Wednesday, 29 February 2012

River Stour Roach and Chub - One Strike Wonderment

Day three of our southern excursion saw Keith and myself offloading gear from the boot of the car in a car park above a stretch of the Dorset Stour. It was much, much wider than I had expected it to be, three times the size I had in my head in fact, and from the bridge it looked fast, shallow and streamy. Downstream of the bridge the streamy runs petered out and then became a broad, even flow of slow moving water that looked to be quite deep, leading eventually to a weir. We chose a couple of adjacent swims about midway along, Keith on a high bank upstream, and myself on a fringe of marshy old reed beds that had died right back.

I had long decided to fish bread the entire day, for the roach and the chub, both of which can grow very large indeed in this river. My head was of course occupied by fact that this river, and not so very far upstream of where we now fishing, once produced the british record roach, and that just recently three pounders have been caught too, one of them caught on film by Hugh Miles whilst shooting Terry Lampard trotting bread, which truly was a remarkable 'double' capture. I was also aware that seven-pound chub are not so uncommon as to be nothing but a pipe dream.

At this point I must urge those who use bread as bait and who are serious about using it right, to read on and all through this account of a what was to turn out to be, a remarkable day with it.

I was using a new bread, but one that I would have no faith in whatsoever till it showed its worth. Forced by the circumstance of the Tesco minimarket we had visited the previous night for supplies having none of my beloved and trusted Warburtons Blue in stock, I'd bought another brand, Tesco 'Baker's Soft' Thick White, a bread that looked to be similar in many ways to the Mighty Blue, on first appraisal. Soft and sticky and likely to stay on the hook for a while without dissolving.

That my first long trot downstream saw the bread disc come back complete on the hook was a bit of a wonder, bread shouldn't really do that. That the same disc was sent out again and still came back to the bank through the turbulent journey upstream across the surface of fifty yards of water was quite extraordinary. Bread really mustn't do that! It's surely impossible?

That I had no bites at all wasn't so remarkable as I didn't really expect a bite a chuck, but after an hour or two of ignored trots down and along every line possible, I retired the float rod and pulled the quiver rod from the bag to try ledgering a static bait. Out went the bait to midstream and downstream thirty yards, where I intended to start a union jack search for the potential lie of a shoal of roach. Twenty casts later, I'd had not a touch, and the bait was still coming back too often. Something was wrong, or right...

I examined the soggy bait. It was soft, mushy, and would have been easy to strike through had I had anything to strike at, so no problem there. I thought that perhaps I'd discovered a new wonder bread that would outclass even the Mighty Blue in terms of durability, all I had to do now was find some fish and as I could see another angler in the next peg down catching roach off a very long rod by trotting maggots along the far bank, I was sure they were on the feed.

That was about when Keith had his first fish of the day, one that he'll write about on his blog soon enough...

After a few fruitless hours in the first peg and with the sky now sheer cloudless blue and the sun rising bright overhead, I moved along to try out other swims. I dropped into one after the other, or at least those that I could as there were quite few anglers out on the day and occupying the majority. Not one produced a bite of any sort. It was as if the fish of the Stour disliked bread, or that the swims were devoid of them. It was all a bit of a head scratch, and a disappointment.

Come late afternoon, and having tried everything possible, I moved back upstream and moved into Keith's early swim, him having vacated it. Here I got my first bite of the day, a sharp twang that I saw out the corner of my eye while tying up a new float rig for fishing casters, the only second bait I had, having used up all my maggots the previous day on the roach pit. The next bite came a little later, also seen as I turned back to the rod after doing some small thing elsewhere.

A fisherman's memorial. The lights are powered by a little solar panel stuck in the ground below. Amazing that this has been in place for two years but never vandalised in all that time. Good job is wasn't made of brass or some heartless tea leaf would have taken down for smelting, you can bet your last penny on that...
This pattern continued. Small bites, very small bites, that led to nothing. I baited with mashed slices of the same bread. The result was a short spell of a few non-committing trembles, at most, and then back to nothing. The roach and chub, and the hoards of minnows that I had learned were plaguing all the other anglers fishing their maggots, seemed completely disinterested in bread.

The local lad, Simon Daley, who had been fishing the long rod downstream of me in the morning came up to my swim for a chat on a break from what must be tiring work however light and fine the rod, which I learned was a twenty foot Daiwa number. Perfect for here though, and I'm sorely tempted to invest myself as he'd managed a small net of roach up to half a pound on what was clearly a difficult day and under the worse possible weather conditions for roach.

