I am proud to announce that Tom Oreilly at Little Egret Press has kindly offered to let me publish an extract from the forthcoming book, Stillwater Angling, by Dave Tipping and Tim Ridge. It is a book that I am really looking forward to reading, but for now, here’s a sneak preview:
Roach Fishing – The Estate Lake
The Estate Lake was a long-established and picturesque water, set among gentle, sloping grassy banks dotted with majestic beech trees and roamed by a herd of fallow deer. For a brief period, it provided quite easy fishing for big roach, with multiple catches of 2lb plus fish possible on the right day.
I first fished there as a 12 year old, way back in 1968, but in those days there were no roach present, so far as I was aware. The lake had been formed nearly two centuries earlier by damming a stream, and over the years the silting process had been considerable, leaving shallow water almost everywhere. The outflow took the form of a waterfall that dropped in excess of 20 feet, giving some indication of the depth that might have been found at that end of the lake in the early years; nowadays there is not more than 4 feet of water anywhere, and significantly less over extensive areas.
In 1968 the stock consisted mainly of small chub that infiltrated from the feeder stream, and rarely exceeded 2lb in weight. There were also perch, a handful of tench and some big eels. At the time, the Estate was attempting to develop the lake as a trout fishery, and issued 6 month coarse fishing permits at a modest price, on the condition that all chub caught were removed. It was a policy that was destined to fail, simply because the lake was not an ideal habitat for the pan-sized brown trout that were introduced. The fact that chub kept slipping from the hands of permit holders and back into the water was probably irrelevant, because it is doubtful that their impact on the trout population would have been significant.
As a youngster, I found the lake a good place to hone my skills, but with the possible exception of the eels, the fishery did not have big fish pedigree and there was nothing to suggest it ever would do. In the mid-1970s I moved on, and did not return for over 20 years.
When I met Janet, who was to become my wife, I was interested to learn that the husband of one of her old school friends was a keen angler. Now, angling is many things to many people; it is a common interest shared by individuals who by no means always have much in common! However, when I met Martin, it quickly became apparent that we were on the same wavelength, and we have since become firm friends.
Martin regularly fished the Estate Lake and from what he told me, it was clear that there had been many changes since the days of my youth. It appeared that there had been various nettings and stockings over the years, resulting in a complete transformation of the fish population. Of particular interest was the news that two of the new species in the lake, roach and rudd, were pushing-on and growing to weights in excess of 2lb.
It is one of angling’s many conundrums that in a given water, one species will thrive and grow big while another, seemingly similar species will fail to attain any significant size. Why did the roach and rudd at the Estate Lake grow large, while the chub remained mediocre? Weed growth in the fishery was minimal, and the main source of natural food appeared to be an abundance of silt-dwelling organisms, in particular bloodworm. One would imagine that chub would be capable of exploiting this food source with similar success to the roach and rudd, but it was not so.
My first success with the Estate Lake roach came on a bright, cold January day, which left much of the fishery iced over. Conditions hardly seemed ideal for catching roach, or any other stillwater species for that matter, and on the face of it a trip to a local river in pursuit of chub or grayling would have been a more logical option. However, having recently re-acquired a ticket for the lake, I had a fresh wave of enthusiasm for the place and at the time did not want to fish anywhere else.
At the relatively deep, outflow end of the lake there was a clear area among the ice that stretched perhaps 15 yards from the bank. I assembled a float rod to fish a fluorescent yellow-tipped waggler with a shot capacity of 2AAA, which was set a little in excess of full depth. At the business end was a hook length of 1.5lb breaking strain and a number 18 hook. The bait was two buoyant white maggots, which nicely counterbalanced the weight of the hook. I flicked the rig to the edge of the ice, and catapulted small numbers of both live and dead maggots towards the float every ten to fifteen minutes.
The first sign of interest came early in the afternoon, when the float flashed under but re-surfaced as I struck. A quarter of an hour later came another chance, and after a lively scrap I netted a pristine roach of about 2lb. Unfortunately, I was never to know the exact weight. After unhooking the fish, I lowered the net into the margin before rummaging through my tackle bag for the scales. The roach thrashed, the net toppled forward and the last thing I saw was a grey shape arrowing back into the lake!
A couple of hours later, I had a lesser fish of 1lb 7oz, but the highlight of the day came at around 4pm, just as the light was starting to fade. There was a tiny touch on the float, which alerted me to the fact that there was a fish in the vicinity. Five minutes later the yellow tip vanished and the result was a cracking roach of 2lb 8oz, which was my second biggest ever at the time.
