Roach fishing on the River Stour at Meadowbank, Christchurch

September 13, 2020 at 8:27 pm

The promise of an Indian Summer caused me to book my campervan into Meadowbank Holiday’s campsite for a few days this week, the main attraction being the Dorset river Stour that borders the site, the added bonus is, residents fish for free. A happy coincidence, was that a long time match teammate and later fishing rival John Veazey was booked in with his wife Julie for the two weeks spanning the days that my wife Julie and I were visiting.

John has stayed at the site a few times in the past and had given me a basic heads up on methods; stick float down the inside, waggler, or Bolo float down the middle, as it is also at least ten feet deep, roach, dace and chub being the target fish. I was intending to try bread punch over a heavy mix of liquidised bread, ground carp pellets, ground hemp and hempseed, fed on the bottom with a bait dropper. Back up was more hemp, with tares on the hook, while I had raided the home compost heap for some brandlings, just in case there were a few perch about.

Arriving on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, we settled in, then went for a walk along the river, finding most swims occupied by barbel fishers, but one man was catching; Terry, down from Hertfordshire, was getting roach and dace on the stick float with hemp and tares, although his comments that the river was not fishing as well as in the past, did not encourage me to walk back for the rods. We located John and Julie’s caravan and were invited in for a cup of tea, while John got his rods ready for the following morning.

With a couple of hours until our own evening meal, I decided to take John’s advice and head for his favourite peg 2, but by the time we arrived back on the bank, 2 and most of the others were occupied, setting up in a peg between trees, with a bush sticking out over the flow down my inside. Seeing the swim, I abandoned my intended 14 foot Browning and 2 gram Bolo rig, for the 12 foot Hardy and a 6 No 4 stick float. Unwilling to clutter my camper with a trolley and tackle box, I was carrying my essentials in a Tupperware box, with the rods made up in a Drennan ready to fish holdall. Travelling Light as the old Cliff Richard song goes.

Plumbing the depth at 8 feet a rod length out, I squeezed up some firm balls of feed and dropped them in upstream, intending to fish down to the bush, which looked like it might hold a chub, or two.

First trot the float dipped a few times then held under long enough to strike. Missed it! No, a minnow came spinning to the surface, still hanging onto the 7 mm pellet of bread. This was minnow alley and after my first dozen, bulked the shot close to the hook to punch through them. This time the float went in and kept on going down and away. Chub? Too solid a run, heading upstream and pulling hard, bending the little Hardy well over, as it passed me, the dark bars of a decent perch visible. Sitting on top of a high bank, the landing net just reached over the streamer weed close in, to net my first Stour fish.

This bruiser of a perch was obviously after minnows and had taken the bread as it fell toward the bottom. With the chance that there were more perch about, I double hooked a fat brandling and cast in, watching the float as minnows attacked the bait, holding back at the bush and striking when it pulled under. The hook was bare. This was repeated several times in the hope that perch would be attracted by the frenzied minnows and take the worm. Each time the hook was stripped by the mini piranhas. Later one of the regulars came along and showed me a picture of a 3 lb perch he had caught, saying that lob worms were the answer, as the they were too tough for the minnows.

I went back to the bread punch, casting down to the bush and holding back the float, using the bait dropper to feed at my feet, plus firm balls of the mix upstream. It began to work, I was still getting minnows, but also hooked a couple of dace from positive bites, but each time they pulled off the hook in the dense weed. No wonder this was one of the empty pegs. It had been an interesting first hour on the river, but it was time for a hot meal in the camper.


The following day we were going to do the tourist thing around Christchurch centred around a pub lunch, but first I walked down to watch John fish peg 1 close to his caravan, his favoured peg 2 already occupied. Fishing two thirds across with a 3 gram Bolo float and feeding hemp with a black urid bean on the hook, preferring them to tares. A small roach and a dace were all he had in that hour and he complained that last year he was catching 2 lbs of fish an hour. He later told me that over three hours of fishing that morning, he had only managed nine small silver fish.

