Tuesday, 21 January 2014

In Frosty Footsteps

Over here in East Anglia we have had our first real frost of the year just over a week ago, as temperatures over night plummeted beneath a clear and starry sky, the water level dropped, and the clarity of the water became crystal clear. But that was last week and in fishing terms a lot can happen in a week with regards to weather and water conditions, and now the river had again risen and the temperature was hovering around the minus one mark, making the chances of catching swinging firmly in the fishes favor and not the angler. With all this said and done there is still one species that you can almost guarantee a bite from when your back is firmly up against the wall - chub.

It was a cold day on the bank...
The path (if you can call it that) down to the river was interesting to say the least. The thick and glutenous morass of mud cloyed at our feet making every step an effort as we slipped and slid along looking forward to today's prospects. A heavy flog blanketed the Waveney valley, which only added to the atmosphere that could only be summed up as electric.

Upon arrival at the river the cold crisp air took my breath away, and as I wandered along the bank from swim to swim with my bucket of mashed bread in tow, I paused to savor the situation. As I did so I took in a deep breath of satisfaction, at the same time inhaling a couple of lungfuls of pungent Lone Anglers Sausage Sizzle flavour which was wafting up from my bread mash bucket. It suddenly struck me that it was one of those moments in life when you were just glad to be alive, and to be a fisherman at this time, and in this place, was the proverbial icing on the cake. It has often been said that to experience the English countryside at its best you also have to experience it at its worst, but for me its in winter that I feel the most comfortable whether its snow, sleet, sun, or rain. To many it may seem strange that I have such an affinity with winter but if you are a chub fisherman you will know exactly how I feel, and its this passion and enthusiasm that I try to convey in my writing. 

I started this session in the time honored chubbing tradition of pre-baiting my selected swims. Each swim I came to received a couple of small handfuls of mashed bread and a few hook bait samples of cheese paste with the two fold objective of keeping the fish that were there in the area, and also attracting others from downstream with the flavour trail that was emanating from this most classic of chub ground baits. My plan was to to fish either bread or cheese paste on the hook, depending on the water which was looking colored, cold, and hostile. To pep the flake up a little I gave it a quick spray with some Sausage Sizzle overspray before casting out to give it some instant appeal, and hopefully something for the chub to hone in on.

Dad meanwhile had been addressing the problem of the missed bites he has been experiencing so much in the last few weeks and came up with a plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a fox! Instead of fishing downstream and across as normal instead he decided to do the opposite and upstream ledger.Normal downstream ledgering by casting downstream and across for chub produced  either full wrap around bites on the quiver or very sharp plucks and taps. In both cases striking resulted in the occasional fish being hooked but still the problem persisted and many bites were missed. My theory was that in both scenarios the chub were either feeling resistance from the shot or that they were feeling the resistance from the water pressure even on a light 1 1/2oz quiver tip, and dropping the bait almost immediately. Obviously the more this continued and with the continual re-casting the spookier the chub were getting and in the end bites tailed off completely.

First attempt at upstream ledgering resulted in this fine fish of 4lb 12oz for Dad
The trick to upstream ledgering is to judge how much weight is going to hold bottom, which may be up to a couple of ounces or more depending on the strength of the flow. You ideally need just enough weight to hold bottom and put a bend in the quiver tip, ideally anything from 1-4 inches.
The next step is to let out a few extra yards of line to allow the line to bow, with the rod tip held as high as possible. This prevents the lead being dragged downstream by the flow as the angle of line from the lead goes more or less straight downstream, not across as would happen with a tight line. The high rod tip ensures the minimum amount of line is being pulled by the current. Hopefully your lead and bait remain in position and a maybe a chub or two will take the bait. Despite the extra line out the bite will register very positively, usually as a sharp drop-back as the fish dislodges the lead which comes downstream towards you.

