Fishing for Chub
There will be many anglers who would count chub as their favourite fish. For the rest, if chub are not actually their favourite, they certainly ought to be up there in the ‘one-two-three’.
There will be many anglers who would count chub as their favourite fish. For the rest, if chub are not actually their favourite, they certainly ought to be up there in the ‘one-two-three’. I am most definitely one of those anglers who feels this way. Yet when I consider the reasons why they hold such a place in my heart I have to acknowledge, first and foremost, that of all the most common species out there – and chub are most definitely a common species – it is for me chub that are the most elusive.
If that is true for me is it the same for you too, I wonder? Whilst I have spent my life catching innumerable roach, dace, perch, gudgeon, bream and carp, etc I count myself lucky if I have a day where chub turn up. Here I mean ‘proper’ chub, not those ‘thirty-two to-the-pound’ chublets that infest the far side of every river I seem to fish. They don’t count.
In this article I am going to explore a little more what makes chub so interesting and alluring for an old match angler like me, and along the way I hope we can all reflect a little on, and also give a little praise for, one of the most enigmatic and interesting species of fish out there. Three cheers for the good old chub!
Although not yet recognised as a new British record fish, an angler has very recently reported catching a monster 10lb 11oz chub from exactly this same stretch of the river. I hope his catch is verified, but regardless, I will still tell my grandkids that it was my fish… just re-caught by someone else a few years later!
Some ‘facts’ about Chub
I find it difficult these days to sift through a lot of the ‘stuff’ online to get to the definitive truth about anything, and I think of all species of fish there are more old wives tales perpetuated about chub than any other British species. They are supposed to be ‘fearful’, big ones are solitary, they will eat ANYTHING (apparently) and they are the greediest of fish. All these ‘superlatives’ seem to be the most often repeated ‘facts’ about chub. They are also easy to catch, according to many anglers, yet I don’t think that myself. As I stated earlier, I find them quite elusive at times.
The chub that we catch in Britain are a member of the carp family, which are known as Cypronids, and its Latin name is Leuciscus Cephalus. It seems that 22 years is a very good age for a chub, though the only way to really tell is by taking a scale from the fish. I sincerely hope there are many big old fish out there, well older than 22, which are still swimming around with all their scales intact, defying the biologists’ best efforts to put an age on them.
The current British chub record stands at 9lb 5oz 0drms and was caught from a ‘southern stillwater’ in 2007. Equally there are reports that it was actually caught from the River Lea, so I don’t know what to believe. Weirdly there are also many bigger UK chub on record that haven’t been officially ratified despite the best efforts of their captors to do so. On mainland Europe the record is over 12lbs 8oz, though again, just like over here, there are probably much bigger specimens that haven’t been recognised.
What habitats are the best to catch chub?
In short, you can catch chub almost anywhere. They will live happily in rivers of all sizes and can also be found in lakes, reservoirs and canals. However, chub are essentially a species that seems to thrive best in flowing water with some of the biggest, and probably consequently the oldest, coming out of quite modest small rivers. The prevailing theory is that chub always require flowing water to breed, with gravelly rivers providing the optimum conditions. However, chub also seem to thrive in some still waters and in order to breed in those still waters they must apparently make their way to the feeder streams that provide an incoming flow.
Searching for Chub on canals
On canals this influx of fresh water invariably comes from the sluices and weirs that maintain water levels, and the chub takes advantage of this capricious and unreliable moving water to eke out an existence. Despite this difficulty, chub most certainly do breed in canals and once successful they can grow to quite a respectable size, providing anglers with a location that cannot be ignored. There is some excellent chub fishing to be had in canals which confirms that chub must indeed successfully breed in waters where there is very little flow.
There are many commercial venues that stock chub. Being voracious feeders, even in winter, they can often be relied upon to provide some sport when nothing else is biting. This makes good business sense for fishery owners where a mixture of fish that are prepared to feed throughout the year is essential.
Although the chub in commercial waters can thrive and grow there is little opportunity, on the face of it, for them to breed. This means that many commercial chub must go through a life-cycle of growth to maturity that does not provide them with the conditions to replace themselves. It would appear that restocking would be required to maintain a healthy turnover of fish. One of my local commercial fisheries has a good number of chub in a couple of its lakes and it has become a favourite of mine. When I first fished there the chub were all about one pound in weight, now, eight or nine years later, there are chub over 4lbs. This is a great size of fish to catch from a still water and they will become really special if they get into the 5lb or 6lb bracket.
