Sunday 7 December 2014


a Linch Hill roach in it's prime - 3/3 of redfin silver
Many of us anglers love fishing for roach, preferably big ones and there appears to be an increasing enthusiasm for ‘silver fish’ as folk grow tired of hauling out endless ‘pasties’ from muddy carp puddles. I know that is provocative but you can’t beat a beautiful redfin can you. What’s more, fishing for them can provide endless variety in both techniques and the waters in which they flourish so it’s a win win situation - or is it?

no wonder they can swim fast - look at the size of those feet

No angler can have missed the increase in cormorants these last few years
and you only need to be a keen roach angler to feel the tears welling up when remembering the superb roach fishing that we once enjoyed. Down here in the South you could pick almost any steady glide on the rivers Avon and Stour and in good conditions expect to catch pound plus roach and not too infrequently, two pounders. Good fish still survive but anything over about 10ozs have become a lot rarer.

Some folk still believe that cormorants are not a significant cause of the decline in these silver fish numbers and while we can all accept that many factors are responsible such as abstraction, pollution, habitat loss and increasing extremes in our climate, cormorants do eat fish! 

 a superb Stour brace - 2/9 roach and 2/5 perch
On the River Stour in Wimborne we used to catch big bags of big roach over a pound with two pounders a regular occurrence. My best was 2/9 and best bag 47lbs, including several two pounders ... and others did even better, our famous local postman Owen Wentworth landing several bags of over 100lbs! The cormorants arrived and there are hardly any roach there now ... a coincidence or what?
the dramatic decline in our fishing on the Stour at Wimborne, compiled carefully from match returns

Hitler didn't make it here but the cormorants did!

the invasion since 1970 and they are still increasing
inland breeding pairs have increased too
Cormorants numbers have increased dramatically as these scientific graphs indicate and recent counts suggest that about 23,000 cormorants visit our shores from the continent every winter. As each one eats about a pound of fish every day, you have to ask whether 23,000lbs of fish removed from our waters every day is sustainable? 

nowhere has escaped the invasion, the Fenland drains I've been exploring are being hit badly
a small survivor but only just

They do catch small fish of course but nature’s rules of ‘effort vs. reward’ dictate that big fish provide a better reward for the effort expended. If you doubt they can tackle pound plus silver fish, just scan through this selection of my horror story catches from this past year.
a badly bitten 2/1 rudd
horrible wounds
this 1/12 nearly had it's tail bitten off

even the monster aren't immune from attack - this 3/9 rudd shows recent bad damage from those lethal beaks

the other side of the 3/9 with old war wounds by the dorsal

this near two pound Avon roach was nearly a goner

the good old days - a brace of two pounders from the Avon below Downton
a more recent two plus from above Downton ... alas, mostly gone now
One of my local rivers, the Hampshire Avon was once legendary for it’s roach fishing and over the years I have been lucky enough to catch lots of twos … and even a three from these iconic waters, so you can imagine the alarm when EA fish surveys in 2008 indicated that roach were almost totally absent from the famous middle reaches.
Bob's legendary middle Avon roach catch for 'A Passion for Angling' in the early '90's with ten over 2lbs and I caught three more twos to 2/10 before we even started filming, with Chris adding one of 2/5 when we'd finished - happy days!

the EA survey of the Avon showing the virtual disappearance of roach from the middle reaches - Britford on the left
This was the catalyst for the start of The Avon Roach Project by Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price. Both of them are fanatical roach anglers and felt they couldn’t just sit back and do nothing … there’s a lesson for us all there … so they decided to try to re-create the once flourishing and self- sustaining populations of roach throughout the Avon. After small beginnings the project has grown to industrial scale production and thousands of true Avon roach have already been restocked into many once famous stretches. You can read all about their work on the projects website and blog. –

netting one of the nine stews with the help of the EA

a couple of future two pounders here perhaps?
one of several sparkling young roach caught in this years charity match

Cynics suggest we are wasting our time and just feeding the cormorants but nature has wonderful powers of recovery and anglers are already catching small roach from swims where they haven’t seen roach for years. 

