• Clearwater Angling

How To Catch Roach

My journey as an angler began at the age of four when my Dad took me to the River Test, trotting a lobworm it was no surprise that a resident trout that was to be my first fish!



Since then angling has been a huge part of my life, whether its been talking about it, reading about it or most importantly being out there enjoying it.

That first trip to the river was set to be the beginning of an obsession and from there our outings became more regular with sleep always difficult to achieve the night before, after the first trout it was the first grayling, roach, chub and pike all from the river.

As I got older I was introduced to some of the local lakes with carp to double figures giving hours of fun and floating crust quickly becoming a favourite method. The desire to catch bigger fish was starting to grow and soon it was two rods with one ledger rod and one float rod put to use.

The years angling was very much split into different species with spring and summer time being carp and autumn, winter finding me back on the river or pike fishing on the lakes.

This pattern continued through the years and I was lucky enough to catch some special fish and as I made my way through college and university and found the pub the fishing was always there.

Starting a full time job post university my fishing started to change, arriving at a club water mid afternoon on a Saturday wasn’t the ideal time to get on the fish!

I started to look at the rivers in the summer months and found chub and barbel in the clear water of the Wessex rivers with roach, grayling and pike being winter targets.

Knowing the river became a major part of my angling as this meant I could maximise my chances on relatively short sessions and flitting from species to species meant there was always a chance of a specimen fish no matter what the conditions were.

Whether its clear water barbel and chub fishing, cold and clear pike and grayling and when the rivers were up and coloured a choice between barbel and roach theres always something available. Its then a case of finding reliable methods ensuring that I have complete confidence in what I’m doing when in pursuit of the target species.

Living very close to the Test and Itchen means that walking the river in summer is time well spent, often the best time for some of the resident secrets to reveal themselves. One of the most common species seen in the summer months are roach and some specimen fish in both rivers. As I ‘ve found out targeting roach in summer months is a real challenge and there are more obliging species to enjoy. However the locations have been mapped out and my winter fishing when conditions suit have meant I’ve been able to enjoy some fantastic running water roach fishing.

I’ve always tried to fish for specimen fish that I can catch with limited time and roach provide this opportunity.

Roach quickly became a favourite species, I’ve been lucky enough to land a pb of 3lb2oz from a Stillwater but river roach are a main target and every season I spend time chasing shoals of roach on running water. I’ll never tire of catching specimen roach from a river, the bite, the fight and the roll just before the waiting net will always turn my legs to jelly!

Having limited fishing time and the short winter days means that often my roach fishing is the couple of hours before dark, this suits a busy family and work life as well as giving me the opportunity to fish what is normally the most productive time of the day.

Chalkstream roach fishing comes with many challenges, the condition of the river and the small pockets of fish means location is key. The other issue to deal with can be the other fish present in the river, trout and grayling can often get to the bait before the intended quarry!

Another ‘problem’ species when roach fishing can often be pike with the flash of silver through the swim proving irresistible to the resident predator. I’ve learnt to keep a pike rod in the car with a small selection of end tackle as catching the problem fish can be the best way of keeping the roach coming to the net! I’ve also had some of my best pike on an intended roach session and as an ‘all round’ angler try to capitalise on any opportunity should it arise.

My fishing as a whole relies on keeping everything very simple, roach being no different and over time I’ve learnt to rely on a handful of methods to put a fish on the bank as well as an even smaller choice of baits. Having faith in the bait and method used has always been key in my fishing as taking the choice of bait and rig out of the equation means I can focus solely on finding the fish and being in the right place at the right time. A true ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ approach.

For roach my ‘go to’ baits are bread and maggots with a general rule of thumb that if theres some colour in the water bread and if not maggots. I’ll often explore a swim with a piece of trotted flake and have been lucky enough to land some bonus fish this way. Its also a good guide as to whether swim choice is right and if the fish are on the feed.

My approach to ‘trotting’ for roach with bread is more a case of inching the bait through the swim, normally fishing overdepth and letting the bait trickle along the river bed giving any resident roach maximum time to come in on the bait.

Bread feeder fishing

When the rivers up and coloured my go to method will be the cage feeder with liquidised bread and a piece of flake on the hook. When liquidising bread I’ll cut the crusts off so I end up with a very fine, fluffy white crumb. I want maximum attraction in the swim, concentrating the fish in a small area but giving them minimum food so hookbait becomes one of the only ‘food’ items.

A hooklength of around 12 inches and making sure theres as little resistance as possible helps when fishing with the cage feeder, bites can often develop from small plucks thorugh to more positive pulls, I’ll often hold the rod and ‘feel’ for bites when fishing with bread or use a rod with a very light tip so the feeding fish can can pick up the bait without minimum resistance.

Whether its feeder fishing or float fishing with bread I’ll be using a generous pinch of flake on a size 12 hook meaning that specimen fish are a realistic target. 3lb mainline and a 0.11mm hooklength again ensures I can land anything I hook on balances tackle.

Maggot feeder fishing

Sometimes conditions or the swim don’t lend themselves very well to float fishing or its become clear the fish don’t want a moving bait on the day. The best times I’ve found for a maggot feeder is when theres only a little colour in water and water temperatures are a bit lower so as to avoid the attention of too many ‘nuisance’ fish.

Fishing a swim on the River Test that’s 14ft deep it was odvious the roach were present as I’d seen them roll at first light but I’d only picked up the occasional small fish on the float, presenting loose feed was difficult, a bait dropper made it easier but still results didn’t improve too much but after switching to a small maggot feeder and recasting every ten minutes or so the bites started to come and I was lucky enough to land eight roach over the magical 2lb in three short evening sessions.

