We are now coming to the end of the worst winter I can remember for fishing the rivers. The rivers, for the most part, have been bank high and sometimes over the bank. Normally slow flowing rivers like the Eastern Rother have been running so fast it has been impossible to hold bottom, even with a 2oz weight and even if you could hold, the water is so thick with mud that the chances of catching have been remote.
Even in 1963 during the great freeze which lasted from Boxing Day 1962 right through to April, for all but three weeks it was still possible to fish. Not only did we fish, but we also caught, not great numbers, but at least a brace or two in a day's fishing. They were chub up to 3lb or so and if anyone tells you that you must fish with small baits during cold conditions, I can tell you from experience, that is complete rubbish. Chub like a big bait, not always perhaps, but generally and that doesn't matter how cold it gets. In fact, to scale down in cold conditions is usually a mistake. I would be more likely to scale down for chub in the summer than ever I would in the winter.
You couldn't get it much colder than 1963, when temperatures dropped to 20 degrees below freezing and the only thing preventing the rivers from freezing over every night was the flow. Today, once the flood water has run off, if temperatures were similar, it would be a much different story. The river would be frozen to at least a foot of solid ice, as today, for the most part, the river is static. Even in '63 the river was frozen and to a depth of at least a foot, but only for three weeks, when the flow broke it up.
Fishing in those extreme conditions in l963 helped me to catch lots of chub in the 36 years which followed. For a start I discovered that chub will feed no matter how cold it gets and if you happen to be fishing while it's actually snowing, then those are the perfect conditions as far as I am concerned. Chub will not be put off by the cold, or the snow.
Only three seasons ago, Peter Craske and myself were exploring a small river on the boarders of Kent and Sussex which we were told held some huge chub and a couple of weeks before Christmas found us walking the banks looking at all the likely looking swims. It had been snowing and the remains of drifts were still dotted over the countryside. We walked upstream for miles, trying all the likely swims without a single bite, but the swim nearest to where we had parked, Peter had baited with trout pellets with the view of fishing it just before dark.
Kiss Of Death
It must have been alter 4:00pm when we arrived back at Peter's baited swim, where he fished bread flake while I fished an unbaited swim some hundred yards further downstream. Within minutes Peter was into a fish which proved to be a chub of 5lb. Soon alter he landed another, then another and then lost one which slipped the hook. Normally one fish from a swim in a small river like this one is all you can expect and losing one is usually the kiss of death, but this was one of those red letter days, or should I say red letter half hour and Peter continued to catch even after losing a second fish. All told, he landed five chub ranging from 31b 2oz to 5lb. There were two of 31b plus, one of 41b and one of 41b l0oz, plus the big one of course.
By the time we had finished fishing it was pitch black and the batteries in my flash were flat. Not wishing to let the opportunity of such a good catch go unrecorded, I drove to the nearest shop and purchased some more and eventually managed to record the catch on film.
I had blanked and it was five more sessions before I caught my first fish, which was a chub of 4lb 12oz. Peter, having caught five in a session, eventually landed two more in one session, but soon after this he became disillusioned with the water and gave up fishing it except for the odd trip now and again. I continued, knowing that the chub reached at least 51b and eventually caught one of 51b 1oz and another of 51b, which proved to be the same fish. From that two weeks before Christmas until the end of the season I landed 22 chub of which the smallest was 21b l2oz and 16 of them were over 41b. Some of them were recaptures and generally I only caught one fish in a session. The best session I had, I landed three fish all from different swims and the most I had from one swim was two, remarkable when you think Peter had caught five from the same swim.
It was Boxing Day morning in the same swim where Peter made his historic catch. I was at the water by 8:00am and it was freezing cold with pockets of snow littering the banks and half the river was covered with cat ice. A scattering of snowflakes were blown across the fields and into my face and, for some reason, I just knew I was going to catch. I suppose the reason I was so confident was the fact it was cold and snowing. I was also in a good swim and was likely to be the only angler on the bank. Many is the time I have missed out catching a good fish because another angler has beaten me to a good swim, or some clumsy footed angler has put the fish off feed. Chub are not so tolerant of disturbance as other species.
A large piece of luncheon meat was taken second cast by a fish of 41b 14oz and this was followed 15 minutes later by another of 41b 5oz. A brilliant brace, but although I fished on for another couple of hours, there were no more bites so I packed in at around 10:30 and made my way home.
