Small chub are greedy and gullible, but to catch the big, solitary fish you will need to mount a campaign of research, stalking and stealthy presentation.
The definition of a specimen chub varies a great deal from water to water. I used to regard an Ouse five-pounder as a specimen; today I would be very hard put to catch one of that size from the stretch where I once caught scores.
An Avon or Stour fish of over 4V&lb is still above average, although six and seven-pounders are present in both rivers. The Wye will produce many two-pounders before one of twice that weight appears, but there are chub in certain stretches of that river that must run into double figures. The Kennet is a good chub river, but you would have to catch a great many good fish before you hooked one of its deep-bodied five-pounders.
Every so often a really big chub is taken from the Thames, but the water is not itself a specimen chub river. I choose, instead, to fish its tributaries, Windrush, Evenlode and Thame, because there I can read the water more easily, identifying chub lies, although not always finding a fish at home.
Every chub river holds specimens that have managed to exploit a food source, or discover a lifestyle that has made them bigger than their contemporaries. In some rivers there are many such fish; in others they are few and far between.
Striking it lucky
There are times when chub shoal upstream in a V-shaped formation, with the largest at the point. If, by loose feeding in advance, you have managed to stir the shoal into feeding, and if, by sheer luck, your baited hook travels down in direct line with the leader, you will catch the largest specimen on the first cast. But more usually the small chub beat their big brother to the bait, and the specimen becomes wary and slides away from the scene. It is a far better proposition to seek the loners—those fish that have grown big through caution and by avoiding the many smaller, eager members of the species.
The chub is probably the greediest of our coarse fish. But although medium-weight chub are relatively easy to catch by simple methods, the big fellows that may show up occasionally, but do little more than suspiciously eye a bait, have to be approached differently.
Time spent without any kind of tackle is of the utmost value in tracking down specimens. Even if chub are scared, they will often come back, the same fish almost always showing in the same spot the next day. When fishing you will spend much time in undignified positions and will be stung from head to foot.
The chub record is an Avon fish of 7lb 6oz. For that river, the Stour, Kennet and Great Ouse, the specimen weight is 4 1/2 lb. The Wye and Thames specimen weight is 3 lb, with large individuals.
10-1 lft Avon type
b.s. 3-5 lb, depending on season and snag conditions
(crayfish), 4-6 (worm), 6 (frogs, large baits)
Luncheon meat, sweetcorn, maggot, casters, tares, worm, crayfish, frog, fish deadbaits (ledgered), plugs and artificials
Same as hookbait where possible
Freelining, trotting, ledger with spring, swing or quivertip, plug fishing by nettles (because big chub often choose the protection of water by nettle banks). You will kneel in cow pats and you will attract flies, but you must not wave your arms to brush them away or your prize catch will be gone.
Tackle comprises a 10-1 lft Avon-type rod and fixed-spool reel. Breaking strains vary according to season and the probability of snagging.
Specimen chub are more likely to be taken from rivers where they are visible. This is because it is easier to be selective in clear water, and clari-ty in itself is a pretty good indication of purity and plentiful supplies of natural food. – iXk -ar’ 5s?
In summer it is possible to stalk fish, to select and to catch the biggest of the bunch. Stealth and a quiet approach will catch summer specimens, and provided the bait is acceptable and presented correctly, the tackle strength can be substan-tial. I have never found chub to be tackle shy. They are shy of anglers and of baits on which they have been hooked before; but there is no point in presenting a big bait on a big hook to a chub lying in a bulrush pocket if your line is not strong enough to pull it out, but there are times when it is necessary. If you enjoy a long, traditional fight with a fish in open water your chances of specimen chub are greatly reduced.
Many summer baits will succeed, when applied with common sense. Luncheon meat, sweetcorn, casters and tares have suddenly found favour, and are used so regularly by so many anglers that the need is for something subtler.
Subtlety lies in knowing where the chub are likely to be. If you know a big chub’s lie, you do not need to use great handfuls of maggots or dollops of groundbait. The fish will probably eat that and ignore your hookbait. Throw in enough to whet his appetite. You can often dispense with groundbait altogether. Put a good bait to a good chub without scaring it, and there is a fair chance that it will be yours.
Simple and natural
Having dismissed luncheon meat and so forth as run-of-the-mill, it may seem strange to recommend lobworms and crayfish as good early season baits. They too are in common use, but they are natural. Chub get used to them; on heavily fished waters they even become scared stiff of them. But only the simplest of tackle is needed when using these baits to extract big chub from an undercut bank, a hole in the lily pads, underwater roots, the branches of an overhanging willow, or a gravel bar. A hook tied directly to the reel line is usually sufficient.
