The Roach

Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Genus and species: Rutilus rutilus

The Fish Shop Cypriniformes Cyprinidae

William Yarrell (1836) in "A History of British Fishes":


Leuciscus rutilius, Cuvier, Règne An. t. ii. p. 275.
" " Flem. Brit, An. p. 188, sp. 65.
Cyprinus " Linnæus. Bloch, pt. i. pl. 2.
Cyprinus " Bloch, pt. i. pl. 13.
" " Roach, Penn. Brit. Zool. vol. iii, P. 482.
" " " Don. Brit. Fish. pl. 67.

THE ROACH is said to be abundant in almost all the rivers throughout the temperate parts of Europe, and in this country appears to be a very common fish, inhabiting most of our rivers, but preferring those that are slow in their course, frequenting the deepest parts by day, and by night feeding on the shallows. A specimen sent to me from Scotland by Sir William Jardine, Bart. was rather shorter and deeper than the Roach of the South. The Rev. David Ure, in a statistical account, when describing the Roach in the parish of Killearn, says, " Vast shoals come up from Loch Lomond, and by nets are caught by thousands : their emigrations from the loch, however, are only for the space of three or four days about the end of May." Mr. Donovan, in his History of the British Fishes, says, " In the river Thames the finest Roach are caught about the middle of May or early in June, when those fish come up in shoals from the sea to deposit their spawn in the higher parts of the river : " but the Roach in this instance come from the direction only in which the sea lies, - not, I apprehend, from the sea itself : the attempt to gain a higher station in the river, where the oxygen is in greater quantity, is analogous to the movement previously noticed as occurring in Loch Lomond, and also in the allied species, L. idus and dobula, previously described ; but I have never known a Roach to be taken in the sea into which the fish had entered voluntarily. Montagu, in his MS. referring to Mr. Donovan's statement of this migration from the sea, states his belief that Mr. Donovan was mistaken, and expresses also his belief that the Roach could not exist in sea-water at all ; quoting the following fact which came under his own observation: - In a small river that runs into a large piece of water of nearly two miles in extent, close to the sea, on the south coast of Devon, there is no outlet but by means of percolation through the shingle that forms the barrier between it and the sea : in this situation Roach thrive and multiply beyond all example. About eight or nine years ago the sea broke its boundary, and flowed copiously into the lake at every tide for a considerable time, by which every species of fish were destroyed.
The fish of Lough Neagh, in Ireland, called a Roach, is in reality the Rudd, or Red-eye, Cyprinus erythropthalmus of authors, to be hereafter described - a fish belonging to the second division of the genus Leuciscus of Klein, which has the dorsal fin over the space between the ventral and anal fins: the Roach has the dorsal fin more forward on the body, and over the ventral fin, not over the space behind it. I may here mention, that the representation of the fish at the bottom of the title-page of the third volume of Pennant's British Zoology is that of a Rudd or Red-eye, and not that of a Roach, as stated; which the position of the dorsal fin, and comparison with the figure of the Rudd, plate 83, page 479, will sufficiently testify.
Roach are gregarious, swimming constantly in large shoals, and feeding on worms and herbs. Pennant refers to a Roach of five pounds' weight. Mr. Jesse says the largest he has known to be caught in the Thames weighed three pounds ; and Walton considered a Roach of two pounds worthy of particular mention. Mr. Jesse says of the Roach detained in his vivarium, that he has seen a Carp swim among a shoal of them without producing the least disturbance; but if a Pike went near them, they made off rapidly in all directions. The Roach spawns at the end of May or the beginning of June, and the scales are then rough to the touch. It is in little estimation generally for table, but is best as food, as well as finest in colour, in October, - a state produced, probably, by the variety as well as quantity of nutriment obtained during a long summer; it is in this month that it is most sought after by the Thames anglers.
"As sound as a Roach," is a proverb that does not carry with it the degree of conviction that usually attaches to a popular apophthegm. It must, however, be remembered, that in the older ichthyological works this fish was called Roche - a term probably derived from the French. The meaning stands confessed, if we admit the pun upon the word; and we ought then to read, "as sound as a rock."
The French connect the same idea of haleness with the Ide, a fish previously described, which is known to them by the name of Gardon. The English say also, "as sound as a Trout ;" and the Italians connect the idea of health with fish generally, è sano como il pésce. The Roach was first described by Rondeletius.
The length of the head compared with the whole length of the head, body, and tail, including the rays, is as one to five ; the depth of the body at the commencement of the dorsal fin is to the whole length of the body alone, without the head or caudal fin-rays, as two to five ; the muzzle rather sharp; the mouth small ; the nostrils double, both pierced a circular depression, but little in advance of the anterior superior edge of the orbit ; the diameter of the eye equal to one-fourth of the whole length of the head, and occupying the second fourth portion ; the nape and back rising suddenly ; the dorsal line much more convex than that of the abdomen: scales rather large, marked with concentric and radiating lines; the number of punctured scales forming the lateral line forty-three ; the oblique line from the base of the dorsal fin down to the scale on the lateral line contains seven scales ; below the lateral line to the origin of the ventral fin, three scales ; the lateral line falls by a curve from the upper part of the operculum below the middle of the body, and from thence nearly straight to the tail.
The first ray of the dorsal fin arises exactly half-way between the point of the nose and the end of the fleshy portion of the tail ; the first ray short, the second the longest in the fin; both rays simple, all the others diminishing in length and branched; the sixth ray as long as the base of the fin : the upper ray of the pectoral fin the longest and simple, all the others branched; the length of the fin equal to the distance from the front of the eye to the free edge of the operculum : the ventral fins arise, on a vertical line, directly under the first ray of the dorsal fin ; the upper ray the longest and simple, the others branched : the anal fin commences on a line with the ends of the rays of the dorsal fin when folded down, the first ray short, the second ray the longest, both simple, the rest branched ; the tail deeply forked, the central rays scarcely half as long as the outer rays. The fin-rays in number are

