THE river season that’s just ended was a truly extraordinary one for catches of big chub, with more 7lb-plus fish reported to Angling Times than ever before.
River records for the species tumbled as huge specimens were reported from all corners of the country, with the likes of the Aire in Yorkshire and the Wey in Surrey joining the big chub league alongside established venues such as the Great Ouse, Thames and Lea.
And it wasn’t just hardened specimen hunters getting in on the action. When travel restrictions were introduced during lockdown, many anglers turned to the species for their local fishing fix – from juniors and newcomers to the sport, right up to top match anglers like Steve Ringer, who helped himself to a new PB of 7lb 9oz!
So, what are the main reasons behind the big-chub boom? Is it that more people are fishing for them, or are other factors helping this popular species to reach huge weights?
Southern specimen ace Pete Cranstoun, a man who’s taken 17 chub over 7lb in his career including a stunning 15lb 9oz brace in the final week of this season, believes that the cyclical nature of chub populations on rivers has played a big part in the welcome spike in weights we’re experiencing.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, if you caught one 5lb chub in a season you were doing well. Back then the Great Ouse wasn’t noted for its big chub, but just look at it now – it’s risen right to the top of the tree over the past 15 years,” said Pete (73).
“Chub fishing on the River Thames is currently at an all-time high too. If you catch four fish, at least one will probably be over 7lb. It seems that in both these rivers there are these small pockets of big fish, and I think that on some rivers the big chub populations go through cycles.
“Look the River Wey in Surrey as another example – in last week’s Angling Times I saw there was a 7lb 3oz fish reported from there. Well, the last time I can remember that river doing a ‘seven’ was in about 1967, when an angler called Mr Truelove landed one, so it could bode well for the big chub sport on the Wey over the coming years.”
NEW ‘BREED’ OF FISH
This notion of rivers going through big-fish cycles is something that rings true with another species fanatic, Ian Nairn from Dorset. A member of the Chub Study Group since 1990, Ian says catches on his beloved River Stour have followed a similar arc.
“The Dorset Stour was arguably the country’s finest big chub river in the late 1990s and early Noughties, with day-ticket venues like Throop producing sevens on an almost weekly basis. For whatever reason, whether it’s predation or the dying-off of those year classes of big fish, the past four or five seasons have been hard going,” said Ian, who lives in Blandford.
“Now we’re starting to catch quite a few smaller chub in the 4lb-6lb bracket that are in superb condition, and I’d like to think the outlook for big chub on the Stour might be a little rosier again.”
Ian believes that the chub populations in many rivers also have an advantage over their predecessors in that they’ve grown up with otters, so have developed a natural caution against predation.
“I’m now catching chub from swims that otters have just swum through. They’re aware of the threat otters pose, unlike those fish that came before them," he added.
Another area where both men are in agreement is the effect climate change is having on our native fish stocks, and their ability to grow bigger, faster.
“Fifty years ago we seemed to have far more harsh winters, with snow and ice blanketing the country what seemed like every other week. Nowadays they are far warmer, meaning there’s more natural food all year round for the fish to get fat on.”
The increased frequency of heavy flooding in winter also has an effect, Ian believes.
“Chub thrive in flooded river conditions, and will feed hard on all the extra food being washed downriver,” he said.
“Look at the state of our rivers now, as the closed season is upon us. They’ve had plenty of flush-throughs, levels are perfect and temperatures are rising. It all adds up to conditions that are spot-on for chub to spawn, and this happens most years now.”
It’s this ability to adapt to all manner of conditions that has helped the species to thrive, and to do better than most species during hard times, says Dr Paul Garner
He told us:
“Chub are opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of any food source, be that natural food, alien invaders such as signal crayfish, or even insects and other foods blown into the rivers.
“They are also able to spawn in a wider range of habitats than other species. They still need gravel to lay their eggs upon, but it doesn’t have to be exceptionally clean gravel as may be the case with barbel.”