Big roach from the Hampshire Avon

Earlier in the Autumn, a friend and occasional house guest, Martin James, recommended a stretch of the Hampshire Avon at Britford near Salisbury for big roach and put me in touch with the LAA’s river keeper who looks after the stretch. Stuart Wilson has a vast knowledge of his stretch of river and is always ready to help visiting anglers – he has met me in the car park, put me in the most likely swims and even helped me carry my tackle. A real treasure compared to some of the commercial fishery managers I have met.

It is a beautiful piece of river with a view of one of my favorite buildings, Salisbury Cathedral, but it is far from easy. Some of the best river anglers in the country fish here and the big roach that can be found in this part of the famous Hampshire Avon have seen it all. So much so that I have fished it four times this winter and have never mentioned it here before. I have always caught fish but only small roach and dace. It has been a very steep learning curve but the other anglers have always been very helpful and the venue has such great potential that I persevered and even joined the LAA.

After the dreadful cold spell at the start of the New Year I was desperate to do some river fishing and needing a challenge after my last two spells on the river Itchen. I waited until just after the first South Westerly weather system and made my way to Britford last Friday. I had phoned Stuart the day before and he had assured me the river would be perfect and apart from the down stream wind, it was.

I fished on the main carrier at Rectory Farm and as the big roach were to be my quarry, red maggots, caster and punched bread were to be the baits. The maggots (or gentles as Martin James still calls them) were my first choice as the resident minnows shell casters and devour punched bread if they are present and they take two or three goes to destroy a double maggot bait. As the roach are so “educated” I make sure that my baits are as good as I can get, particularly the maggots – old maggots have a hard skin and are not as plump and juicy as fresh ones, so I buy my bait from a reliable source just after a new delivery. I then riddle them a couple of times in different sized riddles to remove all the dead ones and any other rubbish including old saw dust and feathers. Next I add fresh, finely ground maize meal for a couple of hours to clean them and riddle that off and replace it with fresh meal. Last thing at night on the day before I am going fishing I again riddle off the maize meal and add a little tumeric which big roach in particular like and it also disguises any ammonia smell – don’t add this sooner as it irritates the maggots’ skin and causes it to harden.

I much prefer to fish for big roach with a float and the rod I chose is a new addition to my armoury, I have mentioned before on this site my fondness for the Harrison GTi 15ft match rod I have owned for years, well I saw a listing on ebay for two Harrison rods offered by a chap who had inherited them from his Father. He described them as follows:

2 Harrison Advanced Fishing Rods in excellent condition with cloth carrying cases and plastic tube.

Rod 1 – 13 foot GTi Match rod made from HR40 Carbon.

Rod 2 – these rods were my dads and I don’t know anything about fishing. This rod is 15 foot but only has Harrison Advanced marked on it. It looks identical to rod 1.

Hoping to get two GTi rods I ended up bidding more than I had intended and when they arrived, although they were both GTi rods, they were spliced tips instead of the hollow tip I was used to. I had heard some bad reports about spliced tip rods (this means that the top foot or so is solid carbon instead of hollow) but a day on the Itchen showed that the 15 ft is a joy to use, being a little faster but less powerful than my old hollow tip rod. This has proved to be the ideal rod for trotting with the tiny hooks and fine hook lengths required for big roach.

The reel, of course, was a centrepin and although the river was flowing more steadily than on previous visits, the down stream wind still required a 5BB avon style float even with a fifteen foot rod. Below this was a size 20 Kamasan B510 to a one and a half pound hook length.

As I feared bread and casters were destroyed by the minnows, double red maggots survived most trot downs but no proper bites came for the first half hour during which I fed the swim lightly but regularly. Suddenly half way down the swim the float dipped sharply and although suspecting another minnow, I struck instinctively, the rod arched into it’s fighting curve as the stike was met with a solid but mobile resistance, the fish took a little line but then just thumped in the flow against the bend of the rod as it kited in the current. The fish then rose in the water and rolled on the surface, it looked huge but was soon in the net (we don’t fish for roach for their fight).

2lb 6oz Avon roach
Two pound six ounce Avon roach

A passing fellow roach enthusiast was kind enough to take the picture and witness the weighing and he asked if I had a keep net. When I said no, he warned that if these big roach were to be returned to the swim they would spook the rest of the shoal. While I was composing myself after the weighing and tidying up the chaos around my swim he returned the fish well down stream.

Thirty minutes later I caught my second two pound Avon roach (just like buses, you wait for a long time then two come along at once).

2lb 3oz Avon roach
Two pound three ounce Avon roach

The rest of the day passed in a state of euphoria but the trotting practice will come in handy because on hard fished waters like this the presentation has to be right. I did catch a couple of dace and small roach just before dusk.

I am dreading my mobile phone bill as I think I phoned everyone I have ever heard of.