Another case of icy conditions helped me to catch a big chub on the same river a few weeks later, when I fished half a mile down stream in an area I had not previously tried. When I arrived cat ice stretched out from my bank about ten feet and the only place I could cast to was the opposite bank, which was all right as far as I was concerned, as it was the far bank where I thought the chub would be anyway. That bank had an undercut under a willow tree, but my bank had been dredged to the standard 45%. The ice, I thought, didn't pose a problem as I thought it was so thin that the line would cut through it if I managed to hook a fish.
There was very little flow, so I fished a large piece of luncheon meat with just a single swan shot (SSG) about a foot up the line. I had to wait longer than normal for a bite and was beginning to think that I wasn't going to get one. Then, without warning, the rod went round and kept going. A firm strike and a fish was on. Straight away I could feel it was a good fish and eventually when it surfaced just the other side of the ice, I could see it was over 41b. But the ice proved to be thicker than I had anticipated and wouldn't break. Eventually the fish slipped the hook and I knew the swim would be useless for at least a couple of hours. In any case, there was little point in fishing it if I couldn't land a fish from it, so I moved off downstream.
By now the flow had increased and I wondered how long it would be before it shifted the ice. Downstream I fished several swims, but without success and eventua
lly, two, perhaps three hours later, returned to where I had lost the chub to find the ice gone and the swim clear. Fishing the same spot for half an hour produced nothing, so I moved 20 yards downstream and cast to some old piles near the far bank. Again my bait was luncheon meat and again I had to wait a long time for a bite, but when it came, like the other one, it was a good one, the rod almost being pulled out of the rest before I struck. Once again I could feel it was a good fish and as it moved passed me on it's way upstream I could make it out just under the surface and guessed it's weight as an upper four, though I was hoping for a five.
When it was beaten and being drawn over the net, I could see it may well he a five and after carefully weighing it the weight was confirmed at 51b 1oz.
Almost scale perfect, it had one scale on its flank which was slightly different to the rest, whether it was a regeneration scale, or whether it had been born with this slight imperfection, I do not know, but it was that one scale which enabled me to identify it again.
When I did catch it again, conditions were entirely different and I was fishing at least half a mile upstream. It was mild, the water level was higher and there was very little flow. Once again, I was fishing with a single shot on the line, but this time I baited with a large piece of bread flake and after casting in along my own bank close to the overhanging vegetation, I poured a cup of coffee and sat back to await events.
Within a few minutes the red tip trembled and was pulled round slowly. I struck with what I thought was perfect timing, but I missed it. Quickly, I re-baited and cast in again, though I was a little apprehensive, since a missed bite when fishing for big chub can be the kiss of death, but lady luck was with me on this occasion and a few minutes later I had another bite. This time I let the tip go round a bit further. In fact, I actually picked the rod up off the rest and moved it around with the fish as it continued to pull. Finally, I struck into a big fish, which I netted after a short battle. It weighed exactly 51b and at the time I thought it was a different fish, but it was my son Andrew, when comparing the photographs, who spotted that one scale which proved it was one and the same fish.
Since that time, friends and I come to realise that the number of chub in this small river is very small indeed and that between us we have caught the same fish several times. Whether I have actually caught them all is not known and whether there are any larger fish in the river is also not known, though a friend of mine did catch a chub of 5lb 3oz, but was it the same fish as my 5Ib 1oz chub with a years added growth? I cannot say because I haven't seen the photos.
Because there are so few chub in this river and I think I have caught most of them, I do not fish it much now, though every now and again I give it a couple of hours. My most recent capture was over Clrristmas. Most of the waters were still in flood, but this one had run off and although still very muddy it was surprisingly low with a gentle flow. I fished a swim which I had caught from before with a bunch of worms, but apart from a couple of quick snatches which I thought were from small perch, nothing. Then I tried luncheon meat, but no bites at all.
The light was starting to go and I was about to pack up thinking it was too muddy for chub when I realised I hadn't tried bread flake. I was free lining, so I squeezed the bread onto the shank of the hook just hard enough for it to sink slowly. Several times I dipped it into the water before I got it right and when I cast in it sunk very, very slowly indeed. Within a few minutes and without any preliminary twitches, or knocks, the rod slowly pulled round almost as if a piece of rubbish had caught on the line. A resulting strike produced a chub of 4lb 7oz. I had been at the water for an hour.
So what can be gained from all this? Well, to start with, do not be put off by the cold if you are after chub and even in these times of flooded rivers, on the right day, in the right swim and with the right bait, you can catch.