Wednesday 3 March 2021

Holding Area & Route Theory Condensed


Many anglers are not interested in theories such as the one I am going to try and explain and I have often heard that such ideas are irrelevant to them as they only fish in areas where they have caught before. This is, of course what the Route Theory is all about.

Nobody who has experienced the tribulations of Winter pike fishing would ever be so brash as to try and explain what is going through a fish’s mind or their thought patterns but some ideas can be gained from their behaviour, habits and actions.  

The Route Theory is only a theory and as with all theories they can neither be proved nor disproved but if you follow logic it is only fair to think if that what is suggested makes sense and falls within your experience over an extended period. If this is the case then it must have some merit if nothing else.

I would like to clarify one thing and that is these theories are best realised on big Lochs, Lakes, and Loughs which are dotted around the Country. They are more prevalent on these types of waters because the distance between each Route or Holding Area can be of a measurably distance but that doesn`t mean that they don`t exist on smaller waters. On smaller waters they can be closer together and difficult to differentiate.

Pike anglers who are observant will have realised that certain behaviours reoccur and a good piker will never believe in coincidences as coincidences work against nature where nothing is done just for the sake of it. Pike don`t aimlessly move around a water haphazardly hoping to meet a dazed silver fish for his meal or spend masses of energy chasing shoals of fish around a water hoping to get lucky. Of course, this is what jack pike do as they grow but soon realise that there are better ways to find a meal and with age comes a change in behaviour to suit.

 All pike movements are designed precisely to make feeding an exact science which may not be dependent on a pike’s intelligence but in its will to survive and if you analyse the life expectancy of a pike and highlight what are its main objectives in that time then I can only find two.

  1. To feed and grow as quickly as possible prior to spawning
  2. To feed so as to produce spawn to further the species

Now if anyone can think of another then I would like to know as these two factors will determine how Routes fall into their daily routine.

If the two scenarios are accepted then the Route Theory can be split into two depending on the time of year, e.g. feeding during the non-Winter period and feeding during Winter to Spring months as follows;

  1. Feeding Routes
  2. Spawning Routes  

These periods are dependent on conditions present at the time and on the individual water.

How can routes and holding areas be identified?

Not to alienate any specific type of pike fishing, the only way a fuller picture of Routes and Holding Areas can be identified on big waters is by being afloat using a method which can locate productive areas and separate them out form non-productive ones. This could take a long time but if you are regularly fishing a water it is worth the effort.

Float Trolling is that method and by moving around quickly on an expanse of water dropping in on areas systematically it will soon be noted that pike are normally caught in these areas to the exception of greater expanses no matter how alluring these expanses may appear. I believe this is an American method of fishing waters much bigger than those we have in the U.K. and must be respected.

Very pikey areas can be pike less and for no apparent reason other areas will produce on a regular basis. These areas will change when spawning becomes a priority.

If I catch good size pike say once in five visits to a Holding Area, I would consider that to be a worth constant revisits. These spots can also be highlighted my watching where other are catching – maybe the best way to start.

Failing this (and remembering not to look at the water, but look through it), areas that visually indicate possible productive area are rocky edges into deeper water, rocky outcrops, weed expanses, underwater changes of contours like mounds or depressions, if you see a land point then follow it out into the water and fish the point at whatever depth you select, a common area like this is the end of islands etc. underwater joggles of contour where the feature creates inner and outer curves. Loughs and Lochs are full of these type of features but finding the productive ones is where the hard work come in.

One common statement that needs to be challenged is when someone advises the angler to concentrate on the “drop offs”. Basically, true but on a 20-mile Lough or Loch the number of areas which can be described as “drop offs” is infinite depending on what the angler considers a “drop off” to be. 2 foot into 10, 10 into 20, 20 into 40. Best of luck locating pike on a week’s holiday.

One good tip if moving around a big water float trolling is always have a bait in the top 10 feet of water. Some anglers say that a pike will come up from 40 feet to take a surface bait but the fact is that pike are already up there in the top tier and not necessarily striking from depth.

To try and differentiate between the productivity of Holding Areas and Routes I believe that Holding Areas will always be more productive than Routes because pike spend more time in Holding Areas as a Route is a path which pike move along and catching a pike whilst in transit is far less probable.    

This identification of these areas doesn`t limit the way you can fish them as lures and dead or live baits can be used to great effect as it is not the fishing method that catches the pike – it’s the location.   

It is important to try and explain why these Holding Areas exist and what purpose they achieve. If as a conclusion it is possible to understand that pike do not dash all over a water looking for silver fish but hide in redetermined areas waiting for the silver fish to come to them then you have understood why this theory makes sense and can be accepted as something to consider before deciding where to fish on a water that you are either familiar or unfamiliar with.

Local knowledge on an unfamiliar water is key and talking to other anglers can result not only in the location of swims that produce pike but more importantly where pike are rarely or never caught. Known areas that never produce pike are more important than anglers think. After all, when you go fishing do you start in an area where you have caught before or where you have never caught?

This doesn`t mean that areas of a water won`t produce pike as I have always thought that no area will produce all of the time but all areas will produce some of the time. Now that may sound a contradiction on what I have previously said but don`t forget that these Holding Areas and particularly the Routes between them are split into different times of the year where behaviour changes to suit the pike reproductive cycle.

Pike will use routes which are familiar to them exclusively and these paths join up the holding areas which are used by pike to ambush their prey because they are either using up as little energy as possible, lazy, or just very clever.

How does this theory of holding areas manifest itself?? Well, that’s an easy one.Over thirty years of pike fishing large waters it has become clear to me that pike will normally be caught in specific locations, which can be as small as 20 feet square in a square mile of water. Pike don`t frequent every acre of water but are concentrated in certain spots which consistently produce pike with other areas being fallow.

Now I accept any comments that this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but before anyone hangs their hat on this statement, I suggest you go out on these big waters and try catching pike from areas which have never produced pike of significance before. You will encounter a glut of blanks which is not what you want if on a week-long holiday.