I wanted evening to arrive. Then when it did, I moved again, to a swim newly vacated by an angler who had been fishing corn by the evidence bankside. It looked great, and first cast I received a bite, but as with all the others it was a false dawn and nothing else happened, the fish, whatever it was, losing interest quickly. Then Simon came along and asked if I'd mind taking a picture of him with a very special fish he'd caught at the last. I jumped at the chance, being quite bored and frustrated by now, and ready to do anything to break the monotony of my own fishing.

To say it was a memorable fish to have the privilege of witnessing is an understatement of the highest order, for when Simon pulled his keep-net, what emerged amongst the flapping roach, was quite possibly the most impressive fish that I have ever seen in my life...

Simon Daley with his glorious specimen. A seven pound chub

His chub, though only the length of a Warwickshire Avon three pounder, and one that fitted in Simon's tiny roach pan easily, was a massive seven-pounds, dead on the nose. It was all firm stomach and solid muscle, with the proportions of a small carp but the outward appearance of what it clearly was. In the dark you'd be forgiven for making the mistake of thinking it really was a carp. It was simply colossal, like a Rodin sculpture entitled 'The Chub' would have been had he ever bothered with fish and not Calais burghers and kissing couples, and because it was a personal best for Simon, I did my level best with the trophy shot, as he'd agreed to let me publish it here!

What is perhaps as impressive as the fish, is that Simon really had very little of a sporting chance against it, because it was hooked and banked on a tiny size eighteen hook tied to a 1lb bottom. Now that is masterful angling of the highest order. Astonishing really. So, please do leave comments when you've finished reading and just congratulate Simon directly on his brilliant feat of angling skill.

Back to my swim, I sat down and pondered my options. The fish were topping all around but still I had not struck a bite all day long. Then I had a brainwave. In my bag I remembered there were just a few discs of the Mighty Blue left over from Friday, stashed away where they'd fallen in a bag of liquidised bread. I got one out and mounted it on the hook, thinking here was a trial of quality if ever there was one, for if I received a good bite on this one cast it would prove for sure that all along, for ten hours solid, I had been using bread that the fish really had a loathing for.

Out it went, and guess what? The kind of bite I had waited patiently for all day long, arrived almost as soon as it touched bottom! The tip twitched once, twice, and then slowly inched down in what I recognise as the perfect roach bite and my first strike of the long, long day was made. That I missed it completely in my wonderment, is neither here nor there, I was so astonished at this turn of fortune that I was not surprised at all by having fluffed it. Then Keith called time as he couldn't see his float any longer, and so it was all over without any chance of making a fist out of the few more 'good' discs of bread I had found to fish with, and so it was a resounding blank for me. But it was the best kind of blank of all, the one where you learn something so important, crucial and critical, about some small detail that makes all the difference, that you go home with a glow and a light step.

Knowledge in fishing is very hard to attain. You get it an inch at a time, sometimes an inch backwards before progress is made forward a further half. Small details are everything, and luck, though it is nice to be lucky, mustn't enter into it. Trust to luck and you are lost in the dark. I trust one kind of bread, but you may trust another, and good on you. But to anyone who is just beginning with the stuff, avoid the accursed bread I used today. For some reason, probably to do with an added industrial chemical (a 'loyalty' drug perhaps? ) that makes bread fit for human taste, fish know instinctively that it's very, very bad for them.

They hate the stuff. Never use it.

And if they hate the stuff so much with their finely tuned survival instincts, then why toast it, spread butter upon it and put in in your own mouth, or those of your loved ones?

It's banned from my house. My stomach. And my hook. Forever.


  1. Fantastic chub and your attitude toward the bread is admirable. I would have sulked for a week.

  2. Looks a lovely stretch Jeff and that chaps chub is incredible . I may have to make a trip down there after our next Itchen trip .


  3. Thanks again Jeff for the pictures

  4. Mark, If I hadn't tried that last disc I would have sulked too. It saved the day.

    Baz, its got to be worth a go and I'll certainly return as I have unfinished business there, but with some real bread on me next time

    Simon, it was a privilege, the fish looks both immense and pristine

  5. You did the trophy shot proud Jeff an excellent picture,Congratluations to Simon,that is a brilliant looking Chub to be proud of, even more so on such light tackle.