Summer Chub Fishing
Christian Barker (aka the Chav Professor) kicks off the first in a new three-part series looking at his passion for chubbing in ‘Silly’ Suffolk.
For a number of years I have developed a passion for catching chub from small Suffolk rivers and my aim here is to present a series that fits neatly into the changing pattern of the seasons.
As far as summer is concerned this year was unusual in that in addition to the usual work and family commitments my wife’s health sadly took a turn for the worse. So although my early summer fishing is usually based around quick ‘hits’ on the river or fishing unsocial hours it has been especially so this season. Looking on the brighter side during the summer months these focussed periods of concentrated fishing can be more fruitful than a full day’s fishing.
My foundation for the opening weeks on the river has always been built on bank-walking in the close season. This is where and when you can build up a mental picture of the fish populations, explore new areas and identify likely areas where the largest fish may be holding up come 16 June.
This is a lovely time to be out on the river although it is often frustrating to see so many catchable fish but be able to do nothing about it! But to focus on that is to miss the point; it is the best time to observe fish and their habits. Never far away from cover it is very easy to get a small shoal of fish feeding over a few handfuls of hemp and corn drawing them from the safety of their willow bough fortresses. Crucially once chub congregate in late spring they rarely move far - in fact over the weeks it is easy to identify individual fish within the shoal from scale markings and the odd scuffs and scrapes they pick up during spawning. Fascinating stuff!
In addition to the usual hemp and pellet a tin of cheap supermarket corn is essential. Because of its visual nature you can drop some into likely holes and clear spots and on returning see if those sweet, golden kernels have been devoured! Another favourite fish spotting technique is to arrive at the river with a bag of dog mixer biscuits and a catapult. It never ceases to amaze me the flamboyant behaviour chub can display when taking a surface bait - they often seem to literally explode out on the water! This is not only a very visual method but a very auditory technique too and by catapulting biscuits over high bank cover you can slowly walk downstream and actually hear chub nailing the floaters thus betraying their presence!
Shoaling chub in the 2 to 4lb size are often quite showy and seem quite happy to group together near the shallows and gravel runs in preparation for spawning. I had been feeding a small group of five fish on a regular basis, the biggest individuals clearly over 5lb and one in particular stood out as it had a white spot on its head. They inhabited the roots and branches of a fallen willow tree but would quite happily patrol in full view around a small opening in the weed actively seeking food.
I was feeding a clean piece of gravel just within the canopy of the fallen branches that conveniently offered a discreet viewing point. It was exciting stuff watching these fish; flanks flashing and tails up over a bed of hemp and pellets and having observed these fish for upwards of half an hour an absolute leviathan of a chub came shooting out of the willow canopy into the pool only for it to shoot Exocet Missile style back from where it came!!!
I observed this behaviour on a further two separate occasions and on reflection I suspect it was striking at fry or some other aquatic invertebrate but never once did this fish settle onto the carefully prepared pre-season banquet. I suspect that fish of this size have grown to learn that this type of ‘meal-deal’ comes with strings attached!
Things that go bump in the night...
Due to the arid conditions we experienced earlier this year weed growth was chokingly prolific and it was almost akin to looking down on an Amazonian rain forest from the air – not a bad analogy if you consider that much of this weed growth is nothing more than a canopy and provides fish with safe patrol routes out of sight of prying eyes. Through gaining an intimate knowledge of the river in the close season, it was possible for me to picture clear runs, gravel spots and deeper hole downstream from aerated weirs or locks practically blindfold, let alone beneath the ethereal glow of the moon which is when circumstanes meant much of mu fishing had to be conducted!
Have to fish short sessions – often when most people were tucked up in bed - meant stripping fishing back to the basics and being prepared to go at the drop of a hat. This has at least ensured I could capitalise on the few brief windows of opportunity available between pack lunches, running a home, work and helping my wife back to health.
Taking a minimalist approach the jacket pockets are permanently kitted out with swan shot, size 6, 4 and 2 hooks, baiting needles (you will need spares – I don’t know how I keep losing them), a Solar lightweight bobbin with isotope and a pair of forceps.
Rod choice is simple - a rod with a soft quiver tip; a pair of Drennan Super Specialist isotopes are fitted to the tip around 8 inches apart to show deflection in the tip. Other than this the only kit I carry is a set of scales, bankstick, a lightweight stalking chair and, finally, a camera to record any sizable fish.
The headlamp I use is a Petzl Tikka plus; LED lamps have excellent battery life but this particular model has a red light mode and allows just sufficient light to tie hooks, unhook fish etc without damaging your night vision. I still keep its use to a minimum and have learnt to bait up in the dark. Obviously playing a fish in the dark around snags and weedbeds is asking for trouble and at the press of a button the little Petzl transforms into a blanket of light with magnesium flare brilliance. It is in fact so bright I have deadened it down a little with a little rugby sock tape - it spooks the fish less and was a little trick I picked up from my carp fishing buddies.
