If all the stories are to he believed, 2lb roach are as numerous as l0lb carp and believe me, most waters that hold carp have them to at least l0lb, but the truth of the matter is that a 2lb roach is probably rarer than a 35lb carp. It certainly is in the area where I live, for although many anglers claim to have caught 2lb roach, I can count on the fingers of one hand the fish I have seen of that size in 46 years of angling.
There was a time when I tried to catch one, not so many years ago, but despite fishing many different waters, all of them supposed to hold then, I failed. Not a good enough angler, perhaps? Maybe, but I prefer to think that there weren't as many of these specimen fish about as I was led to believe and certainly some of the stories of these beautiful fish were exaggerated. Undoubtedly there were a few of the size I was looking for in some waters, but nowhere near the numbers claimed and in some cases I am sure, they just did not exist.
After having fished various rivers and lakes in the area it seemed that my best chance was in some of the local trout reservoirs. However, before my son Andrew and myself moved to these trout waters, we fished some of the rivers such as the Cuckmere where a number of good size roach had been stocked from nearby Arlington Reservoir. There must also have been some resident roach in the river, but how many, we had no idea. Quiver tipping and float fishing with maggots, breadflake and sweetcorn produced numbers of fish to lIb 8oz and eventually I landed a fish of 1lb l0oz in the river below Arlington Reservoir. I caught it quiver tipping with maggots with a small swim feeder and on the same day Andrew landed a hybrid of 21b 4oz. At first glance we thought it was a roach, but in fact it was a roach/bream hybrid.
Never the less a 1lb l0oz roach is no mean fish and I was happy to catch it, but though we continued to fish the river for bigger specimens, we never caught one. In fact, we didn't see any other anglers catch a bigger one either. Eventually the river was polluted and we packed in fishing it.
When I heard about the pollution, which started above Arlington, I went down to the river to see what had been killed. There were lots of bream, to 4lb or so, and a good number of roach, a few chub, and the odd seatrout, but none of the roach were bigger than we had caught. So while I believe the river once held 2lb plus fish, it looks as if, during the time we were fishing it, it didn't. Another Sussex river which was renown for it's roach catches was the Ouse but, if anything, the fishing on this river below Barcombe Mills was even slower. We caught very few roach at all and the best I managed was about 1 pound.
However, above the weir there were a few old monsters left and Pat Sweeney landed one of 2lb 10oz and another just over 2lb. He caught them after heavy rain while the river was fining down and still had plenty of colour. The perfect conditions for most river fishing. Pat had also caught a couple of 2lb plus roach from the Eastern Rother, but that was years ago in the late seventies and early eighties, before the new lock was built at Iden. Since that time the roach fishing on the Rother declined badly. There are signs that it is recovering after all those years and roach to 1lb are now being taken on the lower end of the Rye Angling Club's stretch.
Up at Newenden, the roach fishing is also improving and last winter an angler from the Northiam Club captured a bag of these fish weighing 341b. They weren't especially big fish, but he did lose one that he thought could have gone 2lb, we live in hopes.
The Arun was another river where we searched for the big roach and, out of all the waters we fished, it seemed to me that the possibilities of a really large one was more likely to be caught from this West Sussex fast flowing river. But, despite a number of trips to the water, we only managed roach to 1lb 8oz. Once again quiver tipped bread flake proved to be the most successful bait. I often think that we should have spent more time fishing the water, but time is precious and there are so many fish to catch.
The first reservoir we fished was Arlington, which during a period in the eighties was open for coarse fishing and there were stories of large roach having been taken by match anglers. Unfortunately, by the time I fished the water some of the best fishing had already been had and every fish which had been caught was taken away.
There were, however, lots of roach in the 1lb to 1lb 5oz range many of which were taken either quiver tipping or float fishing with maggots or caster. The match anglers would catch plenty fishing light with 1lb bottom and a single maggot or caster. Most of the fishing at this time was done at the end of the trout fishing season, but one year the water was opened up during the trout season and the two styles of fishing continued side by side. It was during this period that for a few weeks I fished Arlington heavily and learned how to catch some of the better fish. Quiver tipping with 41b line, a 21b bottom, with a size 12 hook and sweetcorn, I landed numerous roach over the pound mark. My tackle also included a cage feeder on a paternoster. Baiting with breadcrumb, hemp and sweetcorn most of the catches were made thirty yards out from the bank.
Fishing opposite the lodge one evening while a thunderstorm was brewing, I caught twelve roach all over a pound to 1lb 5oz and that was my best catch of roach from Arlington. A better catch was made by my son, Andrew, and Ken Tuck, who caught around 40lb of fish each float fished just a few yards out from the bank with sweetcorn. I believe they landed fish to 1lb l0oz, but the strange thing about the capture, was it was taken in sunlight during a heat wave. The best roach catches are generally made during dull overcast days, so it just goes to show that it always pays to keep an open mind.