D. 12 : P. 17. : V. 9. : A. 13 : C. 19.

The colour of the upper part of the head and back dusky green with blue reflections, becoming lighter on the sides, and passing into silvery white on the belly; the irides yellow; cheeks and gill-covers silvery white ; dorsal and caudal fins pale brown tinged with red ; pectoral fins orange red ; ventrals and anal fins bright red.

Frank Buckland (1880) in "Natural History of British Fishes":


(Leuciscus rutilus)

German: Die Plotze, Die Rothauge. French: Le Gardon blanc, La Rosse. Swedish: Sarf.

HERE is a French angler’s opinion of the Roach: “The roach is by character inclined to controversy and is indecisive in his conclusions. Sometimes he will bite, sometimes he will not bite; one never knows the reason why. To catch him the fisherman must have a subtle eye and a steady hand. One should take all sorts of precautions, for if he is curious he is also at the same time excessively suspicious. He is afraid of every float that is the least bit too big, so that to catch him one must use the finest possible tackle.”
It is for this reason that roach fishing is such a favourite sport among anglers. When Assistant-Surgeon in the 2nd Life Guards at Windsor, I was taught the art of roach fishing by Mr. Pace, then Regimental Mess-master, than whom a better roach fisherman never existed. Our best sport was obtained in the autumn months, from September to Christmas.
There is a science in everything connected with roach fishing, from the making of the “ground bait” to the cooking the fish. The best ground bait was prepared for us by the mess cook ; it was made of bread and bran, well mixed together, pounded in a mortar, and then boiled to a certain consistency. Sand was then mixed up with it, the quantity requisite being adjusted to the rapidity of the water in the “swim” we were about to fish. It was necessary the ground bait should collect the fish at an exact distance from the top of the rod, for if it was too near or too far from this point the “swim” would be spoilt.
Gentles are without exception the best bait for roach, but any kind of gentle will not do, it must be the gentle of the butcher’s blue-bottle fly, and must be grown and fattened upon sheep’s liver, nothing else will do. It is very difficult to keep these gentles throughout the winter, when they are most wanted, as they are very apt to convert themselves, if kept too warm, into chrysalids, and it has happened to me more than once to find all my gentles had become blue-bottles, which of course were useless. The only way to keep gentles from turning is to bury them in pickle bottles in the ground. When there are no gentles to be had I recommend boiled wheat. Gently boil the wheat over a slow fire until it gives out a jelly, the kernels will have cracked down one side ; into the top of this crack insert the hook.*
The tackle we used was of the very finest. A single hair is very much better than the finest drawn gut; the best hair for roach fishing known is the long peculiar coloured hair from the tails of Her Majesty’s cream-coloured state coach horses.
There are many works written especially on roach and roach fishing, and I especially recommend the work of Mr. Greville Fennell, the well-known authority on angling matters, published by Longman, Green, and Co., London, “The Book of the Roach.” The largest roach seldom exceeds 2lbs.: I have had roach brought to me heavier than this. In some cases they were hybrids; in one case, certainly, the fish was simply a bream.
The roach is subject to a curious disease which shows itself in numerous black moss-like spots growing on its scales. Mr. Henry Lee has examined these microscopically, and reports that this appearance is caused by an abnormal condition of the pigment cells, and the formation of a melanoid cancerous growth.

* See able article, “The Old Roach Hole,” by A. R. H., Fishing Gazette.

Frank Buckland (1880) in "Natural History of British Fishes":


(Cyprinus cœruleus.)

