Redfin Rob's story on an awayday to the Cambridge Cam.
After the severe beating that Keith and I went through last time, we were all hoping that the February trip would be somewhat calmer and more productive. Umbrellas had been repaired and or replaced as necessary and Santa had supplied Keith with some new waterproofs, absolutely essential if our previous excursion was anything to go by. Fenland weather can turn from a light breeze into a near hurricane, at the drop of a “realtree camo floppy” and as for the rain, although at this time of year it could well be snow!
Living near Ely in Cambridgeshire, the choice of winter species should have been obvious, the pike. After all we were going to fish in arguably the piking capital of Britain, with literally hundreds of miles of river and drains to choose from, all full of prey fish and the predators that hunt them. However, none of us are really into pike fishing, preferring to target other coarse fish and although I often get tempted to search for big river roach late in the season, we felt that a more obliging target was needed and chub was the obvious choice. They will feed in the coldest conditions, eat almost anything and as long as a stealthy approach is adopted, are very catchable.
In the past, before I moved east, I used to do a fair bit of small stream chub fishing and can honestly say, loved every minute of it. Most fish weighed less than a couple of pounds, a 3lb’er was a real prize and “a four” the stuff of dreams.
Cambridgeshire is not a renowned area for chub, although I’m sure they’re present in all the rivers and grow to a good size in some. There is one river that is definitely on the up for them, 4lb’ers are likely, with the genuine chance of “a six” and that is the lower reaches of the river Cam. I was aware of the rivers potential, even though I’d never wet a line in the Cam before. Famous stretches such as the “Pike and Eel” at Chesterton, opposite the “Plough” at Fen Ditton, Clayhithe and “Baitsbite Lock”, not to mention the city areas, all hold chub and after much umming and erring we decided on the section between Clayhithe bridge and Baitsbite Lock. Although not a favoured area for big chub, it is a beautiful place to be and an old 1992 Angling Times “Good Fishing Guide Book” I found hidden away on one of my dusty book shelves, said that chub numbers were increasing, mentioning that the shallow bend upstream of the car park was especially good. Well if numbers were increasing in 1992, the river must be stuffed full of them by now!
So having picked our target species, the venue and when to go, which is determined by the availability of a good Travel Lodge deal for Keith, in this case the first week in February, all we had to decide on was our tactical approach and we’d be fully prepared. So drawing on my vast experience of angling for chub, which took a good 15 seconds, I decided to email Keith to see what he thought. After much head scratching, reading and google searching we were in complete agreement! I would be quiver tipping with a small groundbait feeder and Keith would be float fishing and as for bait we’d take a good variety including maggots, hemp and luncheon meat amongst other things. But the one thing we did agree about was the chub bait “par excellence”, bread in the form of flake or crust for the hook and liquidised for attraction.
The only thing missing was the third member of the “Bream Team”, unfortunately my brother Sie was on his annual family holiday to China, visiting his wife’s parents and although he didn’t want to miss our trip, I’m sure what would be the holiday of a lifetime for most people, more than made up for it. Of course Sie wasn’t the only thing missing, no Sie meant no paste. Something Keith and me were not overly upset about! However, a trip without some reeking concoction polluting the boot of my mondeo just wouldn’t be right some how and for the first time paste would actually be a very appropriate bait, especially if it was of the cheesy variety.
So as a mark of respect to our absent team member, a couple of weeks before the off, having aquired a supply of very mature Cheddar and Danish Blue cheeses, I set about mixing these highly aromatic ingredients together, with some frozen short crust pastry and a few drops of “Chub Attack” flavouring, which I’d picked up in a tackle shop years ago, but never used. The pastry and cheese were grated into a large mixing bowl and then the flavour, along with some red colouring added. What can only be described as a stinking, gooey mess was then kneaded by hand into a smooth paste, placed in several freezer bags and then locked away in the garage freezer. Sie would have been proud.
There was however one thing we couldn’t have planned for & that was the great British weather. Because of “global warming” we had assumed that although it was likely to be cold, it was the beginning of February after all, chances are it might be wet & possibly breezy, but unlikely to be anything more challenging. What we were definitely not expecting was the heaviest snowfall for nearly 20 years arriving from Russia. The weathermen predicted between 10cm and 30cm falling overnight and for a change they were spot on. Being fishermen we planned to go regardless and it was only the following morning, when Keith was about to leave his home in West Sussex, that we reluctantly agreed to call it off. Motorways were closed, bus and train services restricted, even the airports had cancelled flights because of the atrocious conditions and with more snow to follow in the next 24 hours it would have been foolish to risk it. Even if Keith had managed to get here, it was doubtful that we’d be able to get to the river. So we didn’t exactly admit defeat, more postpone success!
Fortunately Keith was able to arrange more time off work and in spite of a chesty cough, the remnants of a particularly nasty bout of flu, four weeks later and the “Bream Team” three (Sie had returned from the orient) were once again carrying the gear to our chosen venue. Unlike our last trip the weather was being kind, with only the lightest of breezes to rustle the straw like reeds and the bright sunshine raising the air temperature to a comfortable 10c. As we approached the towpath next to the Cam at Clayhithe Bridge we were brimming with confidence, even though an overcast sky would have been better for the fishing, the brightness gave the countryside that spring like feel, which after all the snow was most welcome. The river itself looked in perfect trim, having fined down nicely, with that greenish tinge we anglers long for, a far cry from the cold tea that was flowing between its banks the previous week. Also we were the only anglers there, which meant we had the whole place to ourselves. Well not quite, we had to share it with countless joggers, walkers and cyclists who used the towpath off and on all day long, but that was a small price to pay.
