Winter roach play hard to get

February 5, 2016 at 11:41 pm

The remnants of the latest Atlantic weather system to sweep the UK was blowing it’self out over the Western Isles, producing wind speeds of 90 mph, while storm Henry blew sleet and snow from the North West toward the South of England. Lured out by bright sunshine, I’d decided to continue the exploration of my local river, even though an overnight frost and single figure air temperatures diminished my prospects of a decent net of fish.

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Driving over a small bridge, I could see a channel running beneath an overhanging tree, which looked like it might hold a few chub, a fish that will feed in the coldest of conditions, the swim conveniently placed close to a parking space in the narrow lane. Setting up on the exposed bank, I soon had doubts about my choice of swim, the wind blowing across the football field opposite, directly into my face. As I tackled up, the river changed to a sandy colour, evidence of the ground works of a new housing estate a mile upstream, the river being used a drain for the run off and hoped that the fishing would not even harder than expected.

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Following a couple of balls of liquidised bread along the far bank with my 3 No 4 stick float, another bad choice came to light. The strong headwind was putting a bow in the, blowing the lightweight float back to my side of the river, away from the overhanging branches. To mend the line properly, I needed my 14 foot Browning match rod, but had set up the 12 foot Hardy. Unable to control the trot, I compensated with a risky cast under the tree and had a bite immediately, not the expected smash and grab of a chub, but the gentle tap, tap of a gudgeon. The strike said other though, when a small chub ran hard back under the far bank, before burying itself among the dead reeds at my feet, another testament to the wrong rod being too short and soft to bully the fish away from the obstacle.

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Struggling on against the conditions, two more small chub followed from half a dozen indecisive bites, possibly due to my poor presentation of the 5 mm bread punch pellet, each time managing to pull the fish away from the tangle at my feet. Unhooking the last, the wind had picked up again, as the sky went black with an icy shower of frozen rain and I retreated back to the van, where the downpour rattled on the roof, then stopped as suddenly as it had started. In my desperation to stay dry, I’d abandoned half a pint of liquidised bread in the bait box, which now resembled thin porridge.  With everything soaked, I was prepared to pack up, but decided on a last effort, scattering the sloppy contents of the bait box out across the river, briefly turning it white. Going up to a 7 mm punch on the size 16 barbless, the float had barely cocked before it sank out of sight and a better chub was putting a bend in the rod, running off downstream, then hugging the far bank, it’s mouth clear of the water as  I drew it over to my side, this one a few ounces heavier than the others.

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My next cast fell short, blown back by the wind, but I let it run anyway. Six feet further on, the float zoomed away, taking line with it, not stopping until it was bending the rod. I was playing a good fish that ran off down beyond the tree, as I backwound to ease the pressure on the hook hold, keeping the rod flat to avoid the overhanging branches. Twenty yards downstream, the white lips of a chub broke surface briefly, then it was gone again, searching out the riverside snags. It got stuck, came free, then was gone again, fighting deep down the middle of the river, surfacing among the sunken reeds, a pound plus fish, which as I tried to pull it toward the landing net, dived again and transferred the hook to the reeds. Once again a longer rod would have given me better control, but as I’d intended fishing further down under trees, had only brought the Hardy.

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The sun was now long gone behind grey scudding clouds, while the gusting wind was now interspersed with stinging rain, but with the memory of that lost chub burning into my soul, I could not pack up yet. Refilling the bait box with fresh dry crumb, I dropped a couple of balls on the middle line and trotted through to no response. Again nothing under the tree. Back to the middle, I added 6 inches to the depth and inched it down the swim, checking and releasing the float. A tell tale ring radiated from the tip, then it half held down. Strike! A big gudgeon battled its way upstream to be swung in. Another ball went in, closely followed by the float, which 5 yards away dipped beneath a ripple, then held up, before dipping again. I struck and missed. Maybe the punch was too big? Back down to the 5 mm. This time the float dithered and submerged, the rod bending into a 6 oz roach, as it skated across the flow.bread 025

A fat roach in perfect condition, but affected with Neodiplostmum cuticola black spot parasite, as are many of the chub in the river. Bites were very slow affairs, not helped by the wind lifting the line, despite sinking my rod top, each trot showing signs of fish without results. Dropping in a small ball of bread ahead of the float brought a more positive reaction and more roach.

bread 028They seemed to be getting bigger too, every other trot producing hard fighting roach of around 8 oz, although the elements were beginning to tell on me, I even put on my bait apron to give an extra layer against the cold and spurts of rain. More feed produced better bites among the ripples, the float failing to reappear invoking a strike and often another rod bending roach.

bread 030The next roach was bigger still, about 10 oz, fighting all the way to the net, but causing a disaster, when the butt of the rod swept my camera off the right hand tray of the tackle box, as I brought the fish to the landing net. I heard a plop and turned to see the camera sink into the keep net. Fishing it out, the camera was covered in scales and silt, game over for any more pics of what could be a bumper haul of quality roach.

I had only prepared half a loaf of liquidised bread, losing much of it in the downpour, the little and often approach to feed was getting through the bait, hooking and landing a 12 oz roach with the last ball. Another punishing rain shower brought me to my senses. What I considered to be tenacity, could have been interpreted to be insanity by any normal non angler, the many drivers passing down the lane, viewing the hooded figure hunched over his fishing rod, must have wondered what was my motivation. A sunny day got me there and the challenge of a new swim kept me fishing, but it was the robin feeding from my bait tray, long tailed tits, flitting from branch to branch across the river and a swift sparrow hawk scouting the brambles, that helped make my day, not forgetting my favourite fish the roach.

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I used my phone for the last shot of the day, this blurred image not doing these fish justice, my hands too cold to bother stripping and cleaning it on the bank. The drowned camera has been stripped and cleaned and awaits reassembly.