Last winter, when almost every river was flooded, I read the late John Searl’s book; Chalk Stream Roach ‘The Ultimate Challenge’ It reminded me of the great roach days on the famous southern chalk streams such as the Avon, Frome, Test, Kennet, and Itchen and also served as a stark reminder of what fantastic fishing we have lost. There are still a few roach around in these rivers though and I promised myself I was going to fish them a lot more while I still can. Also, we just don’t know how long these roach will be around, or indeed, whether they will make a comeback.
One river, or at least an area of river, that produces more big roach than any other is Britford on the Hampshire Avon. This is probably thanks to Stu, the river keeper (and his shotgun) who makes sure the cormorants and goosanders can’t cause the carnage that they do when left uncontrolled. I thought of this place after some rain had freshened the rivers up a touch and a call to Stu put me in the picture of what was being caught and from where. I headed down at 2am the next morning to give it a go.
When I arrived in the morning, I was happy to see no other anglers on the bank. It was just light enough to see a couple of deer staring at me in the next field and these reminded me of what a lovely place Britford is. The river itself is a place I couldn’t explore in a full season with its deep steady runs, shallow and deep carriers, fast stretches, weir pools plus everything in between. For that reason I always carry a wide selection of floats and most of them now are from the Dave Harrell range. They are perfect for 99% of my river roaching requirements and I’ve turfed most of my older ones out, some which date back to the 80s!
I walked downstream to the area that Stu had recommended. It looked like it had been well fished before so it seemed a few fish were in the area. It was a lovely glide down to an old farm bridge. A tinge of colour and grey skies gave what looked like perfect conditions, but a gusting downstream wind would make float control tricky. I could have fished a bomb or link leger but that would be a last resort. It’s far more fun trying to catch them on a trotted bait. I gave the main line a good dose of floating line spray before I started. That helps control the line in awkward winds especially as I was going to use a small but highly visible shallow water stick float. If the wind became worse I’d use a small waggler and sink the line.
I kicked off on casters, because they along with hemp were the only baits I’d brought. I should have taken some bread, but I forgot to stop at the shop on the way! I fished a line roughly half way across the river and on my first run through I missed a positive bite. The next trot produced a 4oz roach which was followed by a similar sized dace. It was nice to catch some decent fish, along with the troublesome minnows! About an hour into the session I struck into my first good fish. Straight away it felt like a decent roach and I played it as hard as I dare on my light tackle. Stu had warned me some big pike were in the area and I didn’t want them getting a free meal. The fish kited upstream which was good as that would make it easier to land. When it came into view, my suspicion of roach was correct and I could see it was a good one. As predicted, the fact that it swam upstream made it easy to net and my first estimates were a fish of around 1lb 14oz. As I lifted it out of the net though I could tell it was a deep fish and the scales confirmed this by giving a weight of a smidgen over 2lbs. I even set my umbrella up behind me to weigh the fish out of the wind, just to make sure!
I gave it an admiring glance before placing it in my keepnet. I didn’t want it going straight back into the shoal and spooking any more big roach that may be around. The jumbled scales told a story of near misses with all kinds of predators. It’s a pleasure just to witness one of natures natural treasures.
I carried on catching some nice dace (plus minnows of course!) when once more struck into a nice fish. Again, there were no problems playing and netting the fish and I was soon lifting a younger, fatter roach onto the scales. This one had the needle bang on 2lbs. What a cracking start to the day. 40 minutes later I was into another big roach. This came straight to the surface splashing about and I expected either a pike to take it or my tiny size 20 hook to ping out. Luckily, neither happened and I was soon bundling another battle scarred redfin into the net. This was longer than the other two fish, but a tad leaner. It had a slash on one side which looked like a cormorant had tried to take it, plus it had a stab wound on it’s head. It had been lucky to escape and survive and I’m sure the offender with have either flown into some hot lead shot or will do soon! This fish weighed 1lb 15oz and it was followed by another over a pound a short while later.
The sour point of the day came when I hooked into a much larger fish that had me back winding as it moved towards the far bank. Then it kited upstream before the hook pulled out. I suspected a big roach and when I told Stu later on he told me that there were no chub or other big fish around this area, just roach. Gutted, I gave it another hour with no more bites before releasing my big roach a couple of pegs away.
After resting the swim I tried hard for another big roach, but with no luck. I managed some corking dace though, with a number being around 8oz The minnows became an increasing pain through the afternoon as did my back, which was starting to stiffen after a day stood in mud at an angle. This is when I missed not bringing bread which I might have stuck out on a little leger rig, giving my back a rest and something too big for the minnows to devour. Still, how can you complain after catching around 15lbs of prime dace, plus 4 of natures finest sights, viewed through the eyes of a roach angler!
It’s a great start to my chalk stream roach campaign, long may it continue!