Geoff and I headed to Hertfordshire to tackle the upper reaches of the Lea. The river here is narrow and shallow, with an average depth of around just 24″-30″. However despite its brook type appearance it holds some surprisingly good fish. Whenever we visit this stretch we are always hoping to find some of the big roach that call this stream home. It regularly throws up big fish in the 2lb+ bracket and a three is a distinct possibility. The only drawback here is the amount of barbel that frequent this stretch (even in the winter months) and often bully out the big roach. It’s not often you’ll hear me complain about the amount of barbel present but here they can be a right pain in the proverbial.
Recently I’ve been using the Pallatrax Bloodworm and Maggot Crush Groundbait. Normally I’d be using either liquidized bread or maggots and hemp. On receiving the groundbait I was impressed by the amount of bits in it. Let me expand on that comment. It contains bloodworm and maggots of course, as the name suggests, but there are other little bits and pieces in there and it offers a very nutritious and highly visible alternative to liquidized bread. I hoped it would be good for roach fishing and maybe give me that edge that you sometimes need here.
Our day here was met with what seemed like ideal conditions. The weather had finally settled down a little and remained dry for around a week. Temperatures had also steadied and it was far from chilly. The river had a slight tinge of colour but was a little lower than we had hoped. Nevertheless it looked promising. Geoff and I split up, I headed upstream whilst Geoff remained on the lower section. We both hoped the roach would show but we had both tackled up with chub and barbel in mind too.
I had two set-ups; a light chub one and a much beefier one geared towards barbel. The lighter one was still a little too heavy for out and out roach fishing in all honesty but would give me a chance if they showed and at least I would stand a good chance of landing any big chub or barbel that put in an appearance. If the barbel were active then I had a power float rod and 7lb low diameter mainline and 6lb hooklinks set up that would deal comfortably with these powerful fish. I had a number of baits with me but was pinning my hopes on maggots and the Pallatrax Hidra small snails. For those that don’t know the Hidras are professionally dried natural baits that can be soaked in water and rehydrated back to their normal state. I think they will make ideal chub, roach and grayling baits. I also had some hemp to loosefeed and some of the Winter Almond squabs and paste if I decided to leger.
I started the day by checking the depth of the swim and set both rods up with Avon style floats with the shot bulked around 12-14 inches from the hook. Small dropper shots around 6/7 inches from the hook finished the set up off. On the out and out barbel rod I used a size 16 Pallatrax ‘The Hook’ which are incredibly strong and I’ve been using them for quite some time. They are a nice shape and can cope with really big fish. On the lighter outfit I used a much lighter gauge 16 hook.
I baited up the head of the swim with a couple of balls of groundbait and rested the swim for half an hour whilst it got a little lighter. I mixed the groundbait fairly light so that a small ball would explode on impact with the water. Some lumps would still hold together and sink to the bottom, whilst other parts exploded into a cloud of tiny morsels of food. I hoped that this would pull in the roach and chub.
Once light, I started to run the float through the swim. With each trot through a pinch of maggots and or hemp were thrown in. This is important; you must keep feeding a very small amount with each and every cast. This keeps food constantly flowing downstream and past the fish. Eventually they become more and more inquisitive and start to hone in on this free stream of food. That’s when they often let their guard down and you start to catch some decent fish. Then every 30-60 minutes I put out another couple of small balls of groundbait.
Initially the chub put in an appearance however I could tell it was going to be one of those days. You know the ones where absolutely everything goes wrong! I managed to land a small chub of around 1lb 8oz but lost two much bigger fish to hook pulls. Very frustrating but I hoped there’d be plenty more to follow. I was in an area where the chub are very prolific and 20 odd chub a session would be quite normal. The chub here go well over 5lb too so they aren’t small fish either. For some reason though the chub more or less dried up. I had a couple more around the 1lb – 1lb 8oz mark or tiny ones. Luckily though after throwing in another couple of small balls of groundbait the roach seemed to show themselves. I had several roach to around 12oz and they were in pristine condition. I love to catch roach regardless of size, they are just such lovely fish. The roach bites genuinely seemed to coincide with the burst from the groundbait, which I would expect anyway.
Overall bites were few and far between but I wasn’t the only one struggling. Geoff had managed some near record breaking Gudgeon and the odd roach but otherwise not much and other than the odd barbel, no one else had caught anything earth shattering. Despite the conditions looking ideal the fish seemed to have other ideas as usual. I continued with the float tactics, altering the depth and speed at which the float travelled downstream through the swim. As the day wore on I lost another couple of big chub to hook pulls but had failed to find any barbel. The roach remained and I ended up with a nice tally of fish to around the 1lb mark. Towards the end of the day I shallowed up and trotted through at around a depth of 12-18 inches. I used this in conjunction with much larger amounts of maggots going in and this produced instant results. The fish had moved up into the water to intercept the freebies. Several big chub took the bait and a couple of nice roach. Yet again I lost two decent chub to hook pulls…..argh….! I did land a couple though at around 2lb 8oz-3lb.
Geoff decided to change to a leger and fish luncheon meat and managed to tempt several barbel before darkness prevented me from trotting any more. Perhaps I should have set up a barbel rod and legered but it had been a very early start and enough was enough. We finally called it a day at around 4.30 and it was time for Geoff and I to indulge in a family feast designed for about 4 people at the KFC….it’s finger licking good.