Holding areas are selected by pike from experience of the movement of the shoaling fish that move in their own way depending on either their method of feeding or to avoid the undertow created by high winds which are common during our Winter period. Shoals are rarely static and it is fair to assume that they move around a water constantly in a predictable pattern.

Wouldn`t it be a wise move for a predator to position itself in an area (through experience and learnt behaviour) when they knew that eventually those very shoals would pass their way for ambush. And as shoal movement can be predicted the predator would have more than one holding area to pick from? These areas will always be the same which also means that the routes joining them would be same. Routes that are used habitually to take the pike from one productive area to another – it just makes sense.

Spawning Routes

Depending on the water and temperature prevalent at the time of year (usually sometime in January) things are about to take a dramatic turn. A change in the behaviour of jack pike occurs and they start to shoal together en mass for two reasons.

1.       To move into the shallow weedy areas and by doing so they inadvertently select the spawning areas for that year.

2.       To hide from the marauding female who are looking for that spawning area and also looking for an easy meal which a jack pike will provide.

This behaviour is a characteristic of the jack pike species that is critical to the spawning procedure and changes the movement of big pike from its feeding habits to spawning ones and manifests itself by the jack pike grouping up.

The jack shoals can be immense in size and if located in real shallow water can produce great sport, especially on lures, but more importantly it is an indication that in adjacent open water larger pike will (or can be) patrolling in a search for its prey – jack pike.

With the jack pike “gone missing” from their usual haunts larger pike spend their time both feeding to produce spawn and searching for the predetermined shallow water spawning areas. Nature has deemed it that pike will not spawn in the same place or at the same time each year and thank God for that as this irregular behaviour ensures the species longevity. For the pike angler this means a series of long hard slogs searching for these areas of interest. On smaller waters you can count these seasonal areas on one hand, but on large waters there could be a hundred.

For the angler it should be noted that big pre-spawning pike will move into and, out of shallow water during this period so finding the jack shoals is the first sign you should be looking for.


You can say this theory is nonsense, irrelevant or exaggerated but the one thing you can`t say about it is that been made up from thin air. As previously suggested, there is no place in the natural world for coincidence and non-productive activity. Everything happens for a reason.

It may not be as relevant in smaller waters with different shapes (drains, canals) or sizes (small Llkes) but it does work in the large loughs and lochs that I have fished. Living in Newport in South Wales leaves little time (even over the years) to say that I am an expert in all these waters as I am far from that, and I have always thought that I`m not the best pike angler in the World, but I am probably the most observant.

Take from it what you please and I hope that if you have no experience on larger waters you can gain an edge to at least give you a start in catching pike on these magical waters that present the angler with the ultimate test.


Chris Donovan.

Thursday 17 December 2020

Perched Out, Found Out


Ever since my early encounters with perch I have been fascinated by their behaviour and sheer beauty.  Such wonderment is heightened when it involves specimen perch and becomes seriously obsessive once they’re over four pound.

          I have been fortunate to catch various forms of the species throughout the world, including Nile Perch beyond 100lb, but the real perching is done back home.

          The modus operandi has always been to find my own perch and target them in a circumspect manner.  Perhaps it’s coming from the good old secretive days of specimen hunting that I find it best to work alone, only sharing captures with a few close friends.  Big perch, like other predators, simply cannot stand too much pressure.  Nor will you do yourself or the fish any favours with publicity that exposes venues, especially in this age of social media where news is disseminated wide and far instantly.

          In my lifetime I’ve witnessed two perch diseases, the last in circa 1985 left many waters decimated.  It was a long, long journey until the late 1990s when signs of specimen perch started to show again.  I still have my old Ordnance Survey maps of venues that I explored and one such water, Marden Thorn, finally gave me a nice perch one Christmas Eve.  I was back in business!  However, no sooner had the festive period finished when the county was beset with ‘foot and mouth’ disease.  Fishing waters were closed and by the time the ban was lifted the controlling club had lost it to a private buyer.  I was devastated.  Fortunately, all the groundwork assessing venues meant I had others with potential.  And sometimes things happen for a reason as fate takes its toll.

          Although this story was partly covered in ‘The Biggest Fish of All’ the full events and aftermath have never been told.  To cut a long story short, working alone over the seasons, picking the days and times to go, I discretely caught a number of fours culminating in March 2004 with a 5lb 1oz perch.  In historical context, it was 8oz behind the existing record, zoomed into The Top 50, and was the first five reported in years, apart from a 5lb 0oz and a 5lb 4oz that same year from the then ‘Perch Mecca’, the Great Ouse.

          Those big perch had been there for some time and no one knew.  Indeed, I nearly gave up on the lake until, at the very last attempt after flogging its banks for a dozen days, a 2lb perch followed a retrieving bait to my rod tip ring.  With dorsal fin erect, he basked in all his glory for what seemed like an eternity, eyes changing between lobworm and me, then suddenly he slowly turned, flicking his tail, before moving off at snail pace in a display of utter contempt to the angler for insulting him.  Although I was impressed by this performance it gave me all the encouragement needed to return the next day, where I duly caught his mother at 4lb 8oz. It was the start of a perch journey I shall never forget.

          That experience culminated in the five which, for the record, measured 20” (from mouth to tail tip) x 15 ½” inches, and was caught with another at 2lb 10oz 8drms.  It was the highlight of a memorable week that saw me go through the card with perch in every pound division right up to five, including another brace of 4lb 0oz 8drms and 3lb 9oz 8drms.   My initial cool when landing the fish was probably due to recognising it on the unhooking mat as a big four from the previous season.  Naturally, I assumed it was a four - I fished for fours, 5lb perch were just never considered!  On the scales for the third time and only when it confirmed the previous readings, which was actually a shade over the 1oz mark, did my knees go. 

