“Without doubt, this is one of the best roach venues in Great Britain.” Those are the words of angler Rob Buick, who last week took part in an astonishing fishing match on Northern Ireland’s Lower River Bann, during which almost 1,000lb of roach were caught.
While many running-water fisheries in England and Wales struggle to find their form after the coldest winter in decades, the Portglenone stretch of the Bann hit top gear during a Belfast Winter League event, with each man averaging a staggering 33lb of redfins.
Anglers weighing in 50lb-plus bags walked away from the weigh-in empty-handed, and Dick Clegg Belfast ace John Barr Snr needed over 400 roach for a winning 90lb 11oz haul.
Team-mate Rob Buick was also kept busy throughout the four-and-a-half hour match, placing 77lb 2oz on the scales to take the runners-up spot.
“Weights over 100lb are quite common, and even on a very tough day the winner will have 30lb in their net. The fish pack into the stretch at this time of year because it’s deep and wide, and before the match started we were expecting big weights, despite the fact that the river was frozen solid two weeks ago. The fish average around 4oz, but it’s a bite-a-chuck for the duration of the session,” explained Rob.
A host of famous anglers have sampled the delights of the stretch in previous years, including four-times World Champ Bob Nudd. He said: “These mammoth weights come as no surprise ¬ the stretch probably produces the best roach fishing in Ireland, and nothing in England comes anywhere close. You can catch big bags from even the worst pegs!”
The action at Portglenone has become so hot in recent years that some anglers who have fished on both sides of the Irish Sea have confessed they would happily never visit an English water again. One such angler is former Essex resident David Pettard, who said: “I moved over five years ago. Back home it was all carp, chub and barbel fishing, and I don’t miss it one bit.
During a recent match at Portglenone very few people caught during the first two hours, but the winner still recorded 57lb of roach. I came nowhere with 30lb!”
Although the recent weights have raised a few eyebrows in this country, Northern Ireland is no stranger to huge roach nets. The most famous catch of the species came in 1981 from the River Sillees when Pete Burrell bagged an enormous 259lb 3oz bag during a five-hour event. The Essex-based rod landed three 6oz fish a minute on short pole and maggot tactics, while the top five competitors averaged almost 200lb of roach apiece.