Sunday, 24 November 2013

The river of life.

An obsession was born.

My love affair with fishing started over three decades ago. I was fortunate to have a father who taught me the basics and a river minutes from our home. My first rod was memorably a garden cane with wire eyes whipped carefully and a reel cobbled together from a spool of line. Our bait supply was garden worms sourced from underneath compost bails or dug from a steaming compost heap. We would then suspend our mini beasts two foot beneath home-made cork bobber floats - irrespective of the depth of swims.

It was some years before I owned my first ‘proper’ rod, a fibre glass blank that when completed (we had to save up for the eyes and reel seat with our pocket money) was matched with my grandfathers Nottingham Starback! This would then be pressed into action catching the numerous perch and eel that inhabited our own private piece of fishing heaven, a mill pool on the Gipping complete with a Mill race!

The sight and sound of water crashing and bubbling still touches the core of my existence. The fire was lit! This watery piece of paradise was to captivate and draw deeply on my soul. From an elevated view, the fish were plainly visible and could be seen sunning themselves on balmy summer days, still and torpid. Occasional monsters would be spotted, the first pike I saw was all gaseous and bloated with death. Pike were viewed with suspicion, their taste for flesh and dark menacing form made our blood run cold.  There were some interesting characters that worked at the Mill; there was Doddy, a proper old Suffolk boy and former Desert Rat who had short shrift for predators. An old garden fork on a rope was the down fall for many a Pike that dared to make its presence known in its watery lair. Out of curiosity, my Brother, Ashley, dropped the fork onto the rotting carcass, only for us to recoil at the foul stench that erupted from the punctured bobbing corpse.

You may have gathered by now, my father was not really a fisherman, well not a fisherman any more. He was born and brought up on the Gipping, literally. His family home overlooked the premises of the Old Paper Mill and Mill pool. In fact, he could actually fish out of his bedroom window when he was a young boy, which to us just sounded ridiculously sublime and caught our imagination! Sadly, I feel the burdens of responsibility and adulthood must have taken its toll. My father took on the running of the family business, which at that time produced animal feeds in a rather antiquated fashion. I feel that taking a struggling family business in a new direction and the pressures and responsibilities that entailed ensured that the once mysterious pool with its occupants suited in stripes and chain-mail drifted from his conscience and became his shackles. To this day I do not believe that fishing exists within the thinking of sane grown-ups. Fishing is a defiant stand against growing old, put a rod in my hand and will show you the boy!

Boys will be boys.

I shared my passion for angling with my brother and we would disappear for hours at a time on a Saturday, or those endless long balmy summer days of the school holiday. For two young boys of twelve and ten, I was the older and therefore responsible, the fishing was secondary! We had experienced unbridled freedom for the first time, an almost twilight zone where time did not follow the normal conventions of lunchtime or tea time at home, and school bells punctuating our incarceration within an apparently irrelevant education system – I wanted to learn fishing! Our love of fishing was only further fuelled once we acquired a tatty copy of Fishing with Mr Crabtree in all waters and a Ladybird Book appropriately titled Coarse Fishing. 

Armed with this ‘new’ knowledge gleamed from the pages of Crabtree and Ladybird we set forth in our quest to meet the other residents of the river – this time with Gentles (I can still see the bemused look on the tackle shop proprietors face, an obvious problem since our reading was some 20 years out of date!) – I still call maggots’ gentles.  We soon learnt the importance of keeping low to the water and placing our feet carefully so as not to alarm our quarry to the point where it is now a subject of paranoia today.

We were drawn to the weirs, bridges, high banks, and most significantly an old bridge pilling that broke up the course of the Gipping. It was sometime before I appreciated the subtleties of reading a river, we would visually seek out our quarry, an obvious influence from our experiences fishing from the walls above the Mill pool.  I don’t really remember being that successful, bar for a few red letter days when more than one perch or eel were banked held captive in a bucket. But on reflection our learning curve was steep. I remember the first time I saw a tiny perch apparently breathing in, and then out, a worm bait suspended from my brothers bung float – it was actually inhaling and exhaling the thing just like in Crabtree! This was the Eureka moment, it dawned on us that there was so much to be learnt by observing fish within their watery habitat. You could actually see how fish behaved to our crude presentations.