          Composure was soon restored when I needed some pictures.  A dog walker I befriended would do the honours and I knew when he’d be around on my short sessions.  Except this day he didn’t show so as dusk arrived I put my old 35mm camera on a bankstick and took 6 shots, all were out of focus apart from one here which is slightly so and dull.  Thankfully I decided, in the age when you had to wait for your prints back from the chemists, to call my wife, Alison.  In pitch black darkness the photo shoot was a bit like the ‘Golden Shot’ (younger readers may need to ‘Google’ that once popular TV programme) with me going “Up a bit, left a bit, down a!”.  It did give me peace of mind and I could include the 2lb 10oz which also gave a reference of scale to the size of the biggun.  Sometimes the easiest part is catching the fish! 

 We went home and got on with the routines of everyday domestic life, the only time I gave it thought was for a few seconds laying there in bed before falling asleep.  Back then a 4lb perch was a rare beast and it was only the following morning, when reflecting on that season and previous, that it all began to sink in.  I remember saying “No one is gonna believe this – it’s off the bloody radar!”.

          For sheer fun I went the following Saturday knowing other members would be present.  I just sat down after returning a 3lb 6oz and caught the end of the Grand National only to hear my horse from the work’s sweepstake win the race!  Talk about when your luck’s in!   Then the following day life became really surreal when my team, Millwall, reached the FA Cup final for the first time in their history!  The world had gone crazy!

          I had done it ‘my way’ and no bugger knew, but it left me ‘perched out’ for a number of years.  There was also a negative aftermath which involved a‘green-eyed’ man with whom I was once friends.  After one more session that year I returned home to be told by Alison “You’re in trouble!”.  One of the clubs where I was a member telephoned to say I was using banned livebait on their water to catch perch.  Well not only was I using lobworms, which anyone who knows me will testify I always do back end of the season, but the 5lb perch was caught from another club’s water!  The momentary grief was soon resolved but not before I found out who reported me to the wrong club.

          Spring arrived and I called in to the local Larkfield complex to get in the mood for the start of my tench fishing.  For many years you couldn’t help but bump into Ted Bryan on one of the lakes.  Ted greeted me with “’ere, that bloke you know, he was here last week asking where you had all your big perch from?”.  Now Ted is far from stupid and quickly sussed he was being spoken to for snippets of information, especially the location.  Ted didn’t know the venue, as I had not told anyone at the time, but took an immediate dislike to what the person was trying to do, so then strung him along something rotten.  Frankly, it was hilarious as he had him possibly looking for the location in all different directions!  


This chancer was the most blatant, but he was not the only one, and it really did feel like “the hunter becoming the hunted”.  Late one Sunday afternoon this scenario played on my mind until I suddenly had a burning instinct to visit the fishery to see if there was anyone after my perch.  I recall thinking, whilst driving along, how irrational my behaviour was.  However, upon arrival my suspicions were confirmed by the sight of his Volvo estate car.  My curiosity had to be further satisfied so I made my way towards the water without trying to be noticed.  Suddenly, I could see him on the far side next to an obvious perch holding area.  Thankfully it was too obvious, even to the perch and not much came from that spot.  However, as I carefully approached a favoured swim my heart sank when I saw a loose perch float snagged in marginal rushes.  My secret had been found out!

          It was a relief in a way though because it was getting awkward with friends, one of whom interrogated me the entire journey from mid Kent to Buckinghamshire on a Great Ouse perch trip.  The most bizarre was my old angling mate John Lawrence.  He was convinced of the correct venue but, in order not to lie, and in true politician style, I would neither confirm nor deny.  Having retired for some while, John always went back to the work Christmas dinner and that year sat next to someone who, knowing he fished, told him about the big perch he would photograph when walking his dog.  Yes, you’ve guessed, it was my aforementioned canine cameraman!  What were the odds on that happening?  Despite John getting an accurate description of me I still didn’t confess!

          If the five I caught put the same weight on as it had done from the previous season then it could be a record contender.  I can honestly say it’s the only time I’ve targeted a repeat capture.  I kept away until the following March but my attempts were half-hearted.  I never saw it and, with big fish being on borrowed time, assumed it was dead.  I eventually told my Great Ouse companion who quickly filled his boots, winning numerous angling weekly magazine awards, before finally being convinced of repeat captures.

          Imagine my surprise when yet a further year down I heard my five had been caught at 4lb 13oz – I was delighted.  Particularly so because it was caught by my friend Jim Gibbinson.  Ironically, the previous year I was at Jim’s home and we spoke of my perch but I never volunteered venue nor, being the gentlemen, did he ask.  I would have happily shared information if I thought he was seriously interested. 

          Now Jim discovered the venue by researching the club’s website and seeing a picture of a four in a competition.  If it was weighed in a match then the size had to be correct he thought.  At that very same time, while sitting at my desk in work, I also saw this picture.  In fact, it was the first publicity that named the place and I was horrified to see it.  I actually phoned the club official and asked him to take it down.  After a lengthy conversation, he rightly stated that if a member submits a photo for the website gallery then they have a right for it to be displayed.  Although he was sympathetic to my view I asserted my actions were not just selfish as I feared the perch would become pressurised.


That kind of marked the end of my love affair with the water and those big perch.  The following year I had a reciprocal arrangement with Ian Welch who let me guest the RMC stock lake which held big crucians.  The day before Ian’s arrival I went to the venue to pre-bait only to discover two speci-looking type individuals that were clearly after the perch.  Thankfully, they were not resident in the swims I was targeting.  Just as I catapulted the last of the lobworm halves and 3mm betaine pellets I met a passer-by who rented a house on the landowners’ estate.  Evidently, he was an occasional angler but I was most surprised when he spoke of my friend who, in his words, was “always in the angling press”.  “Have you heard of him?” he asked.  “Name sounds familiar” I vaguely replied.  Upon leaving I immediately phoned my friend who told me he had an arrangement with this chap.  Apparently, every time a big perch was caught he would ring him to come and take the pictures.  Well if this local told me of the perch within minutes then who else had he told!?  If a few people already knew about the water then it had now been well and truly found out!

