James Brewer takes the Cadence Fishing blog reigns this week as he looks back on a trip fishing for big chub on the River Stour.
Success was entirely at the mercy of the weather. With the preceding months of rain, the ground was saturated. Any additional wet weather would have tipped the balance and spilled the river back into flood.
Balancing life with a young family, a self-employed plumbing diary and a burning urge to fish means plucking the first available free days on the calendar, booking a hotel and day tickets and then praying religiously to the Gods for mercy every Sunday evening, but on this occasion, the Gods of the Countryfile weather forecast were only half-listening.
The week leading up to the trip was dry, and the Environment Agency website showed the Dorset Stour at Throop dropping steadily down to a float fishable level. Thursday promised to be good weather with perfect float fishing conditions. However, heavy rain on Thursday night and through to midday Friday threatened to ruin the conditions for both Friday and Saturday’s fishing. With the outlook as it was, if I hadn’t been taking my dad with me for his first Stour adventure, I would have probably cancelled the hotel and postponed the trip.
My dad was planning to fish on the lead regardless of conditions, so he was dead keen to wet a line. With the decision made to go ahead with the trip and my fingers crossed, I made the eleventh-hour call to Callum Dicks of Bristol Angling Centre to order some lovely fresh bait for the float: eight pints of red maggots, three pints of bronze maggots, four pints of casters and four cans of Bait Tech’s cooked hemp.
The conditions on the first morning were better than promised, and the river greeted us with a still haze, stained golden from the sun melting its way through the mist. We loaded our gear onto our backs, and I took my dad for a healthy walk along the river to give him “The Tour.” After a long, sweaty trudge the golden stillness was abruptly shattered and painted an ugly blue as I realised that I’d left my key to the Ringwood and District Angling Association gate back in the van!! Without the key, we couldn’t access the lower pegs, which looked our best bet for a good day’s fishing. Trying to put a positive spin on events, I persuaded myself that a quick visit to the van would allow me to grab my waders and unlock the potential of some of the area’s fast-flowing tree-lined pegs, which are best fished by wading beyond the reach of the tackle hungry overhanging branches.
My dad settled into a lovely looking peg on Barbel Corner and set up a maggot feeder which was cast into the slower and steadier 14 feet depths. I liked the look of the famed Wendy House swim. A fast-paced stretch of water around four feet deep that I’d not previously had the pleasure of fishing. My waders were put to immediate use, and I was just able to set up a bank stick for my landing net and a bait waiter a third of the way out into the river in the hard gravel bottom. The set-up of choice for this peg was my Cadence CR10 16ft Match #2 rod coupled to an Okuma Sheffield centrepin reel loaded with Dave Harrell 4lb Pro Float line. The length of the rod allowed me to trot a DH No1 Alloy Avon straight off the rod tip into a mid-river line that looked the best for trotting. I baited my size 20 Guru F1 pellet hook pre-tied to 0.11mm (rated 3lb) with a single red maggot and started trotting with a small pouch of maggots loose fed at the start of each trot. Remarkably I hooked and landed a spirited chub of around 3lb after around 40 minutes of fishing. I was expecting to have to build the confidence of the fish for longer before catching, so I was delighted to have caught so early into the session. Sadly, that proved to be my only chub of the day. However, a few dace, small roach and numerous minnows were happy to entertain my cold and numb fingers.
Eventually, the cold water proved too much for my numbed toes, and I packed away, eager to see how my dad’s day had gone. Thankfully he’d enjoyed himself, and despite not hooking any of the resident big chub or barbel, he’d had fun catching a mixed bag of roach, dace, gudgeon and of course minnows.
The weather forecasts overnight were grim. The BBC weather app, Met Office weather app and local television news forecasts all colluded to terrorise the skies with heavy rain through the night and into the early afternoon of the next day. Downhearted we went about acclimatising our minds to the prospect of a cold day’s fishing under umbrellas while recharging with a full-frontal Toby Carvery. Something was amiss; however, by 11 pm we should have been two hours into a nine-hour downpour, but the skies were not yet punishing us. We hopefully set the morning alarms for 6 am and awoke to find the Gods had heard my prayers. The rain overnight was minimal, the river level had dropped slightly overnight, and its colour was still somewhere between tap water and gin. Thinking about it now, I should have probably bought a few lottery tickets, but at the time all we could think about was fishing!
