John Bailey's Roach Obsession Diary

whitty

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From what I see we have a big storm coming on boxing day evening,with loads more heavy rain and winds forecast,then a cold week ahead....not ideal for roachers....
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary 9.00am 29/12/20

I obviously haven’t written for a few days so forgive me! Floods. (Muted) festivities. Frosts. We’ve had it all but I’ve managed a few casts every day, concentrating close to home, on the river at the foot of the garden in fact. This is not a straight cop-out. The swim above the gravels is a noted one and has produced odd, surprising fish in the fairly recent past. As it is close to the farmyard and all the hubbub there, it fits my philosophy that cormorants tend to keep away from commotion and that roach come to know this, just one of their many survival techniques.

What I have been doing is feeding in a half a mashed loaf around 10.00 am and then going down to fish for a while around midday. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t been snowed under with success. One chub has come my way, around a pound and a half, the colour of a peeled banana, bleached out by a week of floodwater. In fact, it was so light that for a heart stopping moment I thought I had a record dace. But no, of course. Back in the glory days of the 1970s such a possibility would have been quite real. A mile upriver from me lie The Falls, twin pools that gave up endless one pound plus dace back then. I had endless crackers to 1.03 but experts like Jimmy Hendry had more of them-and larger. But, like the numerous three-pound roach, where have they gone? What’s gone wrong with our rivers in my adult lifetime?

The thrill of websites like this lies in the feedback, I am finding. It is humbling to see that anglers like Mark Wintle are reading these ramblings and even making something of them. I have admired Mark’s books and writings. I immersed myself in his video of Christmas Day two pound roach stories. I feel that our hearts beat in unison over our passion for the species and our bewilderment and dismay that so much has gone wrong for them. Endless surveys have shown roach to be our favourite species, so thousands of folk are equally enthralled. Yet, in our lifetimes, on our watch, we have let river roach fall into unprecedented danger and decline. How has this happened? The Avon Roach Project ( and my questionable activities up Norfolk way)apart, who has done anything concerted to reverse this devastation?

Mind you, even back half a century ( oh my God, how can it be I am writing that?) the fishing here was tough and blanks were part of the game. Wilson and I used to have comfort breaks if you like, sessions where the “twos” were small ones(!?) but where we knew we would probably catch a couple. I’m investigating that possibility today, in an hour or so. There’s a length down river where the chance of such a fish is a real one even today and, if the river is anything like in order, a few “ones” will come along. It’s not the real deal but now, like then, you sometimes need to feel the rod hoop and see the tip jag to the power of a mighty, magical redfin!
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary-10.00am 30/12/20

Well, I did go out yesterday despite finding the river still all over the place. Nonetheless, I fancied conditions for a fish or two but it was not to be. Apart from a spirited stick that made my heart leap for a moment the river gave me nothing-and this of course, was on my easy stretch! It’s not just a case of high water at the moment though is it? In my disappointment I have to remember that there are frosts most nights and the daytime temperatures are not getting much above 3 or 4 degrees at the moment. I suspect that had I hung the session out till dusk there might have been something to report but Enoka was on the camera and fair play to her for venturing out at all, never mind for a marathon.

But I did see a cracker or two. Mate Kevin Barnes had dug out an old photograph of John Wilson from back in the day when I fished with him. I guess we are looking at around 1974 , perhaps ‘75 and I might even have taken the shot on his Pentax, a camera I always lusted after. However, if you look carefully you’ll see why I became dubious about the use of keep nets at the time and remain so to this day. I caused a little kerfuffle a few weeks ago about querying the validity of retention outside matches and I don’t mind pursuing this one again.
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Of course, back in the mid Seventies the use of keepnets was never challenged and we all regarded them as essential kit. It is true to say that John, I and all of us did things we would not contemplate today, most especially keeping roach in nets for a few days to build up a bag shot. Terrible! I’ll also accept that net material is far more fish friendly than the knotted contraptions we used to subject fish to. And yet, the revulsion I began to feel forty five years ago is still real today. As Mark Wintle kindly said in my support a short while back, there is little evidence that catching a good roach and returning it spoils future sport but there is very visual evidence that nets do them no favours at all. Really, given that we all profess to worship our roach, why on earth even risk doing them harm if it is completely avoidable?

