It had all begun in 2008, more than a decade before. Having banked 6lb chub and double figure barbel, Steve Spiller had decided on a new more challenging target, a 2lb river roach, something he’d never caught. His home river, the Bristol Avon, consistently produced roach of this calibre in abundance every winter to Dr ‘Roach’, and a sustained and focussed campaign to put one on the bank could hardly fail.

Yet fail it did.

Despite the continued support of the forum regulars (the thread now ran to 4,500 pages) with friendly advice: “Just face it, Steve, you’re cr*p,” being a typical example, the seasons came and went without Steve getting any closer to breaking the 2lb barrier. He’d caught plenty of good roach from a variety of river venues but none that were bigger than 1lb 12oz. This quest was quietly turning into an obsession.

And whilst this campaign appeared unchanging, the world of angling had undergone many changes. FishingMagic had a new editor for a start; Matt Corker: “My first task is to design a forum based on bowel movements, something regular like me so that we can all keep track of the latest laxative developments.” Magic Marsdin had breathed a sigh of relief, “Finally, more time to go fishing,” he said.

But it was the technological advances in 2020 that had changed the face of angling the most. Google Earth Live View (initially a voyeur’s paradise until sophisticated software pixellated anything dodgy), which was detailed enough to read someone’s watch if they were outside, made it easy to find out where famous anglers were fishing. It was even clever enough to put a marker on a car so that you didn’t have to try to track it for hours but simply waited for the person to arrive before trying to see what they were doing and catching. The second great innovation was an advanced version of echo sounding, one that could show you a picture in colour of what was happening underwater. It was easy to see what fish were present and to see if there was anything worth catching. Even better, it was possible to select a specific species so that you could ignore other unwanted fish and would give you an accurate estimate of each fish’s weight.

Other changes on the angling front were more complex. The full reintroduction of beavers, despite the initial concerns, had proved a Godsend. Although initially flooding was more prevalent due to their dams, climate control technology meant that excessive rain could be redirected elsewhere, the lack of trees on the river bank generally accepted, and the fact that they carried a virus fatal to both otters and cormorants, something of a surprising turn up for the book. The river fish populations finally pulled back from the brink of the abyss, but the population explosion that resulted meant that big ones were rare. Britain’s rivers teemed with small fish.

But enough of the politics and technology! December 2020 and the FM forums were buzzing with the Bristol Avon Fish-In scheduled for Boxing Day. The usual crowd had pledged to turn up, especially as permission had been secured to fish a very private stretch of the upper Bristol Avon. With access to seemingly the most productive big roach swim in Britain (usually fished from the other bank), many were turning up to offer moral support in what had to be the best chance that Steve would ever have of banking a 2lb roach (or a 907 grammer now that we’d finally gone metric in 2017, not that it made any difference). Advanced weather forecasting that was accurate for three months meant that the FMer’s had chosen a day when the river was in perfect condition; slightly more flow than normal with a tinge of colour with the weather mild and cloudy with little wind.

The great day dawned. Of the fifteen or so present, half a dozen had turned up to fish but the others were happy to offer ‘advice’. Steve was given the pick of the swims, and having checked the echo sounder, selected the three swims centred on one that had a recognisable oak tree on the far bank, background to a thousand trophy shots. The echo sounder showed just three big roach over 2lbs in the middle swim accompanied by several smaller ones. One of the three roach was much bigger than the other two. Elsewhere on the Bristol Avon, roach much over a pound were very rare. On the far bank, a well-worn patch of grass indicated that this swim was regularly fished. Downstream an overhanging willow trailed its branches in the river.

The expectant crowd were all keen to offer advice:

“Open end feeder and flake,” chimed one.

“Stick float and casters,” said another.

“Topper and bread punch,” opined someone else.

“Try a floater,” said Corkers, talking a load of cr*p as usual.

“Paternostered lugworm?” Offered Deanos.

“I know what I’m doing, and besides I’ve been watching with Google Earth lately and stick float and caster seems the best bet so that’s what I’ll start with,” replied Steve.

Those fishing drifted off to find their own swims, happy to spend a few hours trotting in the fresh air after the excesses of Christmas day, so Peter Jacobs, Claudia, Neil Maidment, Coops, Nigel Connor and Mike Townsend trudged up the meadow. They’d agreed to waive the use of the echo sounder for the day, preferring to see what their skills could tempt although they were using ‘Magi-bait’ attracter on their bait.