More than once a kindly angler took pity on us and furnished us with some more appropriate tackle, fine tiny hooks to nylon and a float that could be dotted down. We were obviously suspicious, we had seen the size of some of the fish – surely we would be broken if were to catch a fish of monstrous proportions.  Big hooks and strong line were always the order of the day if we wanted to catch giants!  To our surprise, our experiences were transformed; we caught more fish and to our surprise they were bigger than the stunted perch we were used to!!

As time passed we were trusted to make the trip into town to visit the tackle shop on our bicycles. That first trip was made with my brother riding my old Chopper with the non-health and safety gear selector that could tear out your future family potential and me on a Raleigh Arena racing bike. I recall with amazement the racks of rods and reels, but most of all the beautiful reams of floats - onions, loafers, still water waglers, canals and sticks. We had visited before with our Father , the smell of gentles heaving in sawdust and tobacco smoke that lingered heavily from the old anglers that inhabited this emporium of delights. It was like entering man-hood itself. This is what the adult fishing world smelt like. I didn’t feel I quite fitted in; I was an imposter, a trespasser in the world of real anglers.  But this time it was different! We attended as fisher boys, two young pretenders in our own right and we had pocket money to burn. 

Picking out items that could quite possibly transform our fishing fortunes, we must have picked up dozens of floats and hooks, returning nearly all of them as we totted up the final reckoning to a final choice of an Onion float (I loved Onion floats at that time), hooks to nylon and a pack of assorted split shot. I still visit the same tackle shop to this day and perform this ritual, though my misplaced affection for onions as a river float has passed.   Birthdays and Christmas saw us acquire more suitable tackle, an Ivan Marks 13 foot glass fibre match rod and Daiwa Harrier fixed spool reel. Plastic lever arched tackle boxes, quickly filled with the accoutrements we had bought or rescued from trees. I loved the smell of that tackle box that can only be described as a stale fishing musk. It was rarely cleaned, remnants of escaped maggots with their broken casters which had cast forth their flies rattled around.

Drifting apart.

My brother and I had lived an entire childhood in an ethereal world where John Wilson was worshipped almost to the point of being a deity. His program used to be literally air-guitared in as the gentle folk music guitar intro played to introduce his series Go-Fishing. Two boys never read so much, our thirst for knowledge insatiable. I really think schools have underestimated the learning potential locked up in the passions of their students.

But such is the inevitability of life, at around the age of fifteen, something completely un-foreseen, something unthinkable had happened. My compulsion for fishing was replaced by the biological need to seek out partners of the opposite sex. My brother continued to fish with newly acquired fisher boys from the village. But he too soon succumbed to a hectic teenage social life and had to follow the necessary social conventions of a new sub-culture centred round ‘fitting-in’.

Various forms of employment were pursued, followed by an opportunity to re-address my lack of academic achievement at school through redundancy. I had also met the wonderful woman that was to become my wife! As a mature student with time on my hands, I felt a compulsion, no a strong yearning and longing for something else in my life.  Becoming a student in later years is akin to a regression and looked no further than my childhood for inspiration. This is where my passion for fishing came back to the fore, it only required the subtlest reintroduction to reconnect and discover that despite a period of abstinence, there was still a river coursing through my veins. It was almost the re-awakening of the restless spirit within, a moment of piscatorial re-enlightenment.

New deities were acquired and the availability of magazines made information accessible.  There was always an emphasis on the appropriate tackle for the job, new techniques to be learnt and perfected. Tackle reviews swam round my head, dreams of owning the right tackle to help me pursue the pastime that had consumed my youth. Ownership of fishing tackle almost became a parallel sub-passion. My brother was also reconnecting at this time, but constraints of holding down a career meant we only spent a shared session once a year targeting our favourite species which at that time was the Pike. There were additional bank side visits on fishing trips, with my brother sharing a rod whilst wearing an Aquascutum business suit. Due to his hectic works schedule and a desire to escape, these visits were the norm.  You see, my brother and I shared an intimate bond with the river and the swims we made our own. My parents still owned the Mill with its pool providing a visual window into our obsession, but we rarely fished there. It was not the happy place of our childhood, my Father consumed with managing a family business in partnership with his brother and the family politics that followed meant that we didn’t feel the magic anymore.

