Roach fishing on the last day of the season interrupted by Blackwater pike

March 15, 2023 at 8:22 pm

Traditionally for me, the last day of the river season in the UK has been blessed by warm weather and good fishing, which has left me wishing away the next three months, until June 16th, opening day. This time I awoke to rain lashing the windows and a forecast of rain all day, driven by a cold wind from the north west. By 11 am the rain had gone, replaced by sunshine and clouds, while the latest forecast was now for heavy rain by 3 pm. Enough time for a last bash at the big roach on the River Blackwater. The advantage of fishing the breadpunch, is that bait and feed is always ready in the freezer. I thawed a couple of small slices in the microwave, my wife made tea and sandwiches, while I changed into my warm fishing gear and then I was on my way to the river.

Due to recent heavy rain, the river was pushing hard, but running clear, meeting another member of Farnborough & District AS crossing the bridge to fish the club water. He turned left upstream, while I turned right, walking past the unoccupied swim that had provided a decent haul of chub and roach a few weeks ago, continuing down to a new swim to me, where a fallen tree was pushing the flow along my bank, while creating an eddy extending beyond the middle.

My 14 foot Browning float rod was set up with a 3 BB Ali stemmed stick float to a size 14 barbless hook. I fed a mixture of liquidised bread, crushed hemp, and ground carp pellets, with a dusting of annaseed mix, damped down enough water to form firm balls to sink quickly through the fast flowing river. Two balls of feed were put over to the head of the crease and I cast in with a 7 mm punch of bread on the hook. It looked very chubby over there and expected a chub first cast. I was not disappointed, the float travelled a yard and sailed away downstream. I struck and felt the force of a 4 oz chub as the hook set, watching it turn. This would do for a start. Too soon, a grey flash and a 5 lb pike had taken the chub, running downstream, before stopping to consume the chub. Keeping up the pressure, my rod was bent double as it swam back upstream and I got my landing net ready, the pike just under the surface, with the chub still fighting outside the jaws. The hook link cut through and the float flew back in a tangle.

My tackle seems to be a magnet to Blackwater pike and as I sorted the tangle, then tied on a new hook link, I contemplated moving back upstream, but decided to feed another ball. I missed the next bite, striking too fast, but the following bite dipped, then sank away and a decent roach was pounding away along the crease. Whoomf! The pike had grabbed the roach, ripping it from the hook. That was enough for me. Looking upstream, I could see that the other swim was still empty and decided to move, clipping up the float rod, grabbing my landing net and staking a claim on the new swim. Going back, I loaded the trolley, tipped the feed into a bag and retraced my steps. By the time that I was set up again, I’d wasted an hour and was keen to get going again.

The swim was different to the last time that I had fished it. The sunken tree that had diverted the flow along my bank, had now been swung round in the latest flooding, sending the flow along the opposite bank and creating mini whirlpools down the middle. The level was also up by six inches and I raised the float a foot and bulked the shot closer to the hook to allow the float to be slowed down, while keeping the bait on and off the bottom. Casting over close to the ivy, the flow was bouncing off the shuttering and bringing the float down the middle under the leaning tree, not where I wanted it, but it would have to do. At least the wind was upstream to my right, allowing easy mending of the line with the 14 foot rod.

On my last visit, I caught from the off without any feed, but now there were no bites, until a couple of balls had been put over close to the shuttering. Just past the tree, the float stabbed down and a small chub was on it’s way to the net. Easing the float down controlled by my finger on the ABU 501 spool, the float was carried further to the left in the variable current, before going under. A slightly better chub this time, then, you’ve guessed it, a pike took it. I had to keep the rod low, due to a plug with line attached hanging over the water, letting the pike do it’s thing, bucking and running upstream, while I retreived line when I could. It was only a small pike of  2 to 3 lb and got the landing net out ready, when it let go of the chub. I have had pike on so many times on this river and felt sure this one was mine.

With only scale damage, it would live to fight another day and popped it into my keep net. The air temperture was in single figures today, despite the sunshine and this chub was cold to the touch.

I began getting bites half way down the trot, quick knocks like dace, taking the bread, but not connecting. I tried shallowing up and running through at the speed of the current, more knocks but no fish. Trying the other way and I added even more depth, stopping and starting the float. Several times I felt a fish, or saw a flash of silver, but nothing. They were just hanging onto the bait. I went down to a 5 mm punch and fed a firm bullet of feed each time. I hooked one at last, a roach.

These were coming from the shallowest and swiftest part of the swim over a sand bar and I was becoming preoccupied trying to catch the small roach and chub. On my last visit I had caught good roach further down beyond the bar and now went back up to the 7 mm punch, drifting the bait over  the top, then letting it drop into the slower water. This worked when a quality roach buried the float. Taking my time, I reeled back steadily, the power of the flow bringing the roach to the surface on it’s side.

Winter river roach are the hardest fighters, swelled by spawn, they use their broad flanks to great effect in the strong flows. Now to try again. A small roach got in the way next trot, but I was soon into another clonker roach.

The regular feed had brought these better roach into a small area, however the varied flow rate made it difficult to get my float into the hot spot, or the smaller fish would rob the bait on the way down. A chilling wind had also got up, as the sun sank behind dark rain clouds. Excuses, excuses I know, but float control was difficult in these conditions. The float ran further than before and sank, a pause and a good fish was on, running back downstream at first, then it turned and gradually came back to the waiting landing net. Another beautiful winter roach.

Confident there were more there, I scraped up the last of my feed, this being my second trayful and fed a couple of balls over to the shuttering, watching them wash downstream. Following the feed, with the float held back hard, it was back in the hotspot, released then held. It sank and I was in again, not as big as before, but respectable.

With the hook rebaited with a 7 mm pellet of bread, I ran the float back down. It dipped and came back up, then dipped again. A very small fish? The float continued further than before, then lifted. I struck into another good roach and began bringing it back. It swam into a snag. I let line out in the hope of it swimming out again. The line moved off, it had swum out again. I struck again and the rod bent double. This was no snag, it was another pike! I backwound the reel, until it stopped then turned, running up the inside of the bend, where it snagged me. Letting the line go worked, but the pike ran back in. The line was stuck fast and I pulled for a break. It came free, less the 3 lb hook link and the float body.

The remains of my float can be seen at the bottom of my bait tray. At least another couple of hours of light was available to fish, but I’d had enough pike for one day, well not quite, as while putting my rod in the holdall, there was a splash at my keepnet, where a pike was busy trying to bite through to my fish. I pulled the net away, although a more switched on angler would have scooped it up with the landing net.

Oh well, at least I had managed to get out for the last day of the season and caught a few quality roach, although looming on the horizon was a black cloud that dumped freezing rain on me, before I had time to get back to the van.