Winter cockroaching

Craig Rist

Don't scoff and think this story is a bit lightweight and simple. Craig Rist is a skilful and diverse angler and he revisits his fishing with this delightful piece.
The important lesson here is the importance of catching fish when you are young. Many beginning anglers lose interest because they don't catch fish. Enjoy this story for what it is - a lesson in diversity.
You might remember Craig's last story was about fishing Weipa - the next might be mako shark on fly.  (Ed)

Twenty-two years ago at the age of 14 I received my first fly rod and started to learn how to fly fish. At the same time I was shown how productive a cockroach fished with a fly rod could be. The method is simple, but very effective.

One of the best things about fishing a cockroach is there's not too many choices you have to make when you're starting out, other than what water you want to fish. Unlike the bewildering task of selecting one of the many flies or lures available when you're first introduced to these types of trout fishing. Trout will take a cockroach in lakes and rivers all year round and in all conditions. On those rare occasions that a trout refuses a cockroach, you can move to another location or change the line and try your hand at fly fishing.

Fishing a cockroach with a fly rod in my early days gave me some useful fishing skills that I adopted while learning to fly fish. Firstly it proved that casting a long way was not necessary to catch trout. It also taught me how to stalk and locate trout using polarized sunglasses and the basic mechanics of how to play out a fish using a fly rod and reel. Most importantly though it allowed me to catch fish fairly easily at a time when I was new to trout fishing. This kept me interested in trout fishing and willing to learn new things.

Early in July this year I decided to re-live my early days and see if trout would take a cockroach in the middle of winter. Arriving at Great Lake about mid-morning, with a moderate south westerly blowing I decided to give the eastern shore a go, hoping their might be a couple of fish feeding amongst the stirred up water. Winding on about 16 ft of 8 pound line over my fly line, after joining it to my tippet, I attached a bare hook and a cockroach. I waded out to my knees searching for any signs of fish with the aid of polarized sunglasses. With no obvious signs, I located any under water structures such as logs, large rocks or depressions that may hold fish. I waded the shore fishing the water in front of me with several casts before moving along 8 ft or so and repeating the process. As I slowly retrieved the line I felt a tap through the line as a fish took the cockroach. For 3 or 4 seconds I let the fish take the loose coils of line from my hand before holding the line tight and lifting the rod into a sold fish. After a short fight a brown of around 2 pounds came to the net. I removed the hook from the corner of the mouth releasing him back into the water.

An hour had past with no signs of any fish, when the line started to pick up speed as a fish took the cockroach as it was sinking. Again a delayed strike lead to another sold hookup, but this time the fish gained its freedom after wrapping the line around a nearby rock, breaking the line in the process. That being my last cockroach, I removed the 8 pound line I had attached to my fly line tippet earlier and tied on one of my cockroach flies. Besides introducing a couple of false casts to deliver the fly I fished the cockroach fly in much the same way.

Another couple of hours had past and I was beginning to wonder if these flies still worked. As I retrieved the fly and it started to come into view I saw a green shape looming up behind the fly. I stopped the fly and watched the white blink of the trout's mouth open and close indicating it had just taken the fly. I paused briefly and set the hook. The fish rolled with a flash of red and powered off into deeper water followed by a jump. Still connected, I eventually steered it away from the rocks and logs, slipping the net under a nice rainbow. The next hour produced another brown, followed by a change in the weather as snow proceeded to fall. It was time for me to head home. It was good to see that a trout's appetite for cockroaches hadn't changed and was still as strong as ever.

Any fly rod and reel loaded with 8 to 12 pound line and a number 4 bait saver hook. You can add the monofilament over the top of the flyline. Strip off about 16 ft of line in loops in your line hand, as you would with a fly line. Cast out the cockroach with one smooth action let it sink to the depth you want to fish and then begin to slowly retrieve it back in long slow pulls, looping the line back in your line hand. A fish will either take the cockroach as it is sinking or on the retrieve. Let the fish take line for 3 or 4 seconds before setting the hook.

Fishing gear
Cockroaches can be found in woodpiles or stacked timber and under old logs. If cockroaches are scarce, mudeyes and large grasshoppers fished in the same way can be very affective as well.
Any fly rod and reel from a 4 weight to an 8 weight can be used.
Use a good line with low memory such as Maxima from 8 to 12 pounds to wind over your fly line or onto a separate reel. Bearing in mind that heavier lines tend to tangle less and are easier to manage.
Bait saver hooks will keep the cockroach lying straight on the hook while casting and retrieving.
Waders will help you get close enough for a cast and polarized sunglasses will add the visual aspect to your fishing by helping to locate fish and underwater structures.
Warm clothing such as thermals, including thermal gloves and quality wet weather gear can make the difference between an enjoyable day's fishing, or a miserable one.

Craig Rist

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