Sadly, my brother was to die in a road accident shortly after the birth of my first son. Burdened with grief, the only place I could find solace was the river bank of our childhood. Drenched in memories of happier times, I would just fish or sit and observe the fish kidding myself that my brother would appear walking along the bank to share the moment as he often did, suited and booted. This was a period of numbness, a year passed without even passing – I can’t explain it any better than that! I can honestly say that fishing was the therapy that held my own family together during this period. Not obsessive, or driven, just an occasional need to connect with my brother through our river and shared experiences of a happy childhood bond.

Carp caught on float fished lob worm.
My focus moved back onto my beautiful son and patient and supportive wife. Of course, I was determined that fishing would have to play a major role in my son’s future. I looked to my own formative fishing experience for inspiration. My son was to accompany me on fishing adventure in his buggy, followed a few years later by his first fish, a small Rudd caught from the local park pond in the town where we live. Of course, a fishing trip to the Mill pond had to become a foundation stone in his angling foundations. 

The Old Paper Mill had now been sold, laid empty awaiting its fate. I guess we were technically trespassing, but this did not matter now. It was my Mill pond and my son’s right to fish this piece of family fishing history. It has since been converted to luxury river side apartments and a massive office complex complete with landscaping that saw fit to rip the bank side vegetation along the adjacent river bank. I can’t now face going back. He is now an accomplished angler in his own right and enjoys float fishing with lob worms!
Paper Mill in flood. 

A reconnection.

Taking my son fishing was an important learning experience for me. I was conscience that my angling interests had taken a particularly consumerist slant. The desire to own rods and reels was almost as central to my existence as the fishing itself.  I am now deeply indebted to my son for helping me to redress this balance. It was pure bliss seeing Ryan catching fish on the most simplest of tackle. It was a slow process to break the addiction, but at the core of my fishing existence was always the importance of understanding the changing moods of a river and its inhabitants. I had grown to realise, that as my tackle collection, including buzzers, matching rods etc. grew, it had taken me further from that all important connection nurtured and hardwired into my instincts. I had become a clone, a fishing robot following the advice of polarized sun-glassed fishing heroes, seeking guidance and growing in dissatisfaction at what fish my beloved river could surrender.

Growing in dissatisfaction, I stripped back my fishing to the basic essentials. This angling re-realisation was to arrive in the form of Hugh Miles beautifully crafted Passion for Angling. I loved the poetry and atmosphere that Chris Yates evoked through his charm and very obvious eccentricities.  A rod is obviously not just a rod; it should become a personal item that helps you achieve your goals. 

Now fishing with cane rods may be a step too far for some, but for me it was a statement that enabled me to turn my back on a consumer driven packaged fishing experience that left the senses numb. I fish with cane when I feel the need, and obviously appreciate the evident benefits of modern materials when it comes back to rod construction. But it almost feels that my fishing has come full circle, back ironically to the same material I started with - and my fishing is in a better place for it. For me my fishing is centred on those moments of angling purity - the twitch of the line, dip of a float or best of all, watching the fish accept a carefully presented bait! The tackle is just a means to an end. Bliss!

In memory of Ashley Barker.

An Anglers prayer.

God grant that I might fish until my dying day
 and when it comes to my last cast
I then most humbly pray
when in the Lords safe landing net
I’m Peacefully asleep that in
His mercy I be judged as good enough to keep
(Author unknown)…

Ashley Barker. A great angler... A much missed Brother.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

In praise of bread.

I thought I’d share a few thoughts on that all time classic bait – bread! Cheap, versatile and adaptable... it’s an amazing bait for pleasure, match or specimen fishing. From Crusty bloomers to the innovative ‘Original Flakey’ fake bread ... With an emphasis  on seasonal winter angling, it’s here!

The white crusty bloomer

The baked on the premises Crusty bloomer is the bread of choice for link ledgered crust. In truth, the majority is wasted, or indeed eaten by myself as it is only the outer crust that holds any appeal to me as an angler. Though in its fresh form it is practically useless as the crust is too brittle and difficult to place a hook without it breaking out on the cast, or in-deed, just washing off the hook.

