John Bailey: Our lockdown hero, the ever-obliging chub 

Joshua Martin

Joshua Martin and his 5lb 1oz chub - Credit: Tom Martin

Here in the office we got news of Joshua Martin’s exceptional 5lb 1oz chub, caught from the Wensum a few days ago on cheese paste.  

Dad Tom was understandably proud of his young son’s cracking achievement and a fine PB taken in the middle of a winter like the one we are enduring is news indeed. Tom went on to describe chub fishing as “addictive and pleasurable”, words that are something of an understatement I’d say personally.  

At this time of the year, in floods, frosts and snow storms, they are the beating heart of our river fishing. Without them, we’d all choose to sit at home and wait until spring. But whatever, a notable triumph for a lad of any age and there won’t be an angler in the east of England who doesn’t take his hat off to our Joshua. Well done from me and remember, I was well into my 20s I got one that size. 
That was probably because Joshua is a better angler than I was - or has a great teacher in dad - but also in my defence there were not many chub around in the 70s. Chub were physically stocked into the river in the 50, 1954 I think, but without my references I can’t be exact. Through my early life, chub were still thin on the ground and hadn’t made their way throughout the Wensum system and indeed, they are still rare above Bintree as far as I am aware.  

Joshua, my first “five” came around 1977 from under a bridge North Elmham way. I was so excited I couldn’t sleep for week and I hope your fish thrilled you equally. Mind you, there were some leviathans around in those comparatively early days. An “eight” was found in a pipe leading from the river into a pit at Lyng around that time and in 1980 some of us saw and nearly caught a colossal chub which frequents the legendary Point Swim at Costessey. How big? Eight.. .and the rest I’ve always thought. 
The last three weeks, Enoka and I have been locked down, snowed in, Brexited but still chub have been giving us some cheer. Snow, sleet, frost and flood, the river could not have been more difficult, but there has been enough encouragement to get us out there on afternoons of absolute agony. 

Enoka and chub

Enoka with one of two big fish caught this week - Credit: John Bailey

The action has not been frenetic, but there has always been that rainbow of hope in our minds and two fish have come our way with three bites missed. Believe me, when you have to work this hard for a fish, a missed take is not what you want and in normal years I’d be viewing them as a national-type disaster. Most days, there have been other natural nuggets of delight to enjoy. A green woodpecker and a barn owl have generally been around late afternoon and I always relish seeing, and hearing, the rooks coming home for the night. The other day, there were village kids sledding on the steep meadows up from our swim and their far-off laughter and shouting reminded me of childhoods long, long ago. 
A few tips perhaps? Joshua could do better perhaps but I have had some chub in my time so I’ll stick my neck out. When it is as cold as this, I’d say a static bait is generally best. Chub will take maggots in the flow on the most cruel of days but they prefer to take their time, not to chase about and browse on the bottom when the mood takes them. That’s when bread in its various forms still takes some beating and when cheese paste comes into its own. 
When temperatures are scraping zero, fishing at night isn’t as crucial as it might be in summer or autumn. Water temperatures often rise mid-afternoon and that is when chub flicker into life: there have even been scattered fly hatches around 1pm some days which will have had a (slightly) galvanising impact. 
Do not fish too far out. The flow is slightly more powerful mid-river and chub do not want to expand energy unnecessarily, but more than that, the margins offer sanctuary now that the weed has died away. On two occasions, we have watched otters at work and most days there have been signs of bank side activity. That is why chub will live hard in beside those marginal rafts of reed, grasses and even water mint. They will spend time actually in amongst this vegetation rather than in open water and that is why a bait six inches from the bank stands more chance of being taken than one six feet out.   

But a word of caution. My very best advice is to walk the banks slowly and softly. Look for generous bankside cover but also for those pockets of water that look very placid and still. Chub do not like living where the current boils and heaves and shifts about. Find a close in yard or two that looks as flat as if it has been ironed and you are in business. 
Two more big ones now! IF you believe me and fish close in where the water is at its slackest, you can still get away with using one or two SSGs as weight. Even in swollen , coloured water, chub hate a big lead bopped on their head. Go that way and the chub will be buried in the reeds for an hour or more... or half a mile down river. Next, lockdown rules say we must fish local. That means you might be in a position to put bait in even those days when you are not actually fishing. I’m looking at the tits on the fat balls I have put out as I write this. Two weeks ago there were none to be seen and now there are a dozen there day long. All wildlife responds to a steady trickle of free food and chub are right up there with the greediest. You don’t need to put much in and a couple of slices of mashed bread in each likely spot is more than enough. This keeps chub on tickover and means that you fish with confidence when you get to the water , tackle at the ready. 
There was hostility to the stocking of chub at the time , I am told, just as there is hostility to any river stockings now. To those of non-stocking bent, I’d say that without those chub going in 70 years ago, Joshua, Enoka, I, all of us, would be far , far worse off this tough winter when there would be pretty much nothing to fish for whatsoever.