We did not rush down to the river that evening, again finding few swims free, most occupied by biteless barbel fishers again, but the inside of a bend did not look as weedy as the last, this time getting out the 14 foot Browning to fish a 2 gram Bolo float over my heavy mix of bread and hemp.

The minnows seemed to be absent two thirds over, where there was a clear line between the streamer weed and a few balls of feed soon brought bites in the ten foot deep swim.

Two bites brought two good fish lost in sunken weed as I brought them over, so I shallowed up a foot and decided to bring the fish close to the surface next time. Success, a good roach stayed on as I brought it over the layers of weed.

Bites were now reliable, the fish moving up in the water to the feed, but I was still losing fish, bringing them to the surface allowing a chance to shed the size 16 barbless hook. It was frustrating, but another roach stayed on to the net.

Then the bane of my life, a pike moved into the swim, chasing through the feed. It was only small, about 2 lbs, but each ball of feed brought more bursts of panicking small fish, and the bites stopped, so once again we packed up and returned to the camper.


A call from John said that he was setting up further downstream and that there was a clear swim upstream of it, and parking nearby, did we want him to save it for us? A positive answer saw us quickly stowing all the movable objects and disconnecting the electrical hookup, before driving to the parking spot.

The bank here was almost level with the river, but with a cordon of reeds in front of it, the only way through for a larger fish being a gap to the side, while the landing net at 3 metres was too short to reach over the reeds in front. I would have to worry about that if the problem arose.

Upstream in the next swim was Terry and I walked up for a chat. Although he said it was a struggle, he was catching on hemp and tares again, using a heavy Avon float with the shot strung out, while trotting through the middle of the river.

I still had hemp and tares left and pulled out the Browning 14 footer with the 2 gram Bolo float, firing a few pouches of hemp upstream of my peg to lay down a bed of feed out in front of me. The depth was 10 feet, but I started at 9 feet to the float antenna, expecting the fish to be taking on the drop close to the bottom. John was first to take a fish, a small roach, which I copied after a few casts. There were fish here, but the bites were fussy and hard to hit, not what I would expect with tares on a size 14 hook.

Feeding several grains of hemp every other cast across the middle, the bites changed from dips and tips to solid pull downs and I was playing my first decent fish, only to lose the quality roach, as I tried to manoeuvre it through the gap in the reeds. Feeding another pouch of hemp I tried again, another fine roach was on, this time playing it to a standstill, then sliding it through the reeds on its side.

Another clonking Stour roach soon followed, the bites starting just out in front from the middle, usually as a half dip of the float, progressing to a firm pull under.

I was still losing fish, a large dace bouncing off, while another larger fish, which I guessed was a perch stayed deep, swimming up to the reeds and stopping. I tried to pull it up and over the obstacle, but the hook pulled free.

The flow was slow and the bites took time to develope, but roach were steadily filling the keepnet.

John had been catching bleak and a lift bite made me think the same, but the strike saw a large fish streak over to the trees on the far side, before coming off. I lowered the float another foot and cast back over, another lift bite and yes this time, a bleak.

Another lift bite was a roach this time, which laid the float flat before I hit it.

I had enlisted my wife Julie to operate the catapult, apparently she had made her own when she was aged nine. After a few hilarious attempts, her accuracy improved. I always knew that she had hidden talents. The fish responded by coming up higher to the hemp, shallowing up again making it easier to hit the fish.

This quality roach was followed by a fat dace, no doubt gorged on hemp.

John was not having such a good day on the Bolo float and switched to the waggler, getting more bites but smaller fish, while I piled on the agony, when my rod bent over and I backwound the ABU 501 reel, as a chub powered away downstream, before being brought under control to the landing net.

The roach were now lined up taking the hemp, with the occasional dace getting to the tare first.

My swim was still alive, but John wanted to pack up, so I ended on a high with yet another clonking roach.

Oh well it all came good in the end with a reasonable net of silvers, helped by River Lea angler Terry, who topped up my diminishing stock of hempseed, when my container was accidentally knocked over.

Learning a new water is never easy and I would be happy to return to Meadowbank next year for another go.