Chub Fishing Techniques Primer

You can always spot a successful chub angler. He will be drably dressed, he moves slowly and approaches his swim in a low crouch. He treads softly; landing net and bag are laid quietly on the bank. He knows – and I trust that by the end of the post you will appreciate why – that 90 per cent of the art of chub fishing is about not scaring the fish. A frightened chub is not the least bit hungry.

It is unlikely that any other river species has senses so finely tuned to detect underwater sounds. Water is an excellent conductor of sound waves, though chub and other cyprinids do not hear in quite the way humans do. They are equipped to ‘feel’ sounds instead, and this they do by sensing pressure changes caused by disturbances in the water and above the surface. The commotion made by a careless angler is instantly detected and tells the chub to get out of there fast.

A lecture in fish physiology is out of context here even if I were qualified to deliver it. For the moment then, just be assured that despite its obvious lack of ears, a chub probably has the most sensitive ‘hearing’ system of any river fish. It has keen eyesight as well, which makes it extremely important for anglers to keep quiet and out of sight and to make use of any available cover on the bank.

Provided that stealth is accepted as being the cardinal rule of chub fishing, you will find the species to be the most obliging of the worthwhile-sized fish in the river. Rarely are conditions totally hopeless. Blazing midsummer heat waves when you feel like jumping in with the fish, midwinter days when toes turn to ice lollies, floods or drought, a chub or two is always on the cards if the swim is carefully selected.

HABITAT AND BEHAVIOUR

Most chub swims are near cover of some kind, classic examples being overhanging bankside trees and bushes, and under rafts of debris that form around trailing branches. Alder trees provide the best overhung swims of all, which no doubt explains the traditional nickname for chub, Alderman. Loggerhead is another name, and very appropriate when you look at the chub’s large, blunt head. Chevin and chavender are yet more nicknames, but I do not know where they originate. In Scotland chub are known as Sckellies.

Underwater roots, fallen branches, undercut banks, rush beds (especially where they have toppled over to form an arch), weir piles, bridge supports and the shade of the bridge itself are all very attractive to chub. They will live anywhere that provides cover, security and a bolt hole- but only if strength of current is to their liking.

Although snaggy swims are the most reliable places to find chub, they are found in some open stretches of river. Good spots are where the stream narrows and its pace quickens or where a sidestream joins and diverts the main flow. In the latter case, chub prefer to lie in the slacks and eddies between the lines of main and inflowing current. Like roach, chub are fond of a gravel bottom. The perfect swim would be a medium fast glide over clean gravel, about 4ft deep, and beneath a dense overhang. Observant chub anglers should find such spots easily enough.

Speed of current is the deciding factor. I know lots of apparently promising swims which remain chubless because the currents are wrong. It is said that chub prefer the current to run at a slow walking pace, and I agree with that. Tiny whirlpools curling along the water’s surface are one indicator of suitable current speed. They often denote some minor obstruction upstream which itself is probably unimportant, but they occur so often in many of the finest chub swims that I know it cannot be mere coincidence.

Tackle

It is possible to catch chub on small hooks and frail tackle more suited to minnow bashing, and indeed some anglers prefer to fish this way. Some even land a few of the chub they hook. Many more are lost because the tackle breaks. To my mind this amounts to bad angling – how often have you heard a light tackle addict bemoaning his lost fish!

Surely no responsible fisherman wants his quarry to trail broken end tackle. It is much better to come properly equipped with tackle strong enough to land chub reasonably quickly. In any case, most of the excitement of real chub hunting is lost messing about with tiddler gear. Proper chubbing is all about the thrill of a bucking rod in the confines of a snaggy swim. Your tackle must be strong enough to ensure that the fish comes out.

Using a 10 or 11ft through action 1 lb test curve Avon-type rod, fixed spool reel loaded with 5 lb line, plus a few spare spools holding lines between 4 and 8 lb, a chub fisherman is properly equipped to deal with any legering situation. Once my standard rod was 10ft long and incorporated a quiver tip that made it ideal for legering. Trouble was, I frequently came across swims that were better float-fished, and of course the leger rod was hopeless for the job. These days I neglect quiver tips, good as they are, in favour of a more versatile lift Avon with which I can leger or float fish as the swim demands.