Sadly, the second day didn’t live up to expectations. My dad fished below New Weir with maggot feeder and blanked while I fished float at the entrance to the Mill Pool and caught my smallest Throop chub of around a pound and lost a more substantial fish which felt like it might have been around 3-4lb. Reports from other anglers walking the banks were of multiple catches of big chub up to 5lb 13oz from further downstream. This carved my decision on a location for the third and final day of the trip, an area known as “Pig Island” on the Bournemouth bank roughly halfway between where we fished on days one and two. I was excited to fish here because I’d not fished the peg before and knew it was in a good area for the waggler, a tactic I’d not previously had cause to use on the river. This peg meant I was able to debut my brand-new Cadence CR10 15ft #1 rod, something I was eager to put through its paces and christen with a big chub. I set this rod up with a Cadence CS10 4000 reel loaded with 4lb Dave Harrell Pro Float line to fish a DH Speci waggler over to the far bank around ¾ of the way out.
The rod and reel felt great together. There was plenty of power to punch out the heavy waggler, and the length of the rod made mending the line in the fast current an effortless task. The line pick-up at the end of the trot was excellent, and I was quick to set the hook into some false bites given by several of the remaining weed beds. A few times, I hooked deep into weed and was impressed by the power of the rod as I put it under a full curve to pull free. It was amazing how much pressure I could put on my light tackle without straightening out my size 20 hook or snapping my delicate 0.11mm hook length. When fishing for chub at Throop, I’ve learnt it pays to freeze for a moment after striking. Sometimes it feels like the hook has once again found a weed bed after what looked like a positive bite on the float. Often, however, the solid resistance soon nods and identifies itself as a large chub, defiantly hanging in the current. My process of strike and wait while studying the rod tip paid off after only about 20mins of fishing when I hooked my first chub. It felt like a good fish, possibly around the 4-5lb mark, although it’s often hard to judge size correctly in the fast-paced current. I steadily and cautiously gained line, the rod tip absorbing the fish’s lunges and the clutch set loose to protect the line from any sudden lurches the fish might make. Everything felt good until suddenly the line slackened and the rod tip sprang back to a fishless posture. The hooklink had snapped halfway down. A silly previous cast where I failed to trap the line before the float landed meant the line landed in a heap rather than straight and tangle-free. I managed to untangle the mainline, but I think the hooklink must have knotted and caused it to be unexpectedly weak.
My immediate disappointment was diluted by the prospect of the fish coming promisingly early into the session and there being the potential of a bigger shoal in the swim. I continued feeding with a pouch of maggots upstream to 11 o’clock followed by a pouch of hemp and caster straight out in front of me. Given the marginal weed and the natural bend of the river, I had to hook fish between the 1 and 2 o’clock positions to stand half a chance of landing them. Any further down the peg and the angle would have been too steep to get the fish into the clearer mid-river position, and any hooked fish would have run straight into my bank, transferring the hook to the dead reed stems in that impossible way the only chub know.
I retied my Guru hook, rebaited and re-cast relentlessly for several bite-less hours. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t catching, everything looked perfect, and I was confident there were fish in the swim. I backed off and had a bit of lunch, raided my flask of hot coffee and continued to feed the swim while I set up another rod with a different presentation. Back to the trusty Cadence CR10 16ft #2, this time coupled with my Cadence CS10 4000 and a 4g DH Alloy Avon bulk shotted with an olivette held in place with No8 stotz around 2ft from the hook with another small bulk of No8s at the top of the hook length. It rode the current perfectly and it looked like a fish was guaranteed, but nothing happened. I knew something else needed to be tweaked. I couldn’t believe there were no fish feeding. I decided to make the set up more delicate and tied a Kamasan B911 size 20 to a length of 0.11mm Preston Innovations Reflo Power line, which was approximately 18 inches long. I tied this loop to loop with the mainline and pushed the small bulk of No8 droppers up the line to sit with the main bulk around the olivette. I hoped the set-up would be heavy enough to get to the bottom quickly but free of shot and delicate enough to waft around in the current as naturally as possible.
Several trots with a single red maggot produced nothing. I switched to a single bronze maggot and next trot the float buried. It wasn’t a chub; it was a dace. A very welcome dace that saved a blank and warranted a happy selfie! Another single bronze and the float buried again. It was a good chub this time, it hung steadily in the current and made me do all the work to gain any line. The rod and reel worked in harmony, and I allowed myself a grin of relief, but it was too soon. As I wound in, the clutch span and the rod tip continued to curve.
Both irritating signs that the chub had gifted me with a weed bed. Two signs of fish in two casts were enough to keep my spirits high, and I decided to rest the swim for a while, warm up with another coffee and keep the loose feed going in. A few minutes later and my float was gliding along the current pulling the line off the long rod tip without any line even touching the water. Perfect. Then it disappeared suddenly and violently. My strike was met by a reassuring, slow-moving solid resistance that told me I was into a fish that I didn’t want to lose. As I slowly gained line, my heart made its presence felt as it worked its way up my chest and into my mouth. I’d not felt this nervous playing a fish for years, but it was day three of an annual trip which had seen me lose more fish than I’d landed. I created so much tension in my mind I started to wish I’d not hooked it in the first place and wondered if I could swap it for a smaller, less nerve-racking one! Thankfully I was able to keep steadily winding in, and the fish stayed in a mid-river line that I knew was weed-free. I guided it slightly upstream and slid my Cadence 4.2m landing net below and let the fish drift back into the waiting mesh.
