Roach fishing is something I very seldom do, in fact I cannot remember the last time I set out to specifically catch roach, except maybe to use as pike baits! Unsurprisingly, my roach PB has never been anything to shout about; I don’t know exactly what my biggest roach was, but it was certainly below 1lb. The positive of this was that there’s a lot of room left for improvement! Through the grapevine I heard of a local day ticket water which had produced a few large roach to pleasure anglers over the summer months. It was time to try for my first big roach and this seemed the perfect place to start.
I remembered reading an article last year about the virtues of flavouring maggots with super-sweet flavours such as scopex, in helping to tempt winter roach to feed. So I got hold of some strong scopex bait spray and sprayed this onto my maggots, twice a day, for two days prior to the session. The smell was unbelievable! Despite being sealed in a large bucket inside the shed, you could smell scopex in the garden with the shed door shut!
I met up with my good friend Kevin Miles at the lake, and as I was unloading the van I thought he was going to vomit, such was his reaction to the pungent sickly-sweet aroma! I loved it though; scopex is quite possibly the sweetest smell on earth! With hints of vanilla, toffee and condensed milk, it’s easy to see (or smell!) why it’s been such an immensely successful carp bait flavour since Rod Hutchinson discovered it more than two decades ago.
I was in no rush setting up; it had been quite cold over night and I was expecting most action to come later in the day when the water had warmed some from the sun. I set up a lightweight Fox Duo-Lite rod with a ¾ ounce test-curve quivertip with 5lb mainline down to a small swimfeeder on a John Roberts feeder boom to prevent tangles. I used the same 2lb 10oz hooklength and size 18 Kamasan B911 hooks which I’d been so pleased with recently when fishing for grayling. The other rod was a slightly cruder, Shimano barbel rod with the quiver top section (which seemed sensitive until I compared it to the 0.75 ounce glass tip on the other rod – shows how often I fish “fine”!). Noticing the comparatively brush handle-like construction of my barbel rod, Kevin swiftly came to my rescue by lending me a clip-on indicator called a Polaris Sidewinder Mk 4. It’s a quivertip-like device which protrudes from the rod sideways, between two rod rings. I’d seen these at tackle shows in the past and never tried them, but I was so impressed with the performance of this one I’ve since bought myself a pair of them! I opted to mix things up a bit by fishing a maggot feeder on one rod, with maggots on the hook, and an open-end groundbait feeder on the other rod, with bread as bait.
My confidence in the scopex-flavoured maggots was given an early boost when a plump 6-7 ounce roach took my double maggot offering after only a few minutes. I followed this up with a small skimmer and another similar-sized roach in the next two casts. Then the swim went a little quiet. I was still getting bites, but not as frequent, and the roach seemed to disappear – instead I was catching mainly skimmers, along with rudd, the odd hybrid and perch – the optimism gained from my early roach captures was now fading a little. I’d had no bites at all on bread, so both rods were switched to maggot baits and maggot feeders. I cast around a little to try and find the roach, and hooked a bonus 4lb carp which gave me a good tussle on the light tackle. Then I had the idea of spraying my hookbaits with scopex just as I was about to cast, to give them even stronger appeal in the cold water. Instantly this paid off; I hooked a bream which took the bait as soon as my rod was in the rest. This continued for about three-quarters of an hour, as I landed a dozen or so skimmers up to just over a pound in weight, all within a minute of casting out! So, I’d found the formula – for bream at least – but still no large roach.
As the light began to give way to darkness, I caught a couple of roach of a respectable stamp, around the half-pound mark. If I’ve learned one thing from the past couple of seasons fishing, it’s never look a gift horse in the mouth; if the fish are feeding then fish on! Darkness was fast approaching and I realised I had isotopes in my bag, but no means of attaching them to the rods or sidewinders. I quickly improvised some “brackets” using pellet bands and superglue, which gave me a set-up that was far from ideal, but perfectly useable. When it got dark, the bites became both more frequent and more ferocious. The few roach bites had been positive, hard pulls during the day, but now they were practically pulling the rods in! I proceeded to land a few more roach and a couple of chub, which kept me guessing all the way to the bank, as to whether I’d actually hooked a big roach. When the bite I was waiting for finally came and I hooked into something more substantial, which felt like a roach, I nervously reached for the landing net and thought to myself, over and over again, “Please be a roach, please be a roach…”
My pleadings were answered when a large silvery flank glistened as it entered the net. As I’ve said previously, I’m not well acquainted with big roach, and this was the largest I’d ever seen in real life; definitely a new PB. I was delighted when the scales needle swung well past 1lb and nestled at exactly 1lb 8oz. It was the fish I’d waited all day for, but eager to see if anything even bigger could be enticed from my swim, I fished on into the darkness. I did catch a few more fish, including another beauty at 1lb 6oz, but nothing topped the first “biggie”. I’m assured there are larger fish in the lake to be caught, so I’ll be returning soon to apply some of the lessons I learned from this session. It makes me wonder why I never tried to catch big stillwater roach before!