Preparation could not be simpler; it just needs to be left for a few days to go stale. I know of anglers that like to flavour their crust by coating the inside of a bag with a chosen flavour and placing the loaf into the bag. The porous crust does take on flavour very well, but I seldom feel the need to tamper, preferring its natural appeal. 

The stale crust is transformed and gains a tough rubbery texture that can be torn easily, but flexible enough to negotiate a hook – it casts really well and isn’t going anywhere. Crust has inherent buoyancy that I feel ads to its versatility, though needs to be considered when tackling up.

Link ledgering Crust 

The Classic presentation of bread crust is the link ledger. It is simplicity itself, the job of the weight is to enable casting and anchor the crust at the desired depth. Bread crust can be likened to a pop up bollie.  A swan shot 2-4 inches from the hook helps to suspend the crust at a fixed height from the river bed and is about ideal. I like to imagine the crust wafting enticingly in the current taunting the Chub to make its move. Bites tend to be a very appositive affair, much because the chub needs to nail the moving target or perhaps just simply out of frustration!

Sliced bread 

We probably all have an opinion on this one, but for me it has to be Hovis medium white slice bread in the orange wrapper - the softest, freshest loaf I can find! It has the perfect doughy consistency that lends itself to a multitude of uses. It is one of the more expensive brands, but I will only ever buy one loaf and as it only serves the purpose of staying on the hook, it will last all day. The bread I use for free feeding will be the cheapest brand I can lay my hands on.

Sliced white bread is a deadly bait for ledgering; simply pinch a piece of flake matching it to the size of hook taking care not to obscure the hook point. With care, it is possible for bread to remain anchored to the hook for well over an hour.  The fact that the flake fluffs up concealing the business end of our deception can only add to the confidence.
My other favourite brand is medium or thick sliced Kingsmill Wholemeal – yes... that’s right... BROWN BREAD!

Trotting bread

Chub can be real suckers for trotted bread. It is a method I rarely get to use as my local river loses its flow and colour quickly. But, on those rare occasions where there is a tinge of colour in the water and a reasonable flow, trotted bread-flake takes some beating. A heavy 4 swan loafer float does the trick. Simply bulk the shot about 10 inches from a size 6 or 8 hook, with a single swan dropper shot about 4 inches from the hook.  Typically, I will use a 4lb line straight through to the hook. A problem with float fishing large flake chunks is its buoyancy; this can be overcome by wrapping a piece of lead wire around the shank of the hook, thus improving the presentation dramatically!

Bites are usually pretty instant. I tend to fish smaller rivers, so for me it is a mobile approach. I find it is best to start as far upstream as I am prepared to walk and then fish swims as I travel back towards my van. Allowing half an hour per swim, I tend to feed small hand full’s of sloppy bread mash on a little and often basis to build up the swim and then trot the flake down the same line as the free falling particles.
With a constant trail of bread going downstream, it is not uncommon to have fish take the bait anything from 30 yards downstream or indeed just off the rod tip as they follow the source of the bread.  Setting the depth does not seem to be an exact science as I am sure that chub will come up in the water to intercept the bread, even in winter. Set the float at approximately half depth and then you can change deeper or shallower to find out what they want on the day. I have always found this method to be most effective when the river is fining down after a flood and still holding a little colour. It is quite a crude method in many ways and usually entails very positive sail away bites – heart stopping stuff!!