TACTICS AND TECHNIQUES

Summer Chub

Summer chub are the easiest to catch because their high metabolic rate means they are nearly always ready to have a go at a bait. They are relatively easy to locate if you look into the water through polarising glasses. The most exciting sport is had in overgrown backwaters and upper reaches, the more remote the better. It is surprising how many miles of meandering upper reaches, tributaries and backwaters are virtually untrodden by anglers. Superb sport is available if you explore.

A typical small river has lots of chubby characteristics. Many have not been ‘improved’ by the dredger, therefore much of the bottom will be gravel. Weed growth is natural and luxuriant, and the banksides are well grown with overhanging vegetation – a chub fisher’s Mecca. Shallow gravelly runs with a reasonably smooth flow provide the most reliable summer hotspots. For some reason chub sometimes seem to lose much of their innate caution in shallow water and can be suckers for any well-placed bait. Part of the explanation is that where several fish occupy the same swim, competition for titbits is fierce. I think also that water running over gravel is quite noisy for chub and diffuses unnatural sounds like footsteps and rod rests being skewered into hard ground. There is less chance of the chub becoming aware of the angler’s presence.

If you walk along the banks of a clear stream and peer into the water through Polaroids, you are almost sure to spot the unmistakable shapes of chub. They have distinctive blackish tails, pinky-orange pectoral and ventral fins and thick, rubbery lips. They lurk near rush beds or drift slowly in and out of patches of shade.

Simplicity of tackle is the keynote for chubbing on small rivers. You must be mobile and explore every likely looking swim. This you cannot do loaded down with huge tackle boxes and rod bags. The basic equipment is rod, reel, landing net, hooks size 10-4, a box of swan shot, a couple of Avon floats, optional weighing scales and bait of course. I am usually happy with a loaf of fresh bread, but chub are notorious for the enormous variety of baits they will accept. Summer chub engulf anything edible that is presented naturally – assuming they have not been alarmed. Curiously enough, naturally can mean the bait hitting the water with a sploosh. Chub are accustomed to food dropping heavily into the river, and will often rush in and grab a bait before you have chance to close the bale arm.

Baits

Unusual baits may catch chub that have refused normal offerings. I have had my share on strange baits ranging from french fries and eel cutlets to dead mice. Flake, crust, slugs, lobworms and crayfish are my favourites in that order. Crayfish probably would head the list but in the rivers I fish they have declined so drastically that I hesitate to sacrifice the few that remain, particularly when I am able to catch chub easily on more plentiful baits. Brook lampreys are a stupendous chub bait though even scarcer than crays. Stone loach are good baits, more plentiful and easily caught by carefully looking under stones in the shallows or by parting the strands of silkweed which grows on weir sills. With care they can be scooped up with your bare hands.

Most small bait-sized fish (live or dead) catch chub. They work far better in summer than winter. I have experimented with fish baits in winter, believing they might sort out the better quality chub, but the results have always been disappointing. Friends tell me they use them effectively right through the cold months so it must be a question of fishing with them to find out if your particular chub respond.

Upstream Techniques

Most summer chub anglers tend to fish by casting the bait downstream, but in so doing they increase the risk of being spotted by chub that lie head to current – that is, facing you. Better sport results from approaching the fish from behind, by casting upstream and keeping out of sight. The baits I have mentioned are weighty enough to cast alone, so no lead is required on the line. An exception is when baiting with sunken crust, which needs a large shot pinched on the line 2-3in above the hook.

The killing method is to flick a bait upstream to plop into the run in which you have spotted chub or where you suspect they may lie. The unweighted bait begins to sink slowly and travels back towards you in the current. Usually it does not travel far before a chub grabs it. In really clear water you can watch the bait drifting down and see the chub move to intercept it. Exciting fishing!