Avon futures

It’s a numbers game of course and the laws of nature decree that some of the small roach will survive to become big roach.
thousands have been released into once famous roach stretches of the Avon

digging out refuge areas

Creating habitat is the key and many landowners in the valley are supporting projects that will enhance the survival of all fish species, along with it’s associated wildlife.

prime habitat for wildlife
 bitterns moved in to take advantage of increasing fish populations
The cormorant threat has remained high on the agenda and a project document that I contributed to - “Biodiversity in Danger” was the catalyst for a petition demanding change.  This was delivered to the then fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, along with it’s nearly 20,000 signatures and with the support of the Angling Trust and Martin Salter, we got the law changed so that there is now more and better protection for our fisheries from the ravages of the ‘black death’. You can't beat a good dose of team spirit to get the job done.

ex. Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon having his ear bent by Trev and Budgie
Administering this new initiative are three full time Fisheries Management Advisors, [FMA’s] employed by the Angling Trust and funded by anglers’ Rod Licence revenue. Colin Barker, Richard Bamforth and Jake Davoille are the ones responsible for implementing the new area licences and encourage everybody to work together to tackle the problem.

behind us was the scene of the mass cormorant attack the other day

In an attempt to help, Trevor Harrop and I made a film for the Angling Trust called ‘Cormorants vs. Roach’ and it can be viewed on the Trust’s Website :

We made it to inform viewers and encourage support for the FMA’s work and we hope everybody will get behind them to make the new scheme effective. Jake Davoille is the main man in our area. I met him on the Avon recently while he was trying to turn words into action … and it’s working. Fewer cormorants means more roach and only last week was an example of how effective the scheme can be.

Britford dawn - a beautiful place that still supports a thriving roach population

At dawn, immediately behind where we were filming on the Avon at Britford, the carrier was black with cormorants, keeper Stuart estimating a total of between 120 to 150 packed into an area of a few yards. They weren’t there for long!

the tireless protector - Britford's keeper Stuart Wilson and Misty

With predation now at a critical level, all the local river keepers gathered in the area and made sure the birds learned that they aren’t welcome. They haven’t landed in the area since, so it’s a fine example of how the FMA’s can help co-ordinate our efforts to protect our fisheries.

a big bar of silver - the result of keeping the cormorants at bay
Please support them and the Angling Trust … and if you’re not a member, please join. It’s your best chance of making a difference and helping to ensure we have lovely big roach to catch in the future. 

So please do something … simply support these initiatives or even just be positive about the future. There are signs that in several rivers their roach shoals are returning. So if we all pull together maybe those glory days of watching a float trotting down a river and sliding under to the pull of a big roach will once again make a dream become reality.
some of the silver beauties are still out there
Details of the FMA’s can be found on the Angling Trust Website :

Tuesday 25 November 2014


a brace of River Kennet beauties - best 2/3

I have loved big roach since childhood and above all other species, concentrate my efforts on trying to catch them … and I’m not alone, for roach are a favourite of most anglers, with a two pound fish a mythical creature that swims in their dreams.

a perfect upper two
a cracking book - go buy it and catch more big roach

I’ve been lucky, for I’ve had the privilege of catching hundreds of roach over two pounds along with seven over three, so I consider myself qualified to suggest that you should give yourself an early Christmas present by buying Mark Wintle’s book, “Big Roach 2”.

It’s a truly splendid read, full of stories and advice that will undoubtedly help even the most seasoned campaigner to catch more big roach. I thought his first big roach book was good but somehow enjoyed reading this one even more.

Mark's favourite pic in the book - his childhood biggie from the R.Piddle
Like many of us, Mark has been hooked by roach since childhood and having sat next to him when catching some beauties on the Stour, I can vouch for his skill and knowledge. An ex. matchman with an acute eye for detail, he fills the book with guidance on what has been successful for him.
there's lots of advice about 'how and where' - the Stour pic is where I fished alongside Mark in the good old days

two friends with two's - Mike Townsend and Martin Salter
What makes the book even more enjoyable and informative are the liberally dotted stories from other anglers, not least the likes of ace roach catchers Dave Howes, Kevin Ashurst, Mike Townsend, Gerry Swanton, John Bailey and Dave Moody … plus many more ... and even if the book favours the famous Wessex rivers, there are plenty of sections about roach waters such as the Thames and Trent, along with those in Scotland, Ireland and Spain.

 a Christmas card from Pete Drennan - he knows the way to a roach angler's heart
There’s some enlightening thoughts on the philosophy required for catching big roach, not least the need to keep an open mind and keep changing things if you aren’t succeeding … which in my case is most of the time. It always amazes me that by just moving the float or shot by as little as an inch can make all the difference … but it does … sometimes!

Mark’s book contains some useful and detailed factual stuff about the identification of true roach … and a few provocative words about the correct weighing of big roach. It makes me laugh when yet another roach I’ve just landed fails the scales test and ‘only’ weighs 1/15. In fact, if I had a hot meal for every one I and my friends have caught, I’d be a very fat man!