The following year Arlington was again closed for coarse fishing and, except for the odd invitation day, I didn't fish it again. Weir Wood Reservoir was another water where two pound roach were said to be prolific and in the early eighties this was undoubtedly true, in fact, not only were roach over 21b caught, but they were landed over 31b. The water at one time was probably one of the best in the country, but this was soon to change. It was the late eighties, or early nineties when I fished the water and my first trip was with a group of anglers from the Compleat Angler Club. We fished Admiralty Bay towards the far end of the reservoir and found the water full of roach. If my memory serves me correctly, I only caught one fish of about a pound, but one of our group, whose name escapes me, landed at least a dozen fish to 1lb 8oz. The method was much the same as fishing at Arlington, either quiver tipping maggots or sweetcorn, though waggler fishing with maggots or caster also worked well. The following season I fished for these roach from November onwards, but by December the fishing went off and it was hardly worth the effort. November produced a few roach to Andrew and myself, with a number of fish over the pound mainly to ledgered sweeteorn. The water,
by the way, was only open to coarse fishing from November.
By now I couldn't wait for the water to open the next November so I could get among the big roach which I was sure would soon follow. I was to be bitterly disappointed. There were plenty of bites, but very few roach indeed, hybrids, skimmers and the odd tench were caught. I even landed a carp around 131b hooked on sweetcorn, not to mention numerous pike which attacked the small fish as we reeled them in, but the few roach that we did catch were small and I think the biggest fish we caught weighed no more than 12oz.
There are many theories as to what happened to these roach and most of them don't add up. If they all died as many anglers claim, why weren't at least some of the bodies found floating? Also if they died, how is it that fish of all different age groups died at once? For presumably the one pound fish were of a different age group to the three-pound fish. Whatever the cause the fish went quickly, one season they were there and the next they were gone. There were also stories that they had been netted out, legally, or illegally, I do not know, but if that is the case, whoever was responsible ruined one of the best roach waters in the country.
After Weir Wood I then had the opportunity of fishing Darwell Reservoir with the Clive Yale Club and at last I thought I was in with a chance of a two-pounder. Certainly I and other members of the club, had plenty of good roach, but the fishing wasn't easy. Long casting was the key to success, and maggots proved to be the best bait. The roach tended to be anything from 50 to 70 yards from the bank and one of the best areas was from behind the wood just below Apple Tree Bay, though the north bank could also be productive and so could the dam and the Hogs Trough. In the Hogs Trough distance casting wasn't so important since the water was that much deeper, but although I had a few fish from this area, my best catches came from behind the wood.
The secret was to fire out a cereal groundbait to the area you were to fish, then feeder fish it with maggots. I did try other baits such as worms, bread flake and sweetcorn and caught roach on every single one of them, but by far the best bait proved to be maggots. Bread flake, which is generally considered to be one of the best baits for big roach, was probably the worst of the lot mainly because it attracted the rainbows. Often, ten minutes after casting out, the tip would fly round and stay there and that was always a rainbow trout. In fact, no matter how big the roach, it rarely gave a good bite, a quarter of an inch pull on the quiver was as much as you could expect and almost every angler experienced sucked maggots and even missing maggots without even seeing the slightest sign of a bite.
It was a serious problem and one which nobody managed to get over. I tried fishing short hook links, long ones and medium ones, bolt rigs and many other variations, trying to get over the problem, but like all the other anglers who fished the water, I failed. Failed as well to catch a two pound roach and in fact in all the winters I fished the water I didn't see a single roach of 21b. Some anglers claimed to have caught them, but I never saw one, and I made a point of looking and weighing any fish that I thought would make the grade. Certainly some were approaching that size, but the biggest I weighed scaled 1lb l4oz caught by Alan Ford. My best, once again, weighed llb l0oz, but although I failed to catch the 2lb fish l was after, I did land some of the best catches of roach I have ever had. Twenty pound plus of roach is not to be sneezed at and many of the fish were between 1lb and 1lb 10oz.
I finally stopped fishing the water a few years ago when the average size of the fish started to plummet Like Arlington all the fish caught were taken away, in this case to stock Clive Vale's waters. Over the years thousands of roach were removed between 1lb and 1lb 14oz and although there were still some good ones left, they are now very few in number. One would think that with all the big roach that were transferred into their waters the Clive Vale Club would have some of the best roach fishing in the country, but sadly they haven't. It seems most of them die because they cannot adapt to their new surroundings. Strangely enough, the Clive Vale Club did have some of the best roach fishing in the country in the tiny River Brede, but after several pollutions, the last from the Southern Water Authority Treatment Works in the early eighties, they were wiped out. And in all those years the roach fishing has never come back to what it was.
So what now? Well I rarely fish for roach now, but one day perhaps I will have another go. Bough Beech is a water I haven't tried yet, there are 2lb roach there so I am told, or perhaps I should start making trips to the Hampshire Avon, but then there are all those big barbel and chub to fish for.