Monday, 29 July 2013

A Case of the Trots — Chub on the Wye

Having set my heart and mind on a quest to understand the full gamut of possibilities offered by various forms and styles of trotting bait, I've decided to run a series of case studies that might be of use as notes to myself and a more thought provoking technical study to other anglers than my run-of-the-mill diary style posts. I want to look at the subject in-depth, think critically about the problems encountered, write up what I've learned about a range of different venues, the different approaches necessary to get the best from them and cover as full a spectrum of species as possible, from barbel and chub, to dace, roach, perch, grayling and trout. And if I get the time to try, perhaps pike and zander too.

In short — if trotting will catch it, I'll try for it, and then I'll write about it.

A Case of the Trots — Chub on the Wye
With Steve Phillips

The middle Wye was something of a new experience for us both. Strewn with boulders over flat sheets of bedrock, shallow throughout the stretch with few deep pools, rapid water here and there with large areas of almost still water between, the summer river was about as low as it could be and made difficult because of it.

Almost nothing could have been accomplished from our bank because it was clear from the outset that fish were not going to be found within easy reach. We could see bottom all along, there wasn't a fish of any size to be seen anywhere, and water that looked promising was far off and along the far bank. 

Wading was essential. It offered the chance to roam at will and cover the entire stretch in search of our quarry, which was ostensibly, barbel. But actually, we'd both agreed after an initial foray into the water itself that we'd catch whatever we could because it looked pretty difficult to locate anything worth catching out there, let alone meet our mission intentions.

We agreed to split and go find interesting areas. Steve sporting a barbel rod and lumps of meat went upstream of our base camp to attempt trundling the bait through whatever flow he could find with enough pace to shift it. He wound up at a natural rock dam where below there was enough power to do that successfully. 

I decided to seek fish by way of trotting a single red maggot.

I'd boned up on this technique for barbel by reading an excellent article by Chris Plumb where he states that it might take two hours for them to come on the feed, but when they do the results can be magnificent with fish falling one after the other. Hoping that a similar approach would flush out barbel if they were there to be found, I went off in search of suitable water.

Float chosen for the job
Tackle was a 14ft rod, an ABU 506 closed-face reel, four-pound mainline, a size 18 barbless hook tied to three-pound hook-length fished under a brass-stemmed almost self-cocking Avon float (home-made of course!) requiring just a single AAA bulk shot and a number 6 dropper shot. to dot it down. 

An admittedly lightweight set up but one that I hoped would catch almost anything in such clear water but if barbel were found then I'd lose a hook that'd fall out easily if too large for the tackle to handle, would cope with the small ones I expected in such shallow water (though the fight would still be testing!) but if any were found then I'd scale up considerably. 

My approach was to find fish, and any fish would do, believing in such low condition they'd be concentrated in certain places. That was to be the case, though it took some time to prove it. Actually it took a couple of hours to find anything better than minnows! On a break whilst sitting on a flat rock below a second natural dam downstream from Steve's position, a fish topped in the fast water below. Certain it was a trout I went and fished after it.

It was a trout, or rather it was one of a number of trout parr. A good few were caught but they fought too hard and were exhausted by it, turning belly up on release. They recovered when I held them headfirst into the flow, but I thought it pointless catching more so began fishing ten yards further out below the middle of the dam where I began catching salmon smolt (I think?) instead. 

Moving again to a point two-thirds the way across the dam where the flow was most powerful forming a very long and rapid plume (imagine an ostrich feather) over boulders and just a couple of feet deep, I then began trotting just along its near edge. Here the float would start, and stop, and start again, whilst traveling through a succession of eddie currents. There were no bites whatsoever from juvenile salmonids there, and even minnows were absent, nevertheless it seemed the most promising water I'd fished all morning so I stuck at it and began a routine of feeding a small handful of maggots into the plume before each and every trot.

Steve came down to see me reporting a couple of hard-won chub but no sign of barbel. As we talked, I struck my first bite from this new line. Expecting yet another frantically wriggling parr, smolt or minnow, at long last, the rod hooped over hard as a proper fish powered straight into the most difficult place to extract one from — and where else would that be but the fastest water of all!

It wasn't barbel. That was clear. It wasn't large trout either, unless a dozy one. It had to be chub by the sensation of determined heavy thumping transmitted up the line. Steve fetched my net and readied himself, I applied side strain to haul it out the heavy current into the slower water, and when it came clear made my way across the treacherous rocky bed to our bank pulling clear of trouble in a protracted tug-of-war.

But, the hook-hold failed at the last moment! It was a good chub though, as predicted.

Steve went off downstream to fish under and around a large and impressive driftwood tree occupying mid-river. I decided to plug away at this swim for as long as it would produce bites. I didn't have to wait very long for the next. The tail end and each side of the plume became a hive of activity with fish plucking swirling loose feed from the upper surface. A swirl every now and then in the far distance showed that.

