This trip was the story of everything going wrong, but one bite making everything worthwhile. It started with me wanting to fish for big chub on the Dorset Stour. Heavy rains put paid to that plan so I thought the Avon might fish well for big roach, especially with a drop of water on. A quick call to Stu the river keeper told me that the river was also out of sorts, and only 10 pegs were fishable. Further heavy rains and flood warnings had me looking for an alternative. I’d got big roach on my mind so I decided to take a trip to Sway Lakes, a venue I’d always fancied fishing in the winter.
The 225 mile journey usually takes me 4 hours so I set off at 3.30am. The car was loaded with light line tackle, 2 float rods and a sensitive bomb rod. Also there was my chair and a carryall stuffed with many different baits, because I didn’t know what to expect. 3 pints of maggots, 3 pints of casters, the same of hemp, plus 3 bags of pellets were taken as I didn’t know how the roach would feed, if at all, in the colder conditions. Also, I had my cooking gear and sleeping bag because I was going to fish for a couple of days.
Unfortunately the traffic was really bad and the snowball effect of all the jams meant I didn’t arrive in the New Forrest until 8.30. Then it got worse, a closed road and the school run traffic meant I didn’t get to the lake until 9.30. Then there was a really heavy frost and a bright blue clear sky. It was a fantastic morning, but according to all the text books, as bad as it gets for roach!
As I lugged my gear down to the lake I was disappointed that I’d not arrived at dawn, the prime time to see where any big roach are rolling. Because of this I headed to the part of the lake that I’d caught a few 2lb+ fish from in October. At least I knew there had been fish here in the not to distant past. When I reached my chosen peg the view was stunning. The mirror like lake reflected the ‘naked’ trees on the far bank and the only movement was that of an electric blue kingfisher. He didn’t seem to mind me being there at all and carried on catching his breakfast.
Because I was there for two days I primed my swim with a couple of pouches of both hemp and casters. I wanted a reasonable amount of bait that would stop any passing roach in my swim and give them something to munch on. If it didn’t work I could always fish another swim the next day. A light crystal waggler was my float, with a fine hook link and size 18 hook. My bait would be a single caster. If this was very slow I’d change over to a link leger in the same swim.
It took about 20 minutes for my first bite, which was a micro roach. After that I received a bite on most casts, which I wasn’t expecting in such cool conditions. My 5th fish pulled my rod right round and I took things easy on my first decent fish of the day. A few seconds later a big roach rolled on the surface and was scooped into the net. It was a good size, but I was unsure whether it would make 2lbs, the magic weight. The needle pulled round to 1lb 13oz, a fantastic start and a fish that gave me hope of more to come.
As morning turned into early afternoon, the sun was very bright, yet the roach hadn’t read the textbooks. 3 more roach over 1lb 8oz up to 1.15 had graced my net along with some decent perch and plenty more micro roach. I was now feeding the swim heavily with casters and the fish were responding well. The odd one was coming up in the water, but because I hadn’t seen a good fish roll all day, I tried to feed them so they would stay around the lake bed.
Again, my float slid slowly under the surface, but this time the strike hit solid resistance. The fish went on a run then nodded in a roach like fashion. Then it went on another run forcing me to back wind steadily. I put some more pressure on because there were quite a few snags to my right. I knew if the fish didn’t turn now it was probably a carp, but turn it did! Again I felt the’ thump thump’ of what felt like a big roach and I started to get twitchy. I knew this was definitely over 2lbs, a fish that would make my trip a fantastic one. Slowly, I eased the fish towards me. Unlike most fish a big roach on light gear has to be ‘caressed’ into the net. Light lines and tiny hooks mean no bullying and any mistakes will end in disaster. About 10 yards out from me the tiny dropper shots started to come into view, meaning I was about to get a glimpse of what I was attached too. A red dorsal stuck out of the water meaning it was a roach, then I saw it’s head and tail with a huge silver flank in between, this was a very big roach and I didn’t want to lose it! After a couple more dives the roach came to the surface again. It looked larger every time I saw it. Inch by inch I eased it towards my net. Just as it was sliding over the rim there was a splash of spray as the fish made a last dash for freedom, but it had dived straight into my net!
I shipped the landing net back into my lap. I tried to get my hand around the roach but I couldn’t. From my days at Linch Hill I knew that this meant the fish was going to be around the 3lbs mark. After unhooking it I placed it onto some carefully zeroed scales. The needle sailed round to 3lb 2oz, I was thrilled. I’d caught larger roach before, 15 of 3lbs and over to be exact, but this was my first caught on the float and totally unexpected from Sway. I took a few quick photos, but the sun was causing havoc ‘whiting’ the roach out. Because it was such a special fish I placed it into my retention system until a cloud came along. In the mean time I texted a few mates with the good news.
When a cloud came over I took a few more pics of my giant and because I was still a bit shocked at what I’d caught, I weighed the roach again. This time the needle was just under 3lb 2oz, so I called it 3lbs 1oz. Still a fantastic fish. I slowly slipped her back, hoping she’d make someone as happy as I was at that moment.
I carried on fishing, though I was in a daze. A couple more decent roach came to my rods before dusk including a fish of 2lb 7oz. This would have made my day, never mind the 3lb+ monster. I made a right hash of the photos of this fish though. They were well out of focus, despite me having a large flip screen on my camera! I suppose it shows how scrambled my brain was.
As darkness fell I decided not to fish the next day. I’d had an incredible day and doubt I could have come close to equalling it. I had a few other places I wanted to fish so I headed back home. Sadly, the weather put paid to those trips, but I’m not complaining. A 3lb 1oz roach on the float is as good as it gets for me.