We are nearing the time for the good old New Year’s Resolutions. I hardly need to say more.


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tigger

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The use of keepnets seems to be having a resurgence around this neck of the woods.
I think a lot of the blame is down to youtube videos made by the likes of James Robins (as an example) who promotes cadence rods. It makes my blood boil as they drop a net full of fiish into a landing net head and the lower layers of fish are without doubt being crushed as the top layers flop about. Then, they talk to the camera for 5 mins before saying "lets put them back right away" as though they've not just had them out the water for an age!
 

whitty

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Sadly,because match anglers really have no option but to use nets,they are stuck in a time warp of catch shots,purely because the fish are there 'in a bunch' so to speak,so they see little wrong,lets be honest,barbel and to a lesser degree carp suffer badly in nets,I just wonder how many nets commercial match anglers own,with limits of 50lbs per net commonplace and catches over 350lbs occuring,their mice must have a field day,joking aside,I never,ever thought I wouldn't use a keepnet,now mine lay unused for years.....
 

Keith M

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Back in the late 1970s my mate Budgie and I used to do a lot of night fishing (with no lights) and keep our larger Barbel in loose weave hessian potato sacks (one fish per sack) and stake them out so that the Barbel were pointing upstream so that they got plenty of dissolved oxygen through their gills; then at first light we would then quickly photograph them and then safely return them, and the Barbel were always absolutely full of life in the mornings.

NB: We would never even contemplate using a keepnet because of the damage we knew that keepnets can do to Barbel.

Of course we would never consider sacking our Barbel today. How things have changed to the better over the years.


Some Kennet Barbel that I caught in the late 1970s
back in the days when it was normal to sack them
when you caught them at night for photographing
at first light..


Keith
 
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bullet

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Another thing I've noticed on some youtube stuff from the likes of Mr Robbins and others is the tiny landing nets they use for Barbel when we're all told they should be very capacious.....
 

John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary..10.00am 2/1/21

Frost and floods. Bad as it gets for the river roach man I would say? So, weak heart that I am, I have not been out for a couple of days but I’ve still been walking the river. And not liking what I’ve seen at the start of a new year that is supposed to bring hope and fresh starts. The lane outside the farm where we are staying is tiny, one of the few true byways left in the county. Wonderful you’d think were it not for the fact that here and there, always in passing areas or pull ins, local builders( I presume) think it’s great to dump construction detritus. Paint cans, old timber, plasterboard, the sort of thing that’s tedious to get rid of and easier to lumber on the countryside. The police? Forget them. All they do is harass the farmers into clearing up rubbish not theirs. This is all bad but yesterday was worse.

Midday we took a walk down a major feeder stream to see if fish had pushed up it in the high water. There were a few dace showing, and small chub, and lo and behold a handful of roach weighing a few precious ounces. Woohooo, we thought. 4.00pm we plotted our evening run to take in the same stream , to watch for rolling fish on dusk. Whilst we had been away, the stream had received the gift of a dozen paint cans, two old bed frames, a couple of doors and some old iron work. I had been planning to write my diary last night, but know what, I was just too furious and depressed to comment on the desecration I had seen. Yes, what opportunities we are looking at in a country when people can do these things, when the authorities don’t lift a finger and when abject laziness rules. I don’t know if you receive the brilliant newsletters from Simon Cooper at Fishing Breaks? This week’s is an incisive piece about a polluting farmer fined peanuts for destroying a wild trout stream. I really needn’t say more.

