John Bailey's Roach Obsession Diary

xenon

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Roach Obsession Diary. 6.30 pm 5/2/2021

Sorry for my silence of late. So many reasons. Working on two major roach pieces for FM. Moving river. Still not back to my best.

Apologies done with, Robbie and I met up on the Bure this afternoon to fish the stretch I had been baiting for six days. We’d looked at the forecast, and knew we had 36 hours or less before a temperature collapse.

I’m not going to spoil Robbie Northman’s thunder - he caught the fish and it will feature on his social media, but I can reveal we caught this chub of 7.10, witnessed by Enoka, who had done a good bit of the baiting on my down days.

Then, almost as excitingly, both of us missed pulls that had, just HAD to have been from roach. If I’m well, tomorrow I might just squeeze in a float session before the snow comes.

Bloody hell. Zipping around with a song in my heart. How old am I, I wonder??? On a top day like this, it might be 1971 all over again!

Much more from me to come!

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Robbie Northman and Enoka
Another handsome beast!
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary. 9.00am 10/2/2021

You’ll have to excuse my long silence, but the snows have truly come to Norfolk, and I guess there is a foot lying on the meadows leading to the river. Part of me says I should still be getting out there, but the saner side of my brain notes that temperatures are only forecast to struggle to 0 degrees today. Had the fishing so far these nine or ten weeks been blistering, then I might still be tempted out, but six bites or so in fifty-plus sessions is not the stuff of dreams. It is starting to look as though I will leave Norfolk roachless this winter, but in the big scheme of things folks have been dealing with far, far worse.

My erstwhile fishing time has become reading time. The big farmhouse next door has an excellent library, if a little aged and dusty. Yesterday afternoon, on dusk, I stoked up the fire and picked up some country books from way back last century. I was mesmerised by a 13th Century poem I came across entitled Names Of The Hare. It’s hardly a surprise that country dwellers back then had far more intimacy with the land around - to the extent they had SEVENTY SEVEN names for the animal for which we now have one. The hare. How about these as samples? “The Jumper.” “The Rascal.” “The Racer.” “The Nibbler.” “The Starer.” “The Hedge Springer.” “The Long Ears.” “The Lurker.” “The Dew Hopper.” “The Grass Bounder.” "The Herb Cropper.” “The Light Foot.”

I poured a cup of tea and stoked the fire. Hmm? How about “Names of The Roach”? I mused. “The Dawn Roller.” "The Silver Scaler.” “The Red-Finned Shoaler.” "The Gravel Grazer.” “The Snail Feeder.” “The Shy One.” "The Otter Evader.” "The Stream Wanderer.” “The Weir Pool Lover.” “The Maytime Spawner.” Enough, I hear you say, but there is a point to all this.

Seven or eight hundred years back, hares were given these names by those who wanted to eat them. To hunt them successfully they needed to understand them completely, hence these names that highlight the very essence of what a hare is all about. Surely, the very essence of catching anything depends on knowledge, of familiarity with every aspect of how the prey lives and behaves? Fascinating or frivolous? As ever, for you to decide!

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John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary. 4.00pm 14/2/2021

I should be fishing, I know, but it still reads minus one degree outside, and despite forecasts the wind still sneaks in from the East. So, no, I’ll stay put. I am set to leave Wyewards in ten days, and I do wonder if I will get another crack at the Wensum before I go. The temperature should be in double figures in five days, but the snowmelt and heavy, predicted rain are likely to throw the river up and out of its banks again. I might get a session a week tomorrow, but that will be it I am guessing. A strange way to go out this winter and who knows, am I ever again going to fish the Wensum with anything like the intensity I have put into it over the years? Perhaps it is better to go out this way: imagine that journey West if “twos” and “threes” were popping out like peas?

Thank you for those of you kind enough to comment favourably on my last Winter Walks piece. How sad, though, that the destruction on the Wensum was mirrored right across the UK, certainly in lowland England. I suppose you could say that the EA is trying to make amends today, but to be frank, their efforts are piecemeal and rarely followed through. It is far harder to put right the damage done than anyone initially thought, and many river stretches have lost the ability to repair themselves. For those of you who take this as seriously as everyone should, I interviewed Mark Everard recently for My River. I hope you will find what Mark has to say interesting - it is NOT about catching roach, but how we might actually get them back to catch one day.

