Sunday, 5 February 2012

River Chub - The Thick and Thin of it...

Forecast: snow by four. Action: there by one.

I love fishing in snow more than I do in any other kinds of weather, so I just had to get out to take advantage of it coming through, and the venue of choice, that was the River Blythe at Coleshill, a place familiar to me, or so I thought...

On route down the motorway, we passed over the river upstream of my destination but glancing out the window what I saw filled me with some trepidation. Not because a bit of ice covering a river puts me off fishing, but because I couldn't make out quite how extensive this covering was at 70mph.
As I was being dropped off for the next five hours whilst Judy and Zena went out on their own quest seeking baubles and trinkets in Birmingham, once they'd departed, I'd be stuck with whatever river conditions I'd got for the rest of afternoon, and with no way out!

Off they went, and off went I. Crossing the footbridge to the stile at the entrance to the series of swampy water meadows through which the river flows here, first sight was less than encouraging. The very shallow and fast flowing water below the bridge was clear with ice in the margins but looking downstream I could see that all the deeper, slower areas of water, the very places where the fish were bound to be, were completely capped over...

A walk of three quarters of a mile to the very end of the stretch found no place deeper than two feet in which to fish excepting one technical swim inside a small copse of crack willow where the flow is such that a pool has been scoured and there ice had not been able to form over its three or four feet of turbulent water. However, the margins were covered in ice and so I set to work clearing a channel through it with a handy railway sleeper found lodged firm in the trees. It was cold, wet work!

This swim, once prepared, was left till later because railway sleepers weigh about a quarter ton, and make splash enough to frighten off all fish within earshot for at least a couple of hours. Nevertheless, there was no other way to extract even a half-opportunity from the conditions, and anyhow, the swim was sheltered from the bitter wind that blew up just as soon as the first of the snow started falling, so even if it proved fish-less later it would be far preferable then to a fish-less swim out in the exposed open, and besides, this swim had pedigree. Once, I'd dropped into this swim late evening after a grueling blank elsewhere, and taken a five pound (and a bit!) chub at last gasp. Perhaps it would come good once again?

It was really very, very cold out in the sharp wind, but I love that in dry weather when snow is on the way in. The first of it was that ultra-fine granular snow taking an age to first-lick the landscape, as with over-painted patterned paper, to smother the green and the ochre. By the hour, the atmosphere about altered from normal to magical by subtle degree. I barely noticed the changes, only having the thought in mind of how to turn this disaster of my own making, about ...

To be frank, getting something from it now seemed very important indeed!

Inner-cave-man knew that 'we' were indeed enduring survival conditions right now. Things could only get worse in the near future (far worse, I hoped!) and such demands demand, Jeff catch food, or Jeff die. That I was trying to catch chub, the most tasteless bone-filled fish ever cooked (I've heard enough to stop me trying it for myself...) was neither here nor there... I'd begun to fish as if my life depended on it, which was no small thing when I then considered that I'd only set out that morning to catch a fish bigger than some ridiculous target. By now, any fish would do, and at any size...

A fine old oak, one that'd stood firm on the banks of the Blythe from the time of James I and was standing just last year when I saw it last, had finally crashed alive and healthy, but now dead and forlorn, across the stream and blocked the flow bank-to-bank with its massive corpse.

I thought it might prove a chubby kind of place, but a little experimenting with rod and line proved it to be a bit young for that. Given three or four years of river in flood and on its bones, it might get a bit of character, if only the agencies that control rivers as merely drains, don't hoik it out first...

The 'sleeper swim' was dropped into for half an hour where I departed fish-less, but not before depositing a couple of handfuls of mashed bread to the mixing bowl in the hope of attracting a couple or three of chub by dusk, when I meant to return. In the meantime other options were explored, and lots of them, but I found only shallow, hopeless places. The return to the only real hope on my agenda was made as the light turned blue.

As I set up there, I spied a large swirl caused by a fish beneath the tangled alder roots on the far bank, and exactly over where the majority of the feed introduced earlier would have accumulated. I had fish, perhaps two or three, in the swim, they were clearly chub and chub rooting around for particles of bread.

Isn't it so, that at times like these, things either go one way, or 'tother?

