Red Letter Days



During a recent session down in Surrey after crucians, where all I caught was a few small tench, I thought about how good the Marsh Farm complex used to be.

It was in April 2005 when I first pulled into the car park after a near 200 mile drive. Word was just starting to leak out about this crucian ‘super water’ There was (and still is) 3 lakes on the complex, all well stocked and containing large crucians, but Harris lake supposedly held the largest, so that’s where I went.


The morning was freezing cold with a frost on the floor. Nobody else was fishing, so I just rigged up an ultra light, sensitive, waggler outfit. Despite not catching a crucian since I was 15, I knew all about their finickly bites, so a Drennan Stillwater Blue was used, one of the most sensitive wagglers around. This was dotted right down so that just the tip was showing. In fact if a crucian breathed near the bait I wouldn’t have missed it. I plumbed the entire swim very carefully, and fished with the bait just touching bottom in the deepest spot, a small depression 3 rod lengths out. My bait was red maggots, a classic all round bait that catches most fish.


I cast out into the flat calm lake and stared intently at the pimple of float that was just  above the surface. 15 minutes later it was gone, and I struck into my first Marsh crucian. Even though it was a good fish and I was on a .10mm hook link, there was no danger of it breaking me. I just had to hope that the tiny size 18 hook stayed in. Everything held fine, and I was soon looking at a bar of golds, bronzes and browns. It was a magnificent fish and sure to be a new PB because it was the first I’d caught since purchasing some scales. At 3lb 10oz it wasn’t a bad first fish, and one that would take some beating.


By mid morning I’d caught a further 3 crus weighing 2.10, 3.1 and 3.2. What a start! As the morning wore on, a troublesome breeze sprung up, ruining my presentation. I didn’t catch any more that day, but having a week off work, returned 48 hours later.


Again, I got off to a great start with a 3.13 crucian upping my 2 day old PB. Then disaster struck. I was getting more bites than ever, but they were from small perch, not big crucians. I only had red maggots as bait, but luckily there was a group of 3 anglers fishing close by who helped me out. They gave me a ball of paste which I used on the hook in small pea sized pieces. This caught me another 3 crus of 2.10, 3.7 and 3.12, plus a bonus 5lb+ tench.


I was really getting to grips with the place now with my Stillwater Blue tactics. Fine .10mm lines with small size 18 hooks, wrapped in paste, were catching me a lot of fish. My last trip at the start of May saw me catch well into double figures of crucians, with a couple of tench for good measure. That was to be my last trip until September though. I was having to get up very early to be on the banks by dawn, then the dusk feeding spell was getting later, leaving me very tired on the way back home. Some days I’d fish hard till the end of the morning, have a snooze on the bank, then fish hard again into the evening.


When I returned the place was a little different. Heavy fishing had made the fish nervous feeders and because of the numbers of anglers on the bank, I couldn’t always fish where I’d like. After struggling with my presentation at times on the waggler, I’d brought a pole to see if that worked any better. To put it mildly, my fishing was revolutionised. I could now fish very accurately in tight areas, and the bites seemed so much more positive on my pole floats. Instead of dotting them right down, I could leave 10mm above the water to read the bites from the liners. I was also using expander pellets as bait, fished over micro pellets loose feed. I was now catching 12 to 15 good fish in a day. It was a little nervy letting the number 8 elastic take the strain though. With the better fish all I could do was hang on and hope. Luckily there were no losses to report.

Crucians 124

Crucians 12690210021

The only downside to this fishing was it wasn’t easy handling a pole on my chair. I didn’t want to use a box when I could be waiting more than an hour for some bites. The 3 hour car journey was hard enough, without holding a pole all day on a box in between. I decided to try something else. I used my old 20ft match rod, still with the same pole rig on the end. Sat next to the water in a comfy chair, my long rod just reached the base of the marginal shelf. Perfect! I could fish right under the rod tip, just like a pole, but could now back wind in case any larger tench came along, which were running to over 8lbs.


Once again my results were impressive. At a time when most crus were coming to bolt rigs fished after dark, I constantly averaged 15 or more good fish in a day. I was a lot more alert without being hunched over my pole, meaning more fish on the bank. The tactics always remained the same. Light lines, small hooks, with small expander pellets masking the hook. Dampened micro pellets were fed into 2 marginal areas, and I rotated between these lines to rest each swim for a period.


The fishing seemed a lot better in the Autumn compared to Spring, the downside being the fish were a few ounces lighter. After several seasons of fantastic crucian fishing I left the club when it became a lot busier. Also, there were some big local perch on my door step. They became my new April fishing target.


