A very special river.
There is so little that can be added to the plethora of literature already written on the habits of chub and methods of chub fishing. But what I will attempt to do is describe a technique that enabled me locate and exploit a good shoal of chub on a busy stretch of my river, the Gipping. The Gipping is a small winding river in the heart of Suffolk running through the town of Ipswich where it then becomes source for the Orwell estuary. Its course was altered during the industrial revolution with 15 locks providing 17 miles of navigable river connecting the Suffolk towns of Stowmarket and Ipswich. The locks today have fallen into disrepair and navigation has ceased to exist bar a few recreational canoeists. Nature has done its best to reclaim this little known jewel of a river but it does present the angler a testing time in summer due to a lack of flow and excessive weed growth. Despite this, the Gipping is a very special river that simply courses through my entire existence.
|The locks today have fallen into disrepair and navigation
has ceased to exist bar a few recreational canoeists
My Chub fishing was typically centred round fishing the winter months and back end of the season using traditional ledgering and long trotting methods. In many ways this was completely logical due to excessive weed growth; in high summer there are places where it not possible to even see where the bank finishes and the river starts! Despite this, in my opinion the Gipping is a stunning Chub fishery, it does not contain the massive mobile shoals that inhabit the Wye or Dorset Stour, but if you can locate them, the pockets of chub run to a decent size. Multiple captures of 4lb fish are common, whilst larger fish of 5lb are always a realistic possibility. The potential that the river could produce larger chub of 6lb was always rumoured, but I lacked the concrete evidence I yearned for – a fish of my own. So began a quest that has lasted nearly two decades.
Stalking cagy summer Chub.
Fishing in winter can be very productive, however, for some time it was a mystery where the bigger Chub would disappear during the summer months. I had always made the assumption that they nestled un-catchable within the dense weed cover and set my sights on the other fishy inhabitants that reside in the river. Smaller Chub could be spotted beneath the tree canopied areas of river where the weed was less invasive, but they always appeared to be at best around the three pound mark. Occasionally, a larger fish would betray its presence sunning itself, deceptively alert to its surroundings. A well placed lob worm or lump of crust would see the occasional specimen Chub banked. Hunting these chub presented new challenges, each individual fish requiring a unique solution.
From season to season the weed pattern growth subtly changes; occasionally a clear run would present itself allowing the presentation of floating crust. Much to my convenience, a small farm access bridge traversed the river aiding the presentation of a bait in such a situation. Such was my desire to catch these fish that in the close season I would make trips with a crusty bloomer, sending reams of bread crust just to see the Chub rise and crash into the floating chunks. By sending down a steady stream of bread it was possible to build these fish into a feeding frenzy, my heart racing to a crescendo waiting the impending dawn of the glorious June 16th. It never ceases to amaze me how Chub can quickly revert back to their cautious ways. A few fish would easily be caught followed by a few tentative bites, which if met with a well timed strike, would trip up further good fish. Within a very short time frame, chub would approach this dangerous white stuff with complete contempt. What I had failed to realise at this time was the wider potential of using this method as an aid for fish location. But this was a well know chub haunt with all the cover and features you would come to expect when targeting this species.
Close season fish hunting.
I am a restless spirit in the close season. Now don’t get me wrong, I am fully supportive of this imposed period of abstinence and feel that both I and the river really benefit from a break from angling pressure. To alleviate the boredom, it has become customary to regularly visit the river and observe the fish and their habits. This builds to a crescendo as the month of June approaches, to the point of an obsession.
