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Fishing for Roach

The humble roach has long been a favourite, and for many anglers it is the fish that first wetted the appetite for future hours spent on the bank. Seasoned angler Malcolm Parnell reflects on his love for roach and the different ways in which you can catch them.

Probably the most widespread of all the coarse fish found in the UK, the roach has long been a favourite for a host of anglers and for many is the fish that first wetted the appetite for future hours spent on the bank. Maybe therein lies the attraction. It’s possible that for many of us, particularly those of a certain age, roach fishing takes us back to our childhood more than any other branch of angling and reawakens memories of, let’s say, simpler times. Whatever the reason there is a definite attraction and it seems we all have a soft spot for the roach.

Identification – how to identify a roach

Although a member of the carp family, the roach is never going to attain the huge proportions of its distant cousins. A roach weighing over a pound is considered a very good fish and rarely do we see one around the magical two pound mark. Indeed, a two pound roach is considered a proper specimen with many anglers spending a life time in its pursuit. They seldom achieve a length longer than eight to 10 inches or so and depending on habitat are generally silver sided, going more to white at the belly and possessing glorious orangey red fins.

Small but beautifully formed.

A fish similar in aspect to the roach is the rudd and inexperienced anglers often confuse the two species. However there are a couple of differences that once noted makes identification much easier. The dorsal fin of the rudd – the fin on top of its back – is set further back towards the tail than it is on the roach. Also, the bottom lip on the rudd protrudes beyond the top lip, whereas the top lip on the roach tends to be the one that comes slightly forwards.

In my opinion the roach is a handsome fish and to see that flash of silver and those sparkling red fins break surface as you draw one towards the net is a thing of joy. For many people however, this fascination with such a humble fish is something of a mystery, but, there is undoubtedly something about the roach, inexplicable as it may seem, that draws people to the water’s edge time and time again.

Tiny Roach

A tiny little roach. In my opinion the roach is a handsome fish and to see that flash of silver and those sparkling red fins break surface as you draw one towards the net is a thing of joy.

Distribution – where to find Roach

One of the attractions of roach fishing is that they can be found almost anywhere. From the smallest of farm ponds to great lakes, canals and rivers, roach are ubiquitous and will often take a bait when other fish are proving fickle. Even small streams can often turn up fish of surprising size and numbers.

Another aspect which adds to the pleasure of roach fishing is the fact that roach have a tendency to shoal, usually with other roach of similar size, so the chances are if you catch one you may be fortunate enough to catch many. This is not to say that roach are an easy fish to catch, as like all species they can be frustratingly elusive, particularly fish of one pound plus.

Habitat – where do roach like to hang out?

Although widespread throughout UK waterways both moving and still, it pays to spend a little time searching out areas that are likely to hold roach. In general they prefer water with a firm base such as small rocks, gravel or shingle and are less likely to be found over muddy or silty beds. Like all fish, they will always look for good feeding grounds, so weed beds are well worth exploring as roach will find food here as well as refuge from predators.

In rivers they like to hang around away from the main current in slacker water and can often be found under weed beds at the tail end of the swim. From this vantage point they can take advantage of whatever food is being washed down and still have sanctuary from any marauding pirates. It is also worth checking out areas around weirs as the higher oxygen levels in the tumbling water often attract fish. Look for slacker water, away from the main current.

How to catch a roach

There are probably as many ways to catch roach as there are waters that contain them. For me, my two favourite methods, particularly on still waters, are fishing with a float rod and a waggler or using a quiver tip rod and swim feeder. Both methods can be deadly on the day and can account for some hefty bags of fish. The choice of which to use would be based on where I’m fishing and which method would under the prevailing conditions provide the best presentation and therefore catch more fish.

Roach are everywhere - both still waters and moving

The humble roach is found in most waters, especially canals.

Catching roach with a waggler set up

For waggler fishing I would suggest a 12 or 13 foot float rod coupled with a fixed spool reel loaded with two or three pound line. As with all waggler fishing the float is attached bottom end only and as roach can be shy biters, I’d add just enough shot to the line to ensure that little more than the tip is showing above the water. Hook size would be a 16 or 18 depending on what bait is being used – maybe slightly bigger if the bait is bread flake. I know some people would recommend a size 20 or even 22 but my eyesight is not what it was. An obvious advantage of float fishing is that by adjusting the float up and down the line the bait can be presented at different depths depending on where in the water the fish are feeding.

Float fishing can also be done using a pole. Pole fishing has grown in popularity over recent years and has some advantages. The first one being that there is no need to cast: the bait is suspended directly from the tip of the pole and by shipping the pole in and out the bait can be dropped into exactly the same spot time and time again. Another advantage is when fish are located under or tight against overhanging trees and bushes, the pole makes fishing such a swim a possibility without the horror of seeing your tackle knit one pearl one around the nearest bush.

