop knot.

Tied up this way, it never tangles, just so long as the paternoster link is thick and stiff compared to the much finer hook-length and the double loop knot is used. Tie the hook-length straight to the swivel and the fine line will eventually start pig-tailing around the paternoster link.

The bait was bread discs, 15mm, the hook a fine wire size 12, the crucial and necessary BB shot pinched four inches from the hook to balance the buoyant bait, but the feed in the feeder, was just thin air. I never use feed in my feeders nowadays when fishing for roach unless I'm really desperate for bites and can't move elsewhere, because casting directly into places where roach are found, it is not only unnecessary, but actually a liability. River roach love bread, and don't need any convincing of that love with inducements in the form of freebies, which only serves to drive them crazy chasing every tiny speck about, which in turn attracts their predators, which in its turn, creates cautious roach and the impossible finicky bites of roach fishing legend.

Ah! But why use a feeder at all if you ain't gonna load it? Well, because an empty feeder lands with a soft splash that doesn't scare roach in shallow water, sinks very slowly compared to a loaded feeder or bomb, and doesn't pull the hook out of the soft bait on the way down.

Try it... 

You probably won't, what with every 'roach expert' out there telling you to load your feeder with liquidised bread. But should, because there aren't any roach experts out there... Roach are the experts, not the anglers who pursue them, and nothing brings out the expert in roach quicker than giving them too much of what they love.

The bite zone was at the junction between the two flows moving left from top right, and far right

The first cast received a bite, but at such distance I couldn't tell what it was from. The feeder took quite some time to hit bottom, so I was fishing in some depth of water, and probably ten feet or more, but the s-bend caused by the breeze pulling on 25 yards of line in one direction and the water on the other 25 yards in the opposite direction, made sensitivity an issue, however, it didn't prove a problem in the end because many bites were clear drop backs, and often serial drop backs. The roach came along, one after the other.

But then, a second species put in an appearance when a small silver bream kited into in the shallow water at my bank. It wouldn't be the last either, because another eight or nine more came along through the four hour session. A few dace came along too, no chub whatsoever, surprisingly, but roach were the mainstay, with fish of all sizes up to a maximum of 12 ounces arriving steadily.

Circle hook rig for chub

I decided to put out a sleeper rod for the chance of one of Thames' big chub. I thought a large piece of meat would be a good bet, so I put on a very large piece just in case an eight-pounder drifted by. I used a circle hook, having read a bit about how well they work with chub, and having had some very encouraging recent experience of fishing for tench with them.

You might think the hook a trifle large? Not so. Circles work on different principles than normal J hooks. The effective size of this hook is the distance from the point to the shank, so it's actually about a size 6, even though it's marketed as a size 2.  Use a gape too small for the maximum size of the species you are after, and you'll only catch those fish of that species with lips or jaws smaller in thickness than the gape. The barb is crushed flat. Important this. Don't crush it flat and you'll never get the bloody hook out, because they lock down padlock tight by their very shape, and don't come out again once in, barb or not.

The sleeper rod slept peacefully for three hours. I didn't expect any twangs or plucks, and didn't get any. When it finally sprang to life, it did so in the expected spectacular fashion, with the rod top hooping over and jerking up and down as the spinning spool gave line. I grabbed the rod, lifted into the fish, was briefly attached to a big strong weight bolting downstream, and then wasn't.

The rig came back minus the  hook-length, bitten clean through two inches from the swivel. Not a big chub then, but a pike with a liking for meat that I doubt was even hooked in the first place, because circles don't hook up inside mouths, but only in jaws.

All this time I'd been hoping to see a larger silver bream or roach than I had thus far. But they didn't come by and I ended this exploratory session with about ten pounds of assorted fish banked.

Thames silver bream
Thames Silvers

Nevertheless, further trips by train are certain in the coming months, because the round trip from Coventry is a reasonable £16 on the weekend and fifty minutes each way, and I found the river fascinating in its complexity and promising in its future potential.

Though by winter, I can't imagine fishing there without a well-staked shelter behind me, what with that constant searching wind to deal with blowing relentlessly across the wide open aspects down Oxford way.


  1. As you say it is a big field - in fact it is thought to be the largest in the country. Many a good session had on that length with a 6lb-8oz and 6lb-10oz brace of chub probably the best session.

  2. Phil, that does not surprise me at all. It's bloody enormous! A fabulous setting for those big chub. I'll bet they aren't in the chubby looking swims though, more like midstream somewhere.

    I can't think of a more pleasant way to spend an afternoon, roaching and chubbing in one. The two disciplines hardly clash at all.