I think I’ve grown to love chub. It wasn’t an immediate infatuation, like my experience with tench and pike, more a slow-burn, a gradual awakening of admiration, prompted by Matt Hayes and ably assisted by the river Roding.
One crisp winters morning about twenty years ago, I was driving to work down the M11 when I noticed a river meandering through the farmland adjacent to the motorway. It was the Roding, glistening in the low winter sun.
I knew it was there, it makes its presence known most years when winter rain causes the river to break its banks and saturate the surrounding fields. But I’d never fished it, never given it a thought really, despite it being practically on my doorstep. But this was soon to change, thanks to Matt Hayes.
Obviously John Wilson had the edge when it came to compulsive viewing fishing shows with ‘Go Fishing’, but Matt’s ‘Total Fishing’ came a close second in my book. One episode featured him stalking chub on a tiny river, fishing link legered breadflake amongst the numerous rafts, overhanging trees and snags; crawling along on all fours avoiding the cowpats and nettles, “jungle warfare” as he christened it. He caught a couple of pristine chub, tussling with them as they dived for the snags.
I had to have me some of that, it looked a lot of fun and it was a style of fishing I’d never attempted before. So, after securing the appropriate ticket, I found myself on the banks of the aforementioned Roding with a newly purchased ultra light quiver rod and a loaf.
Conditions were spot-on; mild and overcast with a slight tinge to the river after recent rain. I was excited. I had a huge choice of overhanging trees, undercut banks, rafts and slacks to cast a fluffy lump of bread at. I chose a far bank raft of debris beneath a willow, slightly downstream and a relatively easy cast. Much to my deep joy, the flake had hardly settled when the tip dinked twice and then pulled round. A lively chub of about 3.5lb. What followed was a rarity, certainly as far as my angling experience is concerned anyway: a Red Letter Day. Six chub in the space of an hour, biggest nearly five pound. When that swim died I moved to another and caught another three. Then I ran out of bread and switched to lobworm, and caught another two. What a day. I’ve stalked many small rivers for chub since and have nowhere near equalled that very first session.
I came close on the river Wye last July whilst barbel fishing. I caught eleven chub over three sessions but to be honest they became a mild annoyance as barbel was the target fish. Only one managed to fight it way through the chevin to my hookbait and I was very pleased to make its acquaintance, a good looking fish of about 6lb.
One afternoon session found me, my wife Cath and my dog Indy perched atop a precipitous bank for which the Wye is famous. They picnicked on a sunny plateau while I risked my neck trying to fish from a cliff face. Nonetheless I managed a couple of chub, one of which created a temporary but major rift in my marriage. The chub in question felt a lot like a barbel when I hooked it, and tore off downstream. Then it reverted to norm and headed for a very snaggy willow overhanging the bank. I could do nothing to stop it and before I knew it had crocheted its way around the tree’s lower branches. There was only one thing for it: I had to go in. Off came the kecks and into the Wye I waded, but I forget my landing net, the only appropriate tool for getting at the line wrapped around the tree and ultimately the fish. Wife Cath was summoned and as she lent over the cliff edge to hand me the net (in hindsight she could have just thrown it) she slipped down the bank, through a jungle of nettles and joined me for a swim. As you can imagine she wasn’t best pleased, scratched, stung and soaked as she was. I told her to tread water for a minute while I got at the fish, a really nice chub that would have warranted weighing in less trying circumstances. I eventually managed to clamber up the bank and extract the wife on the way, treating her to yet another nettle anointing for good measure. Needless to say showering was a trial for Cath for a couple of days, such was the extent of the nettle-rash. But apart from that we had a good holiday.
As a boy I fished the river Lea Navigation at Cook’s Ferry in Edmonton, usually with my fishing pal Gary. I’d bus it to Chingford Mount where he lived and we’d walk to the river via the service roads that provided access to the reservoirs and pumping stations, where the Lea departed from the Navigation into ugly concrete water channels that emitted a dystopian dreariness we couldn’t wait to leave behind. The Cook’s Ferry stretch itself wasn’t exactly a bucolic idyll either, what with the North Circular Road’s traffic thundering past and the nearby incineration plant’s colossal chimney belching out toxic fumes all day, but if you walked a half mile or so down river you’d come to a great swathe of far bank willows that we often fished opposite. We’d knock out the usual schoolboy fare of tiny perch, gudgeon and bleak, with the occasional unlucky roach, but one day we were treated to an angling masterclass, which became an epiphany to me in terms of what the river really had to offer and the skill required to harvest it.
A middle-aged man was fishing a few swims up from us, casting a long, slim float with pin-point accuracy in what looked to be an impossibly tiny gap between the far-bank willow branches. As soon as the float settled he’d catapult maggots around his float; repeating every thirty seconds or so. Fish were falling to his tactics at an alarming rate, and they were big, silver-backed fish the likes of which we’d never seen before. We had to have a closer look so we went and stood near him; he didn’t seem to mind. “What fish are those” I said. “Chub, mate”, he replied. He didn’t talk much but showed us a chub before he slipped it into his net, and we were enthralled by its sheer size and beauty. Suddenly, our six foot Woolworths starter rods and “Black Prince” reels seemed wholly inadequate. This man fished with a long, elegant match rod and a reel with line filled to the spool’s rim. His tackle was neatly arranged around him, with a bait tray close to hand brimming with bronze, red and white maggots all in separate boxes. Witnessing a real angler at work was a double-edged sword for me. It enlightened me to the sheer potential that fishing had to offer, but also made me painfully aware of the gaping chasm in my own skill-set.
Every winter nowadays I look forward to chubbing sessions. I’m very lucky to live near the Suffolk Stour, the upper stretches and the middle. It’s not the easiest of rivers but the rewards are there if you’re willing to make an effort. A number of times now I’ve fished the upper reaches, either legering breadflake or trotting maggots. I’ve never blanked and have caught chub to 3lb and some huge dace. On one occasion, when I was a scout leader over- seeing the fishing badge, a young scout called Patrick caught a 4.5lb chub on breadflake. None of us could believe it! Needless to say Patrick got his badge!
I fish the middle reaches of the Stour through Sudbury as much as possibly. It’s taught me a thing or two and has enabled me to witness the evolution of angling theory into angling practice. One phenomenon in particular springs to mind, namely the importance of deeper than average marginal water coupled with vegetative cover, providing sanctuary for young fish, especially in the colder months. I’ve fished, on maybe five or six occasions, a swim with all the above attributes and have reaped the rewards, particularly when targeting predators. It really is a sight to behold, at dusk, watching this swim come alive as pike, perch and chub take advantage of the burgeoning food source. On a good day, the water literally teems with fleeing fry as the preds strike. I’ve been lucky enough to catch pike to 14.5lb, perch to 2.2lb and this lovely old chevin of 5.2lb. What a swim!