The sure knowledge that fish are feeding right there gets the blood up. The blood being up, creates ripe conditions for disaster, and disaster visits. Sure enough, the first cast hits the overhanging twigs and snags fast. Tugged back successfully the long hook-length has tangled, and upon untangling, has acquired a wind-knot. The wind-knot cannot be picked out and so the hook is nipped off between the teeth and the hook retied to a much shortened hook length, which is, actually, more suited to conditions. The hook is re-baited and cast perfectly under the arching shoots, and well into the roots.

By the time this has all been accomplished, the light has almost gone and I need light assistance to see the rod tip. It knocks. It trembles. I crouch over the butt. I know fish are rooting around as I flick compressed discs of bread into the turbulent water where they spiral downwards out of sight to do their work. Ten seconds onwards, the rod tip performs a slow inching downward, twangs back suddenly as a fish moves against the line, and then, just seconds later, trembles, and flies...

It could a five pounder, even a six pounder, because the fish takes line and then makes much trouble in the tight confines between roots, shoots and the tangled branches overhead. But it tires quickly and its weight is slighter. The cleared channel is now full of slush but the fish comes easily through to net and is plucked from the icy water. It's only a reasonable fish, not the dog- headed daddy-chub I'd first imagined, but nevertheless, it's a fish, and by now that's all that matters.

The snow is heavy now. In two hours time it will sit inches thick, but far deeper by midnight. The trudge back through the meadows is satisfyingly wearying, the headlamp beam making the whirring, wind-driven flakes, glisten and shimmer like falling spangles.

Inner caveman is self-satisfied.

Jeff catch fish, Jeff live!

It's been good to get out in it. The thick and thin of it...


  1. That final fish picture is fantastic (a bit too alliterative I know): blue black and icy swirling flakes made glossy baubles as they get captured in the split second of time*

    Well done on getting out there even if you're (IMHO of course) slightly spoiled by the number of small rivers relatively nearby. As an antidote to the seemingly endless commercialisation of angling, it doesn't get much better than this.

    * Hmmh, reading the blog is having its effect on my writing :)

  2. Brilliant Jeff and the snowflake picture, holding that hard earned Chub is really quite superb.

    Kind regards

  3. Love that stretch Jeff - not be there for years but it's where I started my fishing career. There's some good pike swims along there too.

  4. Lee, I heard that the Blythe 'thirty' was caught along there somewhere. I'll bet I know the pool where it lies up too! Might have to put out a bait for it next time, but it was frozen over on Saturday.

    Kb, glad you enjoyed it! Yes, we do have a few small rivers round here, at least four or five in spitting distance.

    And Mark, 'hard earned' is the word!

  5. Good story and nice pics - well done on getting out there, I stayed in, but will be going south for three days after roach and chub.

  6. Really good report I thought for a while you were going to blank. Now - that nose in the pic- what Pantone ref would you go for the colour??

  7. Phil, I'll be going down the same part of the world end of the month for a crack at the same. Two places lined up and two chances at a serious roach, can't wait.

    Paul, it's cost me years of hard work to get my nose that colour! For your amusement, it's actually Pantone 695c...

    It really is!

  8. Your second day is almost certain to produce a 1lb-12oz + roach but you might stuggle on the first day for a sizable roach - more likely a good grayling.

  9. Those swims anywhere near where Tony Miles' pics are from in 'My Way with Chub'? They sure look similar....

  10. Very nice Jeff, love the "starry starry night" shot

  11. woooowww!!!!!!
    that coooolddd!!!!

  12. Lovely to see pictures of the blyth once more i used to fish it some 60 pluss years ago all its length from Hampton in Arden down to the cottage on the bend at the bottom of the hill , if that cottage is even there now?. What grand old times they were wether it was fishing stick float and caster hookbait, or legering large lumps of cheese paste, or even free lining bread flake. all produced some wonderful fish. thank you for the pictures and memories they bought back

  13. Great article Jeff, can any of you guys give me info on the fishing right nowadays, i havent fished it for 20 years but after spending the last 5 on Throop a few winter trips to my old hunting ground all of a sudden seems rather appealing

    1. So far as I know it's day ticket on the bank or bought at the cottage on the bend in Maxstoke Lane. They're hardly ever in when I call and they never go down to collect money so usually I've fished for free.