On the face of it much is to be gained by fishing within the hours of darkness. Sky lining is less of a problem and larger chub are more likely to break cover and feed confidently in open water. But I am certain that the chubs’ cautious instincts are perhaps even more tuned to even the subtlest noises and vibrations on the bank side – I know my senses are.
There is something very primeval about night fishing! It’s amazing how sound seems to be amplified in the hours of darkness; even a crushed snail under foot can sound like the ‘crack’ of a whip. Night time is a most magical time to be by a river bank but be prepared; not only are you closer to nature, you will feel part of it!
Nature’s nocturnal chorus can be deafening: crickets, reed warblers chattering, mice or voles rustling through undergrowth, bats knocking into the line and perhaps a very special moment of intimacy, a close encounter with a big dark form briefly breathing down my neck before bolting! I don’t know who was more startled - me or the fox. Close encounters with otters are now common and an unwelcome intrusion; if one is seen I feel it is best to up-sticks and rest the swim with a few hook bait offerings to settle the fish and come back later.
Opening day of the season started with a cube of luncheon meat cast into the shroud of the willow tree described earlier. By 00:04 minutes it was met by a savage bite and a few moments later a beautiful chub lay in the folds of the landing net, its scales sparkling like rubies in the red light of the head lamp. At 4lb 12oz it was a good start on this river but it was one of the smaller fish from that particular shoal. The size of fish in this swim was very much higher than average for the river and, on reflection, I should have known better and used something more selective. As the evening developed, moving from swim to swim I added a further three fish including one of 4lb 9oz.
Chub have relatively large mouths and for this reason they lend themselves to large baits. To sort out the bigger fish two or even three chunks of luncheon meat on a size 4 hook are taken confidently so long as there is no reason to suspect something is amiss; this may look excessive but occasionally even 2lb fish can engulf preposterously large baits.
For line I have been using Shimano Technium in 8lb straight through to the hook. It is a robust line with good abrasion resistance as an added insurance policy if a chub heads to a snag in near darkness. A single swan shot is sufficient to hold bottom in slower currents and gives good positive bites; better still is to use no shot on the line at all! To be realistic this is a roving technique and I rarely spend more than half an hour in any one swim, which is just as much down to my attention span as anything else. I am very much of the opinion that other methods are worthy of consideration to rectify this and I may explore them as the season progresses.
Fishing is quite easy at the start of the season but I generally find that chub in particular wise up quickly and I never expect to get more than two or three fish from a swim over the first few weeks. The promising willow swim in fact only gave up one fish; the shoal was nowhere to be seen after that initial capture. I think for this reason alone it is important to be as selective as possible and I wish I had been more patient as I am certain a more subtle stalking approach would have been more rewarding.
A dabble with the super-naturals.
Chub love the cover of tree canopies and take great comfort from rafts resulting from windfall branches and assorted debris and such areas offer them a wealth of natural food literally dropping on their heads from the branches above and I fancied setting myself the challenge of catching them on a range of different baits.
Despite the normal stalking baits; bread, lobs, snails and slugs there is also an untapped supply of creepy crawlies begging to be ‘plopped’ onto Chevin’s head courtesy of the hordes of reptile keepers and their pets. A trip to the pet shop will leave the stalking chub angler into believing he has never had it so good! They are definitely not for the squeamish though and even I struggled to hook the giant black crickets - but was it worth it?
But before I proceed, a word of warning; it is not recommended to allow some of these more exotic creatures to liberate themselves in the house or garage. It is not unheard of for escapees to infest houses to the extent that professional pest control is needed to remove them. Courtesy of my wife (who has a well developed fear of such things) they are stored on a cool concrete floor undercover outside. As it happens this keeps them fresh and depending on temperature these ‘specials’ will keep upwards of two weeks.
Morio Worms are not in fact a worm but the larval stage of a Darkling Beetle; they are full of protein and have a high fat content - but chub don’t read the nutrient labels. They are, however, enthralled by the wriggling antics of these writhing critters tethered on a size 6 hook!
Morio Worms are quite tough, very resilient and if you carefully ‘nick’ them onto the hook by the tail they give out a beautiful sinuous wriggle that gives of what can only be described as ‘eat-me’ signals.
For casting weight I find two to a hook is about right and they seem to make the right sound on entering the water to grab any hungry fish’s attention.
You can purchase different sizes of locust from tiny ¾ inch ones right up to full adult size. Whilst I thought chub could easily manage a whole adult locust I chose what are described as stage five hoppers. They are practically the same size as the adult but without the complication of a full mature set of wings.