A good pole set up for beginners would consist of a 13 metre length pole with an elastic rating of three to six. The pole can obviously be broken down and used in shorter lengths depending on the distance you wish to fish. Different from the waggler set up, the float is attached to the line via a side ring and two or three rubbers on the stem, thus keeping the float at all times firmly upright and held parallel to the line. Hook size would be as mentioned above.

Another very effective way of catching roach is to use a quiver tip rod and a swim feeder. Quiver tip rods come in a variety of lengths and unfortunately there isn’t one rod that covers all eventualities, but a good choice, particularly on small commercial waters would be a rod of around 10 or 11 feet coupled with a fixed spool reel loaded with 3lb line.

Fishing Float

The waggler is one of the most used and multipurpose floats and should be part of every anglers tackle box.

Using a feeder to catch roach

Which feeder to use can also be confusing for the beginner, so let’s take a look at some. First of all, keep it simple. A good selection to have in your armoury would be a maggot feeder, an open ended feeder and a cage feeder. These all come in different sizes.

  1. Maggot Feeder – The maggot feeder, sometimes called the blockend feeder or colloquially known as the plastic pig is a tube which is capped at each end. As the name suggests it is filled with maggots which once cast out can wriggle free through holes cut into the sides.
  2. The Open Ended Feeder – The open ended feeder or groundbait feeder is not capped. It also has holes in the sides and is used by pushing it into your mix to form a plug of groundbait which then disperses on the river or lake bed.
  3. The Cage Feeder – The cage feeder is simply a groundbait feeder with bigger holes and is used in the same way.

Using a Method Feeder to catch roach

Another type of feeder that has become very popular over recent years, especially on commercial waters, is the method feeder. The method feeder is flat on one side and contains a series of ‘ribs’ on the other. Unlike the other feeders mentioned which can run up and down the line, this one is fixed, essentially becoming a bolt rig. The groundbait needs to be of a stickier consistency than that used in the other feeders and can be bought from tackle shops. Alternatively, by adding an egg to your normal groundbait you can achieve the same effect.

The groundbait is pressed into the ribs of the feeder using a mould attachment and a very short hook link of no more than three inches is used. Once baited, the hook can be pressed into the feeder with the groundbait and then cast into your swim. The idea being that fish rifle through the heady mix of goodies and then take the hook bait. This method of fishing has been responsible for many a big bag of fish.

Different kinds of method feeders

Three different method feeders

Float fishing for roach on a river

A fun way of catching roach on a river is to use a stick float. The stick float is the ideal tool to present the bait in as natural a way as possible by allowing the float to travel along with the current with the baited hook suspended beneath. This is known as trotting the stream. For this a rod of 13ft would be ideal with a reel loaded with 3lb or 4lb line. Stick floats come in varying sizes and have a rounded barrel shaped top half and a long thin stem beneath which acts as a stabiliser and are ideal when presenting a bait in running water. As a general rule, the faster the water, the bigger the float used.

Stick floats are attached to the line using three float rubbers, one at the top, one halfway down the float and one at the bottom. Shots are added to the line in what is commonly known as a shirt button pattern, which means the shot are equally spaced down towards the hook, this also aids presentation.

What baits work for roach?

For catching big roach, many would argue that nothing matches the effectiveness of bread. Roach love bread in all its forms, but probably the best and most simplest way of using bread is to simply tear off a piece of flake from the centre of a white loaf and squeeze it around the shank of the hook, leaving the bottom part fluffy and enticing. It is important that the loaf is as fresh as possible, preferably freshly baked.

Another way to use bread is to make bread paste. To do this, simply cut a thick slice from a white loaf and remove the crusts. Break the remaining bread into half a dozen pieces and wrap in a clean cloth. Gather up the corners of the cloth and quickly dip it into a pan of boiling water. When sufficiently cooled, knead the bread until it forms a putty like texture. It is now ready to be moulded onto the hook.

  1. Maggots – The larvae of the housefly and available from all good tackle shops, maggots are probably the most used of all baits and will catch just about everything. Placed singly or doubled on a Size 18 hook, these small grubs can account for many a good bag of roach.
  2. Casters – Casters form the next stage in the life cycle of the fly and are maggots at the pupae stage before becoming the fly itself. I love using casters almost as much as roach seem to like eating them. When buying casters from the tackle shop, place them in a bait tub full of water and discard any that float.
  3. Hemp and Tares – Hemp seed is a fabulous bait for roach, although do check before using it as some waters don’t allow its use. It can be bought ready to use or it can be prepared easily at home.

