Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/The chub

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I have now to speak of a fresh-water fish, which if not held in such high estimation by anglers as are the jack, perch, trout, or roach, is nevertheless one which affords them considerable sport—viz., the chub.

The chub is a very stout and sturdy fish, not unlike the barbel in his habits, and in shape bears a closer resemblance to that inhabitant of our fresh waters than to any other of the tribe.

Chub are common to all British and nearly almost all European fresh-waters, and are very fine in our own northern lakes, as also in those of America; indeed, the splendid lakes and rivers of the New World contain inexhaustible stores of fish for the angler’s rod and line. Pike in the Canadian and northern lakes run as high as forty pounds weight, and the supply of trout and salmon-trout (Salmo ferox) is unlimited. The weight of the chub in English waters varies from half a pound to nine pounds, and the finest fish are taken in the lake districts and in the Thames. A gentle yet rapid stream is the best water in which to fish for chub. They delight to haunt old sunken stumps of trees, preferring the willow and the pollard-oak. Osier-beds, such as are found by the side of eyots and small islands, are also favourite resorts of the chub. This fish will lie basking motionless for hours on the surface of the shallow water, beneath small wooden bridges, especially where a ditch or two may happen to join the main river. Where the willow abounds there is the certainty of finding chub—and mostly heavy fish—for they lurk in the deep water beneath the gnarled roots of the trees, or in deserted rat-holes below water-mark. In this particular the chub strongly resembles the jack, as he will lie hidden in his lair for hours, darting out occasionally on his prey, but always returning to his post.

I once watched a large chub, at intervals, for several successive days thus seeking his food. His haunt was the hollow space in a clay bank, immediately below the submerged roots of a very large pollard-oak at Henley-on-Thames (in the reach above bridge). I could not mistake the identity of the fish, since it was marked across the tail-part with a broad white scar caused by the teeth of a jack. This chub was a very “old stager,” for though I tried every art to catch him—and my friends pay me the compliment of asserting that I am a thoroughly experienced fisherman—I could not succeed; and eventually, to my great indignation, he was killed by the punt-pole of a neighbouring boatman, about as surly a Diogenes as one need wish to encounter. The weight of this chub, which I saw put in the scales myself, was six pounds one ounce, and the barest possible fraction over.

Chub are not very dainty feeders, and will bite readily at gentles, lob-worms, red-worms, and various sorts of flies; and where brambles overhang the water, I have seen them taken with a blackberry. A grass-hopper, a humble bee, a cockchafer, and a white moth, have all been used with success on hot evenings in July and August for taking very large chub, but these baits are of no use unless the fish are known to run heavy. When the angler fishes thus he must keep quite out of sight, taking care not to throw his shadow on the water, which would scare the fish. He should keep behind the trees bordering the river bank, and let his bait drop gently on the water in the eddy of the stream where the largest fish always lie. If there be a large chub “on the feed,” within sight of the bait, he is certain to pouch it. I have used the white moth in this manner with much success. This kind of angling requires great skill, and I must also add considerable experience. Another excellent plan is to proceed along the willows on a river in a boat rowed by another person. Let the fisher use for his bait a well scoured red lob-worm, and throw his line gently twenty yards a-head of the boat as if fly-fishing, the rower halting at every cast for about half a minute, which is sufficient time, for if a large chub intend to bite, he will do so at once, or not at all. Or a punt may be used for this kind of fishing. I have seen very heavy chub thus taken. The smaller chub may be taken with the gentle as in roach-fishing. In this case, fasten your punt close underneath the willow-boughs, or by a clay bank where there is a quick stream. Use roach tackle, but a rather stouter hook (say No. 9), and have a ground-bait to attract the fish, made of stale bread and bran, mixed with a few gentles, the same as for roach, or a ground-bait of clay and small red worms, in which latter case your bait must be a red worm. The last-named method I prefer, and would recommend where chub are plentiful; but it depends much upon the waters in which you fish, as it is well known that a plan adopted with great success in some rivers, will altogether fail in others. I have taken very fine chub with a minnow-bait when perch-fishing, and where I have known the chub to run large—say, from three pounds upwards—I have intentionally used the minnow-bait with the sole purpose of catching large chub, and have thus secured three or four brace of heavy ones. Of course, the minnow-bait has this advantage, that you have always the chance of a perch or jack taking it, and indeed it often happens, where anglers are fishing with the minnow in a chub haunt, that a large jack or two is secured; since jack, like the chub, are exceedingly fond of lurking under the submerged roots of old trees. I have often, on such an occasion, dropped my minnow actually into a jack’s mouth. A large jack, thus hooked, requires much skill to land, as he is more likely than not to snap the gut, for gimp hooks are not used in chub-fishing. It is certainly a great feat in angling to land a jack of any size with a gut-line, and one for which the fortunate sportsman may take to himself considerable credit.

