Roach on the Feeder

If you're thinking of the River Seine, you'd probably be contemplating bream or barbel on the feeder. Throughout the warmer months of the year that certainly would be true when fishing this mighty river. But come late autumn/early winter, the bream start to move out of the main river into winter quarters and sections of the river become filled with that other prized Seine fish… the humble roach!

Pole anglers are well aware of this. I spent some time with local anglers last autumn at Vernon, plundering this rich vein of quality roach, where nets of 30 kilos seemed almost commonplace. This is spectacular sport and happens, I believe, because the dominate bream of the Lower Seine move out of the river prior to the floods. Put simply, this just seems to leave more room for the roach.

Few French anglers actually set about targeting roach on the feeder, but it's something Dutch anglers are greatly experienced at. In Holland there are many feeder matches in the winter where roach are the main quarry. As a consequence, Dutch anglers have developed some special rigs and strategies, perfect for targeting these beautiful fish. We wanted to put some of them to the test, so we arranged to meet up at Vernon with our favourite Dutchman, Jan Van Schendel, and find out just how a top feeder angler would tackle the Seine for their pristine redfins.

Jan took us through the key elements required for targeting them on the feeder. The results were, of course, fascinating as he showed us how to adjust the way we think about feeder fishing when roach are the target.

Groundbait for roach is basically used to get loosefeed down to the bottom, and then release it. It purely acts as a type of plug, which hold the loosefeed samples within the feeder. Jan uses some of the same base groundbaits for both his bream and roach feeder fishing. The difference is not so much the feed itself, but how it's wetted!

Unlike bream groundbait, a roach groundbait needs to be active. When Jan makes a mix for bream he wets it the night before to ensure that it is totally inactive, or inert. With a roach mix, he likes to wet it on the bank before fishing so that it remains active and ensure that a flow of particles keeps washing down the swim from the feeder. This helps to pull roach up to, and then onto the main feed.

Jan's mix for the Seine was half a kilo each of JVS All Round, JVS Feeder Bream and Van den Eynde Big Roach. The Feeder Bream is there to help get the bait down, while both the All Round and the Big Roach are used for their active qualities, ensuring the groundbait breaks up quickly once on the deck.

Jan also takes great care when wetting groundbait for roach, making sure that it remains on the dry side. Again, this helps with the breaking up process, but more importantly, the groundbait will not become too sticky when it comes into further contact with damp loose feed ingredients like hemp and caster.

Particles for roach fishing
Usually on the Seine, Jan would base a feeder attack around chopped worm, caster and maggot. This would be standard bream fare on the river. To target the roach Jan deliberately left chopped worms out of the equation. He focused on two classic roach attractors... casters and hemp. This approach relies on getting plenty of loosefeed into the swim, so he used a cage groundbait feeder, blocked with a wire frame at one end. This allows him to pack it with hemp and casters into the open end and then plug it with groundbait. The groundbait then acts as a downstream attractor, drawing the fish onto the bulk of hemp and caster which is quickly dispersed out of the feeder. During the three hours Jan spent fishing, he got through about 1.5 litres of casters and a litre of hemp, as well as a few red maggots for hookbait.

Feeders for roach fishing
At first glance these feeders look pretty much like the ones Jan used for ide fishing on the Seine (see Feeders on Big Tidals ), which allow for plenty of particles pushed down towards the blocked end and then sealed with a plug of groundbait at the other. He has loads of these feeders, fitted with leads of different weights on the side.

The major difference when he uses feeders for roach, is not in the shape or design of it, but the weight. The ones used for ide and bream fishing have to be able to get to the bottom quickly and stay there comfortably. However, when after roach, Jan will use a lighter feeder, one that just holds bottom, there are two reasons for this.
  1. Roach pick up a bait in a different way to bream. Bream will take their time and can swallow a bait, only moving off once they realised that they've been hooked, or after they have taken a bait and moved off to find more food. This is why, of course, that all bream bites do not always slam the rod round! The classic scenario with bream is that they become generally hooked BEFORE they've given an indication on the tip. Roach on the other hand are faster moving, darting around the feed and picking at a bait rather than swallowing it. To catch big river roach, a feeder that is set to just hold in the flow will work better than one heavily anchored on the bottom. Why? Because when a roach picks up a feeder that is lightly holding bottom, the feeder will drop down in the flow and the roach will often hook itself against the feeder's weight... at least that’s the principle!
  2. Think of how you pole fish for roach, compared to bream. Roach tend to accept a bait running through, whereas bream usually prefer it nailed to the deck! On the feeder the same logic can apply. Roach are notorious for hanging back behind the feed and just moving up and down, picking off particles as they wash towards them. With a feeder it may seem impossible to run it through a swim, but if you get it to just hold the bottom, you can get it to move downstream by adjusting how tight you have your line. A tight line will always place more pressure on the feeders stability thereby causing it to move, but if you have a slacker line which allows a small bow to form with the flow, you can get the feeder to remain stationary. It’s all about line management how much line you pick up after the feeder hits the bottom.
Jan uses the same casting technique every time. He punches the feeder out, and then lifts the rod straight up before the feeder hits the clip. He then lets the rod follow the feeder down as it sinks to the bottom. The rod is then laid in the rest pointing straight up in front of him. To get the feeder to roll, Jan tightens up any slack line to the feeder, which increases tension on the feeder, thereby allowing it to roll a couple of times, which you will notice on the rod tip. To fish with the feeder stationary, Jan picks up an amount of slack line as the feeder hits the clip and starts to sink, allowing a bow to form downstream. The bow can be increased or decreased as the flow of the river dictates. The slack (bow) line offers less resistance and stops the feeder from rolling. This is a subtle way of fishing, but one which Jan prefers, especially when conditions are hard. With a balanced feeder rig, bites show up on the tip as a drop back as the fish picks up the bait and dislodges the feeder.

