With miles of Britain’s rivers being virtually unexplored and unfished these days, this is the perfect time to go roving.
By travelling light and moving from swim to swim, you can enjoy all the glories of the English countryside as well as some prolific barbel and chub fishing.
These are the very thoughts that inspire river wanderer Chris Holley. By staying mobile, carrying the bare minimum of tackle and roving along a stretch of river, Chris has managed to catch 199 double-figure barbell and chub to 7lb 10oz.
Furthermore, the angling guide has also passed on his years of river experience, helping countless other anglers – from dustmen to big names such as Michelin-star awarded chef Marco Pierre White - land quality fish.
“Roving is without doubt my favourite method,” said Chris enthusiastically.
“It enables you to quickly get an idea of the river’s topography, where the snags, deep holes and weed beds are and all the other places that will hold fish.
“This makes catching fish much easier as you are actively seeking them out rather than sitting static, behind a pair of rods, waiting for them to come to you in a swim that may not be very good.”
To put Chris’ theory of roving to the test, we met up with him on a Birmingham Anglers Association stretch of the River Teme at Cotheridge.
With the river running very low and clear, it was obvious things were going to be tough.
But while lots of anglers would have got straight back in their car as soon as they saw the river, Chris remained unfazed.
Although not as confident as he would have been had the river been carrying a bit more water and colour, he still thought he could put a couple of fish on the bank.
Chris faced the ultimate test of his mobile attack...
Chris started the day by sneaking into his first swim, slightly upstream of the car park. From the high bank, a number of large barbell and chub were merrily troughing the hemp he had introduced into his four swims as soon as he had arrived at Cotheridge.
Burying his size 4 Drennan Boilie hook into a one inch cube of curry powdered luncheon meat, he swung his lightweight rig 10 yards upstream, away from the feeding fish.
Using the flow to carry it along the riverbed, it was ignored on the first run.
Repeating the cast Chris tried a different line, a little closer in. The meat bounced down into the lion’s den.
Holding in the flow a barbel broke rank and jumped on the meaty cube. Leaving the bite a second to develop, Chris swiftly struck and the first fish of the session was on.
As the fish rocketed downstream, his rod took on an alarming bend.
Giving its all, the barbell soon relinquished the balance of power and Chris welcomed it to the folds of his landing net’s mesh.
The fish was a 6lb 8oz beauty, a great start to a tough day.
“It’s time for a move,” said Chris…
Swim two comprised of a shallow upstream area, deepening as the river ran through a corridor of overgrown trees, ending in a deep pool at the end of the tree-lined passageway.
The pool at the end of the run was the area that Chris had pre-baited and was a little too deep to spot fish, although the occasional flash of white revealed there was a least one barbel in the swim.
Slipping on his chest waders, Chris’ plan was to creep to the inner edge of the trees and roll his meat down the central channel.
Unfortunately, with the river being at it lowest levels, Chris had problems getting the meat to roll naturally, forcing him to work it down the river rather than it being carried naturally.
This resulted in a few quick tugs on his meat hookbait, but no positive pick-ups. After 30 minutes, it was again time to move on downstream…
Chris' third swim was half-a-mile from the car park. In a shaded copse, this highly inviting swim had plenty of pace running through it and a snag on the inner bank.
Having previously placed two pints of hemp around the snag, this was the place for Chris to target.
A chunk of curried meat was flicked upstream, to allow it to trundle around the edge of the snag where the fish would be lying. Keeping his fingers on the mainline just above the reel, a technique called touch legering, Chris waited for any knocks caused by fish picking up his bait to be transmitted to his nerveladen fingertips.
After 10 minutes of little life showing, an armada of 20 big chub swam through the swim. Moving slowly towards the previously baited area the air was pregnant with anticipation.
For a few moments the chub hung over the bait before drifting away - in the low, clear conditions they were proving hard to tempt.
The final swim was a ‘U’ shaped area of the river, with a sandy beach area on his side and an uprooted tree on the far bank.
“This looks great,” said Chris, “the deeper, faster flow runs right along the edge of the fallen tree opposite.
“This is a classic holding area as it provides cover and oxygen for the fish.”
Running meat through the swim a few times, the fish weren’t having it. The river’s low levels and bright sun were making them spooky.
“I might just give worms a bash,” he said.
Seconds later, three worms where lumbering their way through the swim.
“That was a bump,” Chris whispered. Seconds later, he struck and the day’s second barbel was on!
“It’s a bit smaller than I’d like!” Chris said with a beaming grin on his face.
The only way to describe it was ‘perfection in miniature’ as the fish weighted four ounces!