          I discovered the following day that all was not lost when Ian Welch banked one of the fours.  Better still, the following year on the very same date, he bagged a brace of fours.  I couldn’t have been more joyous as I walked to assist a very emotional Ian with the biggest at 4lb 9oz in his landing net.  In fact I had to grab the pole has he was unknowingly lowering it (and the fish) back into the water, such was his state of euphoria.  It was testament to the anglers and their care that those big perch were still going strong but for me it would be my last visit.  Other venues needed to be explored and my pike fishing had been neglected.

          Rarely, in angling, do you discover such a rich goldmine of specimen fish and have it all to yourself.  I have had similar since with tench and you struggle to keep the lid on others finding out.  That period when you’re the only one is what I crave.  Not just a privilege but a true blessing.  Sod the accolades, awards, prize money or tin-pots (such distractions have never really tempted me).  Nothing can match that feeling of being first to the angling equivalent of reaching the summit and the ecstasy you experience alone, in total isolation.    Usually, you’re already on borrowed time and have to make the most.  When known, some may even doubt your success but who cares?  Yours is the kingdom and glory, so just enjoy the ride.

          As expected, the venue became extremely pressured.  Those big perch have long since died but it still produces specimen sizes, although never a four to my knowledge.  Frankly, for that to happen, it could do with being neglected for a few years but judging from reports and even photos on social media there’s little chance of that happening.

           Within two years of my 5lb 1oz there was a boom in big perch and there’s no denying the past decade has been the best time for a leviathan.

          Today’s young generation of specialist anglers may find it difficult to comprehend the dark ages when a 2lb perch was hard to find.  Don’t take these peak weight productive times for granted though has characteristically they have been rapidly followed by decimation.  Enduring those entire bleak years, hungry for decent perch, all the effort, anguish, miles and blind alleys, was momentarily forgotten after that one capture.

Mike Cutler

Tuesday 27 October 2020


This article was written in the late eighties so bear this in mind as I have tried to update it to put into the present tense.

You will have to excuse me but I do get a little philosophical at times and try and insert my experiences and observations from life and try and relate them what I see happening to some individuals in our pike fishing community. This article tries to explain why some pike anglers enter our pastime with a bang, make a noticeable impact, and then disappear without a by your leave.

I believe that individual and unrealistic ambitions are to blame as I will try and explain.

At present I am watching “Gone With The Wind” on T.V. and I am desperately trying to figure out what is going on. There are a group of people who are living a life of luxury, they go to war, lose everything and battle for years to get back to what they had in the first place. Maybe they put too much importance on the wrong things.

That`s easily done as even in pike fishing you have people who set themselves unrealistic levels of achievement and when they find it impossible to attain the ambition destroys them. They then pack in pike fishing altogether and spend a lot of time and money setting unrealistic objectives in other pursuits. They never change. It`s common place in life also, the ambition takes away the enjoyment and then destroys the person.

The first visible sign of this in piking is the angler who catches a big pike and then curses because it wasn`t a twenty. He replaces the enjoyment he got from catching the pike in the first place with his expectation. The end result I that his day`s fishing is a waste of time and discouraged.

An over achiever? No, he has by self-inducement turned a good day into a poor day and this can`t be right. Life is too short to be unhappy at not fully attaining your goals.

Maybe the people depicted in “Gone With The Wind should have sat back and evaluated what is really important in life and acted accordingly. It would have saved them a great deal of trouble.

I am not moralising but trying to explain why I think that the objectives you set yourself   should be put into perspective with the rest of your life. We have all met these people, fanatics who allow their ambitions to take over their emotions to a point where the catching of pike no longer enjoyable.

I usually evaluate what is important in my life whilst half cut and in a semi daze. I find really important things in my life become clearer. I spend a lot of time day dreaming as well, it`s been that way for a while now. It`s usually about pike fishing and it intensified during the 80`s when became aware of the battle to open Llandegfedd to coarse fishing and the opportunity to legally pike fish it. For many years I lived a stones throw away from its banks and watched it grow from a mediocre trout fishery into a premier coarse fishing venue.

I have been present when the then Welsh Water Authority tried in vain to remove the coarse fish from the water by netting. I was very aware of the battle to open Llandegfedd to the coarse fishing public and watched from afar when it produced those fabulous pike which will go down in pike fishing history. During the following Mach I had a days trout fishing there and was amazed at the change in attitude of the local hardened trout fishers saying that THEIR pike were the biggest in the country. From a Welsh trout fisherman that is equal to puling down the Berlin Wall.

I returned to Wales from Botswana eventually and Llandegfedd was open to the public at large and did manage to catch my dream pike, but this ambition didn`t eat away at me during my time away but took the form of a desire to attain and not a quest to achieve and to me there is a difference.

During this period and after getting married and proving I was a breeder my view of how pike fishing fitted into the rest of my life changed. It is still important to me but it isn`t the end of the world if I blank. I never get bad tempered at a blank or even losing a fish, - disappointed yes, but angry, never. My family and my work are now the center of my life with pike fishing a pleasurable interlude. That is why the ambitions in your life should be set at a reasonable level.

The setting of ambitions is a phenomenon in itself and they are always made when you are least able to fulfil them. You envisage battling through a tough, freezing cold Winter to catch monster pike whilst you are Tench fishing in July. How many times have you decided to go on a diet after devouring a huge meal? You foolishly make a New Years resolution to quit smoking, eating and drinking when you are smoking, eating and drinking. Not the best time to make promises to yourself which will drastically change your way of life.

I am at present lying in bed in a semi drunken state planning out what I will do when I return home to Wales. The tackle I will use, the waters I will fish, and the way I intend to fish for them, the big pike I will tame, and as I day dream I setting objectives which at the time seem so easy to make but not so easy the achieve. This kind of goal setting can be self-destructive as ambitions are like that, they can stretch you to peaks you you never thought possible, or they can drag you down so far that you never achieve anything near your potential.

