The River Sowe in Coventry

Welcome to the River Sowe, one of the most fascinating waters I have ever fished
The River Sowe runs around the eastern edge of Coventry from its source in Bedworth to its confluence with the Warwickshire Avon at Stoneleigh. I'd say it was a little more than twelve miles in length and so it never gets impressive in scale and is nowhere very deep. A great deal of its entire course was widened and straightened in the years of World War Two in order to drain its flood plain for food production and so many areas are extremely shallow and devoid of populations of fish. Unfortunately, the majority of such small lowland streams in this country suffered similar fates both then and since. The Sowe is typical of them.

Nevertheless it holds surprising fish populations in certain places...

Of particular interest to me is its head of fine roach. They are present where's there's suitable environment and for such a small stream can grow to impressive size. Also, it does contain very large gudgeon. I have not caught one yet but have seen them in summertime. I was astonished by one specimen that must have weighed four ounces. Minnow grow large too. As do bullhead. Besides these species it holds perch and pike, chub, carp and even a few trout. I have never seen a dace though, which surprises me because the Avon holds great shoals of them.

Unless you are local there's probably no point in you travelling to the Sowe to enjoy the kind of sport I have had from it. The fish populations are very localised and hard to find. I live no further than ten minutes walk away and can reach all my favourite places on a short bike ride. There's going to be a small stream near you that is similar and exploring that will be every bit as absorbing a hobby should you choose to pursue it, I'm sure.

The average stamp of roach caught during the winter months of 2009 was simply astonishing for such a tiny watercourse. Where I fish the river the river it averages just six-feet in width and is nowhere deeper than a few feet.  Only a few decades ago the Sowe was polluted and lifeless, or so I've heard, and yet the roach had repopulated and grown very well in what is nowadays a very rich environment despite flowing through the outskirts of a major city. 
My favourite time for roach fishing is always during sub-zero temperatures and preferably when it is snowing. At that time the large roach are very active and feeding boldly. I always use an eight or nine  foot rod with a centrepin reel (longer rods are a liability here) and free-line bread discs of quite large size with a single shot pinched four inches from the hook to get the buoyant bait down to the river bed and keep it there. Groundbait is quite unnecessary. The fish are under the rod top.
This fine net of winter roach was such a fabulous catch and quite unexpected at the time. I had been struggling to connect with bites but developed a new way of hooking the bread and the improvement was remarkable. The best fish amongst them all weighed 1lb 4oz and all were around a pound. A sixth fish of the same stamp was taken just after these had been returned to the water. It ranks as one of my most memorable captures of all time. 

And aren't they the most beautiful roach you've ever seen? They are all in absolutely perfect condition because up till this time they had never been caught before.
A kick test sample would throw up invertebrates and larvae of many species who are the backbone of the abundant food supply. The pea mussel and caseless caddis grub above are excellent indicators of water purity. There's no shortage of either in the Sowe these days.
Summer fishing is a very different thing. The river is choked with vegetation and finding areas of open water very tricky because there's no access to it unless through the super-abundant weeds. 

Nevertheless, it can be done. 
Perch and pike from a pool on sharp right angled bend. These features are the largest areas of water possible to find on the river, but even then they are small environments. In this pool on this day were six or seven perch, about twenty roach and one pike. When I began catching the perch on worm two more pike appeared no doubt attracted by the commotion. Firstly they fought amongst themselves to establish a pecking order, and then the winner began chasing hooked perch. I decided to remove him by twitching the worm past his nose and he grabbed it
This swim was very tricky indeed. Yet I wangled twenty perch from it. It was so tight I had to play fish under the rod top and ship it backwards to net them. No upward movement was possible due the overhanging hawthorn beneath which the shoal had taken up station.
The best five of the catch. The largest weighed 1lb 4oz. A very similar stamp to the roach caught the previous winter and just as beautiful. Again, these are virgin fish without a blemish on them. 
A further brace from another area. Not quite so large but every bit as willing to take a free-lined lobworm.

On my bike in search of monster gudgeon. 
What I caught mostly were roach! The gudgeon didn't show, I'm afraid
The huge minnow that blew my mind. Its body minus the tail was the same size as my Swiss Army Knife and every bit as thick! A colossus that weighed 9 drams. 
Fishing for minnows by design
Three specimen minnows swimming in a jam jar
The Sowe holds very large bullhead. I have seen corpses twice the size of this live example.
Fishing on a rising flood in my local park
Here's a little video for your enjoyment. An hour spent in what looks like the worst environment possible for roach fishing. Despite the rural appearance of all the previous pictures, this is what I really contend with. And I absolutely love it! All roach care about is that the river is purer and richer than you'd ever imagine given the ghastly backdrop...

'Jewels in the Grime' is what they are.


  1. A brilliant article. Grew up in Bell Green never imagined the Sowe holding fish.

  2. It does and things are improving year on year. It may be an ignored trickle that in winter looks like some kind of crap strewn hell but the water is very clean, the food supply abundant, and the fish are thriving.

    But is very small and the populations limited, so go fish lightly...