Tactics for Chub
There is, in my opinion, no better time to catch a big chub off the River Ribble than at present. Large chub abound on most stretches and friends of mine have caught fish within the last twelve months to over 6lbs. A huge fish by any standards, but it is the sheer numbers of fish of over 4lbs that make the Ribble one of the country’s premier chub rivers. In fact, upon checking my own records for this season the majority of fish I have landed have been over 4lb in weight and amazingly the majority of 4lb+ fish that have fell to my rods have actually been over four and a half pounds.
Having not fished the famous chub rivers of the south (Hampshire Avon, Dorset Stour, etc) I cannot comment on the average size of chub caught in these rivers, but what I can say is that the average size of fish I have encountered on the Ribble surpasses anything I have come across before. But not only are these fish of large proportions they are also in immaculate condition. Covered in huge brassy scales and fin-perfect the chub caught seem to have never seen an anglers hook and are often so fat they seem on the verge of bursting.
As previously mentioned, fish location on the Ribble (as most rivers) is the key to success. Obviously, even with the best possible bait and presentation, if chub are not present in your swim you are not going to catch. With this in mind I tend to adopt a roving approach, travelling light and covering as much water as possible in a day. If you put a bait in front of enough fish sooner or later one his going to take it and if your presentation is right the take usually comes within minutes or even seconds of the bait settling. By covering as much water as possible on regular visits a pattern will eventually emerge, first certain swims will produce consistently in certain conditions. By fishing different stretches it will become apparent that certain ‘types’ of swim produce in similar conditions. The more you fish in varying conditions on as many different stretches available, the bigger the overall picture becomes.
Soon your knowledge of the river will build to such an extent that, by checking the river levels and monitoring the climatic conditions you can make your way to a particular stretch and even swim that you just KNOW will produce fish. This may seem a little overconfident but I can honestly say we are very rarely disappointed when choosing our venue based on previous experiences.Arriving at our venue we generally move as far away from the car park as possible and then slowly make our way back, leapfrogging swims every 50 yards or so. Fishing each swim for no more than half an hour. We have total confidence in our methods, so, if no bites are forthcoming in this time, we assume chub are not present in numbers and continue working our way back. Although single captures do occur it seems the Ribble chub do seem to like their own company and if a fish is taken we can usually manage to take one or two more before they get spooked.
There are so many types of swims that produce chub on the Ribble that trying to list them would be pointless and so locating the fish by covering water seems to us to be the most productive. There are however swims that will always produce fish, if you can find a good depth of water with tree cover then this as on any other river will produce fish, as will changes in the speed of flow (creases) and sudden changes in the riverbed. If you can find swims containing these features then this is an obvious starting point. However, unlike a lot a rivers I have fished for chub such features are merely a bonus, not a necessity, as we have frequently taken good catches of fish grouped up in large expanses of seemingly featureless water.
Not all our fishing is done ‘on the move’ once chub are located sometimes it can pay to spend some time in a particular swim and to cover the water thoroughly. I am thinking here really of wide outside bends and long steady stretches of water. These types of swims are ideal for a short evening session, if you have fished such swims several times and know the area you wish to present a bait, it is possible to arrive (as we do) in pitch darkness and still fish effectively.
Tackle and Rigs
The rod I use is an 11′-6″ carbon blank incorporating a spliced in fibreglass quivertip with a test curve of 1.25lb. I prefer a fibreglass quiver as it is much softer than carbon and is much more resistant to the constant abuse I inflict on my rods. This is coupled with a Shimano 5010 reel which, due to its superb line lay means I can cast even the lightest bombs to the opposite bank (if necessary). It also has a very smooth clutch, which I consider vital to cope with the last minute lunges of a hooked fish. Although I sometimes touch ledger I prefer a quivertip as it can then be used for upstreaming, more conventional downstreaming and when the chub are finicky I simply point the rod at the bait and feel the line. As I only use one rod when chub fishing this type seems to be the most versatile allowing me to change from one method quickly to another without the need to re-tackle.
