Saturday, 11 January 2014

River Derwent chub - on a mission for a monster

I always used to class chub as my favourite species. I think that goes back to my youth when a bonus chub would be the highlight of a days fishing and at that time a good Soar chub would be 2lb plus. I remember well when my Dad caught a monster of over 3lb's several years after we started fishing the river and that really was something pretty special to us. I first cracked the 3lb barrier on the River Wreake near Sysonby, I guess in the mid 1990's, and I was chuffed to bits with that. I can still remember the swim and the drop back bite that showed that my piece of flake had been picked up. That was, in fact, the first time I had ever tried upstream legering, a technique that became a firm favourite years later.

cotes soar fishing chub
My brother with a typical Soar chub from our childhood
Iriver soar chub angling
My dad with a Soar monster!

When I returned to river fishing, after an extended carp orientated exile, winter chubbing was always going to be back on the menu and it came as something of a shock to find that those Soar chub had grown somewhat with 4lb fish being common. Fact is the river had changed considerably during my absence. The hoards of gudgeon for which the river had been famous had virtually gone, the barbel which I remembered at 3lb fish were now breaking double figures and the whole nature of the river had altered. Stretches which once held a match peg every fifteen yards could now only accomodate a small number of matchmen as reed beds and weed took over the river making perfect conditions for a more specimen orienatated approach and indeed the matchmen did change tactics, "animal gear" becoming the norm as opposed to the 1.1lb hooklinks of yesteryear. Stacks of 4lb chub came to the net over the next few years but it took me three winters of considerable effort to finally crack the 5lb barrier. Would you believe it the 5lb 2oz prize turned out to be my previous pb fish up in weight by 4oz's!

loughborough soar river fishing
Typical Soar chevin of latter years
After that I slowed down a bit on my chub fishing though I always set aside a bit of time each year for a few sessions on the Soar and it was ironic that after putting in all of that effort over the previous years to catch a five pounder another one came my way almost by chance the next year. I had dropped in to a very awkward swim as a last port of call before heading home. A high bank topped by a barb wire fence dropped straight down into a narrow and shallow gully, the far half of which was occupied by a willow overhanging relatively calm water due to an upstream reed bed. The swim was full of chub and I had caught plenty from there in the past but they were always a bit smaller on average than elsewhere on the stretch. Any hooked fish had to be guided down the nearside rapids to a spot ten yards or so downstream where it was possible to clamber down to river level with the net, unless of course you were equipped with waders and fancied standing in the water, I didn't, on both counts. Fishing the spot involved flicking a rig into a very small slack at the upstream edge of the tree and holding the line high to stop the rig dragging, tricky at the best of times but there was a little bit of extra water flowing on this particular day and I was starting to get a bit wound up at the rig constantly getting dragged into the flow and vanishing downstream at a rate of knots. I had leant the rod against the wire rather than bother with a rest and as I stood in the field once again the tip pulled over and the line could be seen moving with the current. Ah sod it I thought, that's it I'm off. I picked up the rod and started winding only to find something pulling back, all 5lb 7oz of pull! Once again it was a fish that I could match up as one that my dad had caught on the first day of the season at 5lb's exactly.

In fact that capture of my dads leads to another story. As I mentioned it was the first day of the season and the river was low and clear. My mate Jim had mentioned that he had been driving over Cotes road bridge and on looking down river had seem some pillock in a bright blue t-shirt standing right on top of the bank in said swim. Not a bloody chance of catching anything behaving like that with it being so clear. Ah, that will have been my dad I said, he had a 5lb chub!

Over the last three or four years the Soar chub have finally started to break the 5lb barrier on a regular basis and in fact I do know of at least one definite six pound fish though it would take more than bravery to set out to target a fish of that size. Nearer to the Trent junction the chances increase but a six pound middle Soar chub remains simply huge and a five is a very good fish. On a national basis they are insignificant but to compare in such a way only shows half of the picture, an exceptional fish for the water it lives in is always a good result.

