Bread Punch Roach come in from the Cold.

December 15, 2018 at 2:40 pm

Having made plans to go fishing, when the forecast said 11 degrees for today, I woke up to find the grass stiff with frost and a forecast of 2 degrees maximum all day, with a wind chill taking it down below that. Apparently a Siberian blast, had blown away a relatively balmy wet front from the Atlantic.

The van was already loaded and my bread bait from the freezer had thawed overnight, so the thermals were removed from their moth proof bags, the woolly shirt taken from the hanger and my thick tri-knit pullover found lurking at the top of the wardrobe. With a thick hoody under the pullover and a fur lined, thermal hat, I headed off to the river Blackwater 20 minutes drive away, arriving at 11 am.

I had not fished this section of river before and walked through frost chilled grass, until I found the inside of a bend, where floods had deposited a mudbank wide enough for my tackle box, with a gap in the trees that would allow my 14 ft Browning float rod to just pass through.

I set up with a 6 No 4 ali stemmed, bodied stick float and opted for a size 18 barbless to 2.8 lb hook link. My usual choice of hook for this rig is a size 16, but on such a cold day bites might be at a premium, so went down a size. By 12 I was ready to fish, throwing out two well squeezed balls of liquidised bread into the channel running along the opposite bank. Guessing the depth at two feet, I swung out the float rig to the channel, letting it run through at half speed. The float had gone 10 yards, when it dipped and sank down to the tip. Strike! Yes, a nice fish pulling hard against the rod, then it was off. In again, the float trotted 15 yards and disappeared. Strike! This time the fish flashed and rolled, then came off again. I put in another ball of bread and tried again, putting the float up another 6 inches, then easing the float down the swim and stopping it at intervals. The float dived and I was in, this time a roach visible in the clear water. The landing net came out and I slid the roach across the shallows into it.

Lifting the roach from the net with the line, the hook popped out. It had been hooked in the skin of its lip. They were obviously just sucking at the 6 mm bread pellet, as it hovered in the flow, holding back hard giving the roach a chance to take the bait. Going down to a 5 mm punch, the float was cast again and stopped several yards down the channel. The float sank and the rod bent into a good fish, letting it run downstream with the flow, back winding the reel, then slowly winding it back to the edge of the shallows, skimming it across to the net.

This roach took the bait straight down, the smaller punch making the difference, the following cast netting another clonker.

Another ball of bread went in again, well upstream into the channel, trying to bring the fish up to me. It worked, the next roach coming as the float cocked.

A shoal had moved over the bread coating the bottom, regular feed balls, every few fish, keeping them coming, swinging the smaller roach to hand. A lone gudgeon broke the chain, boring deep as it fought upstream.

A freezing chill wind got up, blowing straight downstream, putting a bow in the line and I began missing, or dropping roach, landing about one in three hooked fish. I bulked the shot a foot from the hook and added another foot of line beneath the float, lifting and easing the float down the river with a tight line, constantly mending the line against the wind. Bites were now coming about ten yards downstream, the bob, bob, sink, dipping of the float becoming predictable. If it was bobbing, or half held under, I struck, following up with an easing of the line, bullying resulting in a lost roach.

A figure appeared upstream of the bush opposite and the fish retreated downstream. Well wrapped against the cold and wearing a Cossack style fur hat, the man was on his lunch break from the factory opposite, not realising that his presence on the bank had just scared my fish off. I lobbed over another ball of feed and got my tea and sandwiches out too, passing the time of day with my visitor, before resuming my efforts, bites now coming 15 yards down. The wind was now dragging the float over toward my bank, the float often sinking as I mended the line back to my float, hooking a roach.

Putting in more feed brought the roach back up within range and the tight line put more fish in the net, but I was still losing fish, probably due to the stiff tip action of the 14 foot Browning, my 12 foot Hardy lightweight rod would have held more fish, but would not have given that extra length to control the trot. Unlike many anglers, I do not own a vast array of rods and with most of my tackle at least 30 years old, fishing is all about compromise.

By 2 pm the wind had dropped, allowing better presentation of the bait and my catch rate improved, shallowing up to run through at half speed. Having topped up my bait container with the last of my liquidised bread, I was playing a roach, when a pair of husky type dogs bounded along the towpath toward me, sniffing around my bait. Once the fish was netted, I looked round to see that one of the dogs had its head in the container lapping up my feed, the owner offering a lame “Sorry.”

With no more feed going in, the trots got longer and the chance of fish throwing the size 18 hook increased, a big fish, chub, or roach, took twenty yards downstream, but came off before I could tame its fight. The weak December sun had now sunk low into the trees, bringing an extra chill to the air , the light falling away, making bite detection difficult as the float tip merged into the background.

The roach above was my last fish, by five past three I had run out of bread to punch, every space having been filled with holes.

It had been a busy three hours, the forgotten art of stick float fishing bringing me a 6 lb net of many quality roach and a wish to return before Christmas, weather permitting.

Passing several promising swims on my way back, I noted a couple with the flow under my own bank, ideal for the little Hardy rod. The grass still crunched with frost under my feet and I couldn’t wait to reach the van to turn the heater up to 11.