A maggot feeder can allow a static bait to be fished as well as still being able to fish very light for fish that can be shy biting. Whilst I’ve found chub will come right up to the feeder and ‘rattle’ it for bait, roach will sit a little further back and I’ve had most success with a hooklength of around 8 inches in length. Bites can be anything from delicate plucks through to positive bangs. When maggot feeder fishing for roach I’ll slide a float stop up the line and position it about 3 inches above the feeder acting as a bolt rig to exaggerate bites and increase the percentage of bites to landed fish ratio.

Feeder fishing on the river I’ll always ensure I’m fishing a feeder heavy enough to hold bottom and not be moved by and small rubbish on the line. The bigger feeder doesn’t always mean more bait as I may only put a small amount of bait in, whether maggots or bread but most importantly a bigger feeder ensures the bait isn’t moving and remains in the same place every cast. This concentrates the feed and helps reduce tangles as a feeder that’s rolling around can cause light hooklenths and lines to twist and damage.

Trotting maggots

Different to float fishing with bread I’ve found that when float fishing maggots bites will be ‘off the bottom’ and a steady stream of maggots can really build a swim. When the rivers clear regular feeding maggots can often provoke fish into feeding and competing with each other and bags of river redfins can be put together. In contrast to lots of anglers I’ll still fish a large float, often with an olivette as this means I can hold the bait back and keep it in the bottom third of the water without it coming up in the water column.

My rig will consist of a float fixed top and bottom, an olivette, a micro swivel and a hooklength of around 10 inches down to a size 18 or 20 hook with a single maggot. I’ll squeeze a small shot above the olivette as this reduces tangles and stops the olivette from running back up the line on the cast.

My go to hooklength for river roach is 0.11mm diameter or something around 3lb breaking strain, coupled with a 3lb mainline I’ve got the perfect balance between finesse and reliability.

Trotting maggots can be less selective than trotting bread and the biggest fish of the session can be the first or the last fish but it’s the approach that offers the chance to put a ‘bag’ of fish together, a net full of running water redfins is a special sight indeed!

Whether its float fishing with bread or maggots the rod tip will be held up in the air as a true extension of my arm, rather than ‘mend’ the line I’ll try and keep as much line off the surface as possible. I want the bait to travel through the swim the same way as any free offerings and at the same or slower speed. Keeping a finger on the spool I can allow the bait to travel through the swim at the pace I want it to rather than being dragged through at the same speed as the surface water.

A bigger float, normally a Chubber or wire stemmed Avon also means I can ‘bosss’ the swim and work the bait through in as natural a manner as possible, bites are normally very positive with the buoyant float offering resistance and helping the hook find its way home.

Swim selection

I’ve spoken about swim choice and its often as a result of ‘homework’ done in the summer months when the fish can be seen in the water. This isn’t always possible however as I might not have seen the venue before or winter floods may have changed the course of the river or left some debris behind!

In situations like this its always about watercraft, roach can be found in the fastest of water but looking at areas where they will be confident feeding and I can present bait accurately and efficiently will determine the area of the river I fish.

Roach will also give themselves away by rolling up in the water even in the coldest of conditions, I’ve found the best times for finding a shoal of running water redfins to be first and last light, some of my best catches of specimen fish have been when I’ve found a shoal rolling at first light but not caught the fish until later in the afternoon. Seeing the fish gives me the confidence that I’m in the right area, having faith in my baiting approach and reliable rigs ensures that I know that when the fish decide to feed I’ll have the opportunity of catching them.

Swims where two rivers merge or sidestreams enter the main river offer the perfect opportunity as they ensure the fish benefit from any food coming down from either stream and can also allow the fish to find sanctuary from predators if needed. Quite often a swim like this will have an eddy or area of slacker water that I can concentrate my bait in and that’s where the bigger roach will come from.

Smaller sidestreams should also not be ignored, especially when the main river might be up and running after a heavy downpour, some of the best catches of roach can be had at this time when the fish are shoaled up and repond well to bait.

Overhanging trees and weedbeds also provide perfect features for specimen roach fishing, again areas where natural food will congregate and some protection from predators can be found.

Mill pools and weir pools also offer the perfect opportunity for specimen roach fishing and in my experience the roach are normally found at the back of the pool as the water shelves up, areas where the float remains largely motionless can be the most reliable.

In areas of the river where theres no obvious feature, I’ll concentrate my fishing on any deeper glides that can be found, as I’ve said roach can be found in the fastest of water, I’ll always remember a fish of 2lb5oz that took a lob worm on a size six hook presented at the top of a mill pool, going against almost everything I thought I knew about river roach!

I have no doubt that roach spend a lot of time in faster water but presenting a bait well and creating a competitive feeding response is much more difficult so any steady area of the river can be used to draw fish up from downstream areas and whilst bites may not be as instant as a ‘feature’ packed swim with a steady baiting approach and a little patience rewards can be equally as good!

Roach will always remain one of favourite species, roach over 2lbs are a special fish indeed, as with any aspect of fishing finding venues that contain them is critical and as I’ve written my methods and bait are very simple.

Top tips

Bait selection for me is very simple but I will in some cases add some flavour to the maggots, sweet fruity flavours giving the best success.

Spray flavours can also be used on bread with liquidised bread taking a on a flavour really well.

When maggot fishing I’ll fish a single maggot on the hook to mimic the free offerings as best as possible.

Maggot fishing can cause a hook to blunt easily, as soon as a maggot becomes difficult to hook its time to change the hook, you don’t want a hook pull on a specimen roach!

With the best time of the season for specimen roach coming get out there and have a go!

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