To catch roach in such bright, cold conditions was unusual, though we did find that along with the chub, they were often the last species in the lake to ‘switch-off’ when the temperature fell towards freezing. However, the most reliable conditions tended to follow a period of heavy rain, when the lake would rise a few inches and colour-up as floodwater entered from the stream. In this respect, the lake had parallels with a slow-flowing river (indeed, there was often a gentle, but noticeable flow through the centre) where, of course, the perfect conditions for roach are reckoned to be when the water is fining-down and coloured.
The Estate Lake roach fell to a variety of tactics and it was impossible to state categorically that one was better than another. Martin was as successful as anybody at catching them, and amassed a total of something approaching a hundred 2lb-plus specimens over the course of three or four winters (the roach rarely featured in summer catches). Of course, some of those fish would have been repeat catches. His preferred approach was to employ a quivertip rod coupled with the smallest groundbait feeder he could find. He went to the length of filing-down the lead on his feeders to make them as light as he felt necessary; this could have been significant in preventing them sinking deep into the silt. His feeders were fished on short fixed links of just 4 inches or so, with quite a long tail/hook length of perhaps 30 inches, and his most successful bait was maggot.
During the early days of my return to the lake, I attempted to emulate Martin’s approach, but for me it was not nearly so successful. I caught a few, of course, but then so did everybody else; my aim was to catch more than my share, just as Martin did! To illustrate how simple those roach could be at certain times, consider the success achieved by an old-timer called John, a delightful and very talkative character who had only taken-up angling after retiring. Without wishing to sound unkind, his tactics were far from refined and usually involved a big, oval blockend feeder slung haphazardly into the middle, or a float with three or four inches of the tip protruding. Despite this, he caught a few roach of mouthwatering size while I was present, certainly fish in excess of 2lb, though he was not interested in weighing them. Indeed, the significance of what he had caught was lost on him, for the tench was his favourite species (their numbers were markedly increased though they rarely grew to weights in excess of 4lb). I once watched him slip back a roach that must have weighed in the region of 2lb 8oz, the sort of fish that many anglers would die for. When I offered congratulations on the capture of such a magnificent specimen, he looked at me earnestly and said: “Thanks…but I prefer the tench.” There’s no accounting for taste!
The breakthrough I had been seeking with regard to my own roach fishing came with a change of bait. Bread saw the big ‘redfins’ hitting my net in increased numbers right from the start, and I was kicking myself for not making the switch sooner – after all, it’s a bait that has long been a favourite with big roach specialists. Otherwise, my tactics were fundamentally little different to those used by Martin. A small cage feeder was packed with liquidized bread that would create an attractive cloud of fragments in the vicinity of the bait. Flake was successful on the hook, though most of my fish came to small cubes of crust on a number 14, popped-up a few inches above the silt by nipping a number 6 shot to the line.
Among my most notable catches was a quartet scaling 2lb 11oz, 2lb 9oz and two at 2lb 4oz. On another occasion I had specimens of 2lb 10oz and 2lb 5oz that featured in a brace shot on the cover of Angler’s Mail. Martin had specimens to 2lb 14oz (he caught several at that weight, but again, some might have been repeat catches). Meanwhile, Tony Smith ploughed a lone furrow as usual, persevering with the bolt-rig approach that had brought him success at Tilery. It worked, too, and although like everybody else he caught less roach than Martin in terms of numbers, he bagged the biggest of the lot at exactly 3lb.
The big roach boom at the Estate Lake was a short-lived affair, as seems to be the case almost everywhere that produces the species to specimen size. Martin’s detailed records pointed to a gradual increase in average size over the years and I think the fishing had just about peaked at the time I re-acquired my ticket. Within three or four years the roach were looking increasingly old and tatty, and now they are all but gone.
Following the various nettings and stockings on the lake, it appears that my return co-incided with a period when the overall fish population was unbalanced and in a period of transition. Things have gradually settled and while some species have established a stronghold, others have faded away. Unfortunately, the roach and rudd, which were the principal attraction from a personal viewpoint, fell into the latter category. The chub, too, are much less numerous than was once the case. These days, sport is dominated by carp and tench. There are also a few hefty bream, and the perch are making something of a comeback. Having had the best of it, I decided to relinquish my ticket some time ago, as did Tony. Martin continues to be a regular on the banks, but informs me that the capture of a roach of any size is almost unheard of these days. A sad state of affairs, perhaps, but successful big fish angling is all about capitalizing on opportunities while they are there.
Stillwater Angling will be released by Little Egret Press in September. It will be in the larger LEP format, 160 pages long, illustrated with colour and black and white photography and pen and ink illustrations throughout.
The edition is of 500 copies, 30 of which are fully leather bound. The cloth edition will cost £32.95 with each copy numbered and signed by the Illustrator. The leather bound edition will be limited to just 30 copies, each numbered and signed by both authors and the illustrator at £185.
Pre-orders are being taken on the LEP web site.