So, my next Winter Walk might well be based on the Wye, and if anyone has any info about where I might meet up with roach down there, well, wouldn’t that be sensational!!

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Enoka does not look keen on a roach session either!!
 

john step

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Good luck with the move. Always traumatic. Now where did I pack that..........................................
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary. 4.30pm 16/2/2021

Oh dear. Still light. 9 degrees and little wind. The fresh, fragile feel of Spring. But a river gushing with snow melt and filling the fields again. Seven more days to go for me at the Wensum farm here, and then the trip West and Wyewards. Will I get in anything like a sensible session or two, or is that just about the finale, has that dear fat lady cleared her throat, and is she about to burst into song? Do you know, looking back to when this plan was hatched, I felt deep down I’d leave with at least one serious roach under my proverbial belt. I knew how hard the stretch would be, of course, and I didn’t quite anticipate the weather’s hostility, but I expected my reward. I feel I might have gone out on a low, but nonetheless I have learned lessons. You can’t simply batter a venue with bait and expect wild fish to capitulate. A burning desire is good, but not good enough to conquer all fishing situations, especially when verging on the impossible.

And perhaps, above all, I’ve appreciated the whole thrust of that modern mantra - biodiversity. I’ve had to accept that there is so much wrong with the river valley as a whole, it is unrealistic to expect roach to have miraculously survived, when virtually everything else has succumbed. I still believe that a sticking plaster would work: if I could stock a quarter of a million roach and then protect them for ten years, I feel sure I’d have roach back here in numbers and sizes to equal the glory days. But that will never happen. Until we see owls back, and skylarks and lapwings and all the rest, it is verging on the impossible that roach will magic themselves back into existence.

I’m really looking forward now. I’ve never had a Wye two pound roach, and I don’t know where to start. If anyone reads this plea and has a kind heart, I am certainly here to be helped.
 

xenon

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Roach Obsession Diary. 4.30pm 16/2/2021

Oh dear. Still light. 9 degrees and little wind. The fresh, fragile feel of Spring. But a river gushing with snow melt and filling the fields again. Seven more days to go for me at the Wensum farm here, and then the trip West and Wyewards. Will I get in anything like a sensible session or two, or is that just about the finale, has that dear fat lady cleared her throat, and is she about to burst into song? Do you know, looking back to when this plan was hatched, I felt deep down I’d leave with at least one serious roach under my proverbial belt. I knew how hard the stretch would be, of course, and I didn’t quite anticipate the weather’s hostility, but I expected my reward. I feel I might have gone out on a low, but nonetheless I have learned lessons. You can’t simply batter a venue with bait and expect wild fish to capitulate. A burning desire is good, but not good enough to conquer all fishing situations, especially when verging on the impossible.

And perhaps, above all, I’ve appreciated the whole thrust of that modern mantra - biodiversity. I’ve had to accept that there is so much wrong with the river valley as a whole, it is unrealistic to expect roach to have miraculously survived, when virtually everything else has succumbed. I still believe that a sticking plaster would work: if I could stock a quarter of a million roach and then protect them for ten years, I feel sure I’d have roach back here in numbers and sizes to equal the glory days. But that will never happen. Until we see owls back, and skylarks and lapwings and all the rest, it is verging on the impossible that roach will magic themselves back into existence.

