Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A Roach Shoal more Silver than Ever

It is essential to keep moving-on, never to be satisfied, to look to progress by however tiny increments towards improvement. It matters not what the target is, it may indeed be moveable as progress is made, but progress must be made or all is lost and the prospect of gazing listlessly at the water's surface is the ultimate reward

The shoal of canal roach which had somehow eluded us, even though we knew they were there, just a week ago simply had to be dealt with. There was no way this could go unaddressed

I couldn't sleep, the alarm was set for four-thirty to be there at first light but I was up at four in eager anticipation. There were times in my life when four consecutive blanks would have knocked the stuffing out of my enthusiasm to such an extent that tiddlywinks would have been more attractive than getting on the bank but now, this time, it had only fortified the resolve; this was not a challenge requiring the avoidance of a blank to help a team, this was a longer-term campaign, the pursuit of big canal roach, and it was not to be taken lying-down

Sun rising on Big Roach potential 
Pre-planning is everthing and as I approached the water's edge down the steps by the bridge in the semi-darkness I mysteriously sensed another presence but looked the wrong way to see nothing then, double-taking to my right, a stout country-clad gentleman with two chocolate lab's wandered down the steps. 'I think we beat the others today!', blurted out, almost in self-defence, as I gathered my composure after this affront to my right to be alone at that moment. He chose to go left on his, no doubt also pre-planned, route as I went right with eyes focussed on the canal surface as I walked towards the soon-to-be-rising sun, intent on locating those elusive redfins. Mid-length I stopped to sit motionless on the bank waiting for that most natural of giveaways, the early morning topping roach shoal

I knew The Old Duffer would be another ten minutes, at least, but by then I had gleaned enough information and walked 7 or 8 pegs past last week's blanking spot to the epicentre of seismic rutilitude. The sun still was not apparent as I set my kit down and went back to guide my, now enthused, partner in crime to 'the spot'. My ability to describe the sight of a topping shoal of this type on the canal is limited, firstly I have hardly ever had the opportunity to view fish of this size behaving in this manner, usually in my past they would have been 2 to 3oz fish, and I have never stalked fish on a canal, but there is an undoubted serenity in the sight. The distant, apparently gentle, swirl and emanation of magically concentric rings captured in the early light againt the flat calmness of the waterbody, but with the contrasting splash of the tail-flick at close quarters...truly adequate words fail

The groundbait problem had reached a new level. Even my most trusted supplier no longer carried white crumb of the requisite coarseness for the task and, with a stated and measurable lack of confidence in straight liquidised bread, it was time for some more invention. Bread was liquidised but left to dry naturally and then mixed 50/50 with (very fine, in texture) 'punch crumb' and introduced to some canal water ('canal water - bread crumb, bread crumb - canal water', etc.) to swell to a sloppy consistency. Now this looked the part and, when dropped from a height of about 3 feet into the water just past middle, would land with a sloppy 'splat' to attract inquisitive fish to the commotion and have the flavour to bring them close, combined with the consistency to keep them sufficiently occupied

Meanwhile, back at the roachy ranch, topping had subsided - apart from the occasion perch-bait leaping clear

His Duffness soon had a 6oz roach on his trusted maggot and after ten minutes biteless a little doubt crept in but, literally as it was doing so, the first lift bite (which I am now just starting to cope with the shock of ) occurred. I was opting for stronger elastic (no.6) today to get the fish away from the baited area more quickly than I had managed previously and this was successful as only 6" or so emerged as a clearly chunky fish struggled against the inevitable conclusion - that we were back in business and the quest to break the 1-3-12 roach best had properly resumed with another pounder

The beginnings of a lift bite in action
I had only two hours before I would have to depart to deliver The Dog and Parps for cricket coaching, and then later the latter had a rugby tournament to attend for most of the day formerly known as the sabbath, so time was limited, however the water colour was perfect being clear to about 6-8" down as the sun at last burst over the horizon. A second big roach fell to a similar piece of flake suspended 2-3" off the deck, this was a monster I thought would go at least 1-6-0, but not before a minor miracle in the sparkly shape, I believe, of a pristine pure silver bream preceded it on the same method, all 11 ounces of it, and an undoubted p.b. to boot. What a beauty it was with its large eye comprising 25% of the snout to gill dimension; 47-48 lateral line scales; 7-8 scales between waist and tail and, finally, 23 branched rays of the anal fin. Now that I have seen one again I had certainly caught little versions of this fella before but this was somewhat outsized by my standards!