It was big. I was relieved.
When using a long rod and standing at river level it can be hard to get a fish close enough to net it, the 4.2m length of the Cadence net made the job far easier, and the incredible strength of the pole meant it easily held its own in the strong current.
I unhooked the fish in the water and put my rod on the rest. I let the fish recover in the net and continued to feed the swim as I did so. I took the fish up the bank to my zeroed scales and patiently waited for their reading to hold. 5lb 11oz. The obligatory shout of “Yesss” and a good bit of air-punching preceded a little celebratory dance that I think even the chub was embarrassed by! I slipped it back into the net and rested it as two anglers, Mark and Tony, approached from downstream. They obliged with photographs, and I asked if they could take some pictures of me and the Cadence gear “in action” for a blog. I was going to fake a trot for these shots but decided to put another maggot on the hook just in case. My luck was in! I hooked another chub halfway down the trot! This one was smaller but knew exactly where to go and managed to find some weed just downstream of me. I pulled, but the line was solid. I thought back to my carp fishing days and decided to slacken off and put the rod in the rest, after a few seconds I picked up the rod, walked downstream to change the angle of pull and wound down on the fish which obligingly swam right out of the weed and into clear water. The fish was around the 2lb mark and made my day.
Mark and I swapped numbers, and he sent me all the pictures he’d taken before they carried on their walk upstream. Shortly after this my dad arrived and reported he’d had another blank session in the peg he’d fished the day before. He cast out in the peg above me, and I got back to my fishing. A single bronze maggot worked its way downstream and after its third journey was intercepted by another eager chub, this one weighing 3lb 7oz. With the daylight fading, I hurriedly rebaited and cast out expectantly. The float buried early this time, I thought it was too high up the peg though to be a fish and assumed it must be weed. I followed my protocol, struck, waited and watched, and then all hell broke loose.
The fish tore line off the reel and charged upstream at such determined pace I thought I’d hooked a barbel or a sea trout. I reminded myself of the light line and small hook I was using, loosened the clutch and made patience my tactic of preference. Thankfully, the fight was fairly uneventful after this initial charge, and the fish simply used its weight to hang in the current. The power in the rod meant it was more than adequate to deal with the strength of the current while still being delicate enough to absorb any sudden head shakes. Again, I eased the fish upstream and let it drift back into the waiting net. I took a look. It was another big fish. I yelled to my dad and unhooked the chub in the water. My dad asked how big it was and I told him I’d not weighed it yet, but it looked at least as big as the 5lb 11oz fish I’d caught earlier.
I took the fish in the net up the bank to my dad and zeroed the scales. As we parted the mesh of the net fully, we had our first proper look at the fish, and both gasped at the size as we slid it into the weigh sling. The scales teased us as they displayed a few ounces over and then a few ounces under before finally settling and displaying “HOLD” with the magical 6lb mark being reached exactly. We shared a look of excitement mixed with disbelief and repeated the process two more times to make certain and each time revealed the same weight: 6lb 0oz. An absolute beauty of a fish too. I was delighted and punched the air a little more subtly this time and saved myself the embarrassment of “the dance” in front of another human, even if it was my dad.
There was just about enough light for the all-important one last cast, and so I did. I felt greedy but knowing I’d have to wait another 12 months for the opportunity to fish this wonderful river I indulged myself and was rewarded with another stunning chub of 4lb 7oz. Using both the light from my phone and the light reflecting off the unsubtle toothy grin, I packed away in the dark.
Unfortunately, my dad didn’t manage any big chub this trip. However, we fished a tough and heavily fished day ticket stretch of the Stour filled with far above average sized fish, and the fishing is far from easy. It’s always hard learning a new river anyway, but he’s a very good and determined angler, and I have every confidence he’ll crack it if he chooses to. It’s taken me several years to feel vaguely competent there, and I have learnt valuable lessons from every visit. Reflecting on this trip, it struck me as amazing how after three days of fishing almost dawn to dusk, all the action came in the final two and a half hours of the trip. I also thought about how lucky it was that I kept ringing the changes with my presentation to finally find the winning method. Oh, and I don’t usually take bronze maggots to Throop, but after this trip, I won’t be leaving the house without them.