On the next trip to M's river I caught 9 roach, 4 of which were over the pound. No monsters, the best going 1.7, but 8 of these were on the float. At last things were happening. On the next trip I had 7 roach to 1.4, averaging about 12ozs. Most of these were on the float, with a couple on the quiver tip, along with a couple of chub to almost 4lbs, and a silly brown trout. This river generally fishes well when it's carrying a lot of colour, but the colour drops out fast, and you have to be there at the right time, which isn't always possible. Even then it can be hit and miss. How many times have you sat on a riverbank in perfect conditions for whatever species you are pursuing, only to be baffled by their refusal to feed on your bait.

I arranged to meet Matthew there a few days later, and we fished together. On the upper stretch we caught about 6 roach, Matthew I think catching 4 to my 2. We moved to the lower stretch in the afternoon, where Matthew increased his lead, float fishing a swim I couldn't get at due to my leaky waders. I sat in a "quiver tip" swim a little below him and missed bite after bite, giving Matthew what seemed an unassailable lead of something like 11 - 3. However, late in the day I found a pod of roach very close to the bank, and quickly managed to catch around 8 of them on the float. I informed Matthew that I wasn't giving up until I'd caught more than him, which looked on the cards, for although they were only averaging about 6 ounces, I was getting a bite a cast. In the end I gave up as the wind increased to almost gale force, blowing straight down the river. I settled for a more respectable deficit of approximately 12 - 10.

I mentioned in an earlier article my sporadic quest for winter barbel from a difficult stretch of the Kennet. I'd had some ideas on this, but in the end never had the time to put them into practice. I managed just one more trip, under a moon so bright it was like daytime. Fishing until about 10pm, I caught one barbel, a fat fish that might have gone 10 pounds had it not petered out about three-quarters of the way down its body. I can't actually remember what it did weigh now, but I think it was somewhere around eight and a half pounds. The last 2 weeks saw some great conditions for barbel, but unfortunately I never found the time to fish for them.

I was back on M's river - which I think from now on I shall refer to as the river Mudd as it fishes well when everything is horribly muddy, I can't name it as I have been sworn to secrecy - the following weekend despite forecasts of continuous rain. The morning was reasonably pleasant, though again the downstream wind made float fishing difficult. I had a nice fish of 1.6 early on, then a smaller fish, but then the bites dried up. Matthew arrived and we decided to move to another stretch, one I hadn't fished before. I ran a float through the first swim, and lo, down it went to the pull of a chub of about 3lbs. Second cast, the same thing happened. This was interesting. Or rather it wasn't, because, so far as the float went, that was the end of that. Then the rains came, and on the end of a horrid upstream wind that made positioning the umbrella very difficult. I should worry… Matthew didn't even have an umbrella! I know that real barbel anglers don't have umbrellas, but roach anglers?? The rain had started at 11 a.m. When we left at 6pm it was still pouring down, and the ground had become like a swamp. But I did get quite a few bites, missing many, but eventually landing 2 grayling, a dace of about 6 ounces and 6 or 7 roach. most of the roach were small, under half a pound, but the final bite, just at dusk came from a proper one, a nice fish of 1.10, which we photographed with some difficulty without a flash, in the fading light.

So came the last week.. I'd missed the penultimate week of the season as I'd gone to France with my two sons for a skiing holiday. I did everyone a favour doing that though, as I knew the weather would be just perfect for fishing during that week, and had advised my friends to book some time off work to get on the riverbank. Returning from France I had arranged to meet Matthew and have another day on the river there. I'm glad I did. It was superb sport. I caught 29 roach, 2 grayling and a chub, all on the float, and 2 more roach on the quiver tip. The roach weren't especially big, the best going about 1.7 and the average size around half-a pound. The grayling were around 1.8. It hardly rained all day, and even the wind didn't trouble us too much.

At dusk we decided to move downstream in an attempt to catch a bigger fish. About the third run through with the float, I hooked what felt like a very big roach indeed. I got it into my bank, and saw it roll just a few feet from the bank, and a foot below the surface. It was indeed a very good fish. It then started moving downstream pulling my 15 foot rod right over. I was definitely going to take my time with this one… I hardly put any pressure on, letting the fish go. But it did me no good… the line parted and the fish swam off. I've no idea why that happened - I'd been catching fish all day on the same hook-length, and had even pulled out of snags with it a couple of times. I hadn't noticed any damage, having checked it each time. Whatever, I knew then that that had probably been my chance of at least one really big roach for the season. I wasn't too happy, even when I had a nice fish of 1.6 later on, on the quiver tip.

Last day… what to do? You don't want to take any chances do you - you want something to remember, something to dream of through the close season. But the forecast of cold and strong north-easterly winds promised to make things difficult. After considering the options we decided yet again on the Mudd. Even if the fish were sometimes small, at least you usually caught something, and there are definitely some big roach there. The weather forecast was accurate enough, and float fishing was virtually impossible - these are all far bank swims - you can't fish from the other side - and the wind made things really difficult. My friend Andy had come along with his pike tackle. Where there were roach, he reasoned, there must also be pike. He was right too - I think he had about a dozen runs, landing 5 or 6 pike, only small, up to about 5lbs, but sport at least on such a dismal day. During calmer periods I managed to fish the float, catching small roach, and some feisty perch up to about 12 ounces. Edward had come too, and pottered here and there, seemingly quite happy, though I'm not sure what he caught.

It was far from comfortable though. The freezing wind was straight in my face, and when that was joined by persistent rain, things became decidedly unpleasant. The ground was too hard to get a brolly pole in properly, and with the wind being head on you couldn’t easily have fished from beneath an umbrella anyway. I stopped fishing and sat holding the umbrella tightly with both hands, hoping the rain would stop, though the colour of the sky, visibly purple-grey for as far as you could see, said it wouldn't. At one point a gust of wind sneaked around the back of me and turned the umbrella inside out, pulling me from my seat and almost toppling me into the river. During the worst of this Andy had a run on his pike rod, and had to go out in the rain to land a 3lb jack. He returned frozen, and quite wet. It was 3 p.m. I didn't know what everyone else was thinking, but I could guess, No-one said anything, though that might be because they know at times (most times) I will stick it out in the most foul conditions if I think there might be a chance of a fish. In the end I put words to their thoughts.

"If I were on my own, I'd go home now."

Within 2 minutes we were on our way. Conditions had gone from merely foul to absolutely disgusting. I never packed up so early on the last day before, but now we were glad to be on our way.

Not a great winter for roach was it? Again, it was difficult to be in the right place at the right time. I drive many hundreds of miles in pursuit of big roach - being so far away from them does make things difficult. Being severely restricted for time makes it worse. But of all the fish I've pursued in my angling career, roach are the only fish I continue to seriously fish for. I wonder if I'll ever come to terms with their finicky behaviour. Probably I won't, not until I retire anyway, and perhaps move down to Wessex, for it's the roach of the Hampshire Avon that inspire me most. But then, retiring to the Avon is what most of the best roach anglers in the country seem to have done… so I'll have some catching up to do….