During our visit, Jan used feeders between 30 and 40 grams, with lighter one being the most successful. Had this been a bream session, he would have been using between 40 and 50 grams for even greater stability.

Filling the feeder, JVS style
Jan keeps all his bait separated in boxes on his large side tray. This allows Jan the option to modify the amount and proportion of feed going through his feeder at any point during the day. To fill the feeder he simply scoops in some caster then hemp into the blocked cage feeder  and then seals the open end with a plug of groundbait. He can add more hemp, less casters if he feels he needs to hold the fish closer to the feeder, or add more casters if he wants to pull more roach up towards the feeder. Introducing a few floaters into the feeder will also draw more fish from even further downstream as well, so you can see the options available behind the simple principle of separating bait.

Rigs for roach fishing
This is where Jan’s absolute knowledge of his target fish really shines through. He has several rigs that he uses to catch roach and during our visit to Vernon he changed the set-up three times before finally finding the rig that best suited the way the roach were feeding on the day. What decides whether a rig is working for roach or not, is the ratio of bites missed, to bites hit. The roach at Vernon were good quality fish and they were hungry! These fish are never fished for with a feeder, so they can feed very confidently out in the main flow. In fact, Jan had problems with the ferocity of many of the bites until he got the rig working perfectly and then started getting good positive takes. Here are the three rigs Jan used on the Seine.

Rig 1: The Classic
Jan started off with his 'Classic' rig which is well known to feeder anglers in France and is simple to set up:
  • Slide both a snap link swivel and an ordinary small swivel onto the line
  • Make a large 20cm loop using a double overhand knot
  • Half this loop with a double overhand knot, trapping the link swivel in the top loop, which should then be about 10cm long
  • Make up a series of four smaller loops out of the bottom loop, with the ordinary swivel trapped in the very last loop
  • Attach your hooklength to this swivel.

This is a basic sliding loop method and has been around for many years, it's normally ideal for roach. The rig is very direct as the feeder sliding in the larger loop usually gives a fair degree of sensitivity, which can help when roach are not feeding too confidently. The link swivel is also an important part of this rig because Jan uses short hooklengths of around 30cm and line spin is a constant problem, especially when using baits like caster. More about hooklengths in a moment.

The problem Jan had with this rig was that he was getting sharp bites which he couldn't connect with. Initially he thought it might be the casters, so he switched to maggot to see if that solved the problem. However, even with three hooked maggots he was still missing fish. They were obviously taking the bait properly because the maggots were coming back well-mouthed!

So what do you do? Jan decided to shortened his hooklength to 20cm and see if this made a difference, but again he was missing too many bites... enter the 'Dink Dink'.

Rig 2: The Dink Dink
Originating from England, in particular from the River Trent, the Dink Dink works when roach are hanging just off the bottom. The advantage of this rig is that fish will usually hook themselves because the hooklength is actually shorter than the feeder tail!

Preparing the Dink Dink:
  • Attach a link swivel onto your line
  • Make a loop 12cm long, with a double overhand knot, trapping the swivel
  • Tie a smaller loop, just below the double overhand knot. The swivel should remain in the larger bottom loop
  • Make a hooklength about 10cm long with a couple of small loops to stiffen it
  • Attach the hooklengths' end loop to the small loop on the main line.

As you can see with this rig the short hooklength is actually hanging above the feeder.  You need to add the length of the feeder attachment to the rig to see this effect fully. You now have a hook fished off bottom on a short fly-style dropper. The rig's advantage is that fish tend to hook themselves against the tension on the tip and the weight of the feeder. Roach and chub are the main target with this approach and bites can often be quite savage.

Jan persevered with it for a good 30 minutes, but it was not proving the answer on the day. He caught fish but they were much smaller than those he'd been getting on the classic rig. It seemed like the better roach were on the bottom so Jan moved to onto the 'Bolt' rig.

Rig 3: The Bolt
Having worked out that the better size roach were on the bottom, Jan now needed a rig that would turn these savage pulls into hooked fish. He had one more rig up his sleeve, one he'd previously used in Holland in similar conditions. He felt that the large loop on his Classic rig was giving these big roach too much slack and therefore time to spit the bait out. He therefore needed to take away any slack caused by the large loop. This should then stop the feeder from running too far and cause the roach to hook themselves against its weight. This is Jan's 'Bolt' rig:
  • Slide both a link and a micro swivel onto the line
  • Tie a loop about 5cm long with a double overhand loop with both swivels inside
  • Tie a second loop down from the first knot, trapping the link swivel. A loop of about a centimetre is fine
  • Then tie two more small loops out of the remaining loop, trapping the micro swivel in the last one
  • Finally, attach your hooklength to the micro swivel.