Reel line must be abrasion resistant, as there are many snags and rocky shelves, which need to be negotiated once a fish is hooked. I use Gold labels ‘Pro-gold’ in 6lb bs. which although I have never performed any ‘scientific’ tests myself has managed to extract fish many times from tree roots and boulder strewn swims where I have felt the line grating against unseen objects. As of yet it has not let me down so I will continue to use it.
The end rig is very basic for three reasons. a) Fewer tangles, b) as rigs are easily lost in some areas you do not want to be tying complex rigs in the midst of a strong north-easterly on an exposed bank in February, and perhaps most importantly c) I have yet to discover a need for any state of the art ‘anti-tangle-bungee-popped up-swivel’ rig when chub fishing!For the vast majority of my chub fishing I use the following rig. A small swivel is threaded up the line through one of its eyes. From the other eye 4-6″ of 4lb mono (or any weak link) is tied with a snap link attached to the other end. Next a Drennan in-line ledger stop is threaded up the reel line and left unfastened. A size four eyed hook (I use Drennan Carbon Specimen) is then tied direct to the main line, and then the ledger stop is lightly tightened against the line to produce the length of tail required. One of the biggest advantages of this rig is the ease at which it can be modified. The length of tail can be increased or decreased by slackening the ledger stop and moving up or down, also more importantly the weight can be easily changed to suit strength of current, casting distance, etc. by unclipping the lead from the snap link. I also push an inch or so of valve rubber over the snap link, this is not an anti-tangle requirement but is simply to stop the snap link from snaring the landing net when netting fish.
I carry a pocket full of small leads from 1/8oz to 1oz but generally do not use above 1/2oz. I also carry a box of split shot these are added to the paternoster length for critical balancing when upstreaming in lightly flowing water.I use large hooks for obvious reasons, chub of 4lb+ have huge mouths and I generally use quite large baits. I am a great believer in matching hook sizes to bait and a size 14 looks pretty insignificant when buried in a lump of cheese paste the size of a walnut.
I have a tackle box in my rucksack that rarely sees the light of day. All my bits and pieces are carried in a small ‘Fox’ box. This handy little item is not sold as a tackle box but as an insert for the Fox ‘system’ range. It is smaller than my hand, has six non-spill compartments and easily houses all the bits of end tackle I require for a days chubbing. This slips into one of my pockets along with forceps, a few cage feeders and the assorted leads. The main tackle box stays in the bottom of my rucksack and is broken into only in emergencies. Also contained in my rucksack are scales, sack, weighsling and a camera. All my bait is carried in a medium sized bucked and a rod rest and landing net complete the set up. By having all my bait in the bucket and all other essentials in my waistcoat pocket, my rucksack is only opened when weighing and photographing fish. This makes it far easier to move swims with the minimum of effort or fuss.
Although I use a rod rest the rod is always held. I hold the rod in my right hand whilst resting the butt section and reel on my thigh. A loop of line is then held between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. When held in this way often a bite is felt before being signalled on the rod tip. Also this method allows for line to be paid out to wary chub when necessary.
All traditional chub baits work well on the Ribble, but generally I stick to just two – bread flake and cheese paste.
A lot of chub are being caught at present on trout pellets and there is no getting away from the fact that chub have a liking for this bait and a lot of big chub are being caught on pellets that are intended primarily for barbel. Obviously being a hard bait they need to be fished on a hair rig or made into paste which can then also be turned into boilies. In my experience hair rigs are not very efficient at hooking chub, when fishing a bait on a hair I invariably get many unhittable taps and bangs on the rod tip, which I am sure are chub picking up the bait with their lips and moving away with the hook outside their mouth. Obviously if there are enough fish in the swim one will eventually ‘hang’ itself but I find the constant banging of the tip frustrating and usually end up changing to soft hookbaits. On the other hand when fishing at distance a heavy lead in conjunction with a hair rig have been proven as very effective for catching barbel. When fishing in this way, the resistance in both the line and lead ensure that 95% of barbel will hook themselves thus making this a popular method for the ‘two rod’ barbel anglers that frequent many stretches of the Ribble.