For the others it was a case of getting comfortable on roving chairs to await events. Steve, armed with the knowledge that the fish of his dreams was finally so close, was trembling so much that he could hardly thread the line through the rod rings never mind the float rubbers. Once tackled up he began to trot the swim, feeding a few casters each swim down. To keep the suspense going, they’d agreed not to use the echo sounder once the fishing started. It was half an hour before the first tentative bites came, difficult to spot at first.

“A more sensitive float wouldn’t come a amiss,” exclaimed Steve, as the caster came back shelled for the third run down.

“Put the stick float on upside down so the dense base is uppermost; it’ll be more sensitive,” suggested Woody, trying to be helpful.

“Give ‘em time, Steve, they’ll come,” muttered Magic Marsdin, glad that Steve would be in the chair in the pub later, if, that is, he finally caught a two-pounder.

Ron Clay started, “When I fished with Dick Walker, you know, he always reckoned that the best wa…”

“Shaddupppppppp!” Bellowed everyone within earshot, not really wanting to hear yet another Dick Walker tale, even if they knew Ron was probably right.

Eventually, Steve started to hit the bites, landing some fine roach up to about a pound and a quarter. By now, lunchtime was looming. Deanos piped up, “Anyone for a slice of roast donkey, or some donkey pie? I was going to bring along the latest Yorkshire delicacy, beaver sausage but you lot would only say something smutty.”

A short while later, a familiar bearded angler appeared on the far bank just fifteen yards away. “You’re in my swim, aren’t you?” He said, rather than asked.

“Not yours today, mate, unless you want to fight for it?” replied Steve. Discretion being the better part of valour, the other angler retreated back over the stile, pondering where else he might catch a brace of two-pounders to send in to Angler’s Mail this week.

At the end of the swim the three big roach fed cautiously on the casters, taking care to avoid the ones with hooks in. But far under the overhanging willow, something else was stirring…

Two o’clock and Mike Townsend wandered back to see what was going on. “Fed up wi’ catching ‘em up there; couple of ‘2’s and plenty more good ‘uns. Dead easy this river.” he exclaimed.

Mike studied Steve fishing for about twenty minutes. “Thee wants Ultralon hooklinks fer big ‘uns,” he finally surmised. “And yer presentation ain’t up to much!”

Steve changed the hook link.

“Yer presentation still ain’t right,” said Mike.

“Show us what you mean,” said Steve, offering the rod to Mike.

Mike adjusted the depth a couple of inches, moved a couple of shot, cast in and skilfully trotted the float down the swim. As it neared the overhanging tree, the float dipped and Mike struck.

“Feels like a reet good ‘un’,” he said, as he patiently played the fish.

“Ay, should mek ‘two’,” he exclaimed, as he lifted the landing net containing the big roach. He weighed the fish. “two three, best ‘o day.”

In the dark depths, a pair of malevolent eyes swivelled,

Steve took the rod back and continued trotting, feeling slightly gutted by the ease that Mike had caught the two-pounder.

An hour later, Steve had had no more bites. He turned to Mark, “Show us how, mate,” he said.

Mark made one or two adjustments, and cast in. As with Mike the float dipped, and he found himself playing a big roach. Steadily bringing it in, it was a couple of minutes before the roach surfaced, another two pounder. Weighed it went just over two pounds. “Only one left out there, then Steve, just the big ‘un,” said Mark, handing back the rod.

As the light began to fade in mid afternoon, Steve concentrated harder than ever, eager to get the presentation just right. It was getting hard to see the float now in the gloaming but a sharp bite was met with a gentle strike. The rod tip nodded with the hefty thumps of a big roach. As carefully as he could Steve brought the roach up the swim. The watching crowd barely able to breathe and for once hushed as they sensed that they might be about to witness angling history.

The huge roach, for that is what it was, surfaced for the first time, drawing gasps from the watching anglers. This roach had to be over three pounds.

“Steady as she goes,” counselled Magic Marsden, confident the drinks were on Steve.

But steadily rising in the water and moving upstream was a huge pike, well over thirty pounds, its eyes focussing on the flank of the roach. The roach was less than a foot from the landing net when it launched its attack. An almighty splash and a limp dangling line were all that remained of what had been the roach approaching the net.  

“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” screamed Steve.

“What’s up, my loverrr?” Mumbled Wendi, as she stirred, woken by the shout, “One of they bad dreams again?”

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Mark and all at FishingMagic!