Bread punch

I could never dream of Roaching without my bread punches!! Often thought of as the preserve of the match man, bread punch is devastatingly effective for specimen roach, bream and chub of all sizes. When ledgering for roach I carry a range of punches varying in size from the miniscule 2mm right up to the Drennan bread punches that land a wallop of pear shaped bread onto a size 10 hook. To keep bites coming it may be necessary to change hook size and the length of hook material many times during a session to connect with rattles on the quiver.
One of the elements of roach fishing that I most adore is that it is akin to a piscatorial game of chess. Firstly, you have to anticipate the movement of a shoal of roach and of course the position and movements of the major players – the elusive specimens that dreams are made of.  To make matters more complicated, specimen roach tend to move around in their own little pods, no doubt remnants of a once mighty shoal of smaller individuals.
To further complicate matters, the roach can be a finicky feeder at best requiring a range of strategies that keeps the angler on his toes. Match this with the tireless drive and desire to capitalise on the rare windows of opportunity that constitute ideal conditions – you can see why specimen roach captures are rare!
Preparation of bread for punching really couldn’t be simpler; place the slice of soft medium white bread in the microwave for about 20 seconds and then place into an airtight plastic bag. This produces bread with a lovely doughy texture that punches well and stays on the hook. On my less prepared days, a very fresh loaf of medium white still does the trick but is far inferior. The beauty of punch bread is that it can be used for float fishing or ledgering!

Hook Bait Company ‘Original Flakey’ 

Fake bread is by no means a new concept – but ‘Original Flakey’ stands head and shoulders above the crowd... Each piece is individually crafted and steamed to lock in flavour. It is soft enough to side hook, but works best on a hair rig. Each shape is subtly unique, however, pieces can be broken off to increase leakage and change size. Original flakey video

Hook Bait Company is a bespoke company and can produce ‘Original Flakey’ to specific requirements; any flavour, pop-up, neutral or standard. Combined with the brilliant Gloop, it has quietly been doing the business with the Hook Bait team taking Chub to over 6lb and Barbel over 13lb... Definitely one to watch!

Preparing bread for pre-baiting

This is a critical part of using bread and can be the difference between success and failure. Always conscious of over feeding, a small egg sized piece of mash, or a micro feeder of crumb may be sufficient in the depth of winter to elicit a response... in milder conditions I would suggest it would be difficult to over feed when fish are really having it.

Bread mash

It is always best to use the cheapest possible sliced white for mashing as it should always be allowed to go stale over night in the bucket. For me, bread mash used to be a very standard affair. A bucket of stale bread soaked in river water, drained and then mashed by hand. The only problem with preparing bread in this way is that a bucket of mashed bread is incredibly heavy to lug around from swim to swim. I now prefer to make mashed bread in small batches by soaking a few slices in the landing net in the margins. It is possible to make mash of different consistencies depending on the method. When long trotting bread, I prefer a mash that is quite sloppy so that it sinks quite slowly drawing fish towards the feeding zone. For baiting up swims for ledgering I favour a mash that will sink quickly whilst still breaking down sending particles downstream in the current. This can be achieved by draining the bread in the net and the giving it a hard squeeze to get rid of all the excess water prior to mashing.

Liquidised bread

Liquidized bread allows a small amount of bait to be deposited when ledgering punched bread or where you want to control the amount of feed going into a swim. Take fresh sliced bread, cut off the crusts and discard. Whizz a few slices at a time in the liquidiser and store in a plastic bag. For slower paced or shallow rivers, it is best to gently squeeze the liquidized crumb into a wire cage feeder so that it can swell and disperse where you want it. On deeper swims or faster flowing rivers I prefer the plastic feeders to ensure it gets down to where I want it.

Adding flavours

To make the mash or liquidised crumb even more attractive it is possible to add flavours and colours.  In particular, aniseed based additives has proved to be one of my favourites and has accounted for stunning roach sport.  

Laguna Special Edition Blue Cheese SAC juice

Chunk of Brown bread flake soaking in Blue Cheese SAC juice.
It’s no secret I have been totally impressed with the Laguna range of products and can’t rate their SAC juice highly enough! As a chub angler, the ‘Special Edition Blue Cheese SAC (Soak And Coat) Juice’ caused more than a bit of excitement on my part. I have caught some stunning Chub this year using brown bread flake soaked in Blue Cheese SAC juice.  It is a very potent attractant that is made using enzymes to pre-digest real food ingredients – a process that takes many months under carefully controlled conditions.

The glycerite base halts microbial ‘spoilage’ – however the culture of enzymes are free to continue their work... Like a bottle conditioned ale, SAC juices improve with age and continue to break down proteins. From the fish’s point of view, this releases a rich spectrum of precious amino acids to home in on – they are most certainly natures Dinner bells! SAC Juice
Chunky Suffolk Specimen that took a liking to brown bread flake soaked in Blue Cheese SAC Juice.