I tail-hook locusts, which has the effect of giving a bait that hangs in the water. The buoyant head bobs up and down whilst the weight of the hook holds the tail down. It is quite a good effect and looks like a mutant freshwater invertebrate larva trying to break free on the surface.
On reflection a sliver of cork would have changed the presentation slightly and could offer some advantages.
Certainly not for the squeamish these little critters have large black bulbous abdomens, a full set of wings and make a most un-holly racket. They are quite dense and with two to a hook happily struggle within the watery envelope of the surface meniscus but better still is a single cricket slowly sinking through the water column.
Something of note here; black crickets give off a pungent smell that I can only describe as similar to the scent that ladybirds gave off when handled – a smell that has stuck with me since childhood.
I can’t be certain but I am sure that the scent helps the chub home in on this delightful prey item – oh, and make your fingers stink!
Need no introduction whatsoever - just normal lobs collected from fields on moist, wet evenings – a mainstay of the stalker’s armoury and never a bait to be overlooked.
Slugs and Snails
Make yourself popular with your gardening friends and neighbours by offering to collect snails and slugs. Snails take a little more preparation than slugs; simply smash the shell slightly with a pair of forceps and place the hook though the fleshy part of the foot. In many ways I find them easier to handle than slugs and infinitely less slimy - a big plus in my book!
I think in many ways there is a unique ‘plop’ sound when a snail or slug hits the water that makes them irresistible; the way chub ‘smash’ into a bait plopped on their heads has lead me to suspect that anything making a similar sound would be taken with equal gusto.
A leap of faith, or, trial by bush tucker.
An earlier foray on the river had resulted in the capture of six fish in little less than two hours on lobs but I really wanted the challenge of catching a chub on each of the baits described above.
Chub, being the cautious creature they are, are intolerant of any human interference. On smaller rivers once a fish has been caught it makes subsequent trips very hard going – they are still there but probably in the dense weed growth that carpets the river this time of year and they are invariably extremely difficult to tempt.
For my second trip I was to explore the upper reaches of the river; fast and pacey in places and punctuated by tree canopies, sunken roots, undercut banks, deep holes and impenetrable weed beds. This is a double-edged sword; it help you get closer to your quarry but when a fish is ‘on’ all hell breaks loose and a sharpness of wit is required to extract your quarry (or a kindly passer-by to pass you your net lying out of reach - whoops!).
Approaching chub in an upstream direction seems to offer an advantage and allows you to spot them before they spot you. Stinging nettles and trying to avoid kneeling in dog sh*t is all part of the indignity.
I find it best to cast to individual fish and to be fair if you cast anywhere within the vicinity of a chub it will usually turn and notice it – in fact if you cast blindly into open water you often get a take from a fish that you may not have been aware of! Best of all is to drop the bait with a ‘plop’ directly on the head or tail of the fish, this will nearly always be met with the most violent take – it makes me shiver even as I write about it!
In contrast when casting a ‘natural’ to a shoal of fish it is fascinating to watch their behaviour. It’s almost like flicking a switch; chub transform into energetic lightning bolts flying about to and fro; inspecting, turning away, nudging and then........ Engulfing the bait!
There would appear to be no set pecking order - one would imagine perhaps the biggest would bully her charges and push to the front but no..... It is always one of the smaller fish which is very frustrating.
A point always worth considering is that when a fish ‘takes’ the bait you must resist the impulse to strike immediately. I often hold the line on the spool of the open reel with my index finger ready to give line immediately. This helps settle my nerves and by the time I have closed the bail arm and retrieved the slack I am ready to simply tighten into the fish.
On the occasion described I nearly achieved my goal of catching a chub on each of the baits above – but with time running out and a marked preference to my using Morio Worms (they are awesome) I neglected to use the snails.... But seven fish in little under two hours was hectic stuff!! None were over 4lb but each a special fish and very welcome given that they each played their part in a hectic two hour session in the heat of the mid July sun.
It strikes me that anglers fish for different reasons and that the challenge of consistently catching the larger fish from any river is an understanding of the population dynamics and how this affects their behaviour. Being selective is not easy in terms that methods need to be sufficient to sort out the larger individuals from the hungry hordes of two and three pound chub that abound. It’s like a needle and haystack situation; the haystack being the juvenile individuals as opposed to a low stock density.
For sheer consistency, ledgering techniques are far more consistent over the course of the season but historically freelining has accounted for my three biggest specimens in the 20 or so years I have fished for chub so I consider it not to be overlooked and in my opinion it is ultimately more fun!
By the Same Author
- Chub Fishing - Early Season Observations
- Chub Fishing – The Back End
- Pike – First Contact
- Fishing in a Winter Wonderland
- Winter Chubbing
- Bass Fishing for the Coarse Angler
- Summer Chub Fishing
- Review - Andrew Field Floats
- The rebirth of Adonis and the curse of Apollo’s second rod.
- My Story: The River of Life