The shallow bend looked very fishy and even though we could have set up anywhere, there were three obvious swims. The furthest, upstream opposite the old tree with the thick reed bed to the left, the swim between the trees and the pitch opposite where the stream, or more likely drain joins the river. Keith chose to go in the middle between the trees and Sie chose the reeds, which left me on the bend facing the inlet. I think we were all happy with our choices, but given the option I would have picked Sies swim, that reed bed just screamed fish to me. In hindsight, thank God I didn’t!
Before I tackled up in went four handfuls of tightly squeezed liquidised bread to prime the swim. This was repeated 10 minutes later, after I’d assembled my kit and before I helped Sie get organised. Meanwhile Keith had set up his float rod and was loose feeding maggots into the central channel. None of us realised it at the time, but because of the fast flow, what he was actually doing was pre-baiting my swim for me. Cheers mate!
Sometimes things just don’t go your way and Keith was having one of those days. Not only was he still suffering with his chest, but he had trouble rigging up his float and when finally everything was ready, it ended up tangled in the branches of the tree to his left. Float number two didn’t fare much better, splitting in half first cast. It was probably late morning before he settled into the swim downstream of me and broke out lunch. Something, like all fishermen, he would normally have done 10 minutes after he’d arrived!
Keith wasn’t the only one having problems, Sie had managed to “bung up” his pipe completely and instead of helping, I’d managed to make things worse by sticking a twig down the stem to loosen the tobacco. Not only did he now have tobacco stuck in his pipe, but a twig as well. Eventually and after much hilarity, both were removed by vigorous shaking of the bowl and strenuous blowing! Still, at least he’d had a few bites and on his own paste of all things. It must have been that well known combination of fish attractants, golden syrup, suet, cheesecake topping, chile and ginger that did the trick!
Meanwhile, I wasn’t doing any better, neither bread, corn or cheese paste had generated anything, not so much as a twitch. Bymidday even I was beginning to feel a little despondent. I found it hard to believe that after several hours of intensive angling we hadn’t even managed a fingerling roach between us.
Keith had been offering me his maggots to try all morning and in desperation, more than anything else, I grabbed a handful and began catapulting half a dozen at a time into the middle of the river slightly upstream, while I switched my groundbait feeder for a ½ oz bomb and tied on a tiny size 18 barbless hook. A few minutes later and I was easing myself back into my chair, watching the slightly curved orange quivertip, having cast my double red maggot hookbait into the water. Maybe a quarter of an hour passed before I thought I noticed the tiniest of trembles on the rod tip, but quickly dismissed it as wishful thinking. So out went another pouch full of maggots. I’d like to say that the turn of the reel handle was a deliberate ploy on my part to induce a bite, but I was probably just taking up slack line. Either way, the response was immediate, a good wrap around bite, which, as I was already holding the rod was met with a sweeping strike and all of a sudden it was “fish on”! I don’t think initially the fish realised it was hooked, feeling more like a sack of spuds being slowly dragged along the river bed than something with fins and scales. At first I thought it was a good bream, hence the casual way I called to Sie and Keith. The tone of my voice changed completely when I caught a brief glimpse of the cavernous mouth and thick white lips of a chub as it broke the surface. “It’s a chub, good chub” I spluttered, as calmly and collectedly as any fisherman would who had a potential personal best on the line. But it was not only my fish I was playing.
We’re not called the “Bream Team” for nothing and its honour was also at stake. Immediately I eased the pressure, the chub responded by forcing its way back into the depths, causing the rod to hoop over. Quickly I came to my senses and by extending my arm allowed the rod to guide the fish back upstream and close to the surface for the second time. Crouching down, holding the extended landing net in my left hand I tried to pull him towards the net, but he was having none of it, circling and thrashing before once again disappearing, stripping line, making the clutch on my old Shimano whine. Again he succumbed to the force I was exerting and again he turned away from the net at the last moment, this time straight into the marginal dead weeds. Keith came to the rescue, taking the net, allowing me to control the rod with more precision and third time lucky in he went, fighting every inch of the way.
I new it was a good fish by the weight as we lifted him from the water and when the folds of the net revealed that brassy flank, he seemed to be getting bigger by the second. Keith estimated between 5lb and 6lb, but I thought less. The hook was removed with ease and although the fish flapped a little while I wetted the weigh sling, it was safe on the well padded unhooking mat. The ritual of weighing a good fish, the zeroing of the scales and the waiting for the needle on my old Avons to settle, is a special moment. Keith was right 5lb2oz, “you beauty”. A couple of still photos later and that stunning fish was resting in the landing net, getting its breath back before release. It took a mere 10 seconds before he was upright and swimming over the rim of the net, back into the Cam.
For me successfully catching the intended species is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of angling. Selecting a venue, the tactics (however haphazard) and then achieving ones goal is what it’s all about and when a real specimen comes along, especially when it’s shared with team mates, well, lets just say it’s a special moment.
Even though we never had another bite, the walk back to the cars was a happy one, the conversation constantly switching from the capture of that glorious chub to Sies forthcoming dvd, the story we’d write and of course when and where were we going to fish next time.
Redfin Rob Jan 2010