By April 2004, I had steadily improved my bream personal best on my local rivers breaking the 5, 6 and 7lb barriers over a couple of years. Martin had followed in my footsteps, matching my PB’s, possibly with the same fish. It was time to leave the rivers and lakes behind if we wanted to catch larger specimens. On a freezing cold day we pulled up next to a large gravel pit on the A1 complex near Newark. It was our first big leap into being ‘proper’ specimen anglers.

The beauty of the A1 pits is that you can park right behind a lot of the pegs. We parked the van behind a double peg, so we could fish next to each other. When the van doors opened, new items of tackle were brought out for the first time. Bite alarms, specialist rods, plus a spod and marker rod would be used for the first time. For the first time we had ditched our quiver tips and floats, it was a step into the unknown.

The marker rod was easy to use and revealed a flat bottom with no weed plus a depth of around 13ft. While I was doing this Martin had mixed a large bucket of groundbait. Another bucket of particles (hemp, dead maggots, casters, corn and mini boilies) was next to it. I started to spod the particles 20 yards either side of the marker float while Martin catapulted loads of groundbait balls over the same area. If we’d have done this a year earlier there would have been cries of ‘have you fell in’ or similar comments.

Our tactics were pretty similar. Small method feeders on 6lb main line with 3 red maggots on the size 14 hook. I was using a 3lb hook link, but not my usual hi tech low diameter stuff. After casting both feeders out, I clipped on the bobbins then turned the alarms on. The seat box had now been replaced by a comfy chair and I sat back, after first pouring a coffee out of my flask. I cast my eye over my new 1.25lb test curve rods teamed with some Shimano 4000 sized reels. I thought this set up would stop a train after using fine match rods for all of my angling life.

After about 30 minutes my alarm let me know that something was happening around my feeder which was followed by the bobbin shooting up to the butt and holding there. A gentle lift saw me playing my first gravel pit bream. which didn’t really fight much. It was just a case of not rushing things and soon I was looking at a new PB bream. The scales said 7.14, and this was quickly followed by a brace of 6lb+ fish.

New PB

New PB

Martin hadn’t had any action yet and he groaned when my alarm sounded again. This fish broke the 8lb barrier for me and it was soon followed by it’s fellow shoal member, at 8lb 10oz, another PB

A1 pit bream

A1 pit bream

By now Martin was rightfully gutted. Same tactics, same swim, same tackle, but all the bites came on my rods. Eventually he had his bite, but struck too hard, breaking his hooklink in the process! It was a quiet drive home.

The following week followed the pattern of the first with me taking 6 more good bream while Martin blanked. I wasn’t fishing any better than Martin, it was just one of those things. It had happened the other way round in the past, though when I told him that, it didn’t cheer him up!


We fished there for most of our sessions until June, catching some cracking slabs and never blanking. Martin eventually caught, including a belter of almost double figures. I also caught bream to just under 10lbs, but we couldn’t quite break that magic figure.

Martin eventually caught, including this cracker!

Martin eventually caught, including this cracker!

It was the perfect place to hone our budding specimen hunter skills, catch some nice fish and have a good social. These days were really special. Every trip seemed to be an adventure, with PBs being broken all the time.





Back in April 2003, when I had a week off work, I decided to travel alone to a water in the New Forest that was starting to make headlines in the roach fishing world. Sway Lakes was reportedly producing a lot of 2lb+ roach to simple waggler tactics. This sounded right up my street so I pointed my rally spec, Subaru Impreza in the right direction and set off on the 230 mile trip. A few hours (And 2 petrol stops!) later I was on the almost deserted banks deciding where to fish. The only clues I had on where to fish came from the only anglers there, a couple of carp lads who were sharing the same swim. The info I received was that the roach could be caught from anywhere on the lake, but they preferred to sit quite tight to the far bank vegetation.

I set my waggler rod up with a simple rig. A 3AAA insert waggler was fished on 2.5lb line. Down the line were 3 number 10 shot, and the hook link was 0.10mm tied to a size 20 kamasan B611 hook. I treated the line with diluted washing up liquid to make it sink easier. That meant I’d be able to fish tighter to the vegetation without my float being dragged away by the wind and undertow.

A pouch full of maggots was blasted the 30 yards to the far bank, followed by my float. Seconds later the red tip sank from view. My heart skipped a beat as I momentarily wondered what was on the other end, quickly followed by disappointment. A small 2oz roach was the culprit and that was followed by a hundred more! Nobody mentioned the small roach! By now the lakes owner had been for his £7 day ticket money and had a little chat. He told me I was fishing well, to keep it up and I should get a big roach. Fired up by his words, I carried on fishing with intensity.