I have always had great faith in pre-baiting, particularly with hemp and sweet corn, a very visual bait. But this is very much dictated by placing bait where you expect fish to be found. On one occasion, I just happened to have a bag of dog mixers in the back of the van from a still water session for catching Carp off the surface. Having just parked up the van, I paused as I walked over the footbridge and dropped in a trail of dog biscuits. This happens to be one of the few faster gravelly stretches on the river. The rich oxygenated water holds a good head of Roach, Dace and Chublets – clearly visible, but notoriously difficult to catch. The river slightly drops off just downstream to a depth of 4ft. With the exception of the odd small bush providing a slight canopy, the stretch is mainly featureless until it reaches a tree line further downstream, a wilder overgrown area home to smaller shoals of Roach, Dace and Chub. It is one of the busiest parts of the river, being practically in the heart of a village. A footpath runs along the full length of the river and this area sees a lot of bank side disturbance from families and dog walkers together with the obvious hazard of watching where you place your feet.
|‘After patient feeding, I was rewarded with a fish of 3lb11oz’|
The current pulled the procession of dog biscuits downstream, and within seconds the water erupted as a fairly big Chub unexpectedly crashed into a chum mixer. On continuing to send a steady stream of floaters, my heart was beating out of its chest at the sight of a number of good Chub crashing, and I mean really nailing this apparent manna from heaven. The fish would wait till the biscuits reached a certain point, just to the point where the small bush protruded into the river, but with feeding it was possible to draw the fish mid-stream. I had no idea such a small feature could hold so many good fish and certainly not here!
Formulating a future plan of attack, I worked myself downstream, continuing to catapult biscuits to minimise unnecessary arm movements to a wooden fishing platform. At all times my foremost thoughts imagining what it would be like to cast a baited hook for these fish. However, as I made my approach downstream to where I imagined it would be possible to cast a bait for these fish, these obviously cautious fish just followed the biscuits further downstream. Effectively I was unable to get any closer to my potential quarry. Now, you could question my stalking tactics, but I can avoid sky lining fish and plan routes of attack that enable me to approach most swims with sufficient stealth to tackle most fishing scenarios. On a future visit I had my son drop biscuits upstream from the bridge itself whilst I carefully located myself to a position where I could observe these fish and actually see them patrolling around the hedge. Sadly, this was not the case. The same pattern emerged; the fish would fall back further downstream seemingly very aware of my intrusion.
I have since formulated a theory that big Chub are very likely to live happily in busy areas of river that receive frequent bank side disturbance so long as there is some kind of sanctuary. This has proved not to be an isolated incidence. This stretch certainly would not receive any serious attention from any serious specimen angler due to constant interruptions from interested passersby’s. These fish would be very aware and used to humans walking across the footbridge, or loafing past the footpath and the many children fishing for the plainly visible fish. The large specimen Chub of our dreams have survived perhaps upwards of 30 years developing a cautious sense of self preservation ensuring they drift from sight long before inquisitive observers can make out their presence.
This tactic really helps you build a mental picture of the Chub population and location. But I should also add, this is not only a very visual technique, but also very auditory. Hampered by vast bank side cover it is difficult to approach most sections of bank, even in early summer. I was soon to learn that by following a procession of biscuits downstream, the sound of chub taking the biscuits was a key giveaway. With a little practice it is easy to distinguish the size of fish. Believe me, there is no mistaking the sound of a specimen chub taking floaters of the surface. Obviously, pressured fish can also almost sip floaters with barely a ripple. But like any free feeding, a little and often approach will build the confidence as with any other bait.
Exploiting the situation.
I was to exploit this newly discovered shoal of Chub, taking 8 chub to 4lb14oz fishing short after work evening sessions from June the 16th to June the 19th. The river was low and I decided it would be difficult to manoeuvre a piece of floating crust downstream to the satisfaction of these fussy feeders. A decision was therefore made to fish maggots. Stepping barefoot onto the wooden platform to minimise disturbance, I began feeding maggots upstream of the small bush hoping to draw the fish into the middle of the river. First run down I was rewarded with a chub of around 2lb. After patient feeding, I was further rewarded with a fish of 3lb 11oz. I was getting closer. Then the bites dried up. The only way I could get a bite was to fine down to a size 18 hook to 1lb 14oz breaking strain line, allowing the float to pass so close to the bush it was in danger of snagging. Any drag or correction would certainly not be tolerated so a good cast was essential, or wind back and try again. Fortunately a good run through resulted in a fish of 4lb 14oz – Job done!!
