‘Chevin’, ‘Chavender’, ‘Loggerhead’ or ‘Old Rubber lips’. All of these are affectionate nicknames used by the angler for the much loved, winter fish species: the chub!
For anglers, hearing any of these will likely spark feelings of warmth and nostalgia; with thoughts of classic, Crabtree-esque imagery of those bronze-flanked chub cosily nestled amongst tree roots.
Angling author Izaak Walton famously dubbed chub as ‘the fear-fullest of fishes’, later supported by Richard Walker who claimed that if an angler made the error of spooking a chub, it would take half an hour per pound of the fish’s bodyweight before it regains enough confidence to take a baited hook.
Chub (leuciscus cephalus) are historically widespread throughout mainland Britain. Although primarily a fish of flowing water, chub are so versatile in their habitation abilities that they thrive in almost any freshwater environment – from the smallest farm ponds, to sluggish canals & vast reservoirs. A big reason for this is that chub are notoriously un-fussy in their dietary preferences, basically eating anything that fits inside their cavernous mouths! The current British record stands at an almighty 9lbs 5ozs from 2007, although interestingly a list of the ‘Top 50 largest reported Chub of all time’ compiled by the British Record Fish Committee (BRFC) and Chub Study Group shows there has been larger claimed from both rivers & stillwaters!
Here at the Angling Trust, we have our very own chub fishing enthusiasts for whom catching large specimens is a seasoned habit. We questioned our chosen panel concerning their personal winter chub fishing and their thoughts on broader developments within the wider UK chub scene!
Meet the panel!
Jake Davoile: Angling Trust Fisheries Management Advisor and keen chub angler based in Coventry. Jake can boast a gobsmacking personal best of 8lb 12ozs from the River Lea in Hertfordshire which is still listed as being one of the top 50 largest reported Chub to ever be caught.
Martin Salter: A well-known figure to many within the angling world who currently acts as Chief Policy Advisor for the Angling Trust as well as being President of Reading & District Angling Association. Despite having fished all over the world catching all sorts of exotic fish species, chub are still one of Martin’s firm favourites with a personal best of 7lb 8ozs from the River Thames in Oxfordshire.
Tom Humphreys: Tom acts in our participations team as Regional Angling Development Officer for the East of England. Although often working in that part of the country, Tom is well travelled throughout other parts of England for his Chub fishing, sporting a personal best of 6lb 12ozs caught last year from the Upper Thames.
Sam Hubbard: Sam acts as an Officer in the Trust’s National Angler Engagement Team who run our Fisheries Forums and produce these Lines on the Water blogs, amongst many other things! Based in Yorkshire, Sam is no stranger to big chub with a current personal best of 6lb 15ozs caught from the River Ure, tantalisingly close to his much-desired target of a Yorkshire 7 pounder.
Now we’ve introduced the panelists let’s proceed to the questions!
First of all, a simple one: Name your top 3 big chub rivers.
Jake – ‘The Dorset Stour, River Blythe, and Thames’.
Martin – ‘The Hants Avon, River Thames, and Loddon’.
Tom – ‘The River Thames, Test and Wye’.
Sam – ‘The River Swale, Ure and Trent’.
What is it about Chub that makes them so desirable & enjoyable to catch during the winter months?
Jake – ‘They are beautiful creatures. Being omnivorous you can catch chub on pretty much anything, at any time and I also love being out on the riverbank during the winter covering ground in search of them. I also just love being absorbed within winter’s bankside nature setting’.
Martin – ‘The wide variety of baits and methods that can be used to catch them, the cool places they live and their willingness to feed in cold conditions’.
Tom – ‘A delightful combination of chub seemingly being in a perpetual state of hunger coupled with quiet banks & under-fished venues make them a great species for some winter angling’.
Sam – ‘A chub always provides a glimmer of hope of a bite, even in the most horrendous conditions. chub have always been my preferred winter quarry to their whiskered cousins the barbel as big chub are such cunning fish to try and tempt. Yet the methods & baits an angler can employ to catch them is so variable that the fishing is constantly stimulating!’.
What is your favourite approach when targeting big chub during the winter months and why?
Jake – ‘I love building a swim on the float or with a feeder, but I particularly enjoy roving the banks throughout the day and night searching out likely looking areas with cheese paste as a bait. If rules permit, I’d say that 3am is the best time to be out as the banks are quiet!’.
Martin – ‘Whatever works! I love catching them on the float and have had huge bags on the ‘wag and mag’ as well as the stick and bolo. But I’m happy roving around with a tip rod and a few slices of bread and a knob of cheese paste’.
