TAY ROACH – Story Peter Collins, Pictures Sonny Craggs

This article has been reproduced with kind permission from the Angling Times.  It appeared in Issue No 766 on 7th March 1968 when the paper cost the princely sum of 9p.  The majority of the paper back then was black and white with just an orange border and a few pieces of orange text on the front page, but it was already ‘The world’s biggest selling angling newspaper’. Things have obviously come on a long way in 45 years but the paper still remains a firm favorite with anglers of all disciplines and today you don’t even need to leave home to enjoy the article as you can visit the online version at www.gofishing.co.uk. 


There are many who would rank Scotland’s River Tay as the finest game fishing river in the British Isles.  It may not be long before parts of that river are given equal status as a roach fishery.

How the roach got into the Tay is a mystery.  There was no sign of them until 1946 when a shoal was spotted at Perth Harbour, in the city-owned water.

And in the 20 years that have elapsed since the roach were first spotted, the only serious attention they have had has been from netsmen of the Tay Salmon Fisheries, who have waged war on the shoals above the city.  Although they have never succeeded in eliminating the roach, netsmen reasonably claim that but for their operations the lower river would have become overrun with roach.

A reference in the Scottish Tourist Board brochure “Scotland for Fishing” points out there are salmon, sea trout and brown trout in the Tay but there is no mention of the roach.

Alastair Mull nets a roach for Peter Collins as Tay gillie Willie Thompson stands by quite unimpressed.  Willie’s face was a picture when the catch was returned at the end of the day!

When Mike George, Sonny Craggs and I visited Perth we had intended to fish the Isla, a tributary of the Tay, for grayling.  But foot-and-mouth precautions made this impossible and the Tay was our second choice.

What a second choice!  After a false start in a swim that produced nothing but one brown trout, we moved to a bend in the river where the flow was pronounced and, as the tide began to flood, started to catch roach.

In 2½ hours I had a little over 30 lb. of roach in my keepnet – the best roach fishing I have known all season!  Once the roach became interested in the loose-fed maggots they fed with great gusto.

The Tay’s banks are a rather awkward perch for a basket when the tide is half way in.  But with roach like this , who cares?

The level was rising all the time and in 2½ hours the water rose 12 ft.  The saltwater running into the lower river prevents the freshwater coming downstrteam from running out to sea.  The two great masses of water met, there was no flow and the water rose.

Peter Collins plays ‘Canute’ as the tide rises. Later a strong wind made fishing near impossible.

I scrambled further back up the bank every 20 minutes, taking up a fresh position over the same swim.  But the roach stayed all the time.  They took either two maggots or three maggots on a sized 14 hook.  They weren’t very fussy and would probably have taken a dozen on a size eight.

When you catch a roach that stretches from your fingertips to the crook of your elbow, you’ve got a good one.  This was Peter’s best fish.

The roach were not as big as those in the Tweed.  But I had several of 1lb and the best must have gone 1½ lb.

The sky was the limit and I could have gone on and on until the keepnet was full, but for the rising wind.  It grew in strength until it was finally impossible to to present a still bait in the face of the wind.

With the wind blowing a gale and the tidal water lapping bankside tree roots, peter Collins had to call a halt.  Helping with the net is Alastair Mull.

But 30lb. proves the point just as well as the 80lb. I might have had.  The Tay is full of roach in this particular area.  I cannot think of anywhere better in the whole of Britain at the moment.  Yet it is doubtful if half a dozen anglers have ever fished for the roach.


There’s a moral there somewhere.  The Perth City Council own the fishing rights over three miles of river centred on Perth.  There’s no close season and coarse fishing is free.

I was assured both by our guide, Alastair Mull, the Scot whose prime interest lies in game and sea fishing, but who recognised the untapped potential of the Tay, and by gillie Willie Thompson – who took an amused interest in the proceedings – that 2½ lb. roach are netted out each year.

This callous aspect of maintaining a game fishing river is foreign to most of us.  But the killing may stop.  Already the Scottish Tourist Board is becoming conscious of the fact that although Perth may be the gateway to the Highlands there are many English anglers who will travel no further north.  Perth has everything they want for a holiday.

The time will come when the roach that are removed are no longer killed but are transferred to other Scottish waters where coarse fish will be allowed to thrive.  But despite the constant netting, the roach can never be totally eliminated from the Tay by any means that will not also upset game fishing.

We found great difficulty in convincing many Scots that the coarse fishing is of any value.  Willie Thompson was near aghast with disbelief as I tipped my net up and the roach swam away.

Willie spent the best part of an hour trying to convince me that half a crown spent on a permit to fish this Perth City water for salmon would be a most profitable gamble.  I might take him up on it one day, but I’m not going all the way to perth to fish for salmon.

If I go again I shall want another crack at the roach.  This was the best spell of fishing I had had for years.

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