Magic bread

I hope that gives you a little insight into this under rated, under used super bait. I have on occasions given bread much contemplation...  What is it that makes bread such a wonder bait? It does not exactly represent anything that a fish would find in its natural diet and yet it has an almost instant appeal.  But the answer was to come in a most unexpected manor. I was preparing my mash in the net at the margins, on lifting the net I was met with a beautiful sight. A sparkling mass of tiny silver shards, bright and alive - the greedy masses of this year fry had descended upon my soaking bread. Like sparkling gems, I had to ensure each precious individual was returned to continue on with its uncertain future. ‘Good bye little fellow! Take care, stay in the slacks and shadows, grow strong and perhaps we shall meet again sometime and share a feast of bread’!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The pike

For as long as I can remember, the pike has held a special place of affection;  looking back on my earliest fishing adventures it both commanded fear and respect in equal measure.  My brother and I grew up with a fishing utopia in the form of an old Mill Pool where a constant ribbon of flow would cascade though a mill race carving a surge of oxygenated water into the deepest, darkest most mysterious part of this captivating pool. This special place was once an old Paper Mill which at some point in its life transformed the rivers life force into the turning of gears, cogs and milling stones. Its sole purpose now served to harness a deep and powerful passion in two young fisher boys. From the high brick walls, my brother and I could visibly make out our quarry in the form of dark backed roach holding station either side of the oxygen rich water; where the brick walls of the mill met the water, small perch could be seen dancing in the shadows. The sunken lily pads would draw our attention deeper because we knew if we were really lucky, we might catch sight of monsters!
As fate would have it, this was not the place where I first made contact with a monstrous pike. My first experience of piking took place further downstream. This was a part of the river where a road bridge and footpath crossed, which I suspect had a similar effect on other fisher boys as the Mill did on our existence. On reflection I used to avoid actually fishing there as occasionally older boys would ‘borrow’ your rod and line to sample their own piscatorial pleasure at your expense or snatched your prize captures to be used as live baits!

It was heavily fished in summer and easily accessible being that it was free fishing.  It was also a place where anglers would congregate and tell tales recounting lost fish and impart wisdom to one another. I would occasionally visit as I was hungry for knowledge and would happily sit near anyone angling, perhaps in hope of catching a glimpse of something magical as much as picking up tips. But it was here where I first discovered that anglers actually sought to capture and come face to face with the pike! The bait of choice was a sardine or sprat crucified beneath a giant gazette style float on snap tackle (probably because ‘liveley’s’ were hard to come by). “But what happens if the float goes under?”........ “You have to leave it for at least ‘alf an hour – don’t strike or it will drop it”......

I refer back to another prime example of information freely given; ‘Don’t strike right away boy – you’ll miss the fish! Wait for the second run’.  As my only other source of reference was Mr Crabtree I now thank the fish God’s I had not knocked up an impromptu gaff as a metal work project at school!  On reflection, I am glad I never got into predator fishing in the blossom of my youth as it would now weigh heavily on my conscience.

The problem was that in those day, the pike was much maligned and the quality of information very poor. Some of the old match boy’s literally despised pike and sadly this rubbed off on the general angling community. In fact, it was not uncommon for poor old Esox to be dispatched and thrown in a hedge. You could almost imagine you were doing the river a favour; after all, it was a cold blooded killer of precious roach and ruined your chances in a match if it turned up unannounced in a carefully fed swim.

First contact.

I can recall most of the details of my first pike capture in vivid detail and on sharing this tale I freely admit carrying a little shame regarding the nature of its capture in light of current fish-care advice and better understanding. Earlier that week, I had purchased a gazette float, pack of treble hooks and a pack of frozen sprats. I descended onto the river at first light on what would have been a Saturday morning and cast out a sprat dead bait into the known holding spot where giant pike were known to lurk – the fresh water wolfs lair if you like!

I seem to remember that it was a pretty instant affair.... Gripped with anticipation I noticed concentric circles – the first signs of interest emanating from the yellow bobbing sentinel – A BITE! The float briefly towed before plunging beneath the surface; my heart rate accelerated in an instance my face flushed as adrenaline coursed through my veins – this was it! It was actually going to happen!!