|Fortunately a good run through resulted in a fish of 4lb14oz|
The next evening, similar tactics were employed, this time using a 20ft trotting rod to allow direct contact over the little Drennan Puddle Chucker float taking it straight off the rod tip and into the killing zone. I always like to build my maggot feeding up to a point were I imagine the fish are competing, racing to each individual grub. First trot through, and the float predictably plunged, on striking I felt a good Chub, its head knocking from side to side. This is very characteristic of playing a large fish on light line; in fact it is often some time before you can gauge the size of fish. I can only describe the initial contact as the point when a very confused Chub is making its mind up what to do next. For this type of fishing a centre pin truly is king and superior to trusting the internal mechanics of a fixed spool reel. You just let the fish do what it wants! If you try and dictate the fight, you will lose, guaranteed!
The fish kited under the canopy which caused concern due to the submerged branches, but reducing the pressure a little allowed it to make a little run down stream out of danger. Applying a little GENTLE pressure at this moment normally halts the run by touching the thumb on the spool. Chub don’t like this increasing pressure, it is important to slightly slacken off at this point where they work themselves back upstream, which this fish dutifully did. It is then just a case of keeping up with the fish, reeling in to just keep contact. So everything going well, it then probably did the worst thing it could possibly have done, it made its presence clearly visible, its massive white lips nearly kissing the surface before diving back down. It was COLLOSSAL! A very long deep fish, just from the apparent size of its mouth this was clearly a very special fish. My legs were jelly and I was no longer a rational specimen hunter. Stunned at the sight of making contact with the fish of my dreams, I tried to compose myself, despite my heart thumping out of my chest. It then kited towards a clump of reeds downstream on the nearside bank to my right. Fearing the fish would snag itself, I forced the issue – the line parted.
I don’t need to describe the feeling of losing a special fish, but it was close to a brief bereavement. On reflection that fish could not have been far from 8lb. I have tortured myself ever since, in fact I have played that fish in my mind over and over and know that had I just allowed a little line, the fish would have drifted out of the reeds and made its way upstream eventually to lay resting within the folds of my landing net. I did continue to fish which resulted in a few minor fish persuaded to the bank, but my heart was not really in it. Further trips followed to try and catch the leviathan, early pre-work trips, numerous after work session. Ledgering in the day, ledgering at night – both upstream and downstream. I could not formulate a solution! It was as if I had played that shoal to the point of complete paranoia.
|On reflection, a nice chub of 4lb3oz – but not the big one|
An end to close season blues.
With the end of season looming fast, perhaps this has provided some food for thought. It is frustrating not being able to cast a line, however, I have always found that there is more to be learnt through observing the habits of fish than merely just fishing for them. This simple, but effective method has now formed an essential part of my pre-season campaign in pioneering new stretches for Chub and this has opened up miles of river that had previously passed my attention. It has thrown up many surprises along the way, particularly in locating Chub in areas that lack the kind of features associated with the species.
I had lost a very big fish into the bargain, but have caught some good Chub from stretches I thought I knew intimately without knowing the presence of these fish. Sometimes it is just necessary to know that a true leviathan exists, to make it real. And who knows, over the coming months, or next season she will be mine.
When the close season blues descend why not have a trip down the river with a pocket of mixers, halibut pellets, maggots or prepared hemp. Without the distraction of getting to a favoured hotspot and begin fishing it may surprise you how much you can learn about the habits of your quarry. Of course this method is equally effective during the summer and autumn months. However, you may find they wise up quickly if their flamboyant behaviour attracts the attention of angling pressure as the season proceeds in earnest.
Christian Barker (Chav Professor).