That Soar fish remained my biggest, partly as I switched much of my attention to other species and partly because I have always done most of my chubbing on the Soar. I have had a few attempts at the Derwent over the last few years but I will be quite honest and say that I found it to be pretty hard going as a rule. I took a reasonable number of fish from a small number of swims but fished many more which looked absolutely spot on and never had a sniff. The ones that I did catch broke the 5lb mark several times but I knew full well that the river had the potential to throw up bigger fish and of those there was no sign. And so that brings me to this season and I vowed that I was going to give those Derwent fish a proper go when conditions were suitable, my campaign was to start in December.

It was in fact December the 6th when I finally made it to the river and it was to be a short recce session to a stretch that I had never fished before. Well that isn't exactly true, I had fished the far bank but I expected that by accessing the  other side my options for fishing some cracking features would be greater. I had access to the features alright, the only problem was that in very few places could I get beyond them to the river, what a jungle. A mile of river contained only a handful of swims and as I had decided to just carry my trotting gear that number was reduced further due to the nature of some areas. Not to worry it was a nice day and I was looking forward to running a float through so I started at the upstream limit and introduced some mashed bread to prime the swim before I started to tackle up. The wind was a bit awkward and my trotting rusty but after a half dozen runs through the chubber vanished as something snaffled my breadflake. Every time I do dig out the float rod it takes me a matter of minutes to wonder why I don't do it more often and although the fish was not much more than 3lb's it gave me a great fight on the light tackle, proving the point. You would expect fish of that size to be grouped up but after giving plenty of time for his friends to have a bite to eat none decided to join the party and so I moved downstream forty yards to the next spot that I had baited. A dozen casts covered each part of the swim a number of times without any indication and so once again I moved on. The last fishable spot in the area involved me perching on a tiny ledge at water level after flattening a bed of dead nettles and as soon as I was in position I cursed myself for not fishing it first as the sun had now swung around to shine directly in my face. A bit more mash was deposited into the run followed by a big lump of flake. Half a dozen casts were ignored until finally the orange blob disappeared from sight and a fish was on. This was obviously a better fish and as is often the way with old rubber lips it's destination of choice was the reed lined margins beneath my feet, fourteen feet of carbon persuaded it otherwise several times before I guided it into the net, a cracking fish 2oz's shy of 5lb's.

big river derwent chub
A good start
Time was running short by now and after negotiating the undergrowth and once again surveying my options on the way back downstream I decided to call it a day having found out all that I needed to know about the stretch. In a nutshell I was better off fishing the other bank!

Four days later I was back and this time I had masses of room to play with as although I was only twenty yards as the crow flies from the swim I last fished it was probably five miles by road! This was to be an after dark session and as such the float rod was left at home and I was armed with my tip rod and a bag of paste. I baited half a dozen swims with about the same number of lumps of paste when I arrived and then settled in opposite the scene of my last capture half an hour before dusk. Well nearly opposite, in fact I was casting into the same area but was sat fifteen yards downstream for a very good reason.

Upstream legering is incredibly effective and if the opportunity arises then I will use that tactic over a downstream cast any day of the week. The principle is that you use just enough weight on your rig to hold bottom which may take a bit of experimenting but in time you do find that you can judge it fairly well, work in increments of single swan shot. You make your cast and pay out a little bit of line before putting the rod on the rest and allowing the bow to tighten up and put a curve into your quiver tip. It doesn't matter if that tip is bent double, and in fact that makes bite detection easier after dark, because when a fish picks up the bait and dislodges the weight the tip will spring back due to the slack line. I usually hook the line around my index finger just above the reel, this gives a secondary indication of a bite and has caught me the odd fish when I've been distracted by something but also quite often gives you a split second warning that something his happening before the rod tip shows it, and I like feeling the bite to be honest. The real beauty of the method is that the fish is not pulling against the rod and line directly as it would be if you were casting downstream, in fact if the weight is balanced so that it only just holds bottom then as it is dislodged the current will take some of that weight up rather than the fish dragging it along. The result of this is that bites are almost always very easy to hit. In fact sometimes I find myself daydreaming and striking at a bite while thinking dam, I've hit that too late, and then I still connect with the fish. If you've never tried it you really should, it's a very useful weapon to have in your armoury.