I may safely assert that the average weight of the chub in Great Britain is from one to four pounds, though in the Thames, and many other waters, they are taken much larger. Chub are only of value for the sport they afford, since their flesh is coarse and bony, and has that peculiar flavour known to anglers as “muddy.” They are sometimes dressed with a stuffing, or stewed in wine, as are both jack and carp; but no amount of culinary skill will, in my opinion, ever render the chub a palatable dish—at least, if my readers think fit to experimentalise on it, it shall not be on my recommendation.

Chub may be taken at all fishing-stations on the river Thames below Richmond, and I may mention the river from Reading to Great Marlow as good chub-fishing ground. Staines, Shepperton, and Walton, I have known to furnish good sport, but I should say that lower down the river the fishing was decidedly superior. From Maidenhead to Henley there is first-rate chub and jack fishing, and the little river Loddon, approaching Wargrave and Shiplake, contains some very heavy fish of both sorts, as well as good perch. The summer months are the best, I think, for chub-fishing, as they may then be taken well with either the natural or the artificial fly in most rivers. In the winter months the best bait is a fine paste, or bullock’s pith and brains—the latter exceedingly killing in cold clear weather. Chub do not thrive so well in ponds or very still waters, as they love eddies and gently rippling corners, such as the ditches and small inlets that join a large river, or near mill-streams, where the water carried down from the mill-wheel causes a rapid and continuous flow. In such places chub bite greedily, and run large, and, with skill, afford sport quite equal to that of barbel-fishing. In their habits, as I have observed, chub have many points of resemblance to the barbel, and where one is found the other is usually not unlikely to be near at hand. The river Isis is said to contain exceedingly large chub, and I have often taken large ones between Oxford and Eynsham, but I do not remember to have caught any over three pounds in weight. Certainly I have taken many about or a little under that size, but none larger. I have been often told of persons having seen them as heavy as seven or eight pounds in the water I mention, but I never saw any so large myself, though a pretty accurate observer and constant angler. The truth is, that a very large fish in the water looks even larger than he really is, and mere lookers-on, who have not been in the habit of judging the weight of fish by the eye, are apt to be deceived, and hence often grossly, though not wilfully, exaggerate. I believe that chub of five or six pounds’ weight are not at all uncommon in certain waters, and, as above stated, I have seen one of the latter size at Henley-on-Thames; but I think that four pounds’ weight may be reckoned the average of good chub in most English waters, and I should look upon those over six pounds as fairly entitled to be considered exceptional fish.

Whether or not the jack has a peculiar partiality for a chub dinner I do not know, and perhaps if I asserted such a fact I should be liable to correction. I know that few anglers use a chub bait from choice in fishing for jack, but it has struck me as somewhat singular that in my angling experience I have taken more chub marked by the teeth of the jack than I have any other fish similarly injured, which would seem to imply that the jack has a preference for this fish as food. It may, however, be possible that the true reason of my having observed so many chub thus marked (and so few in proportion of other fish), is that the chub, being a hardier fish, often survives the effect of a deadly “grip” which would have proved fatal to the roach or dace, and hence the solution of a fact I can positively assert, viz., that chub are very often marked by the teeth of the jack. I have taken chub so scarred and wounded by a jack as to be almost divided in two, and yet apparently lively and healthy. I once caught a chub thus marked which appeared to have been recently injured, certainly within a week, yet he took my bait, a gentle, quite eagerly.

In some districts the chub is known as the “chod,” or “cheven.” Possibly the fish—I only hazard this as a suggestion—is thus named from the fulness of its head and jaws; indeed, we still apply the epithet “chubby” to a particularly well-fed specimen of our English boy tribe. In feeding, a large chub will make a peculiar “chopping” noise with his mouth, such as I have noticed in no other fish. This sound is not occasioned (as might be conjectured) by greediness, but by the peculiar formation of the jaws of the chub. Chub—though biting boldly—are wary fish, and the cognomen of “river-fox” given them by quaint old Sir Izaak Walton is not perhaps altogether an inapt one. In conclusion I may add, in justice to a fish not very generally popular, that although the chub does not rank in the first class of “sporting” fish, and has no peculiarly striking merits or characteristics, he may yet on occasion afford far from bad amusement to us “brothers of the angle.”

Astley H. Baldwin.