I hate slugs – horrible, slimy creatures -but they are perfect for upstream fishing. Chub go crazy for them. Len ‘Slugger’ Norris, the best slug angler I know, invariably gives me a good trouncing whenever we fish together. A trip to the Suffolk Stour was a classic example. Len arrived clutching a gallon container brimming with slugs – big brown ones kept moist and lively in shredded, damp newspaper. (Slugs must be fresh and lively to catch chub.)

Part of Len’s success is his willingness to explore the impenetrable overgrown swims where others fear to tread. His first choice of swim lay beyond a jungle of head-high, vicious stinging-nettles; an un-fished, chubby little run of water beside a midstream bed of bulrushes. Like roach, chub love to be around bulrushes. I watched Len attach a size 4 hook on a 6 lb line to a slug’s saddle. Slugs provide a solid, compact weight for pinpoint long casting, so a flick of Len’s rod sent the bait some 15yd upstream to plop into the head of the run. We saw the semi-buoyant slug drift back towards us, sinking very slowly while Len recovered the slack line and took great care not to disturb the bait’s natural flow. We saw the flash of bronze, the swirl and an eruption of water as the hook bit home. It is fatal to show chub the slightest mercy in these tight swims. Use adequate tackle, screw the reel’s clutch down tight, and haul. That’s what Len did, and his first chub was in the net inside a minute.

When you cannot see chub take the bait -any bait-bites are detected by watching the line where it enters the water. Several patterns emerge, depending on how the chub reacts. The most common is when the line jerks sideways then either falls slack as the chub turns towards you or snakes upstream if the fish runs that way. Strike a slack liner as soon as you see the bite; a chub moving in the other direction will probably pull the rod tip down before you can hit it.

Some chub just open their mouths, suck the bait in and lie there. The line slowly tightens as if the bait has snagged in weeds. On a few occasions the chub takes the bait then just drifts back with the current. This is rather difficult to detect because all you see is a slight twitch of the line. The rule is if in doubt, hit it.

The disturbance of hauling one chub from a tight swim usually ensures that no more will be tempted from the spot until they get over the shock. That is a good reason for adopting the mobile approach; you can easily up stakes and move to the next swim, catch another chub, move on again, and so on. Later on, it is even worth trying the first swim again.

Len finished his session with nine chub to 3 lb 14oz on slugs, while I managed six to 3 lb 9oz, four on flake and the other two on crayfish which I had stored in the freezer from way back. Live crays are killed with a tap behind the head then hooked once through the second from last segment of the tail with the hook passing into the bottom and out through the top. Instead of letting the current do the work, twitch the crayfish back along the bottom with small jerks of the rod tip, thus imitating the movements of live crays which swim backwards by flapping their tails.

Floating Crust Fishing

Stalking chub in small, clear streams is river fishing at its finest. But what about the more open, featureless stretches where the fish cannot always be seen? A good way to locate chub in these surroundings is to break up a crusty loaf and throw a couple of dozen pieces of bread into the river then follow them downstream. If chub are about, it will not be long before they begin to swirl up to the crusts and slurp them down. Here is the obvious place to start fishing.

Use floating crust bait on a size 6 hook. A 1 ½ in square of crust is about right, and should be hooked through the crumb side then back through the crust. The line must float, so dress it with floatant to within 18in of the hook, this last piece being allowed to sink because chub often are suspicious of line floating alongside the bait. If necessary, make the nylon sink by rubbing it with putty made by mixing fuller’s earth with glycerine or washing up liquid.

Cast the crust then pay off more line so that it floats downstream. Mostly there is no mistaking a bite – the crust is engulfed amid a great swirl. Sometimes, though, a chub sips down a crust as gingerly as a trout may take a fly, and the only indication of a bite is that suddenly you cannot see the bait any more. A quick strike misses fish in both circumstances. Wait for the chub to turn, then hit it.