With a few exploratory casts upstream to get everything balanced nicely, Dad sat back and alert waiting for his first bite. In actual fact he didn't have to wait long and the the bite was a classic drop back. Dad described it as "a short sharp tremble followed by a massive drop-back as the weight shifted position. It was like somebody had cut the line!"
Dad' sweeping strike met with fierce resistance as the fish went deep and slow, making its way up stream against the flow. This common fighting style of the larger chub has become very noticeable since I started chubbing many years ago. There was no doubt that this was a big chub but it was not until a big rubbery pair of white lips and huge cavernous mouth broke the surface that we saw how good a fish it was. I though it could possible edge over five pound but the scale soon revealed its true weight of four pounds and twelve ounces.  It was a great fish for a freezing cold January morning and I was more than pleased that this new style of ledgering had worked for Dad at almost his first cast.

Back with me I spied a small area that immediately caught my eye -  a slack area very close into the bank. Even though the water level was high the only clue that gave away this swim was the presence of a few reed stems that poked above the surface of the water. I had discovered this swim on a session a few weeks ago when the water level was much lower but now that the river was carrying extra water the slack this died back mass of reeds had created was much more pronounced. To the uneducated eye this small slack may seem of little consequence but experience over the years has shown me that these types of swim can hold good numbers of fish when the conditions are right as the fish seek refuge from the powerful flow. This swim I planned to fish later in the day as I made my way back up the river as the day wore on. Knowing that swims would be pre-baited before I fished them always gives me great confidence.

Classic looking chub swim
A brisk walk further downstream and I soon arrived at my next swim. Overhanging branches reached down to the waters surface like some skeletal hand stripped bare of flesh by winters wrath, beckoning me to cast as close to them without becoming entangled. I introduced a few small balls of mashed bread and some little lumps of cheese paste which laid out the menu for any unsuspecting chub that may have been lying in residence. As I sipped gently from a cup of steaming hot coffee, I hoped that it may light a fire in my soul, if not in my stomach. After ten minutes I deftly flicked out a nugget of cheese paste and awaited action. The two swan ledger had hardly time to settle on the bottom as the tip lurched over and I was into my first fish of the day. The fish put up a good account of itself in the flow as I had to run downstream with rod and landing net in hand to avoid it ensnaring me in the snags that ran along the far bank. It wasn't long before the fish was in the net but this was only an average fish for the Waveney at three pounds twelve ounces, not that it matters as fish of this quality and finesse are in their prime at this time of year.

Minter of 3lb 12oz
My next few swims produced nothing in the way of bites, but with me also practicing upstream ledgering it was apparent that every snag, change in depth, and weed bed could be located. In other swims it was just not practical as there was still a hell of a lot of flow in the often more sedate spots. Still on the move I positioned myself along a reed fringed near bank slack and threw in a few more small lumps of paste. A quick cast in and before I had time to finish off my cheese and picalli sandwich a massive wrap around on the tip met with a super charged fish that certainly had been on steroids as it tried to rid itself of my hook. With the fish fighting its socks of and with the extra flow I had to use all the power of my rod and eight pound line to stop it reaching the tangle of reeds at my feet. Still the fish showed no signs of tiring and I just pulled and pulled. I really had to 'give it some wellie' in a John Wilson style to get it under control. This time I though I had hooked a monster but alas, it was not to be. With the fish tiring I bundled it into the net and got it out onto the bank and was rather surprised to see yet another small fish for my efforts. I quickly identified the fish as one dad had caught from this stretch of river earlier this winter at four pound and two ounces . The give away was most of the top of the tail fin was missing and an orange spot on its belly, (this was confirmed by looking at the previous picture for reference), but this fish now weighed in at three pounds fourteen ounces.

An old friend pays a visit to the bank again....
This time at 3lb 14oz
I'm sad to say there was no further action today and with a heavy heart, tired legs, and my landing net stiff with frost it was again time to make my way home.
I can think of no better way to end this blog entry than with a small excerpt from Ted Hughes' poem 'The Morning Before Christmas' which so perfectly conjures up the English countryside in winter -

Buds fur-gloved with frost. Everything had come to a standstill
In a brand new stillness.
The river-trees, in a blue haze,
Were fractured domes of spun ghost.
Wheel-ruts frost fixed. Mid-morning, slowly
The sun pushed dark spokes of melt and sparkle
Across the fields of hoar. And the river steamed...

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