I could never grow tired of watching a pike bung float. In my mind I still consider the scene in Jaws where harpooned and tethered, the creature draws the barrels beneath the surface – Oh, and the ensuing carnage that followed! But on this day I was Brody without the guidance of that old seadog Quint; however, unlike Peter Benchley’s Jaws, I was thankfully not on a boat  – but it had dawned on me that in time I would be coming face to face with my very own monster and hadn’t considered what would happen next.

I thought quickly – the time, what time is it! Leave it half an least – let it run!!!! This allowed time to compose myself and eagerly await the arrival of the company of other young anglers from the village – I could quite possible be admired and revered for apprehending such a fearful creature........ But none came.  So here I was, on my own preparing to strike which I must have duly done.

I don’t remember the fight, but I do recall the pike played out in the margins..... It was monstrous and quite possible the biggest fish I had ever laid eyes on. We were both helpless - me? Because I had no net or experience of handling pike; this poor creature deeply hooked now tethered tightly against the bank. We stared at each other and I am sure I would have congratulated myself on such a fine capture. But with that, it started to thrash and flail upon which the badly scored line parted and this monster of the deep disappeared into the ether. There it was, my first pike!

It was sometime before I fished for them again. It just seemed unwise – I was terrified!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Bite indication.

Chub have a reputation for being finicky feeders; capable of testing and rejecting bait with nothing more than a quick deflection on a quiver tip. These days I do not experience anything like the number of missed bites I experienced in the early days and most sessions a high proportion of detectible bites are translated onto fish on the bank. On reflection, I think this was probably due to using too much lead, either in the form of Arsley bombs on a running ledger, or link ledger with too many swan shot.

I think this problem is more pronounced on slow moving rivers as chub have too much time to inspect, test and examine baits. If you observe fish feeding in clear water, it is quite common for a fish to approach a food item a number of times prior to committing itself! The key is to keep resistance to an absolute minimum so when it is picked up, it at least behaves as naturally as possible.

There are a number approaches to detecting bites; quiver tip, bobbin, touch ledgering or watching the line for any discernible movement. I could add another that has accounted for some exceptionally cagey fish, and that is to fish with an open bail arm and watch for the line coiling from the spool. When you get a ‘take’ it is much like a pike run and is treated in much the same way. Close the bail arm; tighten into the fish and strike! Each has its merits.

I should perhaps explain the reason for fishing an open bail arm. There are times when a chub will intercept a bait and carry it some distance before ‘committing’ itself. I was fishing my usual approach of quiver tipping and was getting unhittable bites. Bites kept on coming, in fact the third time it took the bait on the drop – and once again it was missed on the strike. As I fully expected a bite on the fourth cast – this time I left the spool open and watched for the fish taking line. It was fascinating to see the line skating towards an old weed bed. This fish had been holding station in the weeds and was coming out to intercept the bait and then returning to its sanctuary where it felt safe. This fish was hooked after giving it more time. I used to think chub avoided thick line, but in many cases this is irrelevant – far more important is resistance. I have chub pick up baits confidently using 12lb line!

Keeping it simple.

Tackling up for Chub.
I am not one for fancy hook link material, beads, swivels etc... I guess, over a period of time, I have adapted a method that requires matching the size of hook to the bait and am even happy pinching shot directly on the line. I have my own thoughts on link ledgers – for the majority of my fishing I rarely, if ever bother with them.

Balanced leads.
It never cease to amaze me how little lead is actually needed to effectively fish a ledgered bait. If at all possible I have a preference for free lining a bait using a quiver tip. After casting and allowing time for the bait to settle, draw the bait back a little to ensure it has landed on a clear part of the river bed and introduce a little slack. What this does is effectively slow the bite down. Holding the rod in hand, the first sign of a bite is a sudden jolt transmitted as a sensation down the rod, followed by the tip pulling round. The advantage of free lining is that provided you ‘feather’ the bait down on the cast – it sounds exactly the same as the free offering that you have anticipated the chub have been feeding on. Where there is little flow to carry a scent, I suspect that chub will easily detect the sound of potential food entering the river and investigate closer. It has to be an edge if your bait sounds exactly the same as the free feed!

