Years ago I used to do a lot of roving reporter stuff for the trout fishing magazines, often covering up to 200 miles in a day, checking out venues and profiling them with photographs. Recently I was with a group of anglers on the riverbank and the discussion got round to the lack of real quality fish like Roach.
What with Cormorants, Otters, Crayfish, abstraction, pollution etc, they were bemoaning the fact that we have so few waters left for quality roach. It was then that I pointed out the trout fisheries have it right as they manage the waters on a daily basis, whereas club waters for coarse fish don’t often have “management” on site every day to keep unwanted incursions by other predators, under control. I also pointed out that I knew quite a few top trout waters that have good coarse fish in them Avington has Roach, Carp, Perch and Eels. Dever Springs has some Perch and a couple of big Pike. It brought me back to the point that even in top trout fisheries you can often get limited access in the trout closed season, and all you have to do is be bold enough to ask. One of my excursions on reporting took me to darkest Romsey. The bastion of River Test trouting where fly fishing reigns supreme. It was at Holbury Lane Lakes that I received the invite from the fishery manager.”We’re having a match at Damerham Trout Fishery near Fordingbridge for Roach, it should prove quite interesting”. We both know what my answer to that invite was, and around twenty match anglers were on the banks that following Saturday. However, fishing being what it is, there had been a heavy frost the previous night, and a stiff Easterly was blowing that would cut through Captain Birdseye’s beard. Not the best of conditions. With me was master matchman Nigel Newport of “Tackle Up” in Fleet. An important addition as far as I was concerned as a)-he was a pole fisherman so would probably catch something for my camera and b)-he was likely to turn up with two gallons of maggots!
It was a strange sight indeed to see all those coarse fishing brollies and tackle boxes being unloaded on stretches of bank that I had fly fished alongside Fred J.Taylor and Dick Walker. As you tackled up you felt as though you should be looking over your shoulder to make sure the bailiff wasn’t coming. He was….. Mike Davies supervised which lakes we were to fish, the draw was made, and requests made which entailed placing hands in pockets and extracting a crisp fiver.This was for the pool, or so I was told. I deftly took three paces backwards.”Sorry lads, I’ll fish outside of the match to get photos, so I think I’ll hang on to my blueback”.The others all coughed, drew their pegs and walked to their swims. They gave me the opportunity of a spare peg draw, and I pulled out number7, right next to Nigel, which meant there would be maggots going into the immediate vicinity in large volumes.
I rigged up with a Normark 13-foot match rod, Shimano 2500 Aero reel, 2lb spool of mainline, waggler and Partridge size 16 hook. I watched the others set up. Everything in its place, everything to hand. I looked at my mess. It was all over the bank. A tatty chair held together with a bit of sewn carpet. A keepnet still covered in last year’s bream slime. A float box full of chipped floats, and white painted rod rests, as I didn’t want to lose them in the dark when Barbel fishing. Verbally I was not in the match. Mentally I had trouble arranging everything. Surely that was what you had a wife for? A car horn blared and I saw floats sailing out to the centre of Damerham’s majestic trout lake. I paused, thought about the Roach beneath, thought about the trout, and then gave it a straight pelting with a pint of whites. It took about five minutes of continual “pulting” to get them out I and sat back with a smile on my face as I was pretty sure what the first cast would bring.
An angler shouted a whoop as he hooked into the first rainbow, and my own float hit the surface carrying a “bunch of fives”….as many maggots as I could cram on the 16.It lasted about thirty seconds before Mr Rainbow wolfed it down and my 2lb line was tested to the limit before I got it netted. They were due to be returned, but it took four more rainbows before I got my first Roach, a glistening fat ten ouncer, in immaculate condition. An olive sheen and that distinct metal blue glow that you only find in healthy fish. I dropped to two maggots with and orange one as a “target” for the fish. However, the Easterly picked up and things started to get tough for the Roach. The rainbows were not bothered by dragging bait, but obviously the Roach were. The angler in the peg to my right started getting a few fish, and in the swim further over again the angler was slaying them. He must have had a shoal in front of him and they were elbowing the rainbows out of the way.
There was only one answer to this. A criminal assault on the bait bucket, pumping in enough maggots to send a starving Chub cross-eyed, and it did indeed get me some more Roach. Seeing bites was difficult in the strong wind, as the float dragged the weedbeds giving false bites. I shallowed up in an effort to make the bait more presentable to the Roach, and the trout loved that tactic. They are great scrappers on a float rod, and a darn sight easier on a few pints of “Tackle Up’s” best maggots than a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear fished in the surface film. With the rainbows in suicidal mode Nigel had all but given up and was crouched in the margins trying to work his latest toy, the “Fishin Buddy 2”, a portable echo sounder that weighed less than 5lbs and gave you a horizontal cone of readings of fish that swam past the transducer. (A gift at about £300) This search for more Roach didn’t bear fruit as I knew where most of them were anyway. In Peg number 9’s keepnet!
3pm was deemed the end of the match, and years of counting fish to make the magic 100lb nets put my position at maybe 4th, as the other lake apparently had not fished at all. There was little problem over who had won, as the angler had hammered them early on, and the pickup in wind meant nobody was likely to threaten his position. The guy to my right had taken more Roach than me, but only the “scalemaster” would tell the truth. While the Roach didn’t respond thanks to the cold snap, the trout action more than made up for it. I finished with 9 rainbows along with the Roach, which gave me (with trout) around 23lbs.The winner had only a couple of trout but weighed 16lbs something of prime Roach, with individuals to an easy 1 ½ lbs. I finished an unofficial 3rd, which in my first sit down and don’t move match was good. However, I then realised by not fancying my chances against matchmen I had lost out on thirty crisp pounds which could have fluttered into my wallet.Mr Sensible again. But don’t panic, I’m not about to rush out and buy a BOSS tackle box, and I won’t be trading in my trusty pike rods for a 19 metre pole. My old junk tackle has had its fair share of fish so I can’t complain.
Aside from the fun of the match, it does get you thinking about coarse fish, in trout only waters. You only have to look at the pike in some of the trout reservoirs to realise the great sport around. So why don’t more small stillwaters stock with coarse fish, which they could grow on among the trout, and then sell to fishing clubs? Well, for a start if you want good visual trouting you generally have to buy, or construct, water areas that are clear in quality. This allows plenty of light through, you get lush weed growth, and thereby have plenty of insects for the trout to feed on, and the fly tyer to imitate. You also have the visual aspect of trout fishing which so many anglers enjoy.
Yet if you stock with fingerling carp, tench or bream you will surely have problems. These species root in the bottom, stir up mud and prevent light penetrating to allow good weed and insect life. The fly fisherman cannot spot the trout and that makes it difficult for him. So you have to weigh up the increased value of coarse fish sales against the drop-off in business from fly fishermen. My argument is that stocking with Roach, Rudd, Crucian and perch will not make the water colour too much, so both species can be “harvested” for financial gain. Trout waters are relatively disease free, so coarse fish pack on weight and come into condition quicker than anywhere else. You only have to look at those Damerham roach to marvel at their quality.
So if there are any anglers out there with friends, who own trout waters, ask them about stocking with Roach, Rudd, Crucian etc as a means of supplementing the trout income. There could be a whole new stock availability for coarse fishing clubs wanting new fish. Coarse fish AND trout? It could be the way forward……
COPYRIGHT- Graeme Pullen. All Rights Reserved