Perfect silver bream
A caster line to my right down the channel had simultaneously been nurtured. A first look with a light 'dibber' rig produced nothing but, following a brief spell closer to the far bank on bread which resulted in the capture of a greedy little 4oz skimmer, I gave it one last cursory shot while I wrapped some kit up in readiness for the sprint to Coventry via home. As is so often the case I looked-up from my partial pre-occupation to see no float, had I just missed it? I couldn't have because I only had 18" of line above it, it would be obvious if it were there, it must've gone! I struck into another meaty fish which, on this lighter gear, took a few more seconds to land and, if I am honest, I thought this would be a second over the p.b. in the same session, a longer fish than the second roach but not so barrel-chested

The three roach were weighed at the end after being hurriedly photographed at 1-3-0, 1-1-0 and 1-0-4...aaargh, still no p.b. breaker, but what a two hour session!! The method is refining as we proceed and with the advent of pre-session stalking I am increasingly convinced that the p.b. is looking ever more likely to go soon

Not a flattering shot but the thinner-bodied silver bream, at 11ozs on the right, gives some scale to the roach

Golden maggot: The Old Duffer 3 (roach, bronze bream, perch)

Parps' Rugby Team result: Won 2, Drew 1, Lost 1 


  1. George, that is a lovely silver! Thank the lord they are finally biting again after a year away. Great to see that the Oxford has them too, and you should start getting more and more of them if you return to the same stretch.

    Not often that another fish reported from a canal eclipses roach for me, but well done on what is actually a very good catch of large canal roach if my experience is anything to go by, three being the maximum I'll ever hope for over a pound in any one session. That PB will fall soon, you watch.

    Roach topping is a sure sign round my way that you have found the right swim. I walk the dig every single day along the towpath and I can't tell you that seeing them top is quite a rare occurrence. They were last yesterday evening, but haven't done it ages. Of course they top where they always do, always the same places, year in, year out, and those places are where the big fish are in quantity.

  2. Yep, it all adds-up Jeff. 3 cut roach over 1lb is a max for me too, though I have to say I would not have been at all surprised to have had 1 or 2 more had I not needed to leave after that one on the caster last chuck at 7.30am, as it takes at least 2 hrs on that bait for them to feed with any confidence and there had been no sign of a boat then. It would never have happened if I'd had all day available of course!

    I'm sold on arriving a touch earlier to find the shoal before 1st light...albeit it may be a bit of a strain in mid-summer!

    On the N Oxford I think the fish move about a bit (probably between spawning locations) until later-on in the year (perhaps September-ish) when they settle-in for the rest of the winter. Admittedly nevertheless they rarely appear in the poorer fishing areas, though this has been known(everything's gotta be somewhere!)

    I have a couple of things in mind for the next couple of weeks which I'm looking forward to testing - in between visits to stillwaters. It might be worth a dabble for silver bream near you again now if the frosts have ended for a while with all this evening rain?


  3. Might be worth meeting up somewhere George, compare notes?

    I'll be going for the silvers round my way in the next day or two, though I'm disappointed to hear that BW electrofished it again in March, which may explain the dead silver bream I found?

    The Oxford at my end may be worth a shot. The roach there are very big on the whole, average 1;07 for me and there are two's there as well, for certain.

    1. Definitely up for that Jeff. That average size is too tempting to ignore!

      Can I contact you easily outside the blog-world?


  4. Certainly ~