A beginners guide to catching specimen chub

Man holding large chub

A big chub caught on home made bait

Guaranteed to feed in all but the harshest of conditions, specimen chub are not only widely available, but we’re entering the best time of the year to target them. Angling writer and fisheries biologist Dr Paul Garner gives his advice and tips on the best tactics to set you on the road to catching a specimen.

They have brassy good looks, indifference to cold weather, and a presence in venues throughout the country. Chub remain a firm favourite of the river angler, whether they are seeking a big net of fish or that one outsized specimen.

Over the last decade, the size of chub in many rivers has increased markedly, with six and even seven pounders now found in many rivers. A specimen weight of five pounds is attainable to most of us without having to travel too far.

While chub can be caught right through the season, many anglers tend to target them in the winter months. This has as much to do with the fact that they will feed in all but the grimmest of conditions as it does that they will be in great condition at this time of the year.

The natural diet and behaviour of chub

Face of chub

Chub have great vision and a large mouth

Chub will eat almost anything that they can fit into their large mouths, and are much more adaptable than most other fish species. Chub will eat whatever drifts past them, including freshwater shrimp, caddis larvae, terrestrial insects blown onto the water surface, worms, snails, small fish and even frogs. This wide ranging diet might suggest that chub are greedy fish that will be easy to catch, but I tend to think of them more as being adaptable, and very aware of their changing environment. To catch big chub consistently the angler should bear these traits in mind.

River with overgrown bank

This swim at Llanthomas on the River Wye has everything a chub could want

The classic chub swim consists of some overhead cover, maybe a tree canopy reaching out over the water, an undercut bank, bridge, or weed bed. They favour low light conditions, and often they will stray no more than a couple of metres from cover during daylight, as dusk falls they will often leave the cover and may travel hundreds of metres in search of food.

The other key pointer to a good chub swim is the presence of breaks in the current speed. The classic crease, created where faster flowing water butts up against a slow moving current provides the perfect position for a chub to hunt. Resting in the slower flowing water, the fish will nip into the flow momentarily to grab a passing food item, before returning to the gentler flow

My best technique for catching chub

man fishing for chub

Lewis fishes an undercut bank for chub on the tiny River Arrow

There are probably as many ways to catch chub as there are chub anglers, so rather than try and list them all I’ll stick to my favourite. It’s a method that works just about anywhere, but which is especially effective at this time of the year: legering lumps of paste, and either watching a quivertip or touch legering for bites.

There are several reasons why I favour this tactic. Firstly, you need the minimum of gear. A 10 to 12 foot rod with a 3oz quiver tip or 1.25lb test curve is ideal. A 4000-size fixed spool reel loaded with 8lb line and a few leger weights, size 8 hooks and a spool of 6lb clear line for hooklengths is all you need to carry.

Less is more when fishing paste. I need to be highly mobile, and may fish ten or more swims covering several miles of river in a day session. This is no time for lots of heavy gear.

Ideally, I’ll be fishing a stretch I already know, and will have a plan in mind as to the swims I’m going to fish. This enables me to avoid wasting time wandering the banks, and gives me another vital edge.

Before I start fishing my first swim, I’ll stroll down to swim two and introduce between five and ten fifty-pence sized lumps of paste just on the inside of the crease, or upstream of any cover. The idea being to give the chub a taste of my bait before I fish the swim. If the swims are close together, I’ll do the same in the third spot too.

I’ll fish the first swim for about an hour. The first cast is key, as I like to leave the ledger rig in position for as long as possible. If I’m happy with the cast, I often won’t reel in until it’s time to move. This gives the fish as much undisturbed time to find the bait as possible.

Smiling man holding up fish

Swim number three of the day produced this nice fish

After an hour, I will up sticks and move swims, repeating the process. But this time, I’ll expect any chub that are at home to be already looking for my paste hookbait. Bites can come quickly in these ‘primed’ swims, so expect a chance within seconds of making that all-important first cast.

This whole routine is repeated again and again until either I run out of swims, or it’s time to go home. It can be worth revisiting swims later in the day or after dark if you have a suspicion that chub are present. They often gain confidence as the light levels drop.

Chub paste baits

Chub with large bait in it's mouth

Don’t be afraid to use a big bait for chub

Why paste, and why not boilies, bread, meat, or any other baits that will catch chub? For my money, paste has two advantages. Firstly, it gives out much more attraction than other baits in the cold. Second, and more importantly, the hook can be partially hidden inside the bait, which will ensure that you hit more bites.

Chub have a disconcerting habit of picking up baits in those big rubbery lips, and this can lead to missed bites, especially if you are using a hair rig. Mould the paste around the hook and hey-presto! Most of those pulls on the rod tip will turn into fish on the bank.

Cheese paste is the classic chub bait. Carefully melt some Stilton or other blue cheese in a microwave and mix in breadcrumbs to make a putty-textured paste. A dollop of margarine added to the mix will stop the paste going hard in cold water.

If you want a custom paste of your own then why not use boilie base mix powder and whatever flavourings or additives you prefer. NashBait’s Key, Nutrabaits Trigga and Scopex Squid are all well-proven chub catchers.

Fish hook with cork and paste

I will often use a piece of cork to add buoyancy and to give the paste something to stick to

Paste wrapped around hook

Cover everything except the hook point

There is so much more to write about chub fishing, but that’s about all the space that I have. I’ll leave you with five tips to success, and wish you the best of luck in your hunt for a specimen chub.

Five tips for bagging a specimen chub

  1.  Richard Walker regarded chub as the easiest fish to spook, and I would agree. Once the fish have been alarmed the chances of success are often fatally reduced. Approach chub swims as stealthily as possible, stay off the skyline, and avoid any disturbance.
  2.  Don’t be in too much of a hurry to make your first cast. Feed the swim and leave it to rest for as long as you can bear. This could be an hour or more, but remember that the longer you let the bait do its work, the more confidence the chub will have and the better the chance that your first fish will be the biggest in the shoal.
  3. Chub bites can be easy to miss, as the fish will pick up a bait in the edge of their lips and swim off with it. Wait for a positive bite and do not strike at knocks on the rod tip.
  4.  Play chub quite hard, and try to keep them away from the near margin. Chub have an uncanny knack of being able to transfer the hook to the minutest piece of vegetation, so keeping them away from snags is essential.
  5. Wrap up warm. Chub are one of the few species that can be relied upon to feed in the coldest of conditions, but you have to be comfortable on the bank to last long in such extreme conditions.

Delve deeper into the world of chub fishing

Chub are a fascinating species that can be caught using so many different tactics, and this blog has only just scratched the surface. To learn more about chub, check out the Chub Study Group. As the name suggests, it was established to further our knowledge about chub and chub fishing and have a great website where you can learn more about the species.

About the author

Paul Garner is a fisheries biologist and writer based in the West Midlands. He has been a weekly columnist for Angling Times for many years. The author of two books, Underwater Angling and Scratching the Surface. You can find more articles from Paul on his website at drpaulgarner.co.uk.