John Bailey: Chubbing along nicely

John Bailey with a 6lb 7oz chub he caught fishing with friends last week. John Bailey with a 6lb 7oz chub he caught fishing with friends last week.

by John Bailey
Thursday, November 15, 2012
4:22 PM

This column is entitled A Diary so, every now and again, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to relate a fishing day in diary-type form, exactly as it happens.

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The day on the river that I’m about to describe followed on the back of a few days’ research into one of my own heroes, Henry Williamson. I know Williamson and his career do have their murkier areas. He was, to a degree, something of a fantasist but perhaps it’s kinder to say, that as a writer he was adept at putting the shiniest of spins on everything. And of course, there is always the question of his politics where I prefer to say that he was misguided rather than sinister.

What is undeniable is that Williamson wrote about nature in the most deep, most effective of fashions. My days of research reminded me of this man’s empathy, the massive depth of his feeling for the wild. A few hours with Williamson reinforced for me, if this is possible, how blessed it is to be a fisherman. And upon the back of all this came along my golden day.

It was a day on the river with two of my best fishing friends and that alone is about as good as it gets. Throw in a blissful late autumnal landscape and the delirium moves up yet a notch or two. Add in half a dozen spectacular fish and you will understand why I drove home from the valley just aglow with excitement.

The day could have started badly. The pre-dawn period had given us the first, true frost of the season. We’re not talking about little patches of white lying in hollows but the full blown Jack Frost effect. Moreover, the forecast predicted sleety showers mixed with periods of bright sunlight. All in all, you wouldn’t put your hat on a great day’s fishing were it not for the fact that we had chub in mind. Good old rubber lips! Has there ever been a more obliging fisherman’s friend?

We had miles of river to go at so we walked, talked, baited and we fished. Pingers had a 5.12 chub first cast so that raised spirits immensely. Our breath clouded, our footsteps looked black against the frost and in the radiant blue sky, geese flew over in constant processions. Pinger’s dog, Harvey, simply yelped with delight from first to last.

Half a mile downriver, as lunch was approaching a picked up the second fish. What a stunner. 6.7! Empty as the nation’s coffers and a chub that would have broken my longed-for seven pound mark with ease come February or March. Not that any of us cared. A great fish on a great day. Then it was back for lunch. A drop of mulled wine, some nice pâté and cheese, handfuls of crusty loaf all finished off with the Kelly Kettle huffing and puffing and a strong cup of coffee.

Pingers then had a second chub, this time 5.14 and would you believe it two more just under the five mark. Poor old JG. He seemed destined to remain fishless throughout until, as the sun was finally setting, his quivertip nudged and he struck into a truly spectacularly beautiful fish of 5.2. As we returned it, a tawny owl ghosted over the flood plain and settled in the tree opposite, seemingly transfixed with our chubbing escapade. By now, darkness was almost complete, the windscreens of our cars were misted over and Harvey the dog was totally played out. Time to draw stumps and make our respective ways home.

There’s a bit of fishing stuff to impart. Our bait bucket, for starters, contained a most incredible mix of bread, corn, mashed tuna, mashed sardine, prawn, shrimp, pellets and olive oil! What a smell such a combination gives off in the water. How can Mr Chub say no to that?

On soggy banks, approach your chub swim careful as a cat burglar. The slightest tremor spells your doom. Don’t go too light. I lost my first fish because I was using four pound line. Stupid boy. You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now.

Believe in each and every swim. Give it 25 minutes. Dribble in bait. If you think there is a chub there, very often there is. Little things count. Go as light as you possibly can. If one SSG holds bottom instead of two, great. Sometimes you can even get away with less than that. Don’t hold the rod if you can avoid it. Any vibration down the line is sure to be a bad thing when pursuing a crafty customer like the chub.

And when you do hook a chub, remember that they are going to dive for the marginal weed and you’ve got to hold them out, often straining your gear to the limits. But you’ve got to be brave. A big chub on a tight line gunning for the tree roots is not a job for the fainthearted. It’s white-knuckle stuff and that’s what gives winter chubbing like this its hint of jeopardy and its dash of adrenaline-pumping excitement.

There are those that question the right of chub to swim our Norfolk rivers. Well, I understand that but they’ve been with us now for half a century and, on a frosty old day like this, where would we be without them? Very much the poorer, I’d say.

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