“It seems funny, but barbel this size are rarer than double figure fish,” Chris said lightheartedly.
“Anyone that does much barbel fishing will know that the smallest fish generally caught are around 1lb.
“The real babies like these are never seen. So even though she’s a little un’ she’s a real treasure!”
How to roll meat effectively
Rolling a piece of meat is a top way of catching wary barbel and chub as you are presenting them with a moving bait that behaves naturally.
When rolling meat you must keep constant contact with the bait to read what’s happening below the water.
The best way to do this is by touch legering, the technique works by gently laying the line between your fingertips on your free hand and feeling for tell-tale bumps and plucks caused by a fish picking up the bait.
“Using your fingertips – which are very sensitive – for bite indication, means you can strike quicker and spot subtle bites that you might miss when using a quivertip,” said Chris.
Rod position is also important when working a moving bait downstream.
“A key mistake made by anglers is they keep the rod too high. Hold the rod tip close to the water so you give yourself room to strike,” he added.
But the third, and perhaps most important element you must get right, concerns the weight of leger weight you choose.
This should just be heavy enough to get the hookbait to the bottom, but not so heavy that it is pinned down static on the riverbed.
The meat must be able to trip and trundle along the riverbed, washed along by the flow, so that it resembles the natural movement of a free offering carried on the current.
“If the bait remains static, you immediately lose the advantage of fishing with a rolling bait and the natural presentation it gives you,” said Chris.
“Another problem novices make is pointing the rod at the bait. It is better to keep the rod at a 90º angle to the bait.
“By keeping a tight line and having it at an angle, you can easily feel when the bait has stopped and when it needs tweaking to get it moving through the swim again.”
Push the hook into and through the top of a one inch cube of meat.
Pull the hook out of the other side, and twist it 180 degrees.
Gently pull the hook back into the meat, burying the point.
Chris’ roving rig (below) is simple, but it does incorporate some important aspects.
Chris’ mainline is 10lb Maxima. This is a heavy and quite thick line for its breaking strain when compared to modern high-tech lines. This is exactly what Chris looks for.
“Being thicker, the water pushes against it helping to trundle the meat downstream” Chris said.
Chris also uses a large bore run ring, stopped by a Fox buffer bead covering a size eight swivel.
To the run ring Chris attaches a snap link to facilitate quick lead changes. This is important as some swims have stronger flows than others, so you may need to use a lighter or heavier weight.
On the Teme Chris used a tiny leger, weighing just an eighth of an ounce, to trundle his bait along the riverbed. If the flow is very slow, Chris will even take the lead off altogether and freeline his baits.
For his hooklink he again uses line that sinks well and hugs the riverbed.
When fishing with meat chunks he uses 8lb Drennan Sinklink sinking braid but when using smaller baits like maggots, he uses 8lb Fox Illusion fluorocarbon. This extremely stiff line stops tangles when using light baits.
TOP THREE ROVING BAITS
As a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist, Chris never uses modern baits like boilies and pellets, preferring to place his faith in time-honoured baits like luncheon meat, pastes or worms.
Chris’ top barbel and chub baits are:
The best rolling meats are the dense brands and Chris’ preferred tins made by Celebrity, Netto or Lidl.
He cuts the meat into three inch long strips, puts them into a plastic bag, adds 2oz of hot curry powder then inflates the bag and shakes it to cover the meat. The bag then goes in the fridge overnight to allow the curry to permeate the meat.
Pastes are excellent for barbel and chub and Chris uses meat and cheese paste. To prepare his meat paste, take a pack of Sainsburys Extra Fine Sausage Meat then mix it 50/50 with fine breadcrumbs to produce a paste with the consistency of marzipan.
His cheese paste is made from equal quantities of Gorgonzola, mature cheddar and frozen puff pasty. He grates both cheeses then kneads the three ingredients together to form a smooth paste.
Three or four worms on the hook is a great change when things are tough. The only problem with using them is that they’re not very selective. They will catch everything that swims, like roach, chublets or even baby barbel!
DOES ROVING WORK?
Despite only fishing for a few hours in diabolical conditions Chris still managed to tempt a 6-pounder.
It was clear his mobile approach allowed him to spend time actively looking for fish rather than waiting in vain for them to come to him.
The value of the roving approach was illustrated by a few other anglers who were fishing static baits further upstream - they didn’t muster so much as a line bite between them!
So, next time you fancy a spot of barbel and chub fishing, leave the tackle mountain at home, travel light and prepare to explore.
You might just discover some truly magical river fishing.