There are very few fish more obliging than the chub. It will feed in heat waves and, most important at this time of year, in quite severe winter conditions. The chub can be caught with a variety of methods and baits, ranging from tiny baits on delicate float tackle, to big baits on heavy legering gear. It will often be willing to feed when most other species are too cold and lethargic to open their mouths to take a breath, let alone food.
The best approach to catching winter chub is to fish according to the conditions. If the weather is mild and the water is carrying some colour then there is no limit to what you can try. If the temperature is about average for the time of year, and the water clear, then small baits and float fishing during the daylight hours are going to be your best bet. When the water temperature is below average and falling then it is best to fish from an hour or so before dusk and into darkness for a few hours, using static, legered baits.
Tackle for float fishing for chub is a 12ft to 14ft match rod, ideally a closed-face or centre-pin reel, although a fixed-spool reel will suffice, 2lb to 3lb main line, and a 1.5lb to 2lb hook link to a 14, 16, or even an 18 hook when they are playing hard to get. A stickfloat is best for those swims no more than two rodís length or so from the margins, and a waggler for those more distant swims, especially when there is a downstream wind.
There is no hard and fast rule, but generally speaking a spaced-out shotting pattern (known as shirt-button style) is best for the stickfloat, and bunched shotting for the waggler. When a stickfloat takes, say, four number 4 shot then it is best shotted with eight number 8 shot spread more or less evenly down the line. A waggler taking, say, 2AA, can be shot with two number 1 shot locking the float, 3BB at about two thirds of the depth, and a single number 1 as a dropper shot from 6ins to a foot from the hook. Very often though, apart from the locking shot, the whole of the required shot can be bunched about a foot from the hook. Very simple but very effective in swims with more than a little flow.
Whatever float and shotting pattern you use the important thing to remember when float fishing for chub is to be generous with the feed and to keep it trickling through the swim at all times. There is no need to use anything other than maggot or caster on the vast majority of rivers, and at least a dozen should be thrown into the head of the swim just before each trot through. However, where there are bigger chub of 3lb or more it often pays to feed with soaked and mashed bread, using a pinch of flake on a 10 hook.
When legering through dusk and into darkness it is wise to beef up the tackle somewhat, using a light to medium Avon-type leger or quiver-tip rod, a 5lb to 6lb main line, and 5lb hook length to a 6 or 8 hook. Bread and cheese will be the best baits most of the time, but a chunk of luncheon meat or a lively lobworm comes into its own when the water is carrying some colour.
There are two approaches. One is to walk the length and feed maybe half a dozen swims with two or three handfuls of mashed bread, and then to fish each swim in turn. The second approach, which I believe is the best approach for the bigger fish, is to simply move from swim to swim, introducing just your hookbait and maybe the odd chunk of squeezed flake and nugget of cheese while you fish.
Chub can bite very strangely at times, pulling the rod tip or quiver-tip round with a determination that defies you to miss them Ė but you do! The only thing you can do is experiment with long and short hooklengths, hook and bait sizes - and touch-leger. When you feel the bite feed some line to them, that sometimes does the trick.
This is the species to go for when the conditions are most severe. The grayling will feed when there is ice in the margins, when the water is so cold all other species are sulking and refusing to move, let alone feed. You will find grayling in fast water too. Not for this species, affectionately known as the Lady of the Stream, are those slack pockets that other species head for when the temperature plummets, although it must be said that slacker water is sometimes the preference for bigger grayling.
At one time you could buy a special float for grayling fishing known as a grayling Ďbobí float. Maybe you still can, but I havenít seen any for a number of years. It was usually made with a hardwood stem with an onion-shaped cork body a quarter of the way down its length. They rode the current superbly. However, any float with a substantial body close to the top of the float, such as the Avon seen in the picture, is still the best type for the faster flows that grayling generally prefer.
The fast flows the grayling loves usually demand a bulked shotting pattern in order to get the bait down quickly enough, and to hold it there when you mend the line. Two or three AAís or heavier, bunched at two thirds depth is a good starting point, but there is always room for experimenting according to the swim and the mood of the fish on the day. A 3lb main line to a 2.5lb hooklength is plenty light enough for these lively fish that can use a powerful current to such good effect.
Good grayling baits are maggot and caster, but they also have a real liking for small redworms fished either singly on a 16 hook, or two or three bunched on a 14. There are some waters where sweetcorn scores very well, or a lob tail, and I wish I had a quid for every grayling Iíve caught on bread when fishing for chub. So there is plenty of room to experiment with baits.
You can leger for grayling too, with a block-end feeder and maggot set-up capable of doing the business on most rivers. Not my particular cup of tea when grayling fishing, but thatís only a personal thing. Many anglers fly-fish for them, and some fish for them with small spinners. Me, I love to float fish for them best of all, with a long match rod and a centre-pin reel.
And remember, keep the loose feed going in. itís just as important with grayling as any species. Bait-droppers can be an excellent tool too in those fast flows where it is difficult to get the loose feed down to the bottom. A few droppers of maggot or caster in the head of the swim before you wet a line can make all the difference.
Next month: February Ė Pike