Fishing in the diaspora – hooking a large roach (Rutilus rutilus) on a bamboo pole

By Professor Ross G. Cooper

Formerly: Department of Physiology, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe.


I am a keen angler and have fished all my life starting in Zimbabwe, Africa, where I was born, and currently under licence in the U.K. I caught my first fish, a bream, aged 5 years old in Chipinga Municipal Dam. In addition to fishing in the innumerable streams, rivers and lakes of Zimbabwe including in Nyanga, I have also done deep sea fishing in the Caribbean Sea and fished off the coast of South Africa. On the 4th August 2006 at 9:45 pm on Fazeley canal just opposite Kimble Grove in Pype Hayes, Birmingham, U.K. I caught a large roach (Rutilus rutilus)on an earthworm, after previously baiting the area with a few handfuls of cooked sadza. I hooked it on a barbless hook 1m off the bank in waters of no more than 2ft. in depth on 6lb. line on a bamboo pole. I immediately carefully unhooked it and gently placed it in a bucket of fresh water and carried it to my house. I then placed it in a sink full of water and covered the top to minimise its stress. The fish weighed an impressive 300g (8.6oz) and was 28cm long (Fig. 1). The roach is a member of the cyprinid family and indisputably one of the most popular whitefish found in the Northern Hemisphere. Being a bank fisherman’s favourite it is recognised by its streamlined shape, silvery sides, slightly bluish tinge and orange fins and eyes. Large specimens may grow to an impressive 40-50cm in length and weigh 1-2 kg. In Ireland, roach has been present for ca.120yr. and have spread rapidly through natural causes and sometimes because of anglers transporting them for live baits, although the latter is now illegal in the south.

Fig. 1 Roach caught on earthworm bait and in pre-baited waters with cooked sadza

The Munster Blackwater used to be a superb spot in the 1970s due to congealed pig blood being pumped from a factory into the river. Big roach was caught there weighing up to 2lb. The Upper River Bann, River Erne, River Blackwater and the entire Cappoquin still produce some brilliant roach catches. The secret is to identify precisely the kind of environment most likely to produce a big roach or shoal. Huge still waters such as reservoirs, lakes and pits which have both room and a surplus of natural food are perfect. Waters, where there is a lack of competitive species, are better; e.g. a gravel pit where perch are common but also contain roach, are more likely to produce occasional shoals of very large roach than a pit stocked with roach and bream. This is because they have to compete for food. Once roach have matured beyond prey size in a water they only share with perch, their food supply and consequent optimum weight potential are enormous. Canal waters spoiled by oil pollution can result in a few roach surviving to reach large sizes. In the 1970s the local Norfolk rivers produced an unprecedented number of roach of 2-3lb. The clear-flowing upper reaches of the Wensum and Bure were very rich in feed and fauna. The large roach there were survivors as a consequence of roach disease in the 1960s and therefore decimated the competition.

Big roach sometimes appear as a result of another species like pike which tend to prey on the smaller fish in the swim. Fish spotting using Polaroids and walking the banks slowly and especially in misty periods after heavy overnight rain, when roach are most likely to show themselves by topping on the surface, usually prove successful. Apart from daytime fishing in cold, clear water, a big, static pre-baiting on consecutive evenings and bait like maize meal or bread squeezed onto an 8-hook will attract large roach. Continual thrashing about with small baits, super fine lines and tiny hooks only makes roach wary and eventually hook shy. Big roach is less weary at dawn or from dusk into darkness. Good periods for still water roach are during late October and November prior to sharp frosts and low water temperatures. Mild conditions in March are also suitable. Low light values are invaluable if the water is clear in overcast conditions. Humid with a hint of rain is ideal. In deep, heavily coloured waters bright sunshine may spur roach into feeding. Inner angling confidence and commitment to stick at a particular swim for several sessions are also important. Ultimately, landing the big roach is really beautiful!   

I had been sitting fishing for nearly 3hr. and decided to pack up at 10:00 pm. When the fish struck at 9:45 pm it was tremendous and the float was completely submerged. I struggled with the weight and my line got entangled in a branch as I lifted the fish out of the water. I was fishing in a very traditional way with a bamboo pole and no reel. The line broke during the struggle and thankfully this was only on the bank. Apart from that, the fish was relatively unstressed and happily swam around in the bucket and then sink. I replaced the water regularly to maintain the oxygen levels. I had been waiting weeks to catch a large roach as I knew they were about by their characteristic night feeding on the surface and silver, scaly shine. I had previously hooked but lost an even larger roach in the same spot.

I had no witness to my capture on the bank, but an angler, Ray, living on Kimble Grove came on my invitation, viewed and admired the fish. Ray was witness to the weight and length of my fish. This catch of roach was my personal best. Unfortunately despite desperate efforts to contact the British Angling Records Office and local newspapers over the weekend, I was forced to release the noble creature back into the water the following morning as it had become overly stressed and I was afraid that it would die. After a few minutes after being gently laid back in the water, it happily swam away. After submitting my details, I was, however, awarded a certificate and medal for The Roach Capture of the Year by Total Coarse Fishing, U.K. via the British Korum Challenge, and my achievement was later published in a local newspaper.


Affre, P., Durantel, P. and Guillotte, P. 2000. The Pocket Guide to Fishing. Cologne: Könemann. pp. 256.

Bailey, J. 2003. Where to Fish in Britain & Ireland. Leicester: Silverdale Books. pp. 416.

British Korum Challenge Roach Fishing Competition Medal 2006 awarded to Ross Cooper for: 300g (8.6oz) 28cm long roach, caught 9:45pm, 4/8/2006, earthworm, 2ft. depth, Fazeley canal, Pype Hayes, Birmingham, UK.

Vale Sport. 2008. Angler Ross Cooper proves patience pays. Vale Mail, Oct. 52: 23.

Wilson, J. 1981. Roach are sheer magic! In: Angler’s Mail. Annual 1982. London: I.P.C. Magazines Ltd.: 4-6.

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