MASSIVE thanks to Tigger, Whitty and Keith M for reading these diaries and taking the trouble to comment on my keep net campaign and thank you even more for supporting me here. I would not be banging this drum if I did not feel utterly passionate about it. I am not talking about matches or even pleasure fishing at commercials where F1s are treated like commodities but rather about wild fish. Thank you you three for backing me up here. If I were to number all the dangers facing wild fish, I’d be here all day without adding keep nets to the list. There is a limited amount we can do about otters, cormorants, seals, run off, abstraction and the like but there is something we can do about keep nets and that is to leave them festering in the garage.

Yet again, the Environment Agency proves itself useless here. I have talked to several of their bailiffs ( all of whom wish to remain unnamed for obvious reasons) and they despair of the Agency’s bylaws that actually still allow not only the use of keep nets but sanction the removal of up to 15 fish a day. What on earth are we doing to allow this in 2021 I ask? The combination of these two ridiculously outdated laws can be catastrophic. I’m told anglers will leave bream, for example, in nets for days and when challenged, they simply say they are taking them away and prefer to store them in nets rather than on the bank or in bags.

Boris tells us that we are embarking on some fabulous new future. Let’s start by putting some angling wrongs very firmly in the bad old past?
 

peterjg

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Well said John Bailey. I've been banging on the same drum for years - the EA is useless - it's just another government department that only does as it's told!

and

don't be fooled by the hype surrounding their fish stocking efforts. Yes, it's better than nothing (just) but in the great scheme of things, taking into account the thousands of miles of waterways and thousands of lakes their stocking of fish is laughable - just more political hype. What do we really get for our fishing licence TAX!!!!
 
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John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary. 7pm 3/1/21

Well, I’m in at last, simply frozen. Some rain turning to sleet and a river running still high, coloured and very, very cold. Not a bite. Not a sign of movement. Even the crayfish were quiet. In fact, it is days since I have a whiff of a fish and I am beginning to wonder about one of the questions I am so often asked : to what extent do fish get moved around in floods? No doubt back in the deep dredging days, fish in all our rivers could get washed almost from source to sea, especially small ones. Today, we are told, better , more natural habitat gives fish shelter in time of storm and flood. Well, I don’t know. Last year, a small tributary was heaving with roach to a pound and as overgrown as any stream you are likely to see. The floods then washed every single one of them to kingdom come. Make up your own mind.

You’ll have been pleased to read I’ve been back fishing and off the hobby horse. Yet I have to add my appreciation of peterjg’s recent post in my support. The Environment Agency?? I agree with “peter.” Their contribution to fish stocking is laughable. The money we pay them through our licences goes almost anywhere other than looking after the fisheries that we love. “Peter” calls the licence fee a tax , which it is with no recognisable benefit. Very, very many of us have been questioning the validity of the fishing licence fee for decades. It is not my place to incite us to illegality but I have to ask how long we’ll grumble and when we are going to act? We have to find a better guardian of our fish than the worn out, good for nothing EA.
 

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The EA are great for small clubs with small stillwaters,with small amounts of capital,any de-oxygenation problem is dealt with well by the agency,I know this because i've heard of two such clubs having this issue,as far as rivers are concerned the agency as a whole do little for the benefit of the river itself,trying to help flood relief for people who live along the rivers,maybe,a bit,but for the creatures living in the river,very,very little....
 

liphook

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And it appears that those that pay the most get the least - not you should understand that I'm anything but an all rounder - ask any salmon angler in England and I bet the majority would say it's a fair chunk of money for nothing visible in return apart from increasing restrictions and diminishing returns
 

Keith M

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The EA are great for small clubs with small stillwaters,with small amounts of capital,any de-oxygenation problem is dealt with well by the agency,I know this because i've heard of two such clubs having this issue,as far as rivers are concerned the agency as a whole do little for the benefit of the river itself,trying to help flood relief for people who live along the rivers,maybe,a bit,but for the creatures living in the river,very,very little....
Our small clubs 3.5 acre Hertfordshire estate lake has had several bad pollutions causing catastrophic de-oxygenation over the years and we often had some help with air pumps and netting’s from the EA however we always had the ACA involved too and always did duplicate water samples for them because the EA were never willing to take the polluter to court (unlike the ACA) and it was always the ACA who got us the compensation we needed from the polluter for our fish losses and not the EA.