Take me as an example, at 18 stone I will never ride the winner of the Grand National (unless the weight are drastically amended), or climb Mount Everest. These feats are beyond my reach and I have accepted that, but with fishing I can etch my name in pike fishing history. I can see it no, arise Sir Chris Donovan, one day unknown and the next famous. After all who had ever heard of Gareth Edwards before he caught the British Pike record? I rest my case on that issue.

In my working life I have few ambitions but the one that stands out above all the rest is my eternal quest to get through the day with as little exertion as possible. I share this with many, but with fishing my ambitions are clear, I want to catch a British Record Pike and I want to catch a Tigerfish.          As I am unlikely to catch a pike in Botswana (where I was living at the time) my second choice will suffice. To catch a formidable Tigerfish.

This ambition has laid dormant within me for many years so I will try an explain how this quest started and how I attempted to fulfil it.

It was a bitterly cold November morning in 1981 and I was fishing a local water with Peter Climo. He was in one of his happy go lucky moods when a local lad came up to us and was about to ask what we had caught. Pete blasted him

“We have caught frigging nothing, this water is frigging useless, so why don`t you frig off” or words to that affect. I was astonished as you don`t always find Pete in such a good mood. A short period later Pete suddenly cried.

“Look at this beggar, his teeth are on the outside of his mouth”

After the previous encounter I was afraid to look, but I eventually turned around to see Pete reading the Angling Times. In it Chris Dawn had written an article on Tigerfish fishing in Africa and the main photograph was the cause of his excitement. I eventually got the paper of him (the first time I had ever had to fight to read the Angling Times) and the sight of this creature made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. It was then I decided that if the opportunity ever became available to me I would catch one of these beauties. Africa`s most feared fully aquatic predator.

I think I blanked that day but I will remember that article which gave me what I now feel to be an attainable ambition. It is now October 1989 and I am in bed dozing (again) dreaming of catching a Tigerfish. As I drift off into a deep sleep, I sub consciously re-enact how easy this was going to be.  

The Kalahari Desert is dry and dusty with no rains for seven months. The wind and temperature are rising and everyone is waiting with baited breath in hope that the rains will come. I have decide to make the 1100km journey to fish the Tigerfish rich river Chobe which is situated in Norther Botswans near the then village of Kasane. The conditions for both fishing and driving should be ideal and I set off with great enthusiasm and expectation.

The kilometre’s roll by as I pass village after village, Kanye, Lobaste, Moropule and the larger town of Francistown before an overnight stay at Nata Lodge. I didn`t stay in Francistown as at the time it only had two hotels. One was called the Tati and the other The Grand – The Grand wasn`t and the Tati was hence my decision. The one thing that does strike you about this part of Africa is the distances between Towns and even landmarks. It is an enormous Country and you really have to take your hat off for the explorers how overcame the conditions to explore this then uncharted Continent.

I finally arrived in Kasane on the second day and was greeted by the usual snorting hippo`s in the distance. This area was full of wild life and the visitor wouldn`t be disappointed id wild life was their thing – mine was fishing. This area is also witness to the enormous damage done to the bush by marauding elephants along miles of destroyed bush along the banks of the Chobe River.

Back to fishing. My set up for the forthcoming assault on the local Tigerfish population was a small 8 foot spinning rod, a 30 pound wire trace on 20 pound main line culminating with a 4 inch spoon with a single hook. There is no point having multiple hooks as the Tigerfish`s mouth is 100% bone and the one hook gives you a better chance of hooking up (so they tell me).

The favoured method for catching Tigerfish is to troll from a small powered boat and at £10 an hour you had better catch quickly. I sett off with a guide four kilometre’s down stream to the rapids where the Tigerfish haunted the shallower water. Hour after hour we trolled the entrance to the rapids to no avail and just as my was running out a mighty Tigerfish struck the spoon. It dived and leapt out of the water on many occasions as I repeatedly struck to keep the hook in place. Yes, the rod bent like it had never bent before (I love that line). Yard by Yard this monster reluctantly neared the boat (I had to be quick as it would have cost me another tenner). Yes, I thought to myself, the culmination of nine years waiting was finally satisfied. I was to catch my first Tigerfish.   



This feeling of sheer joy wad suddenly shattered by a large bang. Had the line snapped??? No, I had fallen out of bed and banged my head on the floor. This had been a cruel, wicked dream with me as the victim. There was no trip, there was no fish, but there was still a desire and hope that one day I would be walking away from the river with my head held high and not as it presently was, entangled in carpet fluff. My ambition had not destroyed me, or my love of fishing, it had just entertained me and helped me through another sleepy Botswana afternoon. One day I will catch my Tigerfish and when it comes along, I will be ready. If not today then maybe tomorrow. I will enjoy catching that fish for the fun of it and the companionship of my friends.

So the next time you feel like packing it all in for whatever reason, remember those famous words from Scarlet O`Hara, who after all of her experiences and disappointments coined those immortal words

 “Tomorrow is another day”.

What she really meant is that if at first you don`t succeed, lower your self-imposed standards. It doesn`t hurt that much. If you don`t just relax and enjoy your sport then that is your fault and to coin another famous line from “Gone With The Wind”

“Frankly my dear, I don`t give a damn”

 I did eventually catch the first of many Tigerfish from the Okavango River in Northern Botswana a few years later and I hope you enjoy the photographs I have attached.

 Chris Donovan

Wednesday 30 September 2020

In Pursuit of Pike with Lures

 An offering for our Pitster' pike lure anglers, it's aimed mainly at the folks who dabble or are thinking of dabbling. That having been said, the old dogs amongst us can appreciate the odd reminder that efforts can pay off. It's been rebaked' somewhat from an original mix printed elsewhere.

Some of us do it, some of us don't. Some of us use them pretty much exclusively, others not at all or only on very rare occasions. The gents' that don't, should consider adding “The Approach” to their skillset. Paying lures considerably more attention than just lipservice' can on occasion result in good rewards for one's efforts and the attention you might apply to the detail of your approach when using them can on occasion truly make your day.

The great majority of my piking season is confined to the October to mid March period, with only a rare foray or two outside of the that and only for specific circumstances, in a short “window” period. That's not to say you should confine yourself to the same, this is just what works for me these days. 