At about 3pm, just when I was losing hope, I struck into a good fish. After a few seconds of nodding it kited hard to my right, forcing me to give line as it powered for a sunken weed bed. By now I’d assumed I was playing a tench, so gave the fish maximum side strain. Eventually, I turned the unseen fish towards me where the rest of the battle was played under my rod tip. My tiny hook held firm and the line did it’s job as the expected green fish turned into a big silver fish as it came up in the water. I think I swore at this time as I quickly netted a very impressive roach.

On the unhooking mat the fish looked huge. The scales said 2lb 11oz and I was thrilled. I took the fish, in my landing net head, to the carp anglers. They took a few pics for me before I slipped her back and poured a cup of celebration coffee.

My first big Sway Roach

My first big Sway Roach

I fired off a few texts to mates to tell them the news on the latest gadgets of the time, mobile phones! As with buses, I re cast and promptly caught a 2lb 5oz roach within 30 seconds! I just took a pic of this on the mat, and that was the end of my big roach action for the day.

2lb 5oz

2lb 5oz

I raced back up to Doncaster to have all my photos developed. As you can see the photos were shocking. I immediately splashed out on a new SLR camera. Bad photos would be a thing of the past. I just had to wait 6 months for my next week off work to return!

On my return, I was with my mate Martin. It was a freezing cold October day as we pulled into the car park prior to dawn. We were even more excited as that week Martin Bowler had done a feature in the Angling Times on the lake, catching a lot of big roach. Our excitement soon turned to panic when we saw all the cars in the car park. We managed to find a space just as a couple more cars came through the gates. Martin glanced at me and we both picked our seat boxes up and ran at full speed down the hill to the lake. When we got there we were stunned to see almost every peg taken. There was just 2 left so we plonked our boxes in them. The good news was we were next to each other, the bad news? The swims didn’t look too good, a lot narrower than the others. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers. If we’d arrived any later we’d have driven 230 miles for nothing!

After fetching the rest of the gear down and trying to tackle up in the half light of dawn, I heard a loud splash in Martins peg. ‘Was that a fish’ I asked to which he nodded. As we carried on tackling up, more roach continued to roll in Martins swim. It looked like he was in for a shed load.

When it was light enough to cast in, I sent my waggler out to the far bank. I’d been steadily feeding hemp and casters for about 15 minutes prior to this. The float never settled at all so I struck and was straight into a good fish. After a short scrap I netted a lovely roach of 2lb 4oz, a good start.

2lb 4oz, My puzzled face was because I'd accidently set the timer on my new camera!

2lb 4oz, My puzzled face was because I’d accidentally set the timer on my new camera!

For the next few hours I needed blinkers as Martin hooked a specimen roach almost every cast. He’d made a mistake though, bringing the wrong waggler rod with him. He was using a ‘power’ rod instead of a more forgiving model. It cost him a lot of fish as the stiff tip produced a lot of hook pulls. When Martin was playing another big roach, I had a crafty 45 degree cast to my left, in his swim! He shouted some abuse at me, but I was soon playing a good roach of my own. Safely landed, it weighed 2lbs 9oz, the largest of the trip so far.

2lbs 9oz

2lbs 9oz

After the poaching, Martin carried on catching (and losing) a lot of quality roach. His final tally was impressive though, with 6 over 2lbs, to a best of 2lb 7oz. The amount he had over 1lb 10oz was impressive, somewhere around 15, I think. Had he used a different rod I’m pretty sure he’d have doubled this tally at the least.

Martin with one of his 2lb+ fish

Martin with one of his 2lb+ fish

Right on last knockings, I hooked another roach, this time a 2lb 5oz sample, to bring a close to a brilliant day. In the big scheme of things I’d struggled, compared to Martin, catching only 25 roach all day. With 3 of the fish over 2lbs 4oz, I could hardly complain!

2lb 4oz

2lb 4oz

Today, Sway is a £470 a year syndicate water. It’s expensive, but I’m still a member. There are very few places where you can catch specimen roach on the float, especially in such peaceful, picturesque surroundings.




When I was a teenager, growing up on the banks of the River Torne, I caught a lot of big roach. They were the fish that taught me more about angling than reading any book could. I watched their behavior in crystal clear water for many years, how they fed, reacted to tackle, bait and how they reacted to me being there. I remember only one of these roach being weighed, caught by my cousin, it went 2lb 3oz. I personally caught a roach that dwarfed that one, plus many more of a similar size from many different swims. The problem was that I never carried any scales or a camera. I was still a schoolboy, I wanted rods, reels and baskets (What we today call a seatbox!) for Christmas. At that time just catching the fish was important, not the size or a lasting memory.