Bites came three-quarters the way down the plume's length, slightly to one side and slightly to the other, but never dead-centre. Picking maggots out by eye in the swirling eddy currents, they were nailing them before they were lost to the next fish down.

Approximate angling position and catch points. Nothing of note was found anywhere outside the hotspot

Each came on the dot, ten minutes apart. Within an hour I'd four chub in the net and had lost a couple more to inevitable hook-pulls. All were over four-pounds but none ever threatened to break the fine but well-balanced tackle because in the river you have a winning edge that you don't from the bank. That edge is mobility and the ability to create good angles at will to outwit the fish.

If it takes a lot of line then follow it — when it goes where you don't want it to — then go where it doesn't want you to — which is where it lies.

Fine is good when you're right at the centre of the compass of possibility, and the finer there the better, I'd say! Because, with infinite mobility, on the chessboard of the fight you're no longer the hobbled Knight with his restricted moves, but the Queen! 

No wonder salmon anglers buy waders like they're going out of fashion...

A proper Queen!
Lesson learned good and proper. If only a powerhouse barbel would show I'd prove my theory right! 

Unfortunately, that delicious thought occurred exactly when a flotilla of 20 canoes passed through, and of course they took the most exciting line, which was my productive line. Bites ceased. Then a couple of boys who'd been swimming in the fast current at the head of the swim decided to allow themselves get swept along by it and ended up right in the hotspot. 

My sport was over. Bites never came again...

Would the barbel have shown on the two-hour mark as Chris Plumb had found? I don't know that because I had an hour and three-quarters in that swim before it was wrecked, but if they were there then I'm sure they would have. Never mind. The experience stored in the memory and written down for posterity will be useful in the future.

And the future is this coming Thursday. 

A three day break on the Wark's Avon and a perfect wading trotting swim I've had my beady eye on for some long time. No swimmers and canoeists about to wreck things there, but plenty of barbel who'll fall one after the other...

On the trot, you might say!

But we'll see about all that when the time comes around.

  1. The brass wire-stemmed balsa avon with a large domed top was the right tool for job. The fine heavy stem allowed the buoyant tapering float body to ride choppy and turbulent water, upright and effortlessly. However, I could have used a larger float and a change of tip colour would have been useful at distance.
  2. The small load of shot allowed the bait to flutter naturally and not drag into crevices in the boulders snagging bottom only once or twice in many hours work.
  3. Low shallow water and protracted high temperatures sees fish enjoying the fastest, most broken, and therefore best-oxygenated water available but avoiding areas of long-standing slack with low oxygen levels.
  4. Loose fed maggots will travel 50 yards or more in just two or three feet of broken water until they are intercepted and the feeding zone created may be a very long way off. Moving position downstream to counter this only pushes the feeding zone further along and creates a confused zone of dissipation at the tail end where the water force diminishes. 
  5. Wading allows for perfect line selection and control. When trotting only a few yards outside of a productive line, bites may cease altogether, or those from different species may be found.
  6. Far finer tackle is usable from mid-river than would ever be advisable from the bank because of the unrestricted 360 degree field of play. 
  7. Wading in fast rivers full of boulders is potentially life threatening. Even a small amount of extra water in the river would have made standing difficult and moving across boulders treacherous. A lot more water and it would have been impossible. Wade alone at your peril. 

Using a Centrepin for Trotting, Specifically for barbel. Chris Plumb


  1. Nice piece Jeff.

    On the stretch of the Wye I’ve been concentrating on things have been very tricky with the chub and barbel populations seemingly condensed into two, short areas of broken water. Hopefully this rain will get them moving.

    The wading/trotting combo looks great fun and I expect those chub were good fun in the flow. You’ve inspired me to ditch the meat and lead approach and try and get some chub on the float!

  2. I had a feeling, Ben, that had I stayed and plugged away, even after the disruption, I would have found barbel on a slightly different line or slightly further down from the chub. Wading and trotting was an eye opener in the kind of water we had at our disposal. I loved the sense of exploration, you know, imagining things and having it come right in the end. A great deal of freedom is what it gives. Glad you're inspired! Actually the water is so warm right now that shorts will suffice...

  3. Are you tempted to use a centrepin? Do you have one? Have you used one before? Just curious.

    1. Well I did have one, and it would have been just perfect for the day, but it got nicked! A bike was stolen out of our back yard and while the miscreants were at it they rifled through my wet tackle bag in the corner and took the best thing in it. My Okuma...

      A sad day, but the thieves had at least some sense of class...

      So what!

      The fuckers will not go to angling heaven, but will be doomed to the angling hell of the same fish every trot!

  4. B***ards. Sorry to open up an old wound. It's a bit scary to think how much stolen tackle is floating around ebay, car boots etc.

    I asked about a closed-face reel I saw behind the counter in a tackle shop once. I was helpfully informed by the vendor that they were "sh*t". So that's tainted my view of them somewhat. Never tried one.