Angler's Mail general coarse fishing expert Dave Coster reveals his top advice for becoming a winter winner with roach!
I DON’T know what happened to autumn this year. It still felt like summer a few weeks ago and now it’s more like winter up in my neck of the woods – the chilly North East.
Obviously the sharp change in weather affects roach in particular and I’m having to change my approach for this species quite dramatically, compared to the summer tactics I was using not that long ago.
My first winter tip for roach concerns groundbait. Whereas when the water temperatures are high and you can normally get away with feeding groundbait quite freely, I find in cold weather it has to be fed much more frugally.
A good example occurred when I fished a notoriously fickle reservoir. I started off cupping in four tennis ball size balls of groundbait on my long pole line. This was a mixture of Sensas Noir, Black Lake and brown crumb, laced with chopped worm and casters.
After around ten minutes I started getting bites, loose feeding over the top with casters. I was using a light rig and single caster fished just over-depth on a size 20 fine wire hook (to a 0.08mm line) and I started to bag up.
When I thought the time was right, about 30 minutes later, I introduced another ball of groundbait, which turned out to be the wrong thing to do! Bites dried up completely and it took another 30 minutes to coax the fish back with regular loose feed. After that I didn’t feed any more groundbait at all and ended up with a very nice 20lb-plus bag of red fins, with several fish around the one pound mark. Lesson learned!
However, it can be very different on virgin waters. Northumbrian Water Authority let me have a go on a trout reservoir, which has a big stock of roach that are not really fished for.
The water was very clear so I opted for waggler tackle and in this case soon discovered a small ball of groundbait, fired over the float every cast, got the roach queuing up. But they would only tolerate small ping pong ball sized offerings laced with a few casters and grains of hemp. Anything bigger spooked the fish instantly.
Another thing I find with winter roach is you need to be spot on with location. On big exposed waters roach shoal up very tightly, mainly I suspect due to cormorants. Pick the wrong area and you can be in for a dire struggle, while if you sit on the fish it can still be a bite a cast.
Two good tips I can pass on here. The first is to get to the venue early because that’s the time when roach tend to show themselves most on the surface.
Any swims with roach topping are always a good bet, while a less obvious tip is to target areas where there are lots of seagulls on the water. Roach are normally nearby because cormorants don’t like seagulls (and vice versa) and I suspect the roach feel safer in when there are a lot of gulls about.
Another tactic that can work well for winter roach is using a cage feeder, but again I find small is best. Roach will home in on a small feeder very quickly, but soon back off larger models with heavier loadings.
They will also back away from smaller feeders after a while and a good trick here is to switch to a bomb every now and then, which often brings bites back immediately – as long as you are clipped up and casting to the same spot where the feeder has been going in.
Bomb tackle can work well in its own right by the way and there are two ways of making this happen. The first is to ball in a bed of groundbait and to fish a straight bomb over the top. The second option is to fish with a light rig, casting within range of a catapult and simply to loose feed over the top.
A final useful tip I can pass on is once you get roach feeding well in a swim, is to try loose feeding hemp instead of maggots or casters, even when using one of these baits on the hook. It’s amazing how long you can prolong sport by feeding hemp, even if the fish don’t appear to be taking it.
…but use maggot or caster hook baits
I have experienced serious bagging sessions in winter where it has been a bite a cast with maggots or casters as hook baits, but only feeding hemp every put in. This has worked even on occasions when trying hemp on the hook and not getting a touch on it!
Hemp seems to attract roach and keep them in a swim, even if they are not actually eating it. Drop a maggot or caster in with this loose feed and the inquisitive roach will grab your bait every time!