Where is winter?

Welchy wonders what has happened to his favourite season as he starts to get amongst the chub.

As I sit down to write this, the first of my blogs for the new Enterprise Tackle website, it is the beginning of December and yet down here in my part of the world, on the Hampshire / Surrey border, we have yet to see a frost! Not only has the temperature not dipped below zero but my bedside weather station (a must-have for accurate weather prediction) shows that the coldest it has been during the last month is 2.5C and the warmest an almost sultry 19C. As an angler who delights in winter river fishing above all other aspects of our sport it has, so far, been a complete write off!

ian welch - where is winterI’ve written many times on my preference for fishing in winter over and above all other seasons and I still get a great kick from crunching along a deserted and frozen river bank to spend the day trotting for grayling and dace or perhaps even link legering or fishing the cage feeder for chub on roach with barbel and perch options on the days when the air pressure and temperature combine to create the ideal conditions.

It is not just the lack of freezing temperatures which have, so far, made this winter a total waste of time but the lack of water too and the Environment Agency are talking seriously about drought. Although we have had a little rain here during the past week there has been nothing of any significance for at least three months and certainly nothing to give the rivers the flush through they so desperately need.

A recent walk along a couple of favourite sections showed water almost stagnant in places such was the lack of flow with levels lower than I have ever seen them. Accumulation of silt and debris is beginning to block the odd channel and if they are not pushed through soon reed infringement will change the nature of them totally and the weed… by December it is usually dying back, loosely rooted and in the process of being swept away by heavy flow but no – bright green, fresh growth and blocked runs everywhere!

As it is at present I fished most of my last couple of river sessions not layered in thermals and winter gear but in jeans and a T shirt, only needing to reach for a fleece late in the afternoon; I caught fish, plenty of them as it happens, but it just didn’t feel right!

One particular session last month really sticks in my mind and that was a short visit to a very small stream close to home. It’s a water I don’t fish very often as there are few fishable swims and once you have caught a fish or two that is usually your lot but it is clear, shallow and perfect for stalking and sight fishing which are methods I love; the fish do not run big but it’s fun fishing.

Now by small I mean it is possible to jump across the stream in places and by few swims I mean four once the weed has died back; two in the current conditions! The first of these is on a sharp right hand bend and the chub, so typical for the species, sit on the straight below the bend. The water here is only around a foot deep and gin clear and the approach is through fairly dense undergrowth so it is tricky to be quiet but I managed to get in place without too much fuss and could see a group of four fish below me.

It would have been nice to have put my ‘Crabtree’ head on and freelined a slug to them (which I have done in the past) but with none of the critters to be seen on the footpath I opted instead to fish bread and dropped a walnut-sized ball of liquidised bread at the top of the straight and watched the chub suddenly become alert, fins quivering, as soon as it splashed down; one bolted downstream, never to be seen again, one moved under far bank cover the remaining two just looked nervous – if we always knew exactly what went on when we fished I’m sure it would frighten us!

With two left I was faced with the choice of either putting in a little more feed or casting out my hookbait and if the fish are on edge I always go for the feeding option and chub in particular find it hard to resist a free meal flowing past them so out went another ball of bread and as I watched the first of the particles reach the target area it was obvious they were interested: bodies moved, big white lips twitched, mouths opened, heads dipped. By the time I had put out the fifth handful not only were the two chub feeding but the one who had backed into the reeds was out again and looking for a meal too.

At this stage it is quite easy, the only challenge is if you need to try and split a group to target a particularly large fish but in this instance they were all in the 3 to 4lb bracket and I would be happy with any of them and a big pinch of flake on a 10 with 4lb line straight through and a 2BB link was all it took.

I knew from past experience no matter how hard I baited and how long I waited that I would not get another fish from that swim that day so I dropped into the only other fishable spot. With the water here a little deeper and with a big weeping willow at the downstream end to give cover the fish feel a lot safer and by fishing it sensibly and bullying the first fish you hook out of the swim quickly you can usually, if you are patient, get a second chance.

As I crept into position I could just about make out the shapes of four fish at the top of the glide – the black tips on their tails the giveaway – and there seemed to be a couple holding station further back so I knew I should be able to bag a couple if I got it right.

Tackle and bait-wise I made a few alterations from the first swim. Firstly, I clipped a small cage feeder onto the link instead of just shot as I was confident of feeding here with the greater depth and cover; then I increased the length of my hooklength, a simple and quick process thanks to an Enterprise Adjuster-stop. Finally I added a little hemp and a handful of micro pellets to my liquidised bread to give a mix which would settle out of the swim at different distances downstream of my feeder.

I didn’t even have time to sit down after the first cast as the tip was around in seconds and I gave the fish some serious stick to get it out of the swim quickly; in fact I think it was in the landing net before it had even realised it had made a mistake! I thought it would take a while to get another bite but chub number two was on the bank within five minutes and after another ten minutes I had landed a third.

Quite why there were so many chub in the swim that afternoon I really don’t know but to cut a long story short I ended up with 14 of them! I’d like to say there were a few monsters amongst them but the average size was probably about 3lb 8oz with the largest perhaps just creeping the right side of 5lb. It was not quite what I had expected from my first chub outing of the winter but what great fun!.