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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


Chub Fishing in Winter

Last week I visited the river for just a couple of hours each day to check on my mink traps and shoot a couple of cormorants, though I did check the water temperature which over the past few days has been 34 degrees F. On Sunday Brendan Ince joined me for short session chub fishing. Snow and Ice was everywhere, from a distance the river looked black against the white snow covered banks, the surrounding white hills were shrouded in mist, it was a slippery journey down the long ice coated track to the river, in driving conditions more suited to a 4 wheel drive than Brendanís Ford Focus. Eventually we pulled into the car park. As we did so half a dozen mallard shot skywards, a few years ago I would have had a loaded 12 bore, and no doubt I would have got off at least one shot if not two. I shivered in the easterly wind.

Unwinding the cord from my thermometer I dropped it into the ice rimmed margin of the river, five minutes later I got a reading of 34 degrees F. Chub were our quarry, As we waited for the kettle to boil, I put together a 12 foot Avon action rod, Mitchell 300 reel 1953 vintage but still perfect for the job. Blowing on my cold shaking fingers and hands, I attempted to push the end of the line through the guides, occasionally wiping tears from my eyes caused by the cold wind. Finally I managed to tie on a hook after three attempts. As I get older I find the simplest of jobs becoming difficult.

Standing the rod against the fence, I turned to see steam coming from the spout of the kettle, soon Brendan with a mug of coffee, for me a mug of tea with a piece of fruit cake, the day suddenly seemed a lot better. Flocks of fieldfare were everywhere, along with lots of starlings, soon a robin appeared, I gave it some pieces of cake which he greedily ate, as if there was no tomorrow. Finishing off the last crumb he puffed himself up then flew to the shelter of an ivy clad beech tree. Please make sure yu have some ice free water in the garden for the birds and donít forget all the table scraps. No doubt you will have some stale cakes left over from Christmas and New Year. The birds will love them.

A group of Long-tailed tits suddenly appeared in a nearby willow tree their restless activity and acrobatic actions resemble those of other tits as they worked to and fro through the branches seeking tiny flies and other insects. It never ceases to amaze me at the excellent eyesight of these delightful birds.

Tea finished I chucked a loaf of bread into my small shoulder bag, along with some soft cheese and sausage paste, adding a towel, my JetBoiler, a small bottle of water, tea bags, powdered milk and mugs, I slung my chair over my back followed. the bag, picking up my rod and landing net we headed off upstream for a couple of hours fishing before dark

Walking alongside a small copse two small roe deer suddenly appeared, then a pheasant shot skywards in panic. After fifteen minutes of brisk walking we arrived at our chosen swim, a dark deep looking swim over hung by a big ivy clad oak tree many of its roots plunging deep into the water offering a sanctuary for fish from the marauding cormorants that have invaded our rivers.

The first thing I noticed was the ice covering the very slow flowing area of water which extended several yards up and downstream, a quarter of the way across the river we had a perfect crease with a steady flow on the outside going from left to right. From many previous experiences of fishing the area we had six foot deep swim over small stones and gravel.

Let me say this once and once only. Forget all the rubbish you read about fishing small baits and light tackle for winter chub itís a lot of nonsense, I use my normal gear which includes 6lb line and size 4 hooks. My first bait is bread either crust or flake, I always start with crust, I also have some cheese and sausage paste as extraís, if lobworms are available, I will have a few.

Bites usually are a light tap then a good pull. Only about one percent of bites are usually small pulls. Most bites will pull the rod in if given the chance. What I usually do on feeling or seeing a light movement on the rod tip is to push the rod forward, giving a bit of slack. Then itís usually a good strong pull.

We both lightly pinched on one LG shot about three inches from the hook then baited with a piece of crust. A slight underhand swing had the baited hook settling in the right, watching some line come off the spool I banged over the pick up, and then settled back holding the rod with it resting the butt on my thigh, at the same time I held a loop of line and watched the rod tip.

Within minutes I felt a savage pluck released the line then as the line tightened I made a firm strike, Felt nothing then thought ĎHow could I miss a perfect biteí. Rebaiting I made another cast to the same spot, ten minutes later the line went slack in quite a dramatic manner. Another fish missed, this time I reckon that fish must have moved six or seven feet upstream. Fishing on for another fifteen minutes; with no more bites, we decided it was a time for home. As we walked across the snow covered fields I tried to work out how I had missed some perfect bites. I didnít have an answer. Sadly Brendan who sat next to me and fished the same swim didnít get a touch. Fishing can be a strange game but we both reckon itís the greatest sport we can do.

Another Short Session

I suppose it was about 3 oíclock in the afternoon when I come off the ice free road for the long drive down an ice covered track, one false move and I would be down the bank, I drove at no more than ten miles an hour. Automatic cars are not the vehicles for driving on sheet ice. Eventually I was in the car park and heaving a sigh of relief. Climbing from the car I pulled on my windproof arctic smock, certainly an excellent garment for this weather. Taking the rod and shoulder bag from the back of the car, I then put together my landing then picked up a rod rest. I was ready for another chub fishing session in wintry conditions.

I went off downstream for half a mile choosing to fish in the area of an alder tree, fishing a slightly deeper channel twenty feet out from an alder tree, fifteen feet below the tree, a three foot wide side stream flowed into the river creating an ice free area. In front of me and for some fifty feet upstream was a length of ice covered water extending ten feet out from the bank.

My downstream swim had an estimated five feet of water over silt, sand and gravel with the odd football size rock. Baiting with a piece of crust, I dropped the bait into some steady water on the outside of a crease; minutes later the rod tip moved slightly then pulled round in a savage manner. I set the hook into a fish that dived towards the margins, no doubt seeking the sanctuary of the tree roots. Pulling the rod over and upstream I bullied the fish away from the danger. Suddenly a chub about 3lbs swirled on the surface where it was quickly netted. Taking out the barbless hook I lowered the net in the water then watched the fish swim away.

I fished on until darkness with no more bites, though I did get the rod tip pulled round on a few occasions as chunks of ice floating down river hit the line. By now my rod was frost covered, landing frozen to the ground, my feet started to feel the cold. I called it a day. Walking across the fields I disturbed a skein of Greylag geese, and then spooked two hares. Back in the car I listened to the weather forecast, hearing the announcer say the ďArctic conditions could be with us for a week to ten dayĒ Not good news. It was a slow drive up the ice covered track, but within the hour I am indoors.

Today Tuesday itís snowing hard, no busses are running from my village into town, certainly not the day to be driving, my car stayed in the garage. I kitted myself out with walking boots, a good pair of waterproof trousers, my arctic smock, trilby hat then with haversack on my back I walked the six seven miles into town.

Despite the heavy snow storm, it was an enjoyable walk, some of it alongside the river, other times I walked through a small wood where I watched several fieldfare feeding on some hawthorn berries. After a quick walk around town picking up my Angler Mail and a few items of shopping I walked back home. Looking at all the snow that has fallen and the forecast of frost tonight I donít think I will be able to get on the river tomorrow. I shall stop indoor and work on my new book.

Martin James Fishing