Bait wise I was trying something a bit different. I usually use shortcrust pastry mix for making paste and of course traditionally cheese is the other main ingredient but I left that out and instead mixed in a generous dose of powdered krill and a sprinkle of garlic granules. The resulting ball of goodness certainly smelled the part and wasn't something that the fish would have seen before but only time would tell how effective it would be.

cheese paste recipe garlic
Chub grub
Ten minutes wait told me that the bait was palatable. The tip nodded slightly before springing back and a chub was hooked right at the extreme limit of my strike, that tells you how far the fish can move without ejecting the bait whilst upstreaming, always position yourself so you can give a wide sweeping strike and pick up the maximum amount of line. A lively tussle amongst the nearside reeds followed before I managed to scoop a nice fish of 4lb 10oz's into the net, not a bad start at all. Three quarters of an hour later, without any further indications, I moved on downstream to my next baited spot. No bites were forthcoming there and again I moved on, and again, and again. Eventually at 8pm without the slightest hint of another bite I made my way back to swim number one where I soon found myself into another chub. This one was a right old fighter and had my at full stretch with the landing net trying to dig it out of the marginal rubbish but I got the upper hand and at 5lb 2oz it was my best so far and I was starting to get a good feeling for the area, it was certainly throwing up a good average size. Of course the roaming approach is all about finding productive areas and I now had one definite banker swim that had given me three fish, I now needed to find some more productive spots.

bad fishing picture
Say cheese!
Two days later I was back again. Once again the light was starting to fade as I arrived, firstly baiting up another half dozen spots but this time working upstream from my banker which I didn't intend to fish on this trip. I now had great confidence in both that piece of water but I needed to learn more about the stretch and I wouldn't do that sat in the same spot every time. By  ow it was also pretty obvious that they liked the krill paste, they were mopping that up alright and so I saw no reason to mess about with that. My first baited patch involved a long cast to a far side crease, ten minutes later I was into a chub but this fella upset my average weight somewhat, probably something to do with it being boomerang shaped, one seriously odd chub! I gave it another half an hour before moving on to swim number two which involved simply dropping the rig under the rod tip from a high bank. I had taken a few fish from there in previous years and so wasn't surprised to catch another fairly quickly and I was back into the better ones at 4lb 13oz. With it being a very small piece of water I moved on from there as soon as I returned the fish and tried three more spots without result before settling into what was to be my last ditch effort at around 8pm.

The river narrowed slightly at this point and I had to step up to five swan shot to hold station along the mid river crease and even that was only just holding. The rig would bounce a little after each cast before finally staying put, from that point on any movement would be a bite. I'd been watching the duel isotopes sitting on my rod tip for a good half hour and had drifted off into my own little world when the rod suddenly sprang straight. This was one of those slow motion strikes that I mentioned before, I thought that I was too slow, fortunately I wasn't and what was obviously a decent fish was ploughing up and down the inside line making the most of the speedy current. Once netted I had a quick look and saw that it was indeed a cracking chub before securing the net with a bankstick and moving the necessary weighing and photography kit back away from the water. I wouldn't dream of switching a torch on in the actual swim while fishing like this, everything is done by touch which is fairly simple when you get used to it. The only awkward bit comes when you're swinging your rig in to hand but even then I find that you tend to judge it's position correctly more often than not, though I will confess to sticking a size six in my hat on one occasion! The scales pulled round to a tidy 5lb 8oz and gave me a new personal best, this little campaign was starting to take off.