Upstream ledgering. 

Chub caught from behind a raft structure using upstream ledger.
If I have to use any amount of lead to hold bottom, there is much to be gained from upstream ledgering. The aim of upstream ledgering is to balance the amount of lead used so that having cast upstream and allowing the bait to settle; after carefully tightening up to the ledger weights, the quiver tip should show a deflection of 1 or 2 inches. Anymore and the whole lot is washed downstream in the flow. This does take a little practice and trial and error. With practice it is possible to gauge the amount of lead using a combination of swan shot and even BB shot on the link. When the chub picks up or tests the bait, it will drift down stream relaxing the tension on the tip showing the bite. Typically I normally experience an upstream ‘tug’ just before the tip collapses leaving me in no mistake a fish has picked up the bait. 
The best part about upstream ledgering is that you can approach a swim in a completely different angle to the majority of anglers. Fish that get used to being caught in front of a ‘snag’ quickly learn to avoid feeding in such areas – or certainly give problems with bite detection. An upstream cast often wrong foots that crafty old Chevin that feels safer eating behind the feature.

Downstream ledgering. 
The most sensitive method of downstream ledgering is to cast across and slightly downstream and let a bow form in the line. Once again the lead has to be balanced just right so that when a fish picks up the bait, the pressure from the flow on the line releases and reduces the pressure on the terminal tackle. Bites could be as indefinable as simple plucks on the line; this is where touch ledgering becomes critical in timing the strike.

Touch ledgering. 

Touch ledgering seems to have an air of mystery surrounding it... it is in fact the simplest form of bite detection, but it does improve with experience. I particularly enjoy touch ledgering as it helps to communicate directly with what’s taking place on the river bed. I do however prefer to touch ledger in conjunction with a soft quiver tip. I think this actually improves chances of connecting with a Chub as it slightly ‘dampens’ the initial ‘tug’. My thoughts on this are; if you can feel the Chub, it must also feel a sharp resistance.
As a slight variation on this method, I often find that it helps if you can give a chub some more line. Holding a loop of line in my free hand, when you see the initial ‘tap’ on the quiver tip it’s simply a case of feeding some line – or dropping the loop. The tip folds over and its simply a case of pulling into the fish.
Touch ledgering in winter? You catch a hell of a lot more Chub if your prepared to hold the rod in one hand and the line in the other!


In many ways, fishing a bobbin has many advantages over the tip especially when free lining. The only problem is finding a bobbin that is light enough. I use the Solar light weight bobbins, into which I insert a beta light for night fishing. A length of old fly line makes up the tether and works superbly. It can of course be used for upstream or downstream ledgering – in fact, this method is far superior in showing drop back bites. The bobbin just plummets as it swims back downstream.

Are you seeing every bite? 

Not one of these methods really answers all the questions asked from chub, indeed, I believe there are bites that are to all purposes undetectable! On a number of occasions I have gone to retrieve my bait, only to find resistance and on the strike a fish that had just been sitting with the bait in its mouth. Perhaps it was making its ‘mind’ up and pounced on it as the bait moved?
Another occasion whilst fishing an open bail arm, I noticed line slowly peeling from the spool. Holding my finger on the spool I observed the quiver tip for a deflection – there was none. I released my finger and once again line slowly peeled from the spool. I suspected that perhaps some debris had hit the line and was drifting the line downstream. But on releasing the line a fourth or fifth time I decided for whatever reason that it was moving faster than the current and decided to strike. To say the chub I hooked into was surprised was an understatement – but having taken maybe 4meters of line, it took itself into a nearby reed bed and unhooked itself..... Charming!

As you can gather from my approach to Chubbing I am clearly not ‘normal’.  I put it down to the way Chub can drive you insane at times, but if you consider Einstein’s definition of insanity ‘Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’.

Einstein continued; ‘By that definition, a lot of us are mad. But it’s those times when we try something different, when we’re sane, that progress is made’.
Just a slight rocking on the tip indicated the presence of this beauty.

Therefore the problem to good Chubbing is trying to stay sane – and I guess I am just hanging in there!