I’m really looking forward now. I’ve never had a Wye two pound roach, and I don’t know where to start. If anyone reads this plea and has a kind heart, I am certainly here to be helped.
John, thanks for these diaries-quality reading as ever. Would you have swapped your monster chub for a two pound roach? (I think I know the answer to that)
 

liphook

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I have hope, and more than a slight desire, that all is not quite over for you and your Wensum redfin quest in these closing days JB. Keep the faith! Odin loves a trier apparently, and what is any river if not an artery into his sea? If nothing else it will stand you in good stead for the move west where I know that big roach still feature in the hearts and catches of Hereford anglers. Good luck and tight lines. We are rooting for you
 

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Roach Obsession Diary. 12.00pm 18/2/2021

Well, with six days of Norfolk life left to me, I just have to fish on, don’t I? Thanks to Xenon and to Liphook, and their stirring messages of support, I really have no choice but to see the quest through to its final end. Thank you both indeed. Your words have stiffened my resolve, and I am off to the distant shop as soon as this is finished, where I will stock with bread ready for baiting this afternoon and fishing tomorrow and, especially, over the weekend. The weather is also looking like the dream scenario. What? Temperatures well into double figures are forecast, and the river is fining nicely with still a smidge of colour. How can I resist?

If there is any residual doubt it is this. Supposing, just supposing, I were to hit a last seam of big roach. Imagine if a brace of “twos” - big ones at that - were to come my way. What would the journey West be like for me then? Would I be rejoicing? Would I be cursing this relocation as a death knell to my roach ambitions? However, given the track record of the past ten weeks or more, I suspect this is the least of my worries.

One glorious, last, pristine fish of a pound would do me. A last gift from this wonderful river Wensum that has been my life for forty years and more. A memory to last me forever.
 

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A bit of roach porn to prove to John that river roach still exist. On Monday the conditions on the Dorset Stour were just about right despite a rising river and I had a good session. Here's the result on video: Quest for a Big Stour Roach Part 4
I went back on Wednesday with the river a fair bit higher and dirtier, had several small roach and lost a big one at the net....
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary. 12.00pm 19/2/2021

Have just watched Mark Wintle’s film of a Stour session, filmed a few days ago. What a ten-minute escape Mark, thank you. What a peach of a swim. What lovely fish. What an inspiration to get out there. I EVEN liked and signed up, something that took me half the morning, but so great was my enthusiasm, how could I surrender and accept defeat?

A few thoughts. Not for forty years have I been able to settle onto an upper river swim in Norfolk and build it up like this, confident that fish would respond and that a big one might well come to the net. Just exquisite fishing. Nice to see a Mitchell doing its stuff, and more evidence that I lag behind by not using punch as often as I should.

Interesting that this was a bridge swim. What decent roach fishing that has come my way this century has been within the sound and sight of traffic. I struggle to think of any explanation but that of cormorant reluctance and dislike of human activity. We all know bridges historically have been hotspots but not, I think, to the degree they are today. Certainly in my world. And, of course, most of the decent roach we saw up close bore evidence of cormorant attacks. Cormorant avoidance must be the biggest issue in the lives of these fish today.

I was struck by Mark’s close analysis of water levels and the part they play. I, like all roach anglers, have been acutely aware of them since 1970 and have come to realise that on the Wensum they are more volatile year on year. This winter, they have been up and down like a fiddler’s elbow (I can never resist that one). I know the weather has been erratic, but so has it been in my long memory without creating dizzying conditions like these. The modern automatic sluice gates I think... these really are never still and constantly changing flow regimes. The change from Spring to Autumn ploughing? Certainly, on my walks, the run-off from every field has been spectacular... and God knows what concoctions of chemical end up in the river.

Perhaps the Wandle really has it all? Not a blade of grass near it. The growl of humanity 24/7. Perfect roach sanctuary 2021.
 

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That did look great Mark, nice steady flow, wide river, touch of colour and some 1lb+ roach on the float. It is wetting my appetite and Johns.
 

Curt whitby

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Not many big roach in the rivers dane or weaver john. The Dane in my experience has always been more of a chub and dace water than roach although roach still come out in a mixed bag. Bream have also taken over to the detriment of roach on the river weaver although this Autumn I had 8 roach out between 8 oz and 1 lb from Northwich town centre. I've not fished the stretch myself but believe the Acton bridge stretch of the weaver has a decent head of good roach. There's plenty of smaller roach in both rivers but not many "big" ones. Oh and there's plenty of cormorants about on both rivers and plenty of mink to boot. Many fish sporting scars from near misses.
 