Chub are a shoal fish and like many species when you catch one you can often begin to anticipate a second and then more. Especially when they are small ‘chublets’ they can turn up in very large numbers. My own local Warwickshire Avon can almost be guaranteed to produce instant bites from chublets to anyone who throws a maggot baited waggler to the far bank.
Big chub are considered by many to be more solitary, but I personally think that this is just not true. Although chub shoals begin to become less populated as the chub get bigger I believe this has more to do with natural losses and predation than any behavioural propensity. It is a simple fact that only a few fish ever grow on to become big specimens, and the shoals are correspondingly smaller. Because big chub will readily eat small chub, there is very little chance that there will be mixed shoal of various sized fish.
I myself have seen large chub – I think a 4lb+ is a large chub – swimming happily in relatively large shoals with other large chub. They will also move in tandem with barbel when occupying the same water as the bigger fish prefer similar habitats. Anything the size of a ‘mouthful’ needs to keep away from a large chub, so even small chub would do well to avoid their bigger brothers.
One other reason why big chub might get a reputation for being solitary is that they most definitely are extremely wary of disturbances. If you pluck one fish from a shoal and permit the hooked fish to race about flashing and turning, you will soon find that its shoal mates have disappeared for the day.
What are the best baits for chub – and how do I catch one?
Smaller chub will instantly destroy almost anything that they can get into their mouth, consequently maggots and casters are a simple first choice for any river angler searching for quantity over quality. For a match angler that wants to work hard, a large number of small chub can be a great start to building a weight, especially as the small fish may feed when larger fish will not.
Casters are a great bait for many species of fish. The problem these days is that the price seems to go up every time I go into my local tackle shop. To combat this I NEVER throw my casters away at the end of a day’s fishing. Simply fill a big jar with your casters, top up the jar right to the brim with fresh water, and put the top tightly back on the jar. You can keep casters like this for weeks in the fridge.
This photo shows the proof. My bait fridge has three jars of sealed bait in at present. The more observant of you will notice that the jar on the left has both casters and hemp in. Yes, top tip number two… hemp will last for weeks like this also. If you don’t manage to get out for a while make sure you change the water every couple of weeks and that will keep the bait in best condition.
For a pleasure angler it may be more important to get away from these smaller fish when on a river. Although it can often be difficult to avoid small ‘chublets’ when river fishing with maggots, this is also true for many other small ‘spratt’ sized fish such as roach, dace and bleak. When present in such numbers and in such a small size all these fish can become a nuisance.
One way to get through these spratts is to feed heavily and ‘ladle in’ maggots, casters and hemp, the idea being to feed off the small fish to get through to the better fish, like the better chub, that are hopefully lying below. There are definitely many instances where feeding off the small fish doesn’t seem to work, and if it does you often find there are not really any bigger fish ready to replace them. But happily there are occasional instances where the smaller fish are not present and you can catch better fish from the off. Those are the days we live for. After all it’s called ‘fishing’, not ‘catching’.
For the really big specimen chub there has been an awful lot written over the years about how they will eat anything. Suffice it to say, this type of specimen fishing is outside my remit for this article, but we all know that bread, cheese, meat, gobstopper-sized pellets along with worms and even slugs have all accounted for some monsters over the years.
For my own type of fishing, usually using a stick float or waggler rather than a feeder or ledger, I rarely use anything other than the aforementioned maggots, casters and hemp. I will now cite three different ways that I use these baits when specifically targeting chub.
Catching chub – Method 1
I have had great success at a particular commercial fishery catching chub from a pool that has a single island in the middle. The chub will cruise continually around the island, and in my experience I have never caught, or indeed seen any other angler catch, a chub from anywhere other than tight to the island. In truth this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, like many angling tales. Because I don’t believe that the chub can be caught from anywhere else, as a consequence I only ever fish for them that way… ergo the theory becomes true.
My preferred method to catch these commercial chub is ‘wag ‘n mag’ which can be a challenge because, from many of the pegs, the island is at extreme catapult range. It’s no use at all casting your hook-bait to a location that you cannot follow up with feed. The ideal method is to continually spray red and white maggots up to the island and put your waggler, baited with double red maggot, really tight to the perimeter weed amongst the constant free offerings. Once the float has settled, giving the bait a twitch helps induce a bite from the chub, which really need to see the bait falling through the water. You don’t get any response once your bait has settled.
My best day at this particular venue resulted in 28 chub all between 2lb 8oz and 3lb 8oz. I also caught another thirty-odd ‘nuisance’ carp to 8lbs, because when a constant stream of maggots falls through the water it becomes irresistible to any species of fish. A spectacular day in anybody’s book. Two venues to try this method on are Pipehill Fishery in Lichfield and Furnace Mill, Wyre Forest.
