Martin Bowler’s big chub adventure
Both species are in my swim – but which will slip up?
OUR rivers are poised for a change in complexion, turning brown as fallen autumn leaves with the arrival of the first floods.
For now, though, every river I visit is still clear, and the weed that chokes the life out of its flow refuses to budge.
This is a difficult time of brittle skies, high air pressure and reduced fish appetites.
Another reason for the lack of bites may be that the fish have seen the bank at least once already this season, and that serves to make them that bit more cautious.
The change will come, as it always does, and perhaps the best spell of the year for river fishing isn’t very far away. Until then you have a choice. You can either wait or, if you are addicted to angling like me, you can make the best of it.
Who knows? Perhaps a reward will come your way.
It was still early and I was blind to what was going on beneath the surface, so rather than fish in a random spot I needed to exercise patience, a quality I sadly lack!
A boiling kettle and a toasted sandwich at the back of my truck eased my itchy bail-arm finger, as did the view of the meadows, which slowly steamed as the sun rose to burn off the dew.
From the east it came, and the shadows were cast away. Now, provided I stayed on the right bank, I could see every stone and weed bed, making my swim selection a whole lot easier.
I chose three spots, all with a clear gravel bed directly above a dense stretch of weed. Here chub, not being fans of light open spaces, would be lying up, or so I hoped.
I needed to draw the fish out, and for this I used a bait dropper filled with crushed Sticky Krill boilies and trout pellets. Free offerings were introduced with pinpoint accuracy at the head of the weed, but still on a clear bottom.
Half-a-dozen times I watched as the door on the dropper opened, releasing its payload. Then I needed to be patient once more and wait for a sign.
An hour went by before a couple of pairs of white lips emerged from the weed directly above a sweeping bend, intent on hoovering up the bait spilt on the gravel. These were chub all right, and even looking through 5ft feet of water it was clear they were good ones.
Casting out a hookbait at this stage would only ruin the swim, so I allowed the fish to gain a little more confidence before replacing the bait they had eaten with four more dropper loads of feed. Then, for the next hour, I prepared another swim.
Despite the difficult conditions it was a joy just to watch the river flow by, and while the blue sky was doing me no favours I felt it would be churlish to moan.
Returning to my first swim, I crept close to the bank and witnessed a sub-surface scene that only an angler is ever lucky enough to enjoy. Two barbel had now joined in the feeding melée alongside six chub, and judging by the rapidly-moving tail fins and puffs of silt kicked up, the bait had indeed flicked their switch.
Singling out an individual specimen would be impossible. This wasn’t a problem because either a chub or a barbel would be a worthy prize – however, rig selection was an issue because I favour different strategies for the two species. The former can pick up a boilie on a hair and get away with it, unlike barbel, but I really did want to have my cake and eat it, and I prepared accordingly.
A 1¾lb test curve Drennan rod
“Chub can pick up a boilie on a hair and get away with it, unlike barbel, but I really did want to have my cake and eat it”
was teamed with 15lb fluorocarbon. I slipped a back lead on to the line, trapping it with a link bead and a float stop either side.
The 2½oz main lead was connected the same way, except that I added an extra stop to prevent it slipping on the cast.
The fluorocarbon would also form three-quarters of the short hooklength, continuing for another 4ins before terminating in a size 11 Uni Link swivel with E-S-P tungsten putty moulded around the barrel to help with the bolt effect.
Two inches of 10lb Drennan micro braid made up the final section, and a size 12 Super Specialist barbel hook was attached via a knotless knot, continuing as a hair long enough to hold half-a-boilie tight to the shank.
This would stop the chub taking liberties, and the hook would be hidden from suspicious eyes. By having the flat side of half-a-boilie close to the bend, the bait acts like a cup falling over the hook, pushed in place by the flow.
Confident in my set-up, I added a PVA mesh bag of free offerings as the finishing touch.
I waited until most of the fish were sitting to the rear of the swim before lowering the rig into place and positioning the back lead upstream. Satisfied, I sat well back, only the top eye of the rod protruding over the bank.
If fish were feeding and the rig worked, a bite would not be long in coming, especially after all that preparation. I was ready for it.
This was just as well because within a minute the rod-tip was pulled over – but by what? Its first run said ‘barbel’ but when it couldn’t maintain the pace I knew it was a chub.
A fin and scale-perfect fish of over 6lb was my reward for preparation, patience and simply believing a specimen was possible, even in conditions that were a long way from being perfect.
You can’t catch them if you’re sat at home!
A 6lb-plus chub on a difficult day – result! On a clear river you have to be extra-stealthy.
A PVA bag of boilies is the final touch.