THIS is a very rare fish. I have never had the luck to see this fish. It is not however uncommon abroad, I believe, and is mentioned by German writers on angling.

Alwyne Wheeler (1969) in "The Fishes of the British Isles and North West Europe":


Rutilus rutilus (Linnaeus, 1758)

NAMES Fr. Gardon; Du. Blankvoorn; Ge. Plötze, Rotauge; Da. Skalle; Sw Mört.

IDENTIFICATION A relatively deep-bodied fish, at least when adult, with no barbels, it has a small, slightly oblique, terminal mouth. The free margins of the dorsal and anal fins are slightly concave or straight. The dorsal fin origin is above the pelvic fin base, and has nine to eleven but usually ten, branched rays. The scales are large, and fairly firmly attached. There is a weak scaly ridge between the pelvic and anal fins. Pharyngeal teeth in a single row, usually five, sometimes six each side (Fig. 69). The average length is 6-8 in (15-20 cm), but it frequently attains a length of 14 in (35 cm) and a weight of about 2¼ lb (1 kg). The British record rod-caught fish weighed 3 lb 14 oz (1.76 kg).
The roach’s colour is variable, the back being dark with bluish or green shading, the sides paler, fading to silvery white on the belly. The sides are often brassy or green-gold in colour. The dorsal and tail fins are usually dark grey or brown, and the pectoral fins are tinted with red, but the pelvic and anal fins are orange to blood red. The iris of the eye is bright red.
D. III/9-11; A. III/9-11; lateral line 42-5; transverse scales 7 or 8/4 or 5; vertebrae 39-41. (Fig. 69)

BIOLOGY A widespread and very common fish, it is found in all types of water from small ponds to lowland rivers and up to altitudes of 3000 ft (914 m). This wide distribution is due to introduction as much as to its adaptable nature. Its natural habitat is the larger lakes, slowly flowing rivers, lagoons and weedy marshes of the lowland plains. In certain areas it is found in brackish conditions.
The roach spawns in April and May amongst the dense vegetation at the water’s edge. The males have numerous small white tubercles on the snout and sides of the head and on the fin rays, and each body scale has a small white speck. They spawn when the water temperature reaches 15°C (59°F), sometimes in cold seasons at 14°C (57°F), and all mature roach in the area congregate and spawn within a few days. Spawning fish frequently break the surface of the water and there is considerable splashing. The eggs adhere to the vegetation, are yellow in colour and 1 to 1.5 mm in diameter; they hatch in nine to twelve days at 12-14°C (54-7°F), but may take fifteen to eighteen days at 10-11°C (50-52°F). The alevins are 6-6.5 mm long and hang on the vegetation for several days after hatching.
The growth rate of the roach varies greatly with different waters and sometimes tends to be slow, so that a population is frequently composed of stunted fish, all of roughly the same length. In a favourable habitat where food supplies are adequate and competition not too severe, growth should approximate to the following figures: at one year of age 3½ in (9 cm); at two years, 5 in (13 cm); at three years, 5¾ in (14.5 cm); at four years, 6¼ in (16 cm); at five years, 8 in (20 cm) and at six years, 10 in (25.5 cm). Variations in growth also occur from year to year. Males are usually slightly smaller than females and mature earlier (in their second and third years, exceptionally in their first year). Females mature in their third and fourth years.
The food of the roach is varied, consisting as much of vegetable as animal foods. The smaller fish eat diatoms and small planktonic crustaceans (Daphnia, Bosmina and Chydorus). Larger fish eat insect larvae and pupae, other invertebrates, higher plants and filamentous algae, including Trichoptera larvae (caddis flies), the larvae and pupae of Simulium sp. and chironomids (midges), corixids (waterboatmen) and water-beetles, both adult and larval. The other invertebrates eaten include freshwater shrimps (Gammarus), slaters (Asellus) and molluscs, particularly the water-snails Bithynia and Hydrobia. These molluscs are particularly the food of the largest fish. The food intake varies during the year, with a partial fast in winter, and a complete fast at spawning time.
Roach in eastern Europe are a source of food, and extensive but local fisheries are maintained for them. Elsewhere they are eaten only by some anglers, but in the British Isles their value is greatest as a sport fish. Because of their abundance and widespread distribution they are an important anglers’ fish, the capture of large specimens calling for highly developed angling techniques.


Eastwards to the U.S.S.R., several doubtfully valid subspecies described from eastern Europe and the Balkans. Also in Italy and the Adriatic basin generally, Rutilus rubilio (Bonaparte, 1837); in western Spain and Portugal Rutilus arcasii (Steindachner, 1866), R. lemmingii (Steindachner, 1866), R. macrolepidotus (Steindachner, 1866) and R. alburnoides (Steindachner, 1866).