What is the magic of the roach? Why is it that a fish that seldom exceeds two pounds is so eagerly sought? It cannot be for its fighting ability, although a large one can give a lively account of itself on light tackle. I believe the magic comes partly from the fish’s beauty, that wonderful blue sheen contrasted by crimson fins underneath, with the dorsal and caudal more of a blood red, together with a creamy belly. Another part of the charm of roach is that at times they can be capricious and wilful, enough to make a saint weep, yet at other times they display the simplicity worthy of the ‘water-sheep’ description bestowed on them by Izaak Walton. And then there is the appeal of the method: to catch big ones, subtlety, finesse and lightness of touch are required.


Ever since I caught my first ever roach I have been fascinated by their beauty. Since then I have caught all manner of freshwater fish yet repeatedly I have returned to fishing for roach. It is always a pleasant change to try for other species and use different techniques, but there is always a yearning to see a big roach coming to the landing net.


Roach fishing brings me great pleasure. It remains possible to find quiet places far from the crowds to attune oneself to the natural world. This allows a satisfying study in skill and concentration by, for example, gently trotting a float. This type of angling is all about using watercraft and skill, patience and perseverance, even low cunning, to both locate and catch the roach.


For centuries, roach have been one of the most popular coarse fish for keen anglers. Even today, despite the popularity of carp fishing, there are many big roach specialists, fanatically pursuing them at all hours, often travelling long distances to get to the river before dawn, or spending days, weeks even, at a lake. What drives these anglers?


That enthusiasm comes from the deep satisfaction from seeing the magnificent sight of a big roach on the bank. And as catching them is often far from easy that hard-won prize remains one of the ultimate freshwater angling thrills for many anglers. Roach often require the finest skills to outwit them, in terms of tackle control, feeding skills and understanding both the water and the habits of the roach, and this augments the pleasure.


Dave Sawyer with six 2lb roach from the NadderBut this is not just a modern phenomenon. There has been so much written in the past by notable writers such as Greville Fennell, Edward Ensom (‘Faddist’), Captain L.A. (Skipper) Parker, Dick Walker, David Carl Forbes and John Bailey. Other famous roach anglers, including renowned match anglers, have contributed to newspapers, magazines and books. Other notable anglers such as Bill Penney and Dave Howes achieved much yet wrote little, though fortunately we know about their exploits. Yet there is so much to explore.


Over the last century, certain waters have peaked with catches of roach that make the mind boggle, for both quantity and size. Hornsea Mere, the Hampshire Avon,

Dorset Stour, Tring reservoirs, the Wensum, and much more recently, Willow Pool at Linch Hill, have all produced huge roach in quantity. I’ll explore the history of these waters later in the book, including the anglers that had such outstanding success fishing them for big roach.


Such is the extent of fishing for big roach it would be impossible to cover every successful roach angler in history or prolific water so I’ll make no apologies for being unable to mention many anglers and waters other than those covered in this book. It would take many volumes to cover Scottish waters like the Tweed and Tay, or Irish waters, or rivers such as the Lea or the Leam, or the Wye, Taw, Severn, or the Ise or Bristol Avon, or even the lesser East Anglian waters. I have had to be selective and have chosen those anglers and waters where I have found plenty of good material and interesting stories.


Over the centuries, as angling gained in popularity so did the roach as quarry.

Different styles emerged in different parts of the country according to the local waters fished, so that by the end of the nineteenth century at least four or five distinct techniques had emerged. There was the Londoner with his cane roach pole on the slow-moving Thames or Lea. There was the Sheffielder with a light short rod and fine tackle, tiny float and cloud bait for a fine and far off approach on the Fenland waters. There was the Nottingham style for the Trent, later transferred to the Hampshire Avon. Other styles included the use of long light rods for trotting slow deep rivers such as the Great Ouse. The supporters of each style were dogmatic in their convictions and convinced that the others indulged in heretical behaviour. Although only variations of these original techniques survive, it’s still possible to identify the same methods, albeit in updated form.


Furthermore, advances in tackle and methods mean that we have a greatly enlarged armoury of tactics to catch elusive big roach. The common factor to all forms of roach fishing that holds true through the ages is that, by and large, finesse and skill, combined with a stealthy approach and keen understanding of the quarry, have been the keys to success with roach.


This book is therefore a journey through more than a century of roach fishing that includes 40 years of my own experiences and includes many theories, triumphs, failures and one or two mysteries. I shall try to bring about an understanding of the roach, with an essential guide to its habits, and cover the perennial problems of identifying hybrids. I shall cover the baits, tackle, techniques and tactics needed to catch them. I describe my own experiences of roach fishing in depth on a number of waters, concentrating on catching the big ones. The final section is a leisurely stroll through the exploits of many great roach anglers and their roach catches.




The first edition is limited to just 500 copies at £30 each (plus p&p) from Calm Productions with a book launch at the Lands End Pub, Twyford from noon on Saturday 16 July.