A 2lb-plus roach would rank as the ‘catch of a lifetime’ for many fishermen, but how do you best target one of these magnificent creatures? Dai Gribble reveals his approach...
Specimen-sized roach are the ‘Holy Grail’ of targets for many anglers. No matter how hard-nosed they are, few fishermen can remain unmoved by the sight of such a magnificent creature.
“It’s like suddenly seeing a domestic cat the size of a tiger!” joked Dai Gribble.
“They’re not supposed to be that big,” he continued, while retelling the story of catching his first 3lb roach.
Though they are very rarely caught from rivers these days, big stillwater redfins are not as hard to track down as you might at first think.
Many gravel pits and reservoirs house big roach, and an increasing number of day-ticket carp lakes can also boast good stocks of the species, which tend to thrive well on the neglect afforded to them by most visitors to such venues.
To find out how to go about targeting big stillwater roach once a suitable venue has been located, we joined Dai on the banks of Bluebell Lake at the famous day-ticket complex of the same name in Tansor, Northamptonshire.
Picking a suitable venue
It’s safe to say that Dai knows what he’s talking about when it comes to big roach. He has landed five fish over 3lb (including a current personal best of 3lb 7oz) as well as dozens over the 2lb mark.
Dai was lucky enough to be a member of Willow Lake on the Linch Hill complex in Oxfordshire during the early 2000s. At that time, this particular gravel pit was throwing up many big fish which, with no pike present, were able to grow to a ripe old age without the fear of being predated upon.
Traditionally, gravel pits have always been among the best waters for targeting big roach, principally because they are rammed with natural food and also see a lot of protein-rich carp baits introduced, which help them to pack on further weight.
However, in Dai’s opinion, commercial day-ticket waters are also starting to deliver many specimen-sized examples of the species.
“Commercials will start to overtake the gravel pits as the number one place to target big roach,” he said. “Most have no pike present, plus the sheer number of anglers visiting such waters also means that the cormorants and goosanders stay away, so the roach are able to grow big, unmolested.”
The first stage in preparing to target big roach is to do a little homework. Every year loads of big roach ‘hang themselves’ on carp anglers’ boilie rigs, so asking them about the track record of a water is always a good starting point.
The internet is also a vital tool in the quest for information. Most fishery websites and online forums will yield a water’s roach fishing history, and you can always enquire with the lake’s owners too.
Arriving at a potential venue before dawn is also advisable, as you will often see roach ‘dimpling’ on the surface, giving their presence away. “They don’t roll, like tench and bream do, but they dimple - it’s almost like a drop of rain falling onto the surface,” Dai explained.
Being close to the bottom of the food chain, roach generally favour open water so they have good escape routes from potential predators. This is not always the case though, as they will at times scour every corner of the lake looking for food. Good places to introduce bait are anywhere that natural food will collect. This could be at the bottom of gravel bars, depressions in the lakebed, or areas where there is even the slightest depth change.
Another key consideration when big roach fishing is to find a clean area of the lake bottom. Roach will feed in and around weed, but where the lakebed is clean you will be able to present you rigs so much better.
When it comes to water depth, as a starting point Dai looks to fish areas offering around half the maximum depth of the lake he is on.
“I tend to avoid the deepest and shallowest parts of a lake, and anywhere between around eight and 15 feet is the perfect sort of depth,” he said. “However, this is only a guide. If you see fish dimpling in a deeper or shallower area, move to them as they won’t come to you.”
Tackle and rigs for roach
Fishing gravel pits often requires reasonably long casts to be made, and Dai uses 1.1lb test curve rods that can punch a 2oz swimfeeder 70yds or more if necessary.
The end of the mainline is where his rigs get interesting and, somewhat unique. A six-inch length of 12lb Power Gum is attached to the mainline using a swivel (if rules allow) while the opposite end is attached to a two-foot length of 12lb fluorocarbon. The Power Gum acts as a shock absorber to cushion the jagged fight a big roach gives, while the fluoro is used as a leader because it sinks well and is almost invisible in water.
Dai likes to target roach using helicopter rigs, and to do this he uses a purpose-built gizmo from Korum (a Ready Heli-Kit) that takes all of the hassle out of the job. To this he attaches a very short 2in-3in hooklink made from of 0.13mm high-tech mono, terminating in a size 18 hook. To finish it off, he then attaches a 2oz blockend feeder to the end of the leader.
The reason for his ultra-short hooklink is that roach tend to peck at baits. If longer links are used, the fish can easily pick up and reject the hookbait without the angler knowing, or feel resistance from the feeder and reject the bait.With such short hooklinks, once the fish picks up the bait, they are more often than not hooked against the weight of the feeder, giving a drop-back bite at the rod end. To amplify this, Dai uses Solar Quiverloc indicators, although heavy bobbins will do a similar job.
“The rigs need to be fished tight, so that the self-hooking drop-back works correctly,” Dai explained. “It may look crude, but there is no better leger rig for targeting big roach.”
Maggots reign supreme
All roach, regardless of size, are suckers for maggots. Although tradition dictates that casters are better for targeting big fish, they are too fragile to use with legering tactics, either smashing on the cast or being ravaged by small fish in the swim. Maggots make for a far more robust choice of bait.
“I’ve tried using fake maggots and casters in the past and although they are second to none for targeting tench, roach will not tolerate them,” said Dai. “I’ll occasionally use fake corn if the fish are feeding well, but not very often.”
To make his maggots ‘stand out’ in the swim, Dai likes to flavour them. Everyone has their favourites, and Dai is a big fan of Sonubaits’ F1 Liquid. Rather than simply pouring it over the maggots in a bait tub, which can mean a few get drowned in flavour while most remain untouched, Dai prefers to first pour the flavour into a plastic bag. This is scrunched up so that the inside is coated with the liquid, before a pint or two of grubs is put in to the bag. He then inflates the bag and shakes the contents, so all of the maggots get an even coating.
“You are not looking to provide a huge flavour trail in the water, just a slight whiff to tickle the fish’s taste buds,” said Dai.
When it comes to how he likes to fish a session, Dai often prefers to err on the side of caution, and doesn’t introduce lots of bait at the start of his session. Instead, he relies solely on the maggots being introduced via the swimfeeder, and usually only recasts after each bite.
“While a large carp might eat 2kg of bait in a day, a big roach may only consume a feederful of maggots, so too many casts could overfeed the swim before you’ve even caught,” he said.
This simple baiting approach, combined with his tailormade rig and flavoured maggots, have helped Dai to catch more than 70 roach over 2lb, plus five over the magical 3lb barrier. If you follow his tried-and-tested advice then angling’s greatest prize could soon be heading your way.
Rod: Korum Xpert 1.1lb – “A rod designed specifically with smaller specimen fish in mind, such as perch and roach. They are quite ‘tippy’ and perfect for feeder work too.”
Reel: Korum KMR 3000 – “A powerful little reel which boasts a freespool mechanism and a micro-adjustable front drag.”
Mainline: Korum 6lb Xpert Reel line
Hooklink: Preston Innovations’ Reflo Powerline 0.13mm (4lb 12oz) z Hook: size 18 Kamasan B980 eyed z Hookbaits: red and white maggots z Flavouring: Sonubaits’ F1 Liquid – “A sweet flavour that roach adore.”
How to flavour your maggots