Chub take some time to recover from spawning and may not be in good condition in summer. Retaining them in keep-nets is bad news for chub – and for other fish as well for that matter- because it can only retard their recovery from the battering they inflict upon themselves. If fish must be kept, a modified carp sack is far superior to a traditional keepnet. Fish cannot rub off their protective mucus against the soft woven nylon.

Winter Chub

Winter chubbing is just as enjoyable as summer fishing though sport is slower after late autumn. As compensation, chub are in superb fighting condition having fully recovered from spawning. Many summer haunts like the pockets and runs between rush beds are gone; others, like overhangs and snaggy swims, fish well all year if the current maintains a comfortable speed. When the current is too strong due to the increased winter flow rate it pays to search areas of slower moving water close by the summer swim. Chub usually move no further than the nearest patch of water that runs to their liking. Sit and wait tactics catch plenty of chub, but the mobile approach of summer works as well if you adopt slightly different tactics. I like to hedge my bets by using both approaches in the one session. I begin by walking the stretch armed with a bucket of stale mashed bread or a supply of whatever other bait I intend to use. Plain mashed bread is a superb river bait, and I have had encouraging results by pepping it up with flavoured essences added to the water. Crab flavour has proven to be a winner, with honeycomb a close runner. Add about 15ml of essence to a bucket of water before mashing the bread.

I toss a handful of bait into every likely spot to interest the resident chub, then I start fishing in the first baited patch and move to each prepared swim in turn. I save what I judge to be the best swim until late evening, and there I use sit and wait tac- tics. Overhangs and flood rafts are by far the top winter swims, and most of them are best fished by casting downstream with a fixed paternoster leger rig. The bait is presented semi-static under the overhang. Using just enough lead to hold bottom, cast downstream and level with a near-bank swim. The current will wash the tackle under the overhang so that it comes to rest in the chub’s front parlour. Sometimes it is necessary to tease bait into position by lifting the rod tip so that the lead bumps further round in the current. For a far-bank swim add more lead and cast as close as possible to the edge of snags. And as I will explain later, there is another trick you can use.

I catch winter chub on smelly baits like cheese, luncheon meat and sweetcorn. Different rivers respond to different baits, and I have fished those where crust, flake or lobworms are the best baits of all. Experiment with your local chub to see which they prefer. Whatever it turns out to be, the bait still has to be worked into position.

Having got the bait settled under the overhang, keep it on the move by giving the line a half turn on the reel, or by lifting the rod point so that the tackle bumps a little farther under the swim. Chub often grab a bait they have ignored so far if you give it a sharp tug along the bottom. The usual bite indication is a nudge on the quiver or rod tip as the chub picks up the bait, followed by a powerful pull around as it turns downstream. With a belly in the line, the tip springs straight before it is pulled down. Should the chub move sideways with the bait, as they often do, the lead is pulled along and causes the tip to bounce back and forth. At other times the rod slams round with no preliminaries as the chub belts off downstream. All are positive takes and easy to connect with.

In some places you may do better by exploring the water with a rolling leger bumped across the stream to search the whole river bed. Try adding a float, or cast upstream with a light lead so that the current trundles the bait back towards you. There is no doubt that chub like a moving bait in all but severe weather.

A Deadly Technique

Earlier I mentioned a method of placing a bait under the branches of a far-bank overhang. In fact I devised it to fish neatly in most of those apparently impossible swims that chub anglers come across – at the end of a long tunnel of overhanging bushes or anywhere else that restricts casting. Like many other chub anglers I used to mess around with rafts of some kind that carried the bait downstream to the inaccessible spots. The idea never worked properly because bait inevitably fell off before it reached its destination. Then there is the matter of getting the bait on to the raft in the first place.

I use a half slice of cut loaf to ferry the bait. The hook is nicked into a crusty corner and the bait – cheese, flake or whatever – is moulded around the shank. This rather ridiculous looking arrangement is lobbed into the river, whereupon the slice of bread carries its passenger to where the chub lie. En route the slice can be steered by manoeuvring the rod tip and adjusting line tension. You can send it past, into or alongside any gap or obstruction. By the time it reaches its target the bread is saturated, so a flick of the rod is all it takes to free the baited hook, which sinks in precisely the right spot.

