Ever tried rolling meat on your local river? Alex and I love this method, and it’s a great way to catch fish that keeps you busy and works even when the rivers are up and coloured.
We first tried rolling meat about five years ago when we visited the River Wye in search of our first barbel. Good old Spam produced our first experience of hooking a barbel on a moving bait and it was magic.
On the Wye we were fishing with a drilled bullet around half an ounce stopped by a small shot with 10lb line straight through to a 6 or 8 hook. We caught a number of chub and barbel mostly hooked under far bank vegetation where you just couldn’t cast a standard feeder rig.
The real advantage of rolled meat is that you can cast upstream of a feature and by holding the line back you can bump it across the bottom and reach the fish that are lying in wait. It is key that you use the correct amount of lead to get the meat to the bottom but still allow it to bounce across the bottom when you tighten the line.
Bites from chub were little plucks on the rod tip but barbel would just yank the rod right round and occasionally we would not even have a chance to strike through the meat as the fish had already charged off with the clutch singing.
It was on a session with our friend Alan Blair that we were very kindly introduced to the River Lea. A shallow, weedy, often snaggy, fast flowing river which holds plentiful perch, dace, carp plus our two target species chub and barbel. The Upper Lea tends to have mostly smaller than average fish but can throw up the odd surprise making it an exciting venue to fish.
It was on this session we got back into rolling meat and added a few tweaks to fine tune the method to a smaller river.
First issue to address was stealth. Whereas on the Wye we could get away with walking the riverbank casually casting to each deep glide, on the Lea we had to creep up to the river to avoid spooking any fish in the shallow clear water. Polaroids also helped massively as we could spot the fish and target then specifically.
Next up was a change in our tackle, a 9ft 1.75lb rod was replaced with a little Nash Scope Sawn-Off six footer but with the extra backbone of a 2lb test curve. We found ourselves hooking 5lb-plus barbel in tiny little swims and holding on for dear life as they charged for substantial snags!
Line choice was again 10lb straight through to a size 6 hook buried inside the lump of meat. We chose to swap the drilled bullet weight for a single swan shot pinched on the line six inches from the meat, but even this was too heavy in the slower swims, so a AAA or BB shot did the trick in lower water.
Our last change in tactics to adapt to a smaller river was in the actual technique of rolling meat. On the Lea we found most barbel and chub to be hiding tight underneath marginal weed, snags or overhanging branches.
This meant we could not simply cast upstream and let the meat roll down. Instead we resorted to getting into position upstream of the fish holding feature and gently paying of line as the meat is pushed closer to the fish by the flow. Every now and then we’d just stop the line and feel for a bite before paying off a little more line.
When a chub or barbel did grab the bait, you sure knew about it as you would feel a pluck through the line or rod tip before the tip yanked round and then it would be time to hook and hold!
On our most recent session on the river, it had rained an enormous amount on the three days leading up to the session and the rain barely stopped whilst we were fishing either. It’s been the story of the winter for most of us.
The river level was a good foot or so higher than normal and for a very small river, this was a big change! The fish fed with much less caution, and we were catching barbel and chub from areas of the river which were normally devoid of fish.
In one particular swim, a deep hole behind a fallen tree, we decided to bait with a couple of handfuls of 6mm pellet, before returning to fish the swim later in the day. Luckily for us a couple of the resident carp had settled over the bait and it was just minutes before Alex had rolled his spam down the current right onto their noses.
A chunky fully scaled dipped down and took the bait, Alex responding with a solid strike to pull the hook through the meat. The clutch went mental after that as the carp headed off down river through some fast shallow water.
Luckily for us this carp, and a handful of barbel and chub were safely landed that day and had their photos taken before being released back into their now flooded home.
We drove off to another river that evening, and whilst dodging deceptively deep puddles and getting stuck in ridiculously slow traffic, our minds turned to another river location where we could perhaps catch a much bigger carp.
To see how we got on check out the video below…
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