On warm evening in late summer, you may see chub move on the surface in search of food. But by nature specimen chub are shy, solitary fish, well known for their cunning and their bold bite
Predominantly a river fish, the chub (Leuciscus cephalus) is found where currents flow fast over gravel or stony beds. It is a fish of clean, unpolluted waters where both oxygen and food exist in plenty. The species provides fishing of quality for the angler prepared to stalk this cautious and stealthy prey with great care and skill. A specimen chub is shy in habit – a thick-bodied ghost that fades into the depths at sight or sound of man or beast. Yet
the chub is renowned for the dogged resistance it displays to the efforts of angler and rod.
Though thought of as a pure river fish, the chub has been successfully introduced to stillwaters where it thrives and can grow larger than its river counterpart. Where rivers are diverted, notably by the construction of motorways, stillwaters are formed which are populated by chub, barbel and dace. The Muskham Fishery (close to the River Trent below Newark) which was created in 1979, has several stillwaters containing chub. These fish, introduced along with carp, tench and bream, are succeeding within their man-made habitat reaching weights of 5lb. It appears that the fish become more free-taking in the open lake environment. No doubt conditioned by their lack of the territorial behaviour which they exhibit in river habitats.
Unlike the tench and carp, which can be regarded as fish of the warmer months, the chub remains a year round angling species when seeded into suitable stillwaters. It remains to be seen whether the food availability of this highly fertile fishery will produce fish approaching the chub caught from the River Annan.
Chub are even found in stretches of river set aside for trout fishing. Anglers are sometimes encouraged to fish for them during the trout close season and to remove their catch to conserve the game fish.
While the chub is found throughout most of England, it is absent from west Wales and from Scotland above the Forth-Clyde valley. Until recently the species was not thought to exist in Ireland, but reports in-dicate the possibility that the fish has been introduced into the Blackwater river system, as livebait by pike fishermen.
The chub belongs to the carp family, though it does not resemble the carp in appearance. The mature fish is solidly built, with a blunt head, large mouth and thick, pale lips. The back is greenish brown, the flanks silvery, and the belly a yellowy white. The fins, which are well defined and powerful, can range from colourless to a rich red. It is easy to identify by its large scales, which have a slight black edging, and can only be confused with other fish when young, when it is often mistaken for a dace. The distinction between the two should be clear, however, for the chub has large fins with rounded, convex rear edges, especially noticable on the anal fin, and 44-46 scales along the lateral line, while the dace’s fins have concave rear edges and its lateral line averages 47-54 scales.
Like other coarse fish, the chub spawns in the spring. Different water and weather conditions affect breeding times but this usually occurs between April and early June.
The female releases between 100,000-200,000 eggs – about 0.7 mm diameter – which stick to plants and river debris. After 8-10 days hatching takes place in the shallow water of the gravelly runs favoured by the species. After cleaning itself in the fast waters of the shallows, the fish will slowly head for deeper waters, where it has both security and space.
The rate of growth of the chub is slow. In its first year it may attain a length of between 5-8cm, growing to around 22cm at full maturity. The male matures between 3-4 years, while the female only reaches maturity between 4-5 years.
While the chub is one of Britain’s bigger coarse fish, it rarely exceeds 6lb, though weight tends to vary in different parts of the country. A good Hampshire Avon chub, for example, may weigh some 7lb, while a weight of 3lb would be considered good in Norfolk. The present record fish weighed 7lb 6oz and fell to Bill Warren at the Royalty in 1957.
Specimen chub are more solitary than other river species and tend to establish a definite territory. Old fish, particularly, will seek out a hole and lie up for long periods. All rivers have known chub holes, which the seasoned angler can point out to the newcomer, but it is unlikely that more than one or two chub can be caught from the swim. Younger chub do shoal and form mixed shoals with dace and roach in areas that can provide the necessary abundance of food.
Hybridization occurs as a result of this mixed shoaling and crossbreeding between the chub and the bream, roach, rudd or dace is quite common. This can lead to identification problems, especially for the claimant to a record for a species.
Natural feeding patterns
The chub rises, trout-like, from deep water to take a small fish, fly or anything edible that disturbs the surface. A rapid rise in air or water temperature will encourage the fish to lie, head to current, just beneath the surface, watching for anything the current brings along above it.
Remember that fruits fall con-stantly into rivers and that the chub expects to feed on them. Baits such as elderberries may not be an obvious choice, but they produce results, especially after high winds or other disturbances have swept a lot of fruit or berries into the water. The young chub feeds on flying insects, water insects, worms, molluscs, fish eggs, seeds and sometimes plants.
Chub are famed for their wide-ranging appetites and can be taken on a variety of baits. Try float-fishing with cheese, ripe-fruits, especially berries, worms, silkweed, dried blood, slugs or maggots. Natural and artificial flies can also be used, as can other insects and grubs. The smaller members of a shoal will feed on aquatic insects and bottom-dwelling invertebrates, while the older fish will add a substantial amount of vegetable matter to their diet and will chase and eat the fry of many species, including their own.
Other baits at the water’s edge include crayfish, which can be gathered by scraping the undercut banks below the water level, and swan mussels.
The chub’s taste for man}’ types of bait and the fact that it can be caught at any time of year, if the right technique is used, make it something of an all-rounder for the angler. It can be relied on to give good sport and to repay the concentration and patience with which it must be hunted. The chub can also provide a fine bonus to a day spent fishing for other species for it sometimes quite unexpectedly and impulsively takes a bait such as a lobworm float-fished along the far bank, which it may have been ignoring for hours.