There is of course no difference in a creature that weighs an ounce less than that magical two pounder that we all cherish … but there certainly is to a roach angler, probably any angler in fact. It’s just a number and after all they are only fish, but why some people kid themselves with their scales is beyond me for they are only fooling themselves ... and we've all seen plenty of dodgy two's in the angling press haven't we.

you can make even a 2/6 look like a giant with a wide angle lens!

Where and how you catch roach is surely of more significance than their size. I had a 2/15 but as it was a PB for my pole, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment ... and I certainly wasn't tempted to add an ounce as some are.

a 3/5 giant and after nearly 60 years of roach fishing, my biggest
I have caught a lot of two pounders, even three's from lakes, including my PB 3/5 this summer, but as my wife Sue says, "they’re only from a pond so they don’t count"! And I guess most roach anglers would agree. You can’t beat a true river two pounder or if you’re really lucky, that fish of a lifetime, a three ... or even a four!!
only an Avon mid-two this time

the true record - Ray Clark's 4/3 R.Stour giant
Mark's diary notes from Dorset's Frome
Mark is relentless in his pursuit of the facts, so you can be sure that the contents of his book are accurate. He keeps meticulous records of his catches and techniques too, something I wish I had been more careful about over the years. Travelling abroad so much to make films meant that every moment back home was precious and I’d rather be fishing than writing about it.
Mark with a good 'un from the Thames
But the next best thing to roach fishing is reading about roach fishing so we should be grateful that Mark has taken the time out to create this splendid book about our shared passion.

There sure are a lot of wise words between the covers and Mark's pay off is a prime example of the most important advice about big roach,  “enjoy your fishing”.

The book can be purchased from

Monday 17 November 2014


fish heaven - or is it?

The Royalty is one of the most iconic fisheries in Britain, if not the world. It has a long and distinguished history but I and my friends hardly ever fish it. I wonder why?

The last time I was there was in 2006 when filming Bernard Cribbins catching a salmon for our C4 series, ‘Catching the Impossible’. As if that wasn’t enough of a miracle, I’m told it was the first salmon caught there for over a month, was also the last one taken that season and Bernard caught it on his first cast. Sometimes the gods are on your side and this was certainly one of those magical occasions.

Bernard with one he caught earlier
This Royalty visit happened because I got lucky at another magical occasion, The Avon Roach Project annual fund-raising dinner at the end of September.

happy times for all

tea and home-made cake with friends - you can't beat it
I decided it was time to catch a Royalty barbel so bid for the kindly donated lot of a day and night fishing the famous Compound. I won the bid and so as to make it into a grand occasion, bought the next day too. This meant that friends could join me for a happy social, with tea and Sue’s famous Victoria sponge the addition to catching a shed full. Dream on.

shirt sleeve sunshine greeted us all
October 27th arrived and we were greeted by a low, clear river and warm sunshine – lovely to sit out in but maybe not ideal for catching fish. We were given a right royal welcome by John the bailiff who did his best to point us in the right direction.

oxygen enriched water

The weirpool looks quite daunting with it’s fiercely rushing water and so many delectable looking swims to choose from. 

where to cast? - it all looks so fishy
We knew that over the centuries dozens of legendary anglers had fished here … and were also aware that some of them even blanked.

famous folk have fished here for centuries

 don't suppose Fred often blanked - I wish I understood barbel like he did
I’m first and foremost a roach angler and a novice when it comes to barbel so felt sure I’d struggle. Mind you, the last time I’d fished the Royalty some twenty years ago with Mr.Yates as my guide, we fished Fiddlers West. He caught one barbel and I caught two, all eight pounders so we knew what we were doing … well Chris did. If you haven’t read his barbel fishing book ‘The Deepening Pool’ then do try to get hold of a copy. It’s an inspiring tale of searching for those muscular, golden beauties, as good if not better than any other book he has written.

Chris blending in while perch fishing

Chris was to join old friends Trevor Harrop and myself for a dabble in this famous pool. Trev and I were after a barbel but Chris was content to try for one of the Royalties legendary perch. He caught a sea trout instead.

making contact but is it a perch?
a bonnie sea trout instead
a silver beauty fresh from the sea
for a roach angler Trev was quite skillful!
Trev did a passable impression of dear Ray Walton and his rolling meat technique and promptly caught his first ever salmon. For a long few minutes he thought he had connected with his intended quarry but eventually the gold turned to silver. He wasn’t disappointed but excited at catching his PB silver tourist, all 7+lbs of it, though no pics taken as he released it immediately to continue it’s remarkable journey.

waiting for the 3ft twitch ... and I've read Fred's book too
We all caught small sea trout but the highlight of the day was catching a few eels, or first for many years and a hopeful sign that their numbers are recovering. Good news for our barbel too. Maybe the otters will go back to eating their favourite eels instead of our treasured bearded wonders. They, of course, eluded our best efforts.