If the chub can be seen, the bait should be dropped not in front, but behind it. That is the way to fool the biggest in the bunch. Try to hit its tail with a big crayfish mounted on a No 2 hook. All too often, one of the smaller chub will spot the bait and snatch it as it slowly sinks, but just once in a while the really big specimen chub swirls and takes it without any preliminary inspection.
When frogs were thick on the ground it was generally accepted that small frogs were good chub baits. But they are good only for small chub! For specimens you need monster ones mounted on No 6 hooks. The biggest chub I ever hooked took an enormous dead frog which I dropped in front of it and began to twitch back slowly. But there was too much bait and not enough hook and I lost the fish. Using the natural baits, keep out of sight and allow the bait to drift down naturally with the current or sink slowly in pockets of stillness, thereby not arousing suspicion.
Chub will often chase a worm or crayfish as it is being retrieved upstream. Nothing could look less natural than, say, two lobworms creeping upriver off the bottom, but sometimes it does the trick. And when a chub hits a bait moving in this way it usually hooks itself and there is little chance of escape. Use a No 4 or 6 hook with worms, unless you wish to add an extra worm for weight in which case you can go a size bigger.
I have spent quite a lot of time playing around with artificial baits. If the right one is used where big chub are known to lie, chances are good. Chub are not as predatory as pike, and small plugs intended for chub often end up half swallowed by jacks. But many really big chub are almost as predatory, and I have hooked two on sprats meant for pike. I am sure there is a case for ledgering with deadbaits in winter, when highly coloured water prevents the pursuit of fish that you can actually see. I keep deadbaits moving in the current so as to resemble live fish.
Winter specimens from small rivers Summer offers the best chance of seeing, hooking and hauling out a big chub, but winter fish are stronger and in better condition. They also move around less in extreme cold. (It may be worthwhile to carry a thermometer and check the water temperature.) In winter, the best chances of specimen chub are in small rivers of character. These waters, with shallows and deeps, bends and scours, undercuts, gravels and glides call for simple ledger tackle.
There is more water in the river, the rushes and reeds have died down, the lily pads are gone. The river has changed character and yet many of the summer haunts remain popular with the chub.
Waters and backwaters, overgrown for most of the summer, have been scoured almost clean. Rafts of debris gather against overhangs; fast runs develop under high opposite banks; little turbulent eddies widen into pools; the silkweed from the shallows disappears and the deep run below it is clear. There is a gap between the overhanging willow branches and the bank where the current is now pushing through a little faster. The sharp bend has widened into a clear defined run; the current from the ditch opposite now hits the bank below the angler’s feet and sets off diagonally at a lively rate. These are all chub lies. Leave a bait there and sooner or later an unsuspecting chub will come across it.
But do not waste all day in one swim. In the Great Ouse heyday, the chub experts, Dick Walker, Peter Stone and Ken Taylor, used to give each swim about half an hour before moving on. During that half hour, move the bait to several different spots. If necessary add lead to your tackle to ensure that it anchors where you want it. Linkledgers, in various forms, hold bottom nicely without being ‘nailed down’ and you will find that they just, and only just, defeat the current.
When a chub takes the bait, the l’jad almost invariably moves —despite the fact that the line is supposed to slide freely through the lead or link. This will tighten or slacken the line just enough to register a bite.
Tips for novices
Nowadays you may choose a swing, quiver, or springtip to deal with chub in bigger rivers, and novices should make full use of these. But I have never found a better method of bite registration than feeling the line with my finger. There will always be times when bites from chub are few and far between, and it is virtually impossible to sit and hold a rod for long hours in cold wintry conditions. So I use my touch ledger rod with the front end in a rest. My mittened hand holds the handle and the line is looped around my index finger. Despite the cold, I can feel a tightening or a slackening of the line and deal with it at once.
At this time of year, chub are more likely to be on the prowl in search of food. If you want to attract them, you can do so in traditional style with groundbait and loose feed. If you are an expert float angler, and can trot your float down almost touching the opposite bank, you will catch chub. How many will be specimens is, of c.ourse, less easy to predict.
Stealth, concealment, caution and correct presentation are just as important in winter as they are in summer, especially when the water may be coloured or murky. In these conditions the chub can see you even if you cannot see the chub.