big river chub fishing
5lb 8oz
With no other swims to move on to and it still being shy of 9pm I decided that I would persevere where I was and so after giving it a quick rest in the margins I walked the fish downstream a little way and returned it under a snaggy tree in the hope that it would sulk under there rather than head back into the swim and spook any other fish that may be present. A three quarters of an hour cast back into the productive area didn't do me any favours and something told me to just have a quick go downstream on the inside line. The 2oz tip was bent round considerably by the flow and as I explained earlier I was now presenting the chub with a completely different scenario, as soon as the bait was picked up the pressure of rod and line would be felt, I needed to be right on the ball this time. I was sitting there with the rod on my knee thinking that I was pushing my luck a bit with the bend in the tip and then trying to justify it by thinking back to all of the times that I've caught like that in the past when there was an unmistakeable double bang on the rod and I had struck automatically. Sometimes I find myself playing a fish and wonder how I got from that position of trance like static to full on unexpected action, I can't think of many other sports that can do that. Again this did feel like a good fish from the start, heavy plodding runs under the rod tip which eventually slowed until the net slipped beneath a chunky silver bullet. At 5lb 7oz it would have been an equal pb an hour previously and made up a cracking brace of fish that I was really chuffed with.

cotes soar fishing
5lb 7oz 
I didn't expect to be able to return for a good few days after that but as usual a bit of wangling saw me with a three hour window on the Saturday afternoon, I would have preferred to have fished into dark but beggars can't be choosers and a chance is a chance. Again I wanted to suss out some new areas and with limited time baited just three swims this time. It was in the second of these that the krill paste was picked up and not long after I was once again looking at a lovely chub of 5lb 6oz. That didn't leave much doubt that I was fishing the right piece of water now, four fish over 5lb's and a good average weight meant that a six pound plus fish had to be within the realms of possibility I just had to keep putting the time in.

river soar chub
5lb 6oz
And then it rained. And then it rained some more. I had one attempt at fishing a rapidly rising river during the next week but in all honesty knew that I was wasting my time before I even made a cast. Sometimes being stubborn pays off but more often than not I just refuse to accept the fact that I should have done something else instead and end up kicking myself for it. I spent a couple of weeks praying for high pressure and clear sky but it was hopeless and I fell back on a bit of lure fishing to relieve the boredom.

river derwent chub fishing
I'll take low, clear and cold for chub any day
The day before New Years eve the Mrs suggested that I go fishing the next day. I'm not entirely sure what I'd done to deserve that though I suspect that it might be a case of being sick of the sight of me more than anything else! The EA river level website showed about a foot more water than I would have wished for and I had doubts about chub being a viable prospect but I was getting a bit bored of thrashing the canal to a foam and decided that I would go for it, though I needed a plan of action. I knew that all of the swims I had been fishing would be difficult, they caught the bulk of the flow and I expected the chub to have backed off into slightly steadier water. The idea was to head back to the far bank but further upstream where I could work the inside bends and so cover the slacker side of the creases they formed. The weather man had told the usual tale of doom and gloom with strong winds and heavy showers due but dawn was fine and the wind more than bearable as I went through the routine of baiting up. Half of the swims that I had been thinking of were now swamps which left me with four possibilities spread over maybe half a mile, I would bait as I walked downstream, start at the bottom and work my way back up.

By 11am I was back at the uppermost swim without a rattle to show for it and the rain had arrived in its most delightful horizontal form. I got tucked in beneath the brolly but it was still pretty miserable and my thoughts turned to how close I was to the van and that a nice roaring fire would be lovely just then. To be honest none of the swims had really looked very good, mostly too turbulent for my liking and the confidence level wasn't high. I gave that swim another half an hour and then wrapped the umbrella up and got my things together. Standing at the top of the bank with rain blowing in my face from downstream I did a couple of pirouette's chubby style. Van or carry on, that was the question. Left or right? Left involved lugging everything a half mile into the driving rain and right involved an easy three hundred yards and a warm heater. So I went left of course. I suppose one of these days I'll become sensible.

