John Bailey: Let’s all hope for a chubby future

I've said recently in one of my blogs that March 14 is an important date for old guys like me that can remember when it signified the total end of the coarse fishing season.

Today, of course, we can carry on fishing in stillwaters but March 14 still divides the old and the new for me. It's the time when the 2011/2012 fishing season comes to an end. So, for me, we're now embarking on 2012/2013. It's nice to have a full stop. In life, the odd pause, the occasional hiatus is essential. You can gather your breath and your wits and put everything into a type of perspective.

For me, without any shadow of a doubt, the stand out of this season just gone must be the rocketing success of Wensum chub. Talking to experts like Neill Stephen who are really in the know, there is a feeling that the Wensum could be THE chub river of the next decade.

I hope so. For me, like so many others, chub are a magnificent fish. They're big, they're cunning, they're beautiful and they fight with a feisty pluck that can amaze. They're obliging. You can catch them in winter and summer, on a score or more of different baits using endless different methods. If you want to catch a chub, I guess there are over a hundred permutations on how to do it. He who is bored of chub is simply bored of his angling life.

The last days of February and the first 14 of March saw some real chubbing thrills on the Wensum. I caught or witnessed or photographed probably ten or so chub over the weight of six pounds and a six pound chub is a really serious fish even by national standards. One of my mates actually caught and put back a chub which I think was nearer eight pounds than seven. And that's massive. There were plenty of back-up chub of fours and fives but the best thing of all was that these all looked young, fit, fast-growing fish that, given a chance, could set the next few years on fire.

I wasn't alone with my mates along the river. Here and there, were shadowy anglers all over the place, buried on their favourite bends, huddled in their favourite overgrown swims.

I heard that my great old mate, Chris Turnbull, was out. How fantastic that he's back on the river that he's loved for so long. Phil Humm came up from Essex. Rob Olsen came over from Gloucestershire. I bumped into Bob Chambers fishing one of the Lyng mill pools. Yep, there was a real buzz about. The mild weather and the coloured river both were on our side. And the chub played ball.

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So, if I'm right, and if our chubbing has never been so good, why is this? After all, at first sight, we might expect the very reverse. After all, whatever some may think, the indisputable fact is that otters have eaten significant numbers of chub along the river.

However, my own belief – and remember I'm on the river most days – is that the number of otters is slowly beginning to decrease and to find a proper balance. This is in no way a scientific assessment, more a hunch built upon hours of observation.

It could be, too, that chub are learning to live with otters. If you're not an angler, never doubt that fish learn and some fish, like chub, learn faster than others. Those chub who have seen their shoal comrades pursued, killed and eaten will undoubtedly, at some level, learn from the experience. Chub that otters found easy a few years ago might just present a more difficult challenge now. Interestingly, too, none of the chub that I caught or saw, showed signs of recent otter damage. That's something we couldn't say just two or three years ago.

So, although the numbers of chub are down, competition for food is less and the potential to grow big is, therefore, greater. None of us applaud the spread of the signal crayfish up and down the Wensum but it just might be a contributory factor. It's well-known that chub, with their great leathery mouths, love eating these ghastly crustaceans on other rivers, so why not here? And remember what I said some months ago about the excellent Terry Lawton and his River Fly Survey activities? Well, there's no doubt that over much of its length, the River Wensum absolutely heaves with the sort of natural food items that chub feast upon. So whilst the river does have its undoubted problems – like abstraction – perhaps nature, as ever, is phoenix-like in her ability to rise from the ashes. It's dangerous to stick your neck out like this when it comes to anything in the wild. It could well be that the whole chub edifice I've described could come crashing down around my foolish and impetuous head. I pray not. My hope is that come June 16 when the river season reopens, we will continue to have mile upon mile of fabulous chub water to explore and enjoy. I know that I'll be after them again. I still have to satisfy my dream of a Wensum 'seven' and I'd love to get a 'six' off the top on either a little popping plug or a big, bushy dry fly, say a mayfly pattern. It's one thing to catch a big chub in mid-water or off the bottom but to see it come to the surface, to watch its great white lips open like a vast tunnel...well, that's another thing entirely. We're lucky boys, we Wensum chubbers. Let's all keep our fingers crossed for a super chubby future.