So, you get yourself a lure outfit, you get a bagful of lures and you get yourself out there and throw them all over the place. Well, it might work, it might not. There's certainly a better chance to increase yourprospects if you stop and just think about the “how and where” of what it is you are looking to achieve. Allow me to offer two examples of what a bit of thought and a particular approach by yourself can get you, they are only examples and I'm sure if more folks thought about using a particular approach on a particular venue, after giving it some thought, they could well reap dividends on the day. 

There was a venue which I was making an effort to familiarize myself with by walking it without any tackle other than a pair of glasses and a small pack. I did this for some time to try to get a feeling for the water and the different shore areas in differing wind directions and conditions. It was quite shallow in places with good water visibility. On some days the Glasses showed me surface activity by large fish, but they were out at range, well out at range in fact. In places it was just too dam shallow and it looked to be a case of “If they won't come to me I might have to go to them”. Careful investigation showed me that with the aid of a set of “chesties” and surfing boots I might just have a chance.

I wanted an outfit for distance work, that was the only way I was going to get a lure into the zone of activity that was spotted. During that time I imported a “Fox Terminator Elite Big Bait Spin”, in the 3 metre model and rated up to 168grams. It would prove ideal for the purpose, I believe this particular version might be out of production now? The rod was designed for fixed spool use, I paired it with a 5000 sized Shimano and began with 50lbs Power Pro (an old habit), soon changing to Suffix 832 and latterly Daiwa J Braid when it became available. Distance capability was all important in the circumstances and the thinner the diameter, well, you know the rest.

So, out “in” the water and well away from the bank, how are we going to control anything of the large economy size and get it back to that mat safely? Looking for a net capable enough for that “twenty plus” fish, I fell over the Fox Rage Speedflow, the NLN001 model. It turned out to be a very suitable choice, it floated on the surface out-of-the-box so to speak. Now I know one or two other Gents have lost this model overboard and it went down, I can only say that when parked carefully on the surface right next to me, it floated and without adding anything to it!

We were getting there. What was needed now was a Lure that was going to call out to the local Preds' and both advertise not only it's arrival (big splash) but went on to indicate it's direction of travel as they might come in looking for the disturbance, it should continue to advertise it's presencefirst by sound and then as they might draw closer by sight as well. It was the Joe Bucher stable that was chosen, specifically the Joe Bucher Topraider, a surface lure with a good reputation already established.So, with “Sight and Sound” taken care of, there was the added tweak of “Colour” for a lure they would first hear, then hopefully follow what they were hearing to investigate and then see exactly what was making the splashing that lured them in to the follow. There's a choice here of course, I went for what is commonly known as a “Baby Duck” pattern and I asked Mark Houghton to put his interpretation into acouple of the said for me. In this case the lure has quite a lot of yellow in it. Other patterns might well have worked, this was my particular lead choice. The underbody treble was changed out for a finer wire, the rear was left “as is”, no regrets there on occasions, as the underbody treble was the hook-up of choice for every fish that came in. I would add that you might consider changing the rear out for yourself, just for extra peace of mind perhaps.

It was certainly a new and different experience, standing chest deep and well away from the shoreline, getting as much distance as possible in order to get the “duck” into the zone of activity. It worked! On days when they were up for it I found fish around the mid teens were exploding upwards clean out of thewater straight under the lure being retrieved, spectacular stuff. I got the distinct impression that the real targets, the twenty plusers', were apparently eyeballing the Raider' and it looked like they were following it further and further in, in stages, along the line of travel. There were some occasions when standing chest

deep and the lure crawling within 20ft of me, a large head would suddenly explode under it and you saw the whole head slashing from side to side at the lure as it hooked up. These large fish did not completely leave the water as some others did nearer the start of a retrieve, perhaps they decided that with around just four feet of water where they came into, that they didn't need to. A new experience, fighting green twenty pound plus fish, at the same level as yourself and on a short line! But the approach worked, right “In yer' face” stuff. The best I did for the trial, which saw three low twenties, went a decent 21lbs 12ozs, so box ticked etc, method proved. Put in the back pocket for future reference.

The main focus however is always the winter river season and as you do, attempting to achieve the best result you can on the day. I do enjoy the deadbaiting', but lures should never be considered a poor second, each approach indeed can certainly have it's place and time on the day. I wanted to find a particular lure and approach that would in theory at least, offer far better potential than just the ol' “chuck it and chance it brigade”. I wanted a large rubber swimbait', one that would give me bags of movement per unit of distance being travelled, one that could be retrieved “low and slow” and still give plenty of action. It would be used solely “low and slow”, over and along a fairly clean bottom the lure being left to touch down on every cast before retrieved right along the bottom and indeed on the odd retrieve deliberately used to “bottom bump” on the way in. Mostly however if you felt it bump for a split second the tip was swiftly lifted slightly and only just enough to keep it running as slowly as possible.

Importantly I was looking for something to generate really good movement for distance combined with a slow retrieve, so staying “in the zone” for as long as possible.

After some consideration I found what I was looking for by returning to Joe Buchers' stable. I settled for the large 10” version of the now long discontinued (and as rare as rocking horse poo), Bucher's Fluttertail.

Depending how you work it, it can be up to 14” in length out there. However, even with the slow retrieve it has a really good action on the twin tails, specifically so! But it most certainly had quality issues and required some high maintenance to keep each lure in the best shape for as long a life as possible. Soft as butter was the original compound used in this lure. You needed to use the hot knife to drag them back to life from most good mauling's, however the big river queens didn't seem to mind too much, the action was the thing. Far too many of these lures were also cursed by the fault where the internal harness could split the lure body vertically on one side directly on the rear vertical harness itself. I also changed out the split rings for 50lbs rated and the trebles were swapped for finer wire. Leader went up to 100lbs Titanium and braid to the old workhorse of 100lbs Power Pro. Justified after big river spates, when you might find yourself some very large branches out in a swim. The rod stayed the same, so did the reel, only a spool of line was changed, easy.