Tom – ‘With severe time constraints due to work & a new-born baby, all of my angling takes place after dark. Despite the hassle and cold weather, a solid head torch coupled with some decent thermals means they’re always a target at this time of year’.
Sam – ‘To catch the biggest chub, I typically want to arrive at my chosen river a couple of hours before dusk and pre-bait likely swims with blobs of fishmeal boilie paste. I’ll set up a quiver-tip rod with isotopes and a light ledger rig waiting until it is properly dusk before making my first cast, fishing the pre-baited swims in rotation’.
Do you believe in temporarily retaining caught chub for improved chances of catching multiple fish in a swim or have you found this to not make much difference on the venues you fish?
Jake – ‘Nope. Personally, I don’t believe that retaining fish for catching multiple fish is necessary’.
Martin – ‘I don’t usually retain chub. I prefer to release them away from the swim’.
Tom – ‘I very rarely ever retain a fish but would likely consider if I was fishing a more intimate venue so as not to impact the shoal’.
Sam – ‘I personally do retain chub when I catch them as I’m convinced that returning a caught chub straight away will upset its shoal mates. When travelling light, I’ll briefly keep a newly caught chub in a zip-secured carp sack while making the next cast.
What would you describe as your ideal river & weather conditions for a day of winter chub fishing and what characteristics do you think make a perfect winter river chub swim?
Jake – ‘I’d have to say that my perfect weather conditions would be an overcast day/night on a river that’s fining down with that sexy green tinge to it! If I’m roving at night though, the moon can be handy for reading flows. Swim wise, it’s nice having the confidence of fishing under rafts of debris, and I love the energy of a weir pool, but often find that the best winter chub swims are the ones that people walk past without a glance’.
Martin – ‘I like it when the river fines down after a bit of extra flow and is retaining that lovely green tinge. For me that says chub time. Chub love snags and undercut banks but I’ve also had good bags from open water. The perfect chub swim is where chub are living on the day I go fishing!’.
Tom – ‘Any conditions are the right conditions for me, I believe in economics of scale; more sessions = more fish’.
Sam – ‘I like an overcast day where antecedent air temperatures have been fairly stable, and the river level is low & clear for wintertime. It is hard to describe my perfect winter chub swim as I have found big chub to turn up in all sorts of places but generally, I look for swims with a good depth of water for the river in question that also have some form of bankside cover or river channel feature such as a bend’.
Has your chub fishing changed much since you first started angling for the species and if so, what development has been the most significant?
Jake – ‘Not really. I use the same simple baits and tactics now as I did when a great friend of mine got me into chub fishing about 18 years ago. I would say the key to catching consistently across a range of different rivers is good watercraft and the drive to get out on the bank no matter what the weather throws at you!’.
Martin – ‘What I love about winter chub fishing is that the tactics I used 40 years ago still work just as well today. The fish are definitely bigger and there’s less of them in some rivers but there’s plenty of good sport to be had with chub these days. The key is to ‘first find your fish’!’.
Tom – ‘From my experience greater prevalence of invasive signal crayfish has a huge impact on chub and the sizes they reach but also the angling. On rivers like the Thames, fishing statically in the warmer months is no longer an option really due to crayfish & nuisance species. So I tend to wait until the colder months when the crayfish are less active and I opt for large, hardened fishmeal boilies or salmon-oil-soaked Halibut pellets as a go-to hookbait’.
Sam – ‘Admittedly my 10 years of chub fishing is not really long enough to comment on temporal change quite like other anglers, but I can say over this period the colonisation of American signal crayfish in the rivers I fish is having a big impact on chub growth rates resulting in increasingly larger fish. A way in which my actual approach to chub fishing has developed is that for a lot of my ledgering, I now use low diameter braid mainlines as the lack of stretch allows sensitive indication to pick up on even the most tentative chub bites plus I can use lighter ledger weights for holding bottom than would be possible with monofilament mainline’.
So, there you have it; six pressing questions offering insight into the brains of the Trust’s keenest chub heads!
Whilst their viewpoints & opinions differ on many things, we can safely say one point they all absolutely agree on is that chub are an iconic winter fish, and we hope you agree!
As a side note, it is important to point out that when seeking winter chub, anglers should still be mindful to ensure Check Clean Dry best practice has been followed. Even though invasive plants like Giant hogweed or Himalayan balsam may have died back for the year, the seeds can quite often be viable – so don’t risk spreading them to other locations. You can find out more about biosecurity relevant to any invasive species you might encounter by visiting the Invasive Non-Native Species Pages on the Angling Trust website.