Roach Magic and Barbel Blues

After last months bream sessions, I have now moved onto flowing water to try and catch some more of my favourite autumnal fish, barbel and roach. Both species can be caught to specimen sizes close to home so they fit into my working week nicely. If I go straight after work I can usually winkle out a big roach or two, and the same for barbel, though the latter suits me better because I can stay a couple of hours into darkness, probably the most productive time for a big fish.

The rivers I fish, and I suspect most others,¬†are painfully low and clear as I write this and have been for some time. They are in desperate need of some sustained rainfall. The clarity means fish are very easy to spot, but they’ve become very nervous as we move into November. The weed they use for cover is dying off and they are using anything to conceal themselves, especially on the smaller rivers. A seemingly barren river can hold many surprises as fish tuck themselves away into the undercut banks or a tangle of tree roots.

Some of the big roach that I’ve previously caught from my local river are doing such a thing. After a couple of days where I couldn’t spot anything, suddenly half a dozen good fish drifted downstream, out of nowhere, right in front of where I was stood. Even better was most were around the 2lbs mark. As quickly as they came, they vanished again! I couldn’t find them so decided to move on for now and use the clear water to my advantage. I walked a lot of the river to see if any more good roach were about. I wasn’t disappointed.

I found a handful of new shoals which taught me a few good lessons about estimating their sizes. The first shoal I found had me believing I’d found the holy grail of roach, a big shoal of 2lb+ fish, with some looking very big. A quick early morning session seemed to prove my eyes were right, as I landed a couple of beauties well over a pound, with a chunky redfin of 2lbs 2oz topping off the morning. All fell to my trotted casters, they just can’t seem to get enough of them!


The next day I returned to fish the swim hard. I fed a lot of casters and soon had loads of big roach queueing up for more. They weren’t hard to catch once I’d got them going, but the sizes were a shock. Most were around a pound, give or take a few ounces, but I thought they were all a lot larger. I was puzzled, but carried on catching numbers of good roach to 1lb 9oz, with a few more around the pound and a half mark.




To start with, I was walking the roach 30 yards upstream before releasing them, but after doing this about 15 times I was getting tired, so I slipped the rest in a keepnet instead. The above photos were snapped on my mobile phone. I kept sending the pictures to Martin at work to tease him! I took so many photos of roach that the battery went flat!


As I tackled down at dusk, I couldn’t believe how many big roach I’d landed in just a few hours after work. I also couldn’t help being slightly down that all the fish I’d estimated at around 2lbs were just over half of that size. Still, I shouldn’t be complaining in these tough times where if a river roach just reaches adulthood its an achievement.


After all the roach fun I decided to try for a good barbel. I knew my normal boilie tactics would be hard work until nightfall due to the low clear water, so I tried the particle approach instead. After I had patiently fed a few pints of both hemp and casters into my swim over a couple of hours, I finally made my first cast. Gone were the 12b lines and coated braid hooklinks used in coloured water or at night. In their place was one rod, 8lb main line and a 6ft long, 5lb fluorocarbon bottom, tied to a size 14 hook. Bait was a couple of real casters and a couple of fake ones.

It didn’t take long for the rod tip to crash round, with a manic barbel of around 7 to 8lbs the culprit. I landed it reasonably quickly, despite the light gear, because the flow is almost non existent.


This process was repeated a few times, including into dark, but none of the barbel were much larger. The best fish was an ounce under 10lbs. One thing what amuses me is how hard these smaller fish fight compared to the double figure fish. They go off like rockets, stripping line from the reels drag, unlike the larger fish that tend to sulk on the bottom before begrudgingly giving up.


I reverted back to my boilie approach on my next trips, because I believe it singles out the larger barbel. Despite a couple of sessions well into dark, all I could muster was a net full of 5lb bream, plus a few chub, though one of these was more than welcome at 5lbs 9oz.


The odd big fish is still getting caught though so I shall return, rain or no rain, but for now I decided to concentrate on the roach instead.

On my next roach trip I was joined by a mate. I wasn’t too bothered about fishing on this day because the weather was dire. It was chilly and throwing it down. We went to a new swim where I’d recently spotted some roach and chub. I snuck downstream and saw a few roach, with a couple of belters amongst them. They were very hard to see in the gloomy light though. My mate trotted the swim manfully, despite the dire conditions, and was rewarded with a 4lb+ chub and a chunky roach of around 12oz. A ¬†small pike had launched itself at this roach, but let go, allowing it to be quickly landed.

When the weather was at its worst my mate had had enough, allowing me to take over. It was a bad error as I soon swung in a small roach, which the pike jumped out of the water for! It was certainly a bad tempered or very hungry pike, which was confirmed when I struck into my next fish. I could tell it was a big roach, but knowing the angry ‘esox’ was around, I cranked it quickly to the bank, where I shouted at my mate to quickly land it for me, which he did in the nick of time. The pike had almost stolen my prize in the commotion, a few missing scales being the only damage thankfully.


The scales gave a weight of 1lb 13oz, not quite a ‘2’ but at least it would get the chance to grow on and possibly attain the ‘special mark’


The next trip was to a completely new area, and obviously another shoal of good sized roach. Initially I had been fooled. Martin and I saw this shoal on one of our walks and he asked me to check them out when the light was better. This I did, getting them taking my casters freely, but I wrote the sizes off at being around 12oz at the best. I realised I’d cocked up big time when Martin rang me one morning to tell me about his catch of good roach, topped off by a couple of low ‘2’s, from that very swim!!! A few days later, at my first available opportunity, I was in the same swim, landing my own silver bullion with the best two fish of the morning going 2lbs and 1lb 10oz The ‘2’ had certainly been in the wars, but seemed fit and healthy.


In this catch was another half a dozen roach all between 1.4 and 1.8, plus a number of smaller fish from an ounce upwards, so hopefully there are plenty of roach to be going at for the next couple of seasons.


I walked the same area the next week, wondering how I could have misjudged the sizes so much. What I saw blew me away. This time I approached on the opposite bank to the one I fished. The roach looked very big, in fact there were a lot of big roach, so many that I have to return soon! To confirm my thoughts, I walked miles so that I could look at the roach from the opposite bank, where this time they again looked 12oz at best! The only thing I can put this down to is that if you’re almost level with the water, the light is bent and makes the fish look smaller, but if you’re on a higher bank, this doesn’t happen as much and the fish look nearer to their true size. That’s what probably confused me with the other shoal where they looked bigger than they were. I suppose the moral is don’t judge the size of any fish you spot, at least until you’ve caught a few!

The only downside to this great roach fishing is the loss of the odd big girl. Tiny hooks and light lines means playing a big redfin in flowing water will always be a nail biting affair and this was proven on the 31st of October. I’d singled out three very large roach in the bright autumn sunshine and managed to get the two I wanted most to take my bait. The first was lost after playing it for 30 seconds or so, without ever getting it close in. The second fish came off after just a few seconds. I don’t know how big they were, both of which would have given me a clear picture of the rivers potential for roach, size wise. As Martin said to me later “You’ve had a nightmare on Halloween” It still hurts, but I try to focus on the good times!