Catching chub – Method 2
My second preferred approach to chub is a fairly standard one that I often use, but is one that I particularly like to use on a specific river swim that I know. The actual method has the potential to work on many different stretches of the rivers I regularly fish, but for me it doesn’t work better anywhere than on this particular swim on a section of my favourite Warwickshire Avon.
The location in question has a long stretch of clear shallow gravel on the nearside running downstream away from the angler with a deep dark channel running parallel to it just at a rod-length out and another clear very shallow gravel run down the middle of the river. The deep channel is easily twenty yards long and only five wide, which provides plenty of water to go at, before it opens out downstream as the gravel bars disappear.
Although the deep channel is too dark to actually see into, this is where the chub lie. It is about five feet deep with a nice steady pace when conditions are right so a 4 x 4 or a 6 x 4 stick float gently trotted down the deep channel with shirt-button style shotting and a single bronze maggot hook-bait can sort out some really great chub fishing. The Warwickshire Avon is a bronze maggot river – don’t ask me why… it just is! (Hmmmm, is that another self fulfilling prophecy?) so I feed bronze maggots and a few grains of hemp by hand on every single cast.
This is one of those swims that has absolutely nothing that outwardly shows that it holds chub. No overhanging trees, no branches in the water, and an angler unfamiliar with the area would just walk on past. In fact, even an angler who is familiar with the area (me!) used to walk on by too until a chance set of circumstances caused me to drop in on the swim below where a pal was fishing just so that we could have a natter. There is an ‘aquarium swim’ just 50 yards further downstream and most anglers would run there with their tongues hanging out!
Although it has been a while since I fished this secret chub swim I have great memories of an exceptional day when I pulled out a keepnet filled with 50lbs of chub. I would say that 30lbs would be a more normal catch for me on there and a proper angler would empty the place! When was the last time you caught 30lbs of chub? It certainly doesn’t happen to me every day.
Catching chub – Method 3
My final example is another stretch of the Warwickshire Avon where the river, at around 10ft, is deeper than much of the rest of the river, but it still has a good flow the deeper you go. For this particular peg in question I like to catch chub on casters and hemp. Because of the depth my preference is to use a ‘Topper’ float, which was named after the angler who originally designed it for use on an entirely different river ‘Avon’ – the Bristol Avon. The Topper is also more correctly called a ‘Crowquill Avon’ and is perfect for fishing deeper swims where there is a stronger undercurrent at depth.
Various ‘Topper floats’ on rigs can be seen amongst the stick floats and a solitary bolo float. Although originally designed for use on the Bristol Avon these ‘Toppers’ (the crowquill and balsa floats) are tremendous on any reasonably deep flowing water. All my floats are marked with the number of BB shot required to cock them to the base of the tip. They are best used with the bulk tightly bunched a couple of feet from the hook.
The idea is to actually use a line of close BB shot as a bulk, which then acts as a ‘sail’ to catch the flow of the water near the bottom. Generally run through at speed the large bulk is sufficient for the fish to hook itself and generally if the float goes under the fish is on. They can also be overshotted and held back to great effect. Hats off to Mr ‘Topper’ Haskins for creating such a great float.
On this water I like to feed heavily, putting down a large amount of both casters and hemp on the bed of the river right at the start. This often gets an instant response from the chub that I know frequent this area. A gentle underarm lob with a double caster hookbait, followed by a pause as the bulked BB shot sort out the float, and then a short rundown will soon result in a discernible ’clunk’ (at least in my head) as the Topper float buries as soon as the hookbait passes over the free offerings. Great fishing!
The chub in this location are not as big as in the previous two locations but they are plentiful which more than makes up for it. I must admit that fishing the ‘Topper’ is one of my most favourite methods and I get a thrill everytime the float buries, no matter the size or species of fish.
Two venues to try for this method of fishing for chub are the BAA controlled section at Fladbury on the Warwickshire Avon and the stretch of the River Severn at Larford Farm fishery.
Are chub found in every swim?
Sadly, chub are not found in every swim. From above the surface there are sometimes indicators that signpost their presence but it is not always so. A fallen tree is often a magnet for chub, as is a deep undercut. The common theory is that they like an area to hide in, a ‘bolt-hole’ if you will, yet the opposite is also sometimes true. I have seen chub in the River Lugg that will spend all day in crystal clear shallow water lying alongside streamer weed. There is not a great deal of protection there and it seems that in the absence of any cover they are happy to tough it out.