Virtually any swim becomes a viable proposition with this method, including far bank overhangs. The whole slice can be cast with ease across a not too wide river. A bonus is that because the bait falls so naturally to the bottom chub are more confident; indeed, immediate bites are commonplace. A variation is to attach a small surface popping plug instead of the bait, send that downstream, then work it back with small jerks on the rod tip. The plug pops and splutters as it muddles along the surface. Bites on surface plugs are electric. Water explodes under the branches and the rod slams round.

One restriction of the ferrying technique is that if you need lead on the line, it must be fixed so that it stays suspended under the floating slice. A running leger would slide down the line until it hit bottom, anchored itself and ruined the system.

Trotting

On a mild winter’s day without too much wind, trotting becomes one of the most effective methods of catching chub. A trotting rod should be 12-13ft longandofslow-ish action, bending progressively down to the handle. 3—4 lb line is the ideal match and quite strong enough to fish safely in the more open glides of river, which just happen to be the best trotting swims anyway. Step up the line where snags are present, and accept the inevitable drop in tackle control.

An Avon balsa float carrying 4-5 AA shot suits most swims. The faster the flow or the stronger the wind, the bigger it must be. While working on this post I fished the Norfolk Wensum when water and weather were perfect for trotting, the river carrying a little colour, a good flow and no wind. I set up my tackle on the inside and just downstream of a right angle bend where the current hit my bank then flowed diagonally across, smoothing into a per- fectly paced chub run along the far bank. The rod was a 13ft carbon trotter, the reel my much prized Allcock’s Popular centre pin. The Avon float carried 5 AA shot bunched together with a No. 1 shot nipped on 10in above the hook, a sharpened size 8 tied direct with its barb nipped in to protect the chubs’ lips and to make unhooking so much easier.

I have never found a better bait than a pinch of flake for trotting, nor a finer groundbait than soaked and flavoured stale bread that disperses in a milky cloud as it sinks. Regular handfuls thrown in draw chub from well downstream. I spent the first ten minutes feeding with ground- bait, estimating that it would reach bottom 10yd downstream where I expected the chub would be lying. I thought I would catch a chub second trot down, but I was wrong -1 got one first time. Like all winter fish hooked in a brisk stream on a responsive rod, the chub put up a spirited fight, boring strongly in the current before rolling into the net. The scales nudged down to 4 lb – a good start.

Unless a chub succumbs quietly the rest of the shoal probably take alarm, so it is better to give them the benefit of the doubt by resting the swim for a few minutes, although you should still continue with periodic groundbaiting. A few trots later, down went the float and the rod again bent double into a hard fighting club, this time a shade smaller at 3 lb 3oz. Chub bites on the trot are fairly characteristic. The float pauses, moves slightly sideways without submerging – or bobs violently -then goes under. Sometimes the float just sinks as if it were fouled on weeds. And indeed that is often the case, but it pays to strike all the same.

Bites slowed as the morning passed; the shoal grew more and more cagey as their numbers reduced. Subtle changes in bait presentation, plus regular feeding, kept the rod well bent until thirteen chub lay in my keep sacks. The smallest weighed 2 lb 8oz, the best a beauty pulling 4 lb 13oz.

Small changes in tackle often make all the difference. Moving the bottom shot up the line has the effect of increasing bait buoyancy so that it runs through the swim higher in the water. Moving the float up the line so that the bottom shot drags the river bed will slow the bait’s progress. Bringing one of the big shot down to drag bottom slows it down even more. Periodically halt the float’s downstream run by stopping the flow of line. This makes the bait flutter up enticingly from the bottom, then sink again as the reel is released. Odd fish tend to drop further downstream behind the main shoal, so the occasional longer trot of 40 or 50 yd might pay off. Do ring the changes, because as I said at the beginning chub are an obliging fish. But not all the chub oblige all the time; the quiet, versatile approach is the hallmark of a chub fisherman who enjoys consistently high results.

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