In my later teenage years work took over and playing cricket took most of my leisure time. My mate Martin, who fished the river half a mile or so upstream of my favourite stretch, carried on fishing for the roach, but told me they were getting tougher to catch. By now he’d bought some scales and a camera. He still has a few grainy pics of big roach, but most were around the 1.12 mark. I had the odd trip and caught very well, far better than when I was younger. This was probably down to the 0.06mm lines I was now using (12oz) and size 24 hooks. None of the roach were monsters, around 1.8, but they were plenty big enough for me.

It was around the year 2000, when I was 28, that my fishing changed. Martin had started to enter his fish into the IYCF magazine ‘mission’ competition. He won some prizes too, but we struck a bet. The first to claim all of the badges would receive a £5 note off the other! It was game on and I quickly purchased some scales and a camera.

I started with the roach. A ‘specimen’ for the competition was 1.8, surely that would be a doddle from the Torne. The following week was when I realised that something serious was happening to my river. Almost all of the roach had gone, just one small skitty shoal was left, bulked up by a few medium sized chub. I caught one roach of around 10oz from the shoal, plus a chub and I haven’t fished there for roach since. Cormorants had wiped out the entire river. I was told this by another angler who’d carried on fishing for the roach while I’d been away. If this could happen here, on my own local river, I knew it could happen anywhere. I threw myself into catching an ‘officially weighed’ 2 pound roach before it was too late. A specimen roach angler was born!

My last Torne roach

My last Torne roach


The angling press was scoured for the best chance of a specimen. The River Glaze was selected, an area where it flows out of the large Pennington Flash. The roach migrate into this river when the temperatures drop and apparently there were some big ones amongst them. It was a freezing, cold, January day when Martins Ford Escort van headed west containing two eager anglers. We arrived at the venue 2 hours before dawn, but we only just got the last 2 empty pegs on the length!

We both tackled up the same, a stick rod, a bomb rod and the pole. Unusually, it was almost impossible to catch a roach on the stick or bomb, yet the pole scored most casts. The roach averaged 6 to 12oz, but the odd pound plus fish put in an appearance. In the afternoon I noticed that one of the pegs near the Flash entrance was empty. I was informed by the locals that it never produced, hence the reason for it being empty. I decided to take a chance and moved into the peg. It looked great with a nice steady flow plus a far bank eddy, giving me a crease swim too. After running the float through many times with no action I began to think I’d made a mistake. I shoved a couple more sections on the pole and placed the float in the slack water close to the far bank. After what seemed like hours, but was more likely to be 10 minutes, the red tip of the pole float plunged under the surface. A quick lift of the pole set the number 8 elastic streaming out and I knew I was into a good fish. Using a pole, all I could do was hang on and hope, but the elastic did it’s job and I slid the net under a cracking roach. After zeroing the scales and slipping the fish in a carrier bag, the needle settled on 2lb and a fraction. I’d done it, my first weighed and witnessed 2 pound roach. As you’ll see from the pics, I now needed a decent camera and to learn how to hold the fish for a photo!


A few more trips took place to the Glaze over the next couple of years. Unfortunately, in those days I had to work 6 days a week so time off was very scarce or I’m sure I’d have filled my boots. Another 2 pound roach followed on my next trip, but 1 catch stands out more than any others.

With my 6 day week, any day off work was a fishing day. Unfortunately, on this particular day the temperature was -7!! Still, Martin and I set off for the Glaze, full of enthusiasm. By the time it was midday, our enthusiasm (and our bodies) had been cooled somewhat. All of the locals had gone home and only 3 roach had been caught all morning. 1 of these was to Martin, the other 2 came to a guy who fished the peg immediately downstream of him. I moved into this peg to cries of ‘Poacher’ from Martin, but anything was worth a try.

It was that cold, the near and far margins of the river had iced up so thick that you could stand on them. I knew I had to keep feeding my swim to arouse any interest so every trot through I would feed 2 casters. I couldn’t believe it when at about 2pm my float went under with a 1.11 roach being the culprit. A quick weighing and pic followed before casting in again. My elastic had froze, hanging 3 feet out of the pole, making me look a total noddy. It was soon stretched into action again though as another roach followed, this time about 1.4. The landing net had frozen like a tennis racquet and had to be thawed in the water before I could land the fish.

The day continued in the same way. In the last 2 hours of daylight I landed 26 roach. 24 of these were over 1lb with another 6 over 1.8. My total weight was over 32lbs of prime roach. Incredible fishing on such a cold day and proof that you should never give up no matter how bleak things seem.

The only downside to the days fishing was a few cormorants that were waiting on the edge of the ice for us to clear off. I didn’t know what a cormorant looked like. It was Martin that pointed them out, but we were to see many more on our local venues in the next decade. As you can imagine, the cormorants turned the Glaze into a shadow of it’s former self, just like many more venues up and down the country.