Trev returned home to carry on the brilliant work of trying to restore the Hampshire Avon roach to their former glory … and for those cynics who suggest that all Budgie Price and Trevor are doing is feeding the cormorants, then dwell on this. Nature has wonderful powers of recovery and if you release enough young roach into the river, the laws of nature virtually guarantee that some will survive to be big roach.
Andy Martin of the EA gathering the babies at the stews
a netful of beauties for the future

thousands of roach have already enhanced the Avon's chance of survival
Over the five years of the project, thousands of true Avon roach have been released all along the river and there is firm evidence that some are surviving long enough to breed, thus fulfilling the dream that one day there will be self-sustaining populations of roach back in the river.

The fund raising dinner was proceeded by a friendly match on stretches kindly donated by clubs and landowners and for the second year running, several roach were caught from areas where no one has caught roach for years. They happen to be in the areas where Trev and Budgie have released their roach so isn’t it just possible that these are indeed the projects progeny. 

a result of all the hard work
The signs are very encouraging so a few words of encouragement are richly deserved … instead of the negative attitudes. At least they are doing something … and looking after thousands of little roach is relentless hard work, along with the habitat restoration … so many congratulations to the guys and their supporters.

What’s more, as a result of the dinner and fishing match, a total of a little over £6,000 was raised to help fund the work for the next year, a splendid result from just one days support from so many generous roach anglers. I did my bit by buying the day on the Royalty Compound, along with a couple of Trev and Budgie’s lovely home made floats constructed from cormorant quills. They are called ‘The Revenge Series’!

the auction lot created by Trev and Budgie

they are decorating my computer as I write
You can read all about the Avon Roach Project on the recently updated website -

Meanwhile, back to the Royalty. I don’t tend to fish at night, preferring to see all the wildlife around me, so once dusk had descended into night, Chris, Trev and I left the Compound and headed for home.

Chris having his bait stolen by chub
I was back as dawn broke, this time with Chris Wild for company. He’s my computer guru, teaching me everything I know. Without his patience ‘Catching the Impossible’ would never have been completed, for I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer, let alone edit films. I couldn’t afford a proper editor for our series with Martin Bowler, so had to learn on the hoof. I managed to fool some of the TV executives some of the time, for the series nearly ended up on BBC 4. The fact it ended up on terrestrial TV at all is a complement to Chris’s skills as a teacher.

stalking sea trout in the shallows
Leaving work aside, I’d decided after following bailiff John’s instructions to fish meat on a very long tail all of yesterday that I was rubbish at barbel fishing and so today I was going to catch fish, any fish. I plumped for maggots, lots of them, so offered a large bait dropper full before every cast in the hope of attracting a barbel that might have been scared by that not so magic pink stuff.

Do you follow the accepted techniques or try something different in the hope of avoiding what almost everybody else achieves, namely - a blank?! What do I know … but I certainly caught plenty of fish and it was like high summer too, sitting there in shirt-sleeves to avoid melting. 

at 3/5,the largest of more than 30 sea trout - great fun
Sea trout after sea trout rapped the tip round every cast and for a moment I thought I had cracked it as something heavy pulled back ponderously. I soon realised this was no barbel when a feisty bream, if such a thing exists rolled into the net.

for a moment I thought I might have cracked it
Chris waiting for the big pull
As for Chris, he stalked sea trout, then sat it out for barbel opposite me. When he’s not fishing with me he’s making the most wonderful truly traditional Spanish guitars and beautiful they are too. But could he catch a Royalty barbel? 

He didn’t … but caught his first ever sea trout and a first ever bream … so two PB’s in a day can’t be bad … and we enjoyed the last of Sue’s cake too.

for a first ever bream it's a good 'un
As good a two days fishing as you could ever wish for, and we never caught our intended quarry either. Was it us who said in ‘A Passion for Angling’ ‘there’s more to fishing than catching fish’ … what a load of old tosh! Where are those elusive barbel and why can't we catch them? ... must try harder comes to mind.