Catching a real dog

Catching a big ‘dog’ chub isn’t simply a question of fishing a river with lots of chub in it – you need special tactics. Find out which with Bryan and Jon Culley.

Big chub of more than 4lb (1.8kg) are not common. On the other hand, they are not as rare as you might think. Catching them calls for a specialized approach, otherwise all you get are smaller chub. That’s why a lot of these fish remain uncaught for most of the time.

The right tactic depends on the water you are facing. Tactics for big rivers are different from those required for small ones. It’s also worth remembering that if none of your local chub rivers produces monsters, these techniques can still help you catch the biggest chub in them, almost whatever their size. And there’s always the chance you’ll be surprised at the size of fish you do catch with these methods.

Small is beautiful

Simplicity should be your watchword for tackling chub in small rivers. You need a quivertip rod with a test curve of about 1 lb (0.45kg), a fixed-spool reel loaded with 4-6lb (1.8-2.7kg) line, some split shot and some size 4-8 hooks.

Freelining a bait in all the likeliest-looking swims is often the most effective way to fool these chub. You might need to add a swan shot or two on the line about 15cm (6in) above the hook, to get the bait down through the flow. But obviously you should use as little extra weight on the line as you can get away with.

Some anglers prefer to use a small link leger if it takes more than one swan shot to get the bait down. However, this is more prone to tangle as you move from swim to swim, especially along overgrown banks. Successful baits include breadnake, crust (both floating and anchored), lobworm, cheesepaste, luncheon meat, sweetcorn, maggots and slugs, among many others. But you only really need to use a few of them often enough to become confident and competent in their use.

If you take a fresh, thick-sliced loaf (for flake and crust) and a tub of lobs, you won’t go far wrong. When the river is running clear the bread serves best, while the lobs come into their own if there’s some colour in the water. In general, use smelly baits (worms, cheesepaste, luncheon meat) in coloured water, and visible baits such as flake or sweetcorn for clear conditions.

In summer it’s always worth giving a slug a try. If you’re going to get a bite on slug, it usually happens within a few seconds of the bait hitting the water. Another summer bait is floating crust. See if the chub are interested by throwing them a few free samples, and allowing them to drift under overhanging branches or into any other likely lies.

Times and conditions can make a real difference. The very best conditions are after the level has risen a metre or so (2-4ft) in the last few days and then fines down to some 15-45cm (6-18in) above the usual. Fish in these circumstances and you can often expect several large chub.

Time of day is less important, though darkness can be best on hard fished waters. Before fishing an unfamiliar water in darkness, check out the stretch you’ll be fishing during daylight, since some banks can be very treacherous. The only extra bit of kit you need is a Betalight fixed to the rod tip.

And that’s it. Just cast the bait into each likely area. All the traditional swims can hold fish — rafts of rubbish, overhanging trees, deep pools, undercut banks, reed beds and so on. However, don’t ignore the featureless stretches. As long as the river bed is out of sight you can often find some very big fish indeed — two or three sessions is usually enough to give you a feel for any particular stretch.

How long you give any swim depends on how much chub activity there is and how many bites you are getting, but 15 minutes is a good general rule. The most important thing to remember is to be very careful in approaching every swim. Big chub are extremely wary — bankside noise definitely spooks them. Matchmen take very few big dogs on small shallow rivers.

A more static approach

On some large rivers you can use almost the same tactics as you would on a small river. Where the water is very clear and you can see the fish, a roving, one-rod approach is often best. This is particularly so in sum- mer, when it can pay to bait up a few swims with hemp or sweetcorn and wait until you see the fish move in.

In winter, or on rivers where this tactic is impossible because the water is almost always coloured, you need a more static approach. Two rods allow you to fish a few swims thoroughly in the course of a session. Finding the fish is less a matter of reading the water, than reading the angling press for reports of big fish. You’re more likely to get accurate reporting of swims and stretches in a match report than from a specimen hunter who probably wants to keep any really good areas to himself.

Another less obvious clue also comes from match results. Watch for stretches where chub to 2lb (0.9kg) dominate match weights. Sometimes between one season and the next the smaller chub apparently vanish. This seems to suggest the fish have gone off match baits, times and tackle. You can be reasonably confident of success if you use different tactics.

The best time to fish is from an hour before sunset to three hours after. Look for deep bays slightly out of the main flow, and fish three or four of them in the course of your four hour session. Again, precisely how long you spend in each swim depends on bites and signs of chub. Use two rods to cover the swim effectively. Fish one of them close in at 3.7-4.6m (12-15ft), with a link leger carrying just enough weight to hold bottom. Use either half a sardine or a lobworm on the hook (though lobs do tend to attract the smaller fish). Hair-rigged luncheon meat is superb for a second rod .fished farther out in the main current. Use a fixed paternoster rig with a flattened lead of at least ½ oz (43g).

These tactics put you well on your way to your first 5lb (2.3kg) chub. However, there is always more to learn, and you will sometimes come across situations that call for a different approach. Stay flexible and you’ll soon be hauling in those dogs.