Mark Wintle

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Roach Obsession Diary. 12.00pm 19/2/2021

Have just watched Mark Wintle’s film of a Stour session, filmed a few days ago. What a ten-minute escape Mark, thank you. What a peach of a swim. What lovely fish. What an inspiration to get out there. I EVEN liked and signed up, something that took me half the morning, but so great was my enthusiasm, how could I surrender and accept defeat?

A few thoughts. Not for forty years have I been able to settle onto an upper river swim in Norfolk and build it up like this, confident that fish would respond and that a big one might well come to the net. Just exquisite fishing. Nice to see a Mitchell doing its stuff, and more evidence that I lag behind by not using punch as often as I should.

Interesting that this was a bridge swim. What decent roach fishing that has come my way this century has been within the sound and sight of traffic. I struggle to think of any explanation but that of cormorant reluctance and dislike of human activity. We all know bridges historically have been hotspots but not, I think, to the degree they are today. Certainly in my world. And, of course, most of the decent roach we saw up close bore evidence of cormorant attacks. Cormorant avoidance must be the biggest issue in the lives of these fish today.

I was struck by Mark’s close analysis of water levels and the part they play. I, like all roach anglers, have been acutely aware of them since 1970 and have come to realise that on the Wensum they are more volatile year on year. This winter, they have been up and down like a fiddler’s elbow (I can never resist that one). I know the weather has been erratic, but so has it been in my long memory without creating dizzying conditions like these. The modern automatic sluice gates I think... these really are never still and constantly changing flow regimes. The change from Spring to Autumn ploughing? Certainly, on my walks, the run-off from every field has been spectacular... and God knows what concoctions of chemical end up in the river.

Perhaps the Wandle really has it all? Not a blade of grass near it. The growl of humanity 24/7. Perfect roach sanctuary 2021.
Glad you enjoyed it, John. My cameraman and I are on a mission to create great videos but it's a long learning curve, not helped by being restricted in where we can go. I have a lots of camera and audio gear that will be put to good use when life is less restricted (travelling very light at present as I have to carry all the gear), in the meantime the apprenticeship continues.
Sadly although the local club has won some of the battles (shooting now stopped again) with the cormorants, the cormorants are winning the war and the cessation of the usual Canford School boating due to the school being closed has given them free rein, with 8 fishing there at present, season on season the fishing is declining once again. I can't help thinking that if cormorants had ceased to exist 20 years ago my local rivers would have a head (and size) of roach unprecedented due to the recovery of the river from the disastrous dredging of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Since last Monday the river has been up and down and is rising again with lots of colour. Two short sessions resulted in 5 small roach on the tip (lost a good one at the net) and 8 yesterday fishing an area I hadn't fished since 1984 with one of a pound. I have also identified an area that I hope to explore soon provided the river settles and the weather is favourable.
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary. 12.00pm 21/2/2021

Well, this is it, folks. Yesterday I fished dawn to dusk with Robbie Northman. The weather was a cracking ten degrees, bait had gone in for a week along half a mile of what had once been prime water. All we had was crayfish. I can’t say we registered a single bite from anything with fins. Not a fish topped. I’ve now chalked up sixty sessions, or thereabouts, and seen three good fish and a couple of tiny dace. So, with apologies to all of you who have given the most welcome of support, I’ve been taking down the gear this morning, and the move West can’t come too soon. But I am heartbroken it has come to this. John Wilson told me a hundred times in the Seventies that we would eventually face a roach-less river, and that was before we needed to factor in the cormorant surge.

I think this feeling of fury, almost, is what makes Mark Wintle’s last comments unendurable. You know, I watched his film twice. How long? Quarter of an hour? But minutes gone like magic. My joy was to think that there still exists roach fishing of the classic type, that there are swims where a stick float man can go on a mild winter’s day, and enjoy roach like his grandfather would have done. And then, bugger me, Mark bursts the bubble. “Cormorants are winning the war”, he tells us. Even here at one of the bastions, these birds are whittling away at what hope remains. Just how come we are letting this happen? How come the RSPB culls discriminately and quietly, and gets away with it, when it knows an indigenous species is threatened, and yet merry hell is raised when we wish to do the same?