This rig effectively restricts the feeder’s movement due to the small loop that it’s fixed too. So when a roach picks up the bait, it's pretty much in direct contact with the feeders' bulk, which then becomes the 'bolt' rigs block. Bites will either be a sharp pull or a sudden drop back. Because this rig proved to be much more efficient at converting bites into fish, Jan was able to enjoy a couple of excellent hours, putting a string of quality roach into the net.

It again shows just how subtle feeder fishing can actually be! Jan had to modify his rigs to suit the way the larger roach were feeding on the day. Ironically, it was because they were feeding so confidently that the Classic rig didn't work properly. As a consequence, he was able to make the connection between the way the fish were feeding and how his rig eventually needed to be set up. This is the sort of thinking process that illustrates precisely why using a feeder can be such a technical and skilful way of fishing.

Hooks and hooklengths
Normally, you would expect to fine down hooks and lines for roach fishing, indeed, if you were on a canal this would be true. But on a big river like the Seine, were the fish are wild and hungry, Jan saw little point in fishing too fine so used a size 12 JVS feeder hook to 0.152mm Fluorocarbon JVS Spooky hooklengths. The advantage of using such strong hooklengths is that the line is a bit stiffer and spins less than a lighter one. Also, a stronger hooklength gives you a half a chance if you do hook something bigger. Unfortunately Jan’s hemp and caster approach did attract the attention of three unknown 'animals' that he simply couldn't hold onto. We believe they must have been large barbel because when hooked, they all ran parallel to the bank, rather than straight out as a carp would. To be fair, we'll never know, however, Jan did managed to land a bonus bream and some of the roach caught later were big fish, pushing a kilo!

Hook baits
Not surprisingly, Jan went for multiple hook baits on his big size 12 hook, using either three or four maggots or three casters tipped with a maggot. The caster bunch was certainly best at sorting out the bigger fish and once he got the bolt rig working, it was the bait that did the most damage.

Jan hooks a bunch of casters in a certain way to reduce line spin:
  • Thread the first caster thickly on the hook and out of its middle and slide it up the shank
  • Thickly hook the second one and sit it below the first
  • Hook the third caster, maggot style through the top
  • Finish the bunch off with a maggot, lightly hooked to stop the casters sliding off the end.
Variation: If line spin is still a problem, try hooking the third caster the other way round, not through the top but through the bottom!

But how do you keep casters on the hook?
Jan has a lot of experience caster fishing and one thing he has learnt is that to keep caster on the hook you need to use dark casters as hook bait. In fact, Jan and many other Dutch anglers use floating casters as hook bait, which you can do this yourself quite easily. Take some fresh casters out of their water before you set up your tackle and within a couple of hours they will darken off. Better still, if you turn your own casters, keep some of those dark ones that usually get drained off and thrown away. This is exactly what Jan did with the caster that we were turning during our time at Vernon.

Dark casters have a crispy skin, which is actually tougher than the soft skin of a sinking caster, therefore it's less likely to fly off when being cast out. Floating casters will, of course, also sink more slowly with the weight of a hook in them and for roach fishing this means it will behave more naturally in the flow, compared to the heavier sinking caster.

We finally have a fine net of beautiful Seine roach, taken in just an afternoon by our Dutch feeder maestro. As always, what seemed a fairly simple way to fish, was in fact much more technical than first thought. The weight of the feeder, rigs and hookbaits, have all been carefully worked out. Once again it proves to me how little casters are valued as a bait in France, whereas Dutch and English anglers use it extensively to select quality fish, so why is it still largely ignored in France? The situation is getting better, but in the 20 years or more I have been writing in French angling publications, caster is still not a mainstream bait. I'm sure that if Jan had fished with just maggots and groundbait he would have only taken a net of hybrids and smaller roach. I've no doubt that caster, coupled with hemp, sort out better quality fish. If those three fish Jan lost were in fact barbel, then there would be another reason for looking at hemp and caster in a feeder. Barbel, being bottom feeders, find caster and hemp irresistible because they lie motionless on the deck, easy to mop up, unlike burrowing maggots!

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Jan is familiar with fishing on large powerful navigable canals and rivers in Holland, but a major problem is the wash created by the boats. This tends to slam keepnets back against banks and boulders, damaging the fish. Jan only uses keepnets with rigid rings all the way through for river fishing and he passed on a neat idea for weighing down the net to stop it being hammered about.

Taking a plastic carrier bag with him, he fills it with a few decent size rocks and then ties it to a special cord he's attached to his JVS river nets. You could just as easily attach a cord to one of the square plastic brackets found on the end of most modern keepnets. With the net in the water, the 'bagged' rocks hold it relatively securely in place. The other advantage of this idea, is that should the bag get snagged up in any blocks or boulders, the bags bottom will rip and release the rocks, allowing the net and contents to be retrieved intact.