I had a look at both of the lower swims that I had tried once more, one stuck out like a sore thumb. A nearside bush diverted the flow slightly and produced a classic crease which although boiling along some of its length then settled down before skirting another bush downstream. If I was going to catch anywhere then that was it. The rain picked up just as I made the decision and I had to get the brolly up sharpish, the only problem being that the wind swung a full one hundred and eighty degrees just after I had squeezed myself into the tiny gap amongst the reeds. The brolly was wrenched up in the air and I only just managed to catch a hold before it tumbled off over the fields, the next ten minutes were spent beneath the nylon dome turtle style hanging on for dear life with my tackle abandoned around me. Finally the squall subsided and I emerged to inspect my now sodden rucksack. I was wet cold and pretty miserable and decided that I'd had enough, wrapped the brolly up and shoved it into my quiver. I'd actually got as far as putting my rucksack on my back when I spotted a little patch of ground which would let me get the brolly back up to the right of where I wanted to sit, it would be very tight but I would be sheltered from the new wind. Here we go again, absolute madness, if they ever lock me up I can't complain!

With brolly up after a fashion and my rucksack wedged against it to push it slightly to one side I just about had room to get the rod in but my striking arc was very restricted, I ended up sticking a bankstick in to bend one of the ribs back further just to give me that extra foot of room that I needed. Without much confidence I swung out a lump of paste towards the downstream bush and settled down to lick my wounds. To my surprise within a few minutes I started to get little taps on the tip, that was interesting, the swim obviously held some fish and I wondered if they might be roach. I struck at a couple of more positive pulls but didn't connect with anything though with a decent size lump of paste on a size six that wasn't too much of a surprise. The taps kept my attention up though and rather than dwelling on the battering that the weather had dealt me I was in fishing mode once more. I couldn't really tell you what the bite was like as once again I had switched into auto mode but after an hour or more I suddenly found myself playing a chub. Well that was a turn up for the books. The fight was short and brutal with every move it made being aimed at transferring the hook into the reeds at my feet, all I could do is reach out over the river and haul the rod as much as I dared before taking my first chance at a cheeky scoop job with the net. Oh this was a proper chub, for a minute I did wonder if I had cracked the six but I certainly wasn't disappointed with 5lb 12oz and especially considering the circumstances. The captures after a bit of effort are always the best of the bunch, the tougher the ride the better the prize at the end.

big derwent river chub
5lb 12oz


  1. Made me laugh Rob reading about you going into a half sleep stupor, done it myself so many times. Generally depends on whether I've taken a bucket or chair. Last time I remember it happening was in November, the river was up and coloured and after a whole day up and down the bank for one half touch I came to my last swim tired, going through the motions and not expecting a bite. The sun was out and I got comfy and 5 mins later I was like a nodding donkey. Don't know how long I had my eyes closed when I came to, but in that half conscious state I saw the tip twitch. Amazing how quickly you're suddenly alert. The tip started to go and I followed the bite with the rod before the strike and all of a sudden the day was transformed. Gorgeous fish, wouldn't want to upset you by telling you the weight...

    1. Auto pilot is a wonderful invention isn't it!

      Go on tell me, you'll not upset me I'm big enough to take it :)

    2. I'm sure you've guessed, 6lb, on the nose!

    3. mutter mutter grumble grumble....


  2. It's not my fault mate! Honestly, if you fished my local river you'd have sleep fished your way to 6lb pb by now easy!

    1. lol! I know mate and really I'm surprised that I've never travelled for chub before as I have for most other species, always threatened to go to Throop but never got around to it. If the river ever gets straight again I'll be all over them like a rash, I'm just not sure it will though!

  3. Well I reckon a Derwent six will be worth more than a Throop one. As it happens I live right in Stour big chub country though I've never fished Throop. I much prefer the now past their best but thankfully less well trodden paths. I'm sure you'll bag a biggun soon mate and I look forward to reading about it.

    1. Well reward is, or should be, in the mind of the receiver I reckon Martin. So many variables in this game that comparison is nigh on impossible isn't it. All that matters is that you and I enjoy what we are doing and if that's the case we're doing it right

  4. Right you are there Rob, tight lines mate.