I have fished many pegs in matches and on pleasure sessions where I have fed heavily in an attempt to draw in some chub, or to catch the ones that may already reside there, and failed miserably. On other times, on an unknown peg, I have heard through the grapevine that chub might be in my swim and despite no obvious indicator that it might be true I have caught several chub from the off. In conclusion, if anyone has a secret, guaranteed method, of identifying where chub are present please write to me and pop it into a sealed envelope. I won’t tell anybody else, that’s for sure!
The best tackle for chub
I seldom have trips out where I specifically target chub. Standard light river gear usually works for me. Check out the three examples above and you will understand why it is only on the commercial water that I use stronger tackle. For my river fishing I use my ‘standard’ float rods. Ninety-nine percent of the time I am hooking and playing roach, dace and other smaller fish and even though the hope is always there, it is a special day indeed if better chub show up.
Because I can easily spend a whole 12 hours on a river thrashing the water in summer, I must confess I have spent rather too much money on buying very light float rods. I have two Acolyte 13ft Ultras which are extremely light which means I can use them all day with ease. If losing chub becomes a problem – and what a great problem to have – it very often does so because better chub will bury themselves into nearside vegetation or any snag they can find. To counter this, if the chub show up, I also possess a couple of 17ft Acolyte float rods that give me a better chance because of the additional length of pulling the chub back out into the middle of the river before they ever get near the weeds.
On commercials my ‘go-to’ rod has for a few years now been a relatively cheap 13ft Daiwa Yank ‘n Bank. It has just recently been joined by yet another 13ft Acolyte rod, (I did tell you that I spend too much money on rods, didn’t I?) but this time I have bought the PLUS version. The plus name signifies that it is a ‘beefed up’ version and will handle bigger fish. The jury is out whether this will become my new ‘go-to’ rod for commercials as there is still a chance that I might stick to catching stillwater chub with my Daiwa and exclusively use my Drennan Acolyte PLUS rod on the river for those rare days that proper chub decide to ‘make my day’.
When is the best time of the year to catch chub?
Any time of year will do for chub. One of the great things about them is that they will often feed just as voraciously even on the coldest winter days. In a previous article I wrote about how one of my most memorable sessions was spent on an utterly freezing day, when I had to apply glycerin to my rod rings to reduce the frequency that the line froze in the rings. It was chub that provided the main sport that day.
Is it true that chub are the most greedy fish?
Possibly true but not necessarily so, but this reputation for greed is bolstered by the fact that chub feed well all year round. You can often find when you catch a chub that it will either have its throat stuffed with bait or it will cough up a great amount of bait in your landing net. I have also often caught chub and they have regurgitated quantities of red maggots whilst I have been feeding exclusively bronze maggots all day. Where they got those different coloured maggots from, and how long previously they had eaten them, has always remained a mystery.
Shouldn’t I be using a ‘chubber float’ when targeting chub?
You can if you like. However, chubber floats are generally rather dumpy and designed for supporting big baits like lumps of cheese, chunks of luncheon meat or large flakes of bread. They are more often used on shallower and faster water than I generally fish. On the right day, and on the right venue, using a chubber float can be deadly but don’t let the name mislead you, they will catch anything that swims if used appropriately. Last time I used a chubber float was on the River Lugg which is a fast and shallow tributary of the Wye and my target was Grayling.
Some relationships will last forever and (cover your ears my chub friends) I have to admit that my favourite species of fish is undisputedly Roach. Always was – always will be.
Ok chub, you can uncover your ears now because I think chub very definitely are my second favourite species of fish. I have spent my fishing lifetime angling in waters that hold chub, yet they are one of the so called ‘common’ species that have eluded me the most.
Having taken a few trips out previous to writing this article, in the name of preparation and research, and struggling woefully to catch the very chub I wanted to write about, it has really brought it home to me and I now realise, more than ever, why they are so special.
Simply as a consequence of the torment and fun writing this article I am organising a trip for myself and some pals on the River Wye for later in the year. I want to get onto a stretch of that wonderfully prolific river where there are hopefully going to be loads of proper chub, and I want to scratch this HUGE itch that has developed. What are the chances? Eh?
I really should know better, shouldn’t I? Even though they often exist in large numbers, and are undoubtedly great sport, you simply cannot just turn up somewhere and expect to catch a chub. They are elusive, and I should know better. After all, it’s called fishing, not catching. But it isn’t going to stop me from trying . Wish me luck.