We all know the modern-day mantra when it comes to The Roach Problem. There is no silver bullet. Bad river quality. Abstraction. Habitat. Run-off. Sewage. More data. More hand-wringing. Fewer and fewer roach. Quite a while back, someone (I can’t say who for obvious reasons) moved several thousands of pit roach into the Wensum, and then mounted cormorant patrol for two winters, dawn and dusk. The result was roach fishing Mark Wintle would relish. Abundant fish, evidently growing fast and completely at home in their new environment. But, in the end, he or she had to give up through tiredness, opposition, and the threat of legal action. Today, not that long down the line, the stretch is as barren as any of the others. A roach there now is an event rather than a given.

This bullet might not be made of silver exactly. This solution might not solve all rivers’ many ills everywhere but, by God, if we could adopt it, even on selected stretches, then Mark would be making his roach-filled films for years to come.
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary. 10.00am 26/2/2021

Well, Friends of The Diary, here I am here in Herefordshire, forty eight hours out of Norfolk, and still feeling a whirlpool of emotion. Never did I feel I would make this move. Never did I ever imagine I would “Do A Wilson”, albeit on a far less dramatic stage. I always believed I would be Norfolk 'till the death, but here I am now. John moved to Thailand for several reasons, which I will not divulge of course, but paramount was the horror with which he viewed the decline of fisheries that both of us had loved since 1971. Another blow was the fact that he could find barely a soul to support him in his efforts to rectify this... and on this issue I confess I was slow to realise John was largely right, and the gang of fishery scientists was partly wrong.

So, nearly ten years after JW found himself going East, I was driving West. I know the Wye valley is not some Avalon of legend, and that it and its tributaries have their problems, but the fact remains that it still holds numbers of fish unimaginable in the Wensum today. I realised this when I was filming with Mortimer and Whitehouse on the river in June 2020. We were below Ross, and the river teemed with life. There were more fish in the mile we fished than in all the upper rivers of Norfolk put together.

I drove away from Norfolk with heavy heart, but I felt unburdened too. For many years I have fought for the Wensum, Bure and the rest, and faced nothing but criticism and apathy. Okay, I accept, nothing like the hostility poor JW put up with, but wearying nonetheless, and to see the continuing decline of fish populations broke me in the end. This winter gone has only underscored this dismay. Friends of The Diary will know that I have barely seen a roach since November, and only three chub. The weather might not have been ideal, but there were still many promising days in between the snows and floods that produced nothing. If I had to leave, I had chosen my time right and Norfolk put up little protest. I will, of course, be back East with regularity because I have commitments, but now I can focus on Herefordshire and whatever I can discover here. I have a good start I know: I first knew the Wye in the 1960s as a kid, and I guided on it from 1992 'till 2017 or thereabouts, but I still have huge amounts to learn, I am aware.

So! As of now, please, please follow my journey as I try to make sense of a largely new life. I have some advantages I know but in essence, like any angler, I am starting from scratch and I hope it will be of interest to see how I fare, where I succeed, and how often I fail. It’s a journey I am looking forward to with eagerness but with trepidation. I hope my writings will give some sense of the bends in the river - and in life - I am bound to encounter. Stick with me, if you dare! PLEASE!!

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The abundance of the Wye!!
 

Mark Wintle

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I really hope you find some big roach on the Wye, John. I haven't fished the Wye very much but I have had a few sessions there, catching barbel on the waggler plus chub, dace, bleak and grayling, never a roach though but I did watch a match at Hereford about a decade ago where one angler was catching good roach on this impressive stretch of water.
There have been 2lbers landed from the stretch of Stour I've been fishing this winter though not in the areas I've tried and my days of competing for swims are over but good luck to those who've put in the time, skill and effort to succeed. My latest video (about a session on Tuesday) is loading at present probably won't surface until tomorrow but worth looking out for.
Yesterday was far tougher and I ended up with no worthwhile video although I finally found some roach to 1-2. I also had the smallest gudgeon I've ever had which somehow was fairly hooked on a 14!
 

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