Roach are a small to medium sized fish found throughout Europe and Asia.
The common roach are one of the most hardy varieties in the coarse fish world. Roach are widespread and one of the first fish that many young anglers will catch.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that their ubiquity makes them a lesser fish, their beautiful red fins and glistening silver scales would bring an appreciative smile to any anglers face!
The common roach (scientific name rutilus rutilus), often known simply as the “roach” is a freshwater fish of the Cyprinidae family.
Many of you will probably be familiar with this family as it includes carp, minnows and barbel. The nickname given to the roach is “redfin” after the beautiful pectoral, pelvic and anal fins.
There can be other fish called roach of the hesperoleucus or rutilus genera, however this depends where the roach are located.
Roach have been introduced to many countries. The main reason for the introduction is as a use as an angling fish.
Other reasons include as food for other species (such as for pike in Ireland) and as use as live bait.
As with many shoal fish, roach have several predators including pike, zander and is a favourite of the grey heron who you may see in canals and rivers standing perfectly still until the fish pass by.
Roach are edible and are likely to have been eaten throughout history, however in the UK the majority are returned live to the water. The flesh is bony but esteemed where it is consumed.
Distribution and Habitat
Roach are common across Europe, apart from the area around the Mediterranean. They cannot endure the colder temperatures, but they be found in the East as far as Siberia.
They have been introduced for sport fishing in distant countries such as Madagascar and Australia. There are several subspecies, particularly in Central Europe and Asia. The subspecies even have a semi-oceangoing life around the Black and Caspian seas.
In Spain and Portugal a subspecies exists which do not coexist with the common roach. In North America the name roach can also apply to rudd, golden shiner (minnows) and some members of the sunfish.
Roach have been introduced into North East Italy where it is now considered as invasive. It is also considered invasive in Ireland, although it was introduced in the late 1800s.
Roach live in slow-moving rivers, canals and lakes. They are adaptable and can generally exist in any fresh water ecosystem.
Roach prefer areas where the natural flow of the water is disrupted such as dams or weirs. They live in shoals and can live in very shallow water. Roach prefer the vegetated areas where they can reproduce and use the area for food.
Examples of places where roach will live (and which emphasises their adaptability) include muddy duck ponds, gravel pits, lowlands, shallow and deep canals, large lakes and the upper reaches of estuaries.
Roach are known for being incredibly hardy and will survive in water above 4 degrees Celsius and below 31 degrees Celsius.
In addition, they can sustain polluted and brackish waters. In areas where there is a shortage of available food to sustain them, they can slow their growth and will become more slender and stunted as a result.
Roach are a beautiful, bright silver fish with large scales. They are a lighter whiteish colour towards their belly. The pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are an orange, red or dark red colour.
You can see their red fins in clearer waters which makes for a stunning sight in their shoal. The lateral line scale count is 42-45. They have a deep body with forward facing mouth and slightly red eyes.
There is some confusion with identifying roach as they can be misidentified with rudd, ide and dace.
Rudd tend to have more lateral line scales (around 40 to 55) and have an upturned mouth (they usually feed at the surface). With rudd the dorsal fin is more to the rear with the pelvic fin whereas in roach the dorsal fin is in line with the pelvic fin.
In dace, the colour is slightly more green with colourless eyes. The ide generally looks bigger (in body, head and mouth) and has 55 – 61 lateral line scales.
Roach are not large fish by coarse angling standards. They are generally plentiful and once you find a shoal you can catch one after the other if you keep them feeding.
Roach grow from 30 – 45cm in length. A good specimen is considered to be 35cm (14 inches). The maximum weight a roach will grow to is around 2kg, which is very large indeed.
The British record from 2005 stands at 4lb 4 oz (1.9kg). Any weight above 1lb is considered to be a specimen. If too many roach or other fish inhabit one area such as a small pond, their growth will be stunted.
Roach generally live for 8 – 14 years. In some waters such as the River Tay in Scotland, it was found that many of the roach lived from 15 – 18 years and up to 21 years.
How They Feed
Roach are omnivorous and their diet includes plant material, insects, seeds, fish eggs, invertebrates, worms, maggots and barley.
Roach are not particular, they have been found to generally eat what is available from the area in which they are situated. This, again, shows their adaptability to most environments. They will feed at any depth but prefer shallower water.
In general, in colder weather they will feed at depth and in warmer weather are likely to feed near to the surface.