The lure and the approach worked, it worked well, very well. There's always a “but” though is there not.

Out of production for around a decade now and “rare” don't cover it, don't forget the original production quality ran along the lines of “Could do Better”. Mend-it repair glue simply could not cope with that rear splitting, neither could the hot knife, over generous use of “Aquasure” on the split ensured it could get a few more fish for you. It wasn't pretty, but the big girls still liked it. We are looking at a rare to zero availability these days. However, for a short period back there all was not lost, as an enterprising Yank bought the Licence to manufacture Joe's Fluttertail' in another reincarnation. A complete overhaul was undertaken. A different and more durable compound was used for the body, total lure weight was tweaked upwards from around four ounces to about five, the internal harness was re-done and a range of new patterns were produced and Lo' the Fluttertail then morphed into the “Call Girl”, courtesy of an enterprising gent under the umbrella of “Guide Dog Tackle.” Unfortunately this appears to have been a relatively short venture apparently, as I believe the new range lasted for about two years only, before they too vanished and became as rare as the originals.

Along my regular stretches the Pike liked them, specifically, the larger fish liked them. Exactly the intention! They liked the original Fluttertails' and it appeared they saw no difference when the “Call Girls” were sent out searching for customers, that twin tail wiggle drew them in. It was good to see the twin tails working well right up to the rod tip and on that slow retrieve. The trial using that specific approach started off with a few fish hovering around the 18 and 19lbs mark, a promising beginning and one that showed the lure and approach did indeed appear to be working. Another visit and a few fish in the low twenties put in an appearance. The next “Lures” visit was in an early January, in very cold and calm conditions. It was an intended short session only, the first visit in the new year with this lure and this approach only. So............

Within no more than the first half dozen casts there was a solid “thump”, the rod hooped over and the lure simply stopped dead-in-the-water, for a second I thought “I have got hung-up on something”. I put a realbend into the blank. It was then that the tip moved just a little and I realised something large had turned stubborn on me. Solid pressure moved her and she really woke up. Eventually I was quite stunned to see her in excellent condition and weighing in at 27lbs 3ozs. Very nice indeed and it don't get better than that I was thinking, but it did and this was a very short session remember. After getting her back safely I switched off to relax with a mug of tea for a while, things had started well. I went back to it and moved upriver just slightly, about fifty yards, probably less. Same modus operandi, out goes the chosen lure.

Suddenly, just three casts later there's a distinct feeling of deja vu, I've been hit hard again by a right heavy lump, now when I first get a look at her the first thing to mind is that “stone me, I have the same fish again!” She was the twin of the first, well, a twin she indeed was but not the same fish! Another true river queen in great condition and going 27lbs 9ozs. Exact same lure, exact same method, same close area, two pristine big girls for 54lbs 12oz. I could have stayed, but after that Al went home, why spoil it, something to remember.

Would Al' have caught in either of the above planned approaches if a different lure had been used, perhaps, or perhaps not. The thing is the approach and lure to be used worked and well, in both examples given. The above are just offered as something of what is still possible if you can find the right approach and at the right time, a thing we all strive to achieve. The new winter season is knocking on our door, let's remind ourselves to use the day properly, don't lessen your chances on the Lures. Remember that day you set up well back from the bank, approached quietly and dropped the first deadbait carefully into the margin, whilst the second rod went further out, remember that twenty plus coming on the margin rod? So search the close areas and the margins first, both up and down stream on your bank, on the day you could well pick up a good fish doing exactly that, do it before you search more distant areas of your swim. Do not skyline.

There's a couple of pictures' embedded. Houghton's version of the “Baby Duck” (Nice one Mark) and a sister in a Perch pattern. Also take a long hard look at both the unused examples of Bucher's Fluttertail and Guide Dog's Call Girl. They are the same lure, but they have significant differences. Both will work well, at least they did so for me in the circumstances described. However the Fluttertail quite obviously suffered from quality control being off on Holiday for their production runs. Take a hard look at that vertical area around the rear hook harness. That unused original is a prime candidate for splitting, you can actually see it there, it would probably go during the first use. Some are okay, some are not. You have to wonder that just perhaps this may have been the reason for it's production ending. The revamped and renamed “Guide Dog” below it will last a whole lot longer.

The esox' pictured are both of the twins I encountered on the short river session described above, a cracking short trip, one not forgotten and would you believe that was not the last unexpected acquaintance I was to have with the larger of the twins, she was even heavier on the last day of the season in a slightly different area, on a different method. But that as they say, that is another story.

Good luck to all for the coming winter season and tight lines to everyone.

Alan Behenna

Friday 18 September 2020

Pandemic Chubster

    Don’t worry, this isn’t a story about the large flabby appendage I have amassed on my frontage during lockdown, although I suppose that could be classed as a personnal best (PB) in some respects!

 So luckily, the Covid outbreak did not affect my pike fishing really, as I managed to squeeze in my final session literally two days before lockdown, and it provided three welcome fish of mid to upper doubles.

A nice way to sign off the season.


I was required to work throughout the outbreak. A prospect I initially had reservations about, but eventually realised I was appreciating the normality and routine it was providing. I spent the rest of the time on “House Arrest” clocking up the brownie points, helping out with the home schooling and spending time with the wife and kids on daily walks and bike rides. All the time though, in the back of my mind was if and when we were going to be allowed out fishing again.

I enjoy lure fishing for bass in the spring and summemonths but with weather, wind direction and tides being such a big factor in whether it’s even worth leaving the house, I was in need of a back-up plan, which in the few years previous had been half-heartedly chucking lures about my local river for perch and chub.

I’d had some success, but I wasn’t using the best set up and to be honest, I wasn’t taking it too seriously, so this year I vowed to change that, especially where the chub were concerned, and I used the time in lockdown to prepare.

Now, being a Northerner, parting with cash is not my favourite pastime, so I was on the hunt for a decent light lure set up that wouldn’t break the bank, and wasn’t utter horse sh**e.

