Sunday, 28 July 2019

The Intentional and Unintentional Roach Angler

Strange Roach?!
The, so-called, tench campaign out of the system, it was time for a new challenge but not before the usual period of indecision when confronted by the sudden ditching of a plan, and this was an end as abrupt as Thomas crashing into the Fat Controllers house at breakfast time

For a start, no feelings arose as a guide for that next step. Nothing at all in fact. So we had a few canal dabbling sessions (resulting in some tenchlet's strangely enough, I'd only had 3 tench in a lifetime minus 10-15 years on the Oxford canal, yet in two trips another six were added with only two over a pound). 

Good signs. I'm certain most of these 'exotic' canal captures come from adjacent fisheries that, over time, for various reasons, end-up with their contents mingling with the established fish populations of the canal. In this instance they have obviously since bred successfully

So that was an interesting interlude but, to be frank, it produced insufficient water to float this angler's boat

Then a chance chat (while clearing the car of the spare gear) with Committee Keith provided the answer, the Lure Wizard then concurred and Bailiff 1 soon confirmed without any necessity for a preemptive retaliatory strike - big roach were being caught at Rocky Res.

Okay, that's interesting, but it's summer. We don't fish for roach in the summer!

But hang-on a minute, The Old Duffer used to.

In the late 1970's the holiday destination for anyone who was anyone in angling from our part of the world was the Great Ouse. A sixty-mile/80 minute trip to, what we then considered, angling paradise. Catching fish in the heat of July and August was boosted by early and late sessions combined with all day trips using a single bait, in fact, as far as the hook went, a single bait

In those days the (roach) pole was in its, early stages of renaissance but, as with all things angling, the technique would ultimately transform many an angler into a fish catching machine

The Old Duffer was one of them

I can see it now - iconic 22' Shakespeare pole (very dark brown/black with gold taped bands and a white wrap on the centre of the handle); Ivan Marks bristle float, black and slenderly bottle shaped like the Milo 'Siro' that would follow in the '80's; classic Mustad 90340 barbless hooks ("You can't use barbless hooks, all the fish'll get away!", "Not as long as I pull back they won't!"); bait waiter, comprising metal baitbox-shaped square 'hoops' on a bank-stick; a circular 'spoon' landing net with handle to match the (roach) pole and a ring around the base, like one section of a keepnet; a wicker basket ('seatbox') and, finally, a bag of just-cooked hempseed, as fresh and gorgeous smelling as possible.

There are many good tales emanating from the use of hemp in fishing
¬ It drugs the fish!;
¬ It only works at harvest time;
¬ You should cook it in 'bicarb' (bicarbonate of soda) to make shells go black to contrast with the white shoots. 'Problem being, cooking in bicarb also turned the shoots brown so we soon sought non-other than, then World Champion, Ian Heaps' advice, "Cook 'em in sugar", he commented, and so we did. Not just black with white insides, but they also tasted good (I'm told!).

In 1976 we had a summer like 2018. Wall to wall baking sunshine. The Old Duffer was fishing with the above gear and trickling in a few grains per slow run through, the river being low, until the roach were sent into what can only be described as a frenzy. Ultimately they were so mesmerised by the bait they were literally eating anything that floated past within the feeding zone; leaves, flies, feathers, nothing was safe. It was only roach though with just the odd hybrid amongst them and generally 3 to 6 ounce fish with occasional bigger ones. Thirty pounds and six ounces of them, culminating with the fish so close they were simply swung to hand

...and so it proved everywhere we went. There was barely a venue where hemp didn't work under those conditions and it appeared to draw the fish from a good distance but, as the Somerset Shubunkin noted recently, they were fish one wouldn't even suspect to be there were it not for this, the most magic of baits.

Armed with these memories and the knowledge that big roach could be drunk in on the rocks, off
we set with 10m pole and a few grains per 'cast', maggot on the hook but immediately small rudd were pests. A swap to double caster produced a, string of perch in the 3 to 6ozs bracket and then slowly but surely bites on hemp started to occur just tentative at first but with a bit of fiddling with the depth combined with the breeze, and therefore an undertow striking-up, it wasn't too long before perhaps every third bite was a proper one.

First fish was a 12oz beauty (and another thing these hemp roach were immaculate, strange for a heavily fished water)

The list I jotted down went like this:
12ozs, 9ozs, 7ozs, 8ozs, 2ozs, 1.0.0, 2ozs, 6ozs, 7ozs, 10ozs...and...1.3.10, 13ozs, 1.1.0, 14ozs.

The best of the lot
Those last four fish all taken with a mid-depth bulk and a few droppers, held tight against the pole as it settled and all of them taken with ferocious bites on the drop; just as I had to leave.

Unfortunately the next fish in the sequence was dear old Cypry, leaving the rig and elastic looking like a schoolgirls multi-coloured string collage.

It was time to go anyway. Back in the day, hemp was one of the most successful baits I used, so quite why it has taken so long to remember this when I'd had such confidence in it is beyond me, but then, many things are it seems.

So, to add mystery to the mayhem, I went to the canal. To an area of the Grand Union I could rely on for bream, and big ones. Feeding maggot over groundbait towards a tree opposite for those beauties  but with a separate hemp line near side of middle to the right, purely as a change method.

Needless to say, I had one small perch that must've been irritated by a grain of hemp for some particular reason and then a huge canal roach of 1.12 on the double maggot bream rig.

Fourth biggest ever canal accident!
The all-time F,F&F best canal roach list now looks like this:

  1. 2-3-10 (2013) Oxford
  2. 1-15-5 (2016) Grand Union
  3. 1-13-0 (2015) Oxford
  4. 1-12-0 (2019) Grand Union
  5. 1-11-8 (2015) Grand Union
  6. 1-10-0 (2017) Grand Union
Fishing. It simply makes no sense!


  1. Those Roach George look worlds apart from those down here but equally as stunning, just something special about the species that can't be ignored.

    1. Yes James, so different.
      It's more the size than colouration that is genuinely shocking when they come to the surface.
      Nothing else gives that sudden breathless wish to net them safely, do you agree?