Juvenile roach will begin feeding on zooplankton and other small invertebrates. As roach develop they will widen their eating habits to include larger insects. The larger fish will feed on larger invertebrates and filamentous algae and will branch out to other foods.
Roach do not have teeth so will swallow their food whole. Everything which they eat will therefore need to be bitesize – something to remember for the bait!
Roach spawn in shallow areas in the spring from March to June when the temperature exceeds 12 degrees Celsius.
If the PH of the water drops below 5.5 roach cannot reproduce successfully. The large males will form schools together, of which the females will join. The males then trail the females in order to fertilise their eggs.
A whole population spawns within a period of 10 – 15 days. The population will often spawn in the same area each year. They are very fertile fish and a female can lay up to 100,000 eggs. Males reproduce at around 2 – 3 years and the females a year later.
The eggs are pale yellow and extremely sticky. The reason for this stickiness is that the eggs need to cling to rocks, vegetation, tree roots and moss under the water. The eggs usually hatch in 12 days.
The newly hatched juveniles will stay attached to the vegetation (or wherever the egg was stuck to) until they have consumed their yolk sac.
Roach spawn earlier than many other species, which enables roach larvae to utilise the water production earlier than competitors.
How To Catch Roach
For the specimen angler, large roach are one of the most sought after fish. If you are looking for a larger specimen, try to avoid the areas with large populations as the food will tend to be scarce which makes the roach stunted.
Another reason may be competition from rudd and perch which could also cause stunted growth. Where populations are smaller, the size of the roach tends to be larger.
Roach in slightly faster flowing rivers are likely to be larger, as the weaker fish are likely to have been washed out of the system and there would therefore be less competition.
Canals and rivers with a high level of zander and perch which would selectively feed on small roach can also be a good location, as they cannot open their mouths wide enough to eat the larger roach.
Again, the lack of competition here will allow the roach that remain to grow larger and increases your chance of catching a larger fish.
If you are looking for quantity over quality, anywhere where roach can grow in a diverse habitat giving them places for food and spawning are a good place to start. If you find a place without a strong current and low on predators you should be in business.
Match fisherman should look to find canals where the greedy zander haven’t taken hold as these provide excellent roach fishing waters with plenty of fish to help the match fisherman increase their weight.
Even if you do not intend to catch a roach, given their varied diet the chances are that you will catch them from time to time.
Do not despair if this happens, although it isn’t the fish which you probably intended to catch they are lovely on the line (especially the larger ones) and a truly beautiful fish.
I must confess, I have a sentimental attachment to these fish as they were one of first species I caught when I was younger and I’m sure it is the same for many of you too.
As roach are relatively small, a thin, fine line and a small hook of around size 20 or 22 would be the way to go. You could couple this with a float fish set up and expect to achieve good results.
In terms of bait, as you’ve read above, roach aren’t particular so you could be creative. We’ve found the best bait are maggots in the form of castors (the pupae of the maggot), pinkies and squats – but try to get fresh ones that are wriggling well.
Other worthy contenders include hemp, sweetcorn or bread. You should be able to find all these at good tackle shops or supermarkets and it’s worth taking a selection to increase your chances of catching a few.
In summer you may find that you can fly on the surface as roach will find insects at that time of year.
Try to fish in the shaded areas as that is where the shoals tend to gather. It’s definitely worth having a good walk around where you are going to fish to identify areas where the redfins may congregate and target these areas first.
Try to get the shoal confidently feeding by introducing bait little and often. If you are fishing on a canal, you will probably find that you can catch roach standing on the towpath bank, however you will probably have more success on the far bank or the area where the boats pass.
Remember that roach are cautious feeders, so just that you have cast your line and aren’t having much luck doesn’t mean that the fish aren’t there. Try to be patient (but we know how difficult that can be!).
Whatever happens try to enjoy yourself and take the time to really appreciate this humble fish, whether they’re large, small and everything in between.
Roach are not particularly delicate, but like all fish they should be handled with care to ensure that their fins, skin and scales are undamaged. A good fish unhooking mat should make sure that they are protected.
Although they are small and you could easily lift the fish out of the water, always use a landing net to make sure they do not wriggle from the hook and fall.
They are hardy creatures but it is our responsibility as anglers to ensure they are returned as strong and healthy as possible!
As roach will swallow their food whole, it is recommended to have a disgorger on hand in the event that they are hooked in their gullet. We have caught them on maggots before and they have a couple in their mouths when pulled up so they are probably a bit greedy!
If you would like more information on how to fish for roach, or would like some further information on angling techniques, check out our fishing tips page for more information!