Thankfully we no longer get these pollutions anymore, thanks to the ACA and no thanks to the EA.

Keith
 
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John Bailey

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Roach Obsession Diary 9am 4/1/21

Perhaps it is a mistake to write my Diary when I have come into the cottage cold, depressed and spectacularly unsuccessful like I did last night. I think it is very possible that my fish, like very many other river fish, have been pushed hither and thither by the floods and that finding them could be a long business. This is made worse in my case by the fact there are barely any fish there in the first place. Who told me I was bonkers at the start of this campaign? Well, he was right I’m now accepting.

I suppose the thrust of last night’s piece was the Environment Agency and the sky-high discontent so very many of us feel. Yes, there are good people who work there. Yes, there are times they will ride to the aid of a club or a commercial. Overall however, the feeling is growing that our licence fees go nowhere near the places we want them to go. OUR money goes to the Angling Trust, the government or is simply vanished into thin air. The EA has a dreadful record of tolerating pollution, especially when committed by the water companies. Many of its policies are simply bonkers, think of their disastrous Hoveton Great Broad scheme. Much of their science has become dogma and much of their energy(?) goes into stopping anglers doing things for themselves. As peterjg pointed out their vaunted stocking policies are paltry in the extreme and nothing more than PR exercises.

I could go on, any of us could! The question is what we do about this. Do we all pay up again this coming spring like we have been doing for decades or do we stand firm and demand change? Boris tells us 2021 is a time for change, new departures and new hope. The country is beset with problems. Perhaps we anglers can do something about one of them: the abuse of our rivers and the fish that live in them.
 

Peter Jacobs

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John, you complain now that in your opinion the EA do precious little, and yet by not paying our licence fees that will hinder them to the point where they do even less?

To my mind that is close to the law of diminishing returns . . . .
 

Philip

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Whilst I agree with the sentiment & frustration people feel at what they have to pay and how little is perceived they get back for the money, I also wonder if it’s a thread we really want to pull on too hard ?

My own opinion is that one of the few legs angling purely for sport has left to stand on is the fact we are the greater good. Fish and Environments benefit from anglers and that is due -in part- to the money anglers generate through things such as license fees which the general public do not pay.

Take that away or complain too much about it and the already less than secure legs angling stands on become even more wobbly.

Angling for sport I believe it already banned in Germany & I see rules & restrictions tightening everywhere. Perhaps the answer is to try & subtly manipulate & influence how money from angling is generated & spent rather than a full on protest/outcry about it.

...Getting some of the other users of the waterways to pay a fair share towards their upkeep and management would be a good step too !
 
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Crystal Bend

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I'm no expert but if you want to change things, you must first be organised.
This would involve contacting as many Clubs\Angling Groups as possible and hear their greivances.
Organise Public Meetings to voice these greivances and hear of more.
These meetings could be attended by yourself John & others well known in the fishing scene to give traction to the cause.
Then a petition can be signed & politicians approached to make the EA carry out their business differently.
The threat of none payment of Rod Licences would be a last resort.
Like so many things, there are vested interests in the background but they must be tackled.
If enough people speak out, things can change.
FLM - Fish Lives Matter
Regards
John
P.S Please keep posting John. Thoroughly enjoyable reading.
 

Crystal Bend

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As an aside, why should Anglers have to pay for their Specimen Fish Scales to be tested in a Laboratory to verify it is not a Hybrid, as this is an ongoing issue now & into the future?
Makes the blood boil for such a critical Historical aspect of Our Sport to be neglected...........
 
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