I have just finished dinner and sit at my desk with a glass of red wine. I have spent the morning chub fishing on the river Wye. It was real winters day with a leadened grey sky, falling rain mixed with sleet and hail was punched into my face by the strong upstream wind, which at times I felt was near gale force. The river, flowing left to right, was the colour of weak tea, it's surface ruffled by the strong upstream wind which caused my rod tip to bounce around, making bite detection a bit more difficult. There I was, perched on a brown, green and in parts snow covered river bank, trying to catch one of my favourite winter fish. Looking around it seemed as if all the robins, blackbirds and fieldfare had gathered in the trees, hedgerows and snow covered fields around me. A large group of long tailed tits were searching for insects in a large alder tree to my left.
Picking up my rod I wound in and re-baited with another big piece of crust then dropped it into one of the most inviting looking creases I have seen on any river. The river bank was covered in brambles and five yards downstream was a big hawthorn bush. It was the most inviting and perfect looking chub swim I had seen on this river. As I sat there fishing and thinking my thoughts went to the subject of bread as bait.
In my book, the best bait for winter chub fishing is bread, though sadly today it's often difficult to get any decent bread for crusting and flake (that's the white crumb of the loaf). Whenever I go down to Sussex for a weeks or two of fishing I call in at a real bakers near Haywards Heath where the bread is baked and not steamed. We've all either eaten or used as bait, steamed bread that's like cold stodgy pudding. Pinch a bit of flake on the hook and it sets like concrete. No good to man or beast.
I remember last year calling into this Sussex bakery to buy a dozen loafs to take back home where they would be frozen until needed in the winter. As I stood chatting to the counter assistant I noticed a pile of bread in the corner. "Is that stale bread" I asked . The answer was "Yes". "Could I have it for fishing" "Yes no problem, do fish eat bread?" asked the counter assistant. "Yes" I answered. "If I charge you a pound for the RNLI box, will that be OK?". I put all my loose change in the box. It was a bargain for some 15 loaves and 2 dozen bread rolls. I used all that bread during a five day barbel fishing trip to the Teme and caught over 40 barbel. Ask Alan Roe, David Hallet, John Bodsworth, Robert Goodwin and others if you don't believe barbel eat bread. One morning David Hallet and I watched a big double figure barbel hoovering up lots of mashed bread.
Back in the old days, that's before 1960, good bread for crust and flake was plentiful. I know, having been fishing for 60 years come June 16th! In the 1950's I was very lucky to be shown the right way to fish both bread crust and flake by the many London pole anglers who fished the Stour, Medway, Thames, Kennet and Lea with flake and crust for the chub, bream and roach. One of the best styles of fishing was known as dusting and crusting. I sometimes still have a day out with my Sowerbutts pole with its whalebone tip! The dust was a mixture of fine bread crumb dried in the oven then wetted and mixed with fine sand, then introduced into the swim in pigeon-egg size balls, followed by crust on the hook.
You northern anglers are lucky in having a Morrison supermarket chain that have some excellent bread. It might be steamed but it's good for crusting and flake. It goes by the name of Farmers Boys Extra Thick costing about 35 pence per large loaf. Excellent value for money.
Many of the anglers I meet tell me they don't use bread on the hook as they have difficulty in keeping it on. It's quite easy to keep the bread on the hook by following these simple rules.
Don't use tiny hooks. For chub, use hooks from 8's to 4's. When using crust make sure it's no older than about five days. If you are using an uncut loaf don't tear off a piece of bread, cut a cube or strip with a sharp pen knife. Take a strip about an inch and a half or so long by half inch wide then fold over and press the crust and flake together until it's hard. Put the hook right through the crust, then pull it back until the bend of the hook sits firmly against the crust. The crust will open slightly in fact, spring-like and stay firmly on the hook.
When choosing flake for bait, choose a loaf two or three days old. I very rarely use an oven fresh loaf as often the flake becomes stodgy and pudding like. When fishing with flake, pinch it on the shank but making sure that the bread covering the point of the hook is left flaky so it can swell up like a bit of cotton wool.
When chub fishing I don't put any loose feed in the swim until I have fished with a bit of crust, and then with flake. Then, only using mashed bread, feed when I feel the water temperature is high enough to encourage the fish to move around and feed on the free offerings and also take my hook bait. Why introduce food into a swim until you've put a baited hook through? You could stop the fish taking your bait as they chase the free offerings or you could spook them.
I have tried flavours on my bread but as yet I cannot say I have caught more fish by doing so. If it give you confidence please carry on flavouring your bread! One flavour I do use is cheese or on rare occasions, luncheon meat. To make cheese-paste I use a food processor and mix together a week old Morrisons Farmers boy loaf and half a pound of Danish blue cheese. If you want a meat flavour replace the cheese with a tin of meat. You want the mixture the consistency of a good pastry mix. I add two table spoons of cooking oil which helps stop the bait going hard in cold water.
Talking of cold water brings me onto another thought.
Take A Thermometer To Help You Catch More Fish
Many years ago the late Richard Walker wrote an article which I believe was titled 'All things change at 39.5° farenheight'. He was talking about the aquatic life and how fish feed as the water temperature changes. I studied Walkers writings on the subject then dashed out and purchased a thermometer. It was one of the better bits of tackle I bought.
Walker was without doubt the greatest thinking angler of all time He was also a charismatic figure who was well educated, studying engineering at Cambridge University. He followed this up by working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough during World War 11 where he worked on radar and its use in night fighter aircraft. This man had you thinking about the quarry. He made us realise good fish could be caught by design and not just by luck and he gave us the rods to do the job. I shall never understand why he wasn't given a Knighthood for his services to angling and for his wartime work at Farnborough. Today we give out awards to milk delivery men, road sweepers, lolly-pop ladies, politicians and anglers for winning a match. Since his death in the 1980's I have tried time and time again to have a plaque in his name mounted in Westminster Abbey. I will continue that fight all the time I have breath left in my body. I have over the years petitioned the Queen, various Prime Ministers and other notables without success. Hopefully one day it will happen.
Back to the use of a thermometer, its advantages and my experience. I don't bother with a thermometer in the summer months, only during the autumn and winter. Arriving at my first fishing spot I check the water temperature. What I am looking for is a w/t of 45-46°F and above. Under these conditions I know immediately that I have a good chance of finding fish in a feeding mood, also the fish will move around looking for food. If they spot a food item they will often move several yards to take it. I also know that I can catch fish feeding in the more open and moving water with a great deal of confidence.
Let's take water temperature of 42°F. I know the fish will be in the quieter water and won't move very far for food. Should the day be bright and sunny with a warm wind and the water temperature lifts by a couple of degrees, then I can expect the fish to move out into the faster water and chase food until the temperature drops around dusk when they will once again move back into the quieter water. Now should the w/t suddenly drop to 36°f the fish will be very lethargic. They will not want to move very far, in fact you will need to nail the bait tight to the bottom in the quiet water, often close to the bank.
Please note these ideas are not gospel because there are no hard and fast rules laid down that dictate when and how fish will feed. These are only generalisations that work most of the time. But fish do love to make us look foolish. If we say one thing they will do the other. So please have an open mind and think about the subject. For instance if the w/t has been 36°f for several days, the fish will often be all over the river and feeding as if there is no tomorrow. I well remember fishing a river Ribble swim when there was ice down both sides of the river the w/t was 34°f I fished rolling bread crust on a six inch link and captured 25 chub averaging some 3lbs plus. There was nothing difficult about this, I was at the right place at the right time.