To prepare this wondrous seed, put the hemp in a pan and cover with cold water. Soak it overnight, then place the pan on heat and bring to the boil. Let it simmer until the grains split and the white inside becomes visible. When this happens (usually around 10 minutes or so) remove a couple of tablespoons for hook bait and let the rest continue to simmer until more of the white is exposed. This can then be used as loose feed or mixed in with your favourite groundbait.

Obviously small hooks are the order of the day here so something around Size 20 or 22 if your eyesight is good enough will do the job. When placing a single seed on the hook squeeze it gently then push the bend of the hook into the split. The seed should then grip the hook ready to be cast out towards the eagerly awaiting shoal of fish.

Tares are prepared in the same way as hemp, although as they are bigger the simmering will take longer, usually around 20 to 30 minutes. Once cooked, the tares should be soft enough to squeeze between thumb and forefinger. A combination of hemp and tares can make for a very good days roach fishing.

How much does it cost to go fishing?

The cost of a day’s roach fishing is the same as any form of fishing in as much as it will be required that you purchase a day ticket or join an angling club and pay an annual subscription. As always a current Environment Agency rod licence is a must. Day ticket costs vary, but are usually in the £5 to £10 bracket for most still waters, with concessions often being given to elderly anglers, youngsters and Blue Badge holders. Canals and rivers are often run by angling clubs which may or may not offer day tickets, so check out the ones in your area or ask at your local tackle shop.

Recommended venues for catching roach

There are many well known venues that are noted for good roach fishing. Rivers such as the Dorset Stour, Warwickshire Avon, the Wensum and the Norfolk Broads are all good roach venues.
Again, ask at your local tackle shop for locations close to you. Personally, I have had good days at the following:

  1. Coombe Abbey, Coventry. Coombe observes the traditional closed season and fishing is dawn to dusk. Day tickets £6.
  2. Oxford Canal. Rugby stretch. Contact Tusses Angling Club for annual membership, £10.
  3. Anchor Meadow Fishery, River Avon, Harvington. Day ticket £10.
  4. Burton Farm Fishery, Nuneaton. Day ticket, £8 for one rod, £10 for two.
  5. Dave’s Pool, Temple Farm, Wolvey. Day ticket, £8.

Fishing on a river in the summer for Roach. What could be more delightful?Fishing on a river in the summer for roach. What could be more delightful?


How big do roach grow?

Roach are not big fish, the average weight in UK waters would be anything from a few ounces up to a pound. Anything over a pound is considered a good fish and a two pounder a real specimen. It is very rare to find one over three pounds although four pounders have been recorded.

How can you tell a roach from a rudd?

Although very similar in appearance, there are a couple of tell tale differences between roach and rudd. The first one is the dorsal fin on a rudd is set further back towards the tail. The mouth of the rudd is upturned with the lower lip protruding further than the upper, whereas with the roach the opposite is true.

What are the best baits for catching roach?

Roach can be caught on a variety of baits, but the best ones tend to be bread, hemp, maggots and casters.

Are roach bottom feeders?

You can often find roach feeding on the bottom or lower levels of the lake or river, however they can also be found feeding in the middle to upper levels. Therefore, roach can be caught at varying depths from hard on the bottom to mid water or just beneath the surface. Sometimes when the float is set for bottom fishing, roach may come up in the water and take your bait well before it hits the bottom or ‘on the drop’. If this is the case adjust your float accordingly.

My conclusion about roach fishing

Although not a huge fish, there is something intrinsically pleasing about catching roach, especially big ones. Big roach are probably more elusive than specimens of any other species and happy is the angler who can lay claim to catching a two pounder. Anything above that is extraordinary and a 3lb roach is the fish of dreams. That said, I feel roach fishing isn’t really about catching monsters. For me it’s more about enjoying the day at the water’s edge and becoming immersed in the surroundings, listening to the bird song and harmonising with the world around you. All this you can do whilst constantly watch for that float to dip or that rod tip to bend, thus signalling yet another red fin is coming to the net.

Let us know in the comments

Let us know below in the comments what you favourite fishing experience is, or your most memorable roach catch – we’d love to hear your story.

Malcolm Parnell
Written by Malcolm Parnell
Malcolm Parnell lives in Warwickshire and has been fishing for as long as he can remember. After first wetting a line in small streams catching sticklebacks and bullheads, he then moved on to the roach and gudgeon found in local canals. He now enjoys all aspects of fishing, no small  part of which is the pleasure of seeing wildlife and the thrill of ‘just being there’.


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