During daylight hours and especially when the river is running low and clear (which has not been very often this year!), then for me bread flake is the number one bait. Fished in conjunction with a cage feeder and mashed bread it has proved to be devastatingly effective. When fished in fast water the rod usually slams round leaving little need to strike and often more a case of just keeping hold of the rod. Conversely, when fished in slower water, bites are often surprisingly slow and delicate affairs and it is for these types of swim that that a soft quivertip becomes essential. There is little doubt that chub do not take kindly to resistance and will drop the bait immediately they feel any build up of pressure. To combat this the rod should always be held as described earlier, if bites remain finicky up to a yard of line can be paid out by hand to give the unsuspecting chub time to engulf the bait properly. A rod left on a rest will usually result in several single bangs of the rod tip throughout the day, which frequently fail to develop.
For hook bait fresh bread is essential, I use a thick sliced white loaf and tear off quite large pieces of flake (a slice will give me about six baits) and nip this onto the shank in the traditional way. I also like to give the flake a squirt of flavour – usually Scopex or Monster Crab. To be perfectly honest I am unsure as to whether this has made any real difference to my catch rate, but it does increase my confidence so I continue to use it. Feed for use with bread flake is simple bread mash. I much prefer stale loaves to produce the mash and with this in mind I buy the cheapest white sliced bread from the supermarket and allow this to go stale. At any one time I will have around half a dozen loaves in my garage all at least a couple of days old, enabling me to fish on the spur of the moment.
When fishing at relatively close distance or long glides I prefer to feed by hand whilst using a small bomb on the rig. I feed little and often in an attempt to draw hungry fish upstream without overfeeding fish that could already be present in the swim. If deeper or turbulent water is targeted I switch to a cage feeder to ensure accurate feeding.
After dark not only do I change my bait but generally the type of swim I fish. I will more often than not target deep, slow stretches of the river where the larger, more solitary chub seem to frequent. For these types of swim cheese paste is the top bait and this is always fished with the minimum amount of lead that I can get away with. No loose feed is placed in the swim, as I prefer to fish a large, strong smelling, solitary bait. The reason behind this is I believe many fish lie up during the day and will move around the pool after dark actively searching out items of food. With this in mind I want the single most appetising item of food in the pool to contain a piece of steel – my hook!
To make the cheese paste I mix equal amounts of frozen pastry mix and cheese, the cheese consisting of equal amounts of Danish Blue and Extra Mature Cheddar (the kind I don’t let the wife buy as its too expensive!). I add a little cheese flavouring (Rod Hutchinson’s ‘smelly cheese’) and I am presently experimenting with garlic oil and colourings; the mix is then kneaded and rolled thoroughly until a good consistency is achieved. The consistency is critical; the paste must be firm enough to stay on the hook during casting but also be soft enough to pull through the hook upon striking. Another important factor to remember is that the cold water will make your mix harder. What is a perfect mix in the summer months will be next to useless during winter, although feeling soft when moulded on the hook it can soon set like concrete upon hitting icy water. To combat this I alter the ratio of my mix to suit conditions. In winter I will use less pastry mix and hard cheese (cheddar) and increase the percentage of the chosen soft cheese, thus slowing down considerably the hardening of my hookbait.
By taking note of the ratios you use when mixing paste you will quickly settle upon a winter and summer bait mix in which you will have total confidence. Winter fishing can sometimes be slow so you must have no doubts that the bait attached to your hook is both attractive to the fish and will allow you to set the hook effectively.
Another bonus with cheese paste is that the barbel also have a taste for it. A few good barbel have come our way whilst targeting chub and these fish can certainly give you a few tense moments on tackle designed for chub and for me are always a welcome surprise.
As another season has now drawn to a close many of us will be reflecting on the season past and also looking forward to the coming season. If you are undecided what to target next year I suggest you promise yourself a trip or two on the Ribble – I promise you will not be disappointed.