Sunday, 7 December 2014


a Linch Hill roach in it's prime - 3/3 of redfin silver
Many of us anglers love fishing for roach, preferably big ones and there appears to be an increasing enthusiasm for ‘silver fish’ as folk grow tired of hauling out endless ‘pasties’ from muddy carp puddles. I know that is provocative but you can’t beat a beautiful redfin can you. What’s more, fishing for them can provide endless variety in both techniques and the waters in which they flourish so it’s a win win situation - or is it?

no wonder they can swim fast - look at the size of those feet

No angler can have missed the increase in cormorants these last few years
and you only need to be a keen roach angler to feel the tears welling up when remembering the superb roach fishing that we once enjoyed. Down here in the South you could pick almost any steady glide on the rivers Avon and Stour and in good conditions expect to catch pound plus roach and not too infrequently, two pounders. Good fish still survive but anything over about 10ozs have become a lot rarer.

Some folk still believe that cormorants are not a significant cause of the decline in these silver fish numbers and while we can all accept that many factors are responsible such as abstraction, pollution, habitat loss and increasing extremes in our climate, cormorants do eat fish! 

 a superb Stour brace - 2/9 roach and 2/5 perch
On the River Stour in Wimborne we used to catch big bags of big roach over a pound with two pounders a regular occurrence. My best was 2/9 and best bag 47lbs, including several two pounders ... and others did even better, our famous local postman Owen Wentworth landing several bags of over 100lbs! The cormorants arrived and there are hardly any roach there now ... a coincidence or what?
the dramatic decline in our fishing on the Stour at Wimborne, compiled carefully from match returns

Hitler didn't make it here but the cormorants did!

the invasion since 1970 and they are still increasing
inland breeding pairs have increased too
Cormorants numbers have increased dramatically as these scientific graphs indicate and recent counts suggest that about 23,000 cormorants visit our shores from the continent every winter. As each one eats about a pound of fish every day, you have to ask whether 23,000lbs of fish removed from our waters every day is sustainable? 

nowhere has escaped the invasion, the Fenland drains I've been exploring are being hit badly
a small survivor but only just

They do catch small fish of course but nature’s rules of ‘effort vs. reward’ dictate that big fish provide a better reward for the effort expended. If you doubt they can tackle pound plus silver fish, just scan through this selection of my horror story catches from this past year.
a badly bitten 2/1 rudd
horrible wounds
this 1/12 nearly had it's tail bitten off

even the monster aren't immune from attack - this 3/9 rudd shows recent bad damage from those lethal beaks

the other side of the 3/9 with old war wounds by the dorsal

this near two pound Avon roach was nearly a goner

the good old days - a brace of two pounders from the Avon below Downton
a more recent two plus from above Downton ... alas, mostly gone now
One of my local rivers, the Hampshire Avon was once legendary for it’s roach fishing and over the years I have been lucky enough to catch lots of twos … and even a three from these iconic waters, so you can imagine the alarm when EA fish surveys in 2008 indicated that roach were almost totally absent from the famous middle reaches.
Bob's legendary middle Avon roach catch for 'A Passion for Angling' in the early '90's with ten over 2lbs and I caught three more twos to 2/10 before we even started filming, with Chris adding one of 2/5 when we'd finished - happy days!

the EA survey of the Avon showing the virtual disappearance of roach from the middle reaches - Britford on the left
This was the catalyst for the start of The Avon Roach Project by Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price. Both of them are fanatical roach anglers and felt they couldn’t just sit back and do nothing … there’s a lesson for us all there … so they decided to try to re-create the once flourishing and self- sustaining populations of roach throughout the Avon. After small beginnings the project has grown to industrial scale production and thousands of true Avon roach have already been restocked into many once famous stretches. You can read all about their work on the projects website and blog. –

netting one of the nine stews with the help of the EA

a couple of future two pounders here perhaps?
one of several sparkling young roach caught in this years charity match

Cynics suggest we are wasting our time and just feeding the cormorants but nature has wonderful powers of recovery and anglers are already catching small roach from swims where they haven’t seen roach for years. 

Avon futures

It’s a numbers game of course and the laws of nature decree that some of the small roach will survive to become big roach.
thousands have been released into once famous roach stretches of the Avon

digging out refuge areas

Creating habitat is the key and many landowners in the valley are supporting projects that will enhance the survival of all fish species, along with it’s associated wildlife.

prime habitat for wildlife
 bitterns moved in to take advantage of increasing fish populations
The cormorant threat has remained high on the agenda and a project document that I contributed to - “Biodiversity in Danger” was the catalyst for a petition demanding change.  This was delivered to the then fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, along with it’s nearly 20,000 signatures and with the support of the Angling Trust and Martin Salter, we got the law changed so that there is now more and better protection for our fisheries from the ravages of the ‘black death’. You can't beat a good dose of team spirit to get the job done.

ex. Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon having his ear bent by Trev and Budgie
Administering this new initiative are three full time Fisheries Management Advisors, [FMA’s] employed by the Angling Trust and funded by anglers’ Rod Licence revenue. Colin Barker, Richard Bamforth and Jake Davoille are the ones responsible for implementing the new area licences and encourage everybody to work together to tackle the problem.

behind us was the scene of the mass cormorant attack the other day

In an attempt to help, Trevor Harrop and I made a film for the Angling Trust called ‘Cormorants vs. Roach’ and it can be viewed on the Trust’s Website :

We made it to inform viewers and encourage support for the FMA’s work and we hope everybody will get behind them to make the new scheme effective. Jake Davoille is the main man in our area. I met him on the Avon recently while he was trying to turn words into action … and it’s working. Fewer cormorants means more roach and only last week was an example of how effective the scheme can be.

Britford dawn - a beautiful place that still supports a thriving roach population

At dawn, immediately behind where we were filming on the Avon at Britford, the carrier was black with cormorants, keeper Stuart estimating a total of between 120 to 150 packed into an area of a few yards. They weren’t there for long!

the tireless protector - Britford's keeper Stuart Wilson and Misty

With predation now at a critical level, all the local river keepers gathered in the area and made sure the birds learned that they aren’t welcome. They haven’t landed in the area since, so it’s a fine example of how the FMA’s can help co-ordinate our efforts to protect our fisheries.

a big bar of silver - the result of keeping the cormorants at bay
Please support them and the Angling Trust … and if you’re not a member, please join. It’s your best chance of making a difference and helping to ensure we have lovely big roach to catch in the future. 

So please do something … simply support these initiatives or even just be positive about the future. There are signs that in several rivers their roach shoals are returning. So if we all pull together maybe those glory days of watching a float trotting down a river and sliding under to the pull of a big roach will once again make a dream become reality.
some of the silver beauties are still out there
Details of the FMA’s can be found on the Angling Trust Website :