The rod I found was a HTO Hooligan 5-25g rod. Now I knew nothing about this rod but research showed a few positive reviews and I use a HTO rod for my bass fishing which is an awesome rod, so I took a chance and clicked.The reel was easy as I had already decided on a Diawa Ninja 2500. I know a few people who use and recommend these reels and it was within my budget with a spare spool to boot which was a bonus.

The rod arrived and I was pleasantly surprised. It had a nice fast action and felt good in hand, one issue is that the butt eye was ever so slightly out of line but what do you expect for a £50 mass produced rod from china. I was sure it would have no impact on the function of the rod at all but it was a bit annoying. Luckily I’ve got a mate who is a very experience rod builder and he promised to rectify it if it ever got too much to bear.

I’d already amassed a collection of little jelly shads, grubs and critter baits from the previous years and had a few little crank baits but felt I needed a few more of these as I knew they were going to be more likely to attract chub, so I purchased a little set of cheap cranks from flea bay.

Now this will probably have some of you reeling in disgust, but I refuse to spend decent money on little bits of plastic that are destined to end up as decorations in the surrounding foliage, and as previously mentioned, I’m Northern.

Anyway, for just over £100, I had a half reasonable set up that I could “get a bit more serious” with. Knowing that my local river was not known for its specimen chub, a 5lb fish on a lure was a challenge but not an impossibility so the target was set and I eagerly waited in hope of the rules relaxing, before the June 16th.

And they were, so I got out for a few bass sessions seen as my club waters were still closed so they could adjust swims in adherence to the guidelines, but I was keen for the river season to arrive so I could try out my new set up.

The day arrived and I was out with my new rod and reel, which normally means a blank, but, I was like a kid on Christmas, and even better the weather was glorious. I’d had a certain backwater in mind as I knew there were chub there from the previous excursions, and it was a good walk away from the nearest access, so I assumed it’d get me away from the crowds. How wrong could I be!

The place was RAMMO!

Boats, canoes, paddleboards, swimmers, picnickers, every man and his dog, literally!

I couldn’t believe it, I’d hardly seen another soul in this area when I’d fished it the previous year but it was party central now!

It wasn’t the numbers of people there that annoyed me really though, they had just as much right to be there as I did, but there was total lack of respect and disregard for this beautiful place. Now I normally encounter litter on my river when I go there, and pick up bits at times, especially if its fishing rubbish giving the rest of us a bad name, but this was another level. Whole boxes of empty Stella cans lying about, takeaway cartons, burst lilos, carrier bags full of rubbish tied up and thrown in hedgerows. It was utterly depressing.

I had a few chucks but couldn’t handle it and went home.

I encountered scenes like this on two other occasions after that, including one where id managed to find a little bit of solitude casting from a ledge into a weir pool. I’d just missed a take on a surface frog and wasn’t sure if it was a chub or a jack, when out of the corner of my eye I seen a bloke slide down the weir, splash into the pool, swim over to me and ask “caught anything mate?”

“NO I HAVENT YOU CUCKING FUNT AND IM NOT GOING TO NOW AM I!?!” is what I thought of saying, but a simple “Nah mate” is what came out as I packed up and headed for home. After that, I decided to avoid the river for a while until the weather turned a bit or until I could get there at more unsociable hours.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and a few blank beach sessions and I’d put my stuff in the car and decided to drop on to the river after my night shift. I chose a spot I had found the previous year but the real reason I was going here was because it was closest to home so wouldn’t be too much of a struggle for my tired little eyes on the way home to bed.

I got there just as it was getting light enough to see and jumped out of the car into the surprising cold morning air. I got set up and decide to have a few chucks on a brand new fishing platform that had been put there curtesy of the Environment Agency and Angling Trust. I was flicking a little limtreuse spikey shad about when I had a take from a good perch of around a 1lb 8oz, maybe even two, but after five seconds of being on and a shake of its head it was gone. I’d seen the whole thing clear as day through the water, even in the dim light, and it was then I realised just how crystal clear the water was. This was going to require some stealth!

When the light got up a bit more, I headed to my chosen backwater pushing through the 6ft high nettles. I got to a spot of fast narrow water where a crouching underarm flick of about 5 yards in either direction was all that was achievable, and all that was required, first cast downstream  and after maybe two turns of the handle, Whollop, the lure was smashed by a chub of barely a pound.

Netted, snapped and released, I turned round and noticed a dark shape upstream of where I was. Another little flick in that direction and it was hammered again by a jack of about 4lb. luckily the hooks fell out in the net so it was released pronto.

Two for two! Both fish taken on the Shakespeare mini S, roach pattern.

After another couple of flicks up and down with no interest, I figured the commotion of two fish meant a move was in order so headed to another spot close by where I’d seen the grass had been trampled down so assumed it had been flattened by a previous angler. Access was from higher ground so I was pretty much on my belt buckle crawling through the grass and stingy’s to get to the bank. I could see a few fish of about 2-3lb milling about in a small pool so I flicked the mini S on their heads but they spooked and scarpered.

I moved up the bank about 5 yards where it was just manageable to cast into a pool where the stream enters and eddies round before rushing past again where I’d just moved up from. I tried a couple of little flicks close by which produced no interest so started flicking further into the pool. Line of sight to the lure was obstructed by the bankside vegetation so it took me a second to realise what had happened when on one retrieve the lure was stopped in its tracks, thinking I’d snagged, then the clutch gave way. FISH ON!

I bullied the fish so it couldn't run me into a snag as it looked to be a decent sized chub. A few spirited runs taking a bit of line ensued before it allowed itself to be netted.

4lb 8oz 

I’d matched my PB, on purpose, i.e. I was actually fishing for chub. Not like my previous best fish which had fallen to a  real eel a couple years previous whilst after a toothier quarry.Happy days, this was turning out to be a great little session, two fish in the first two casts and now a matched PB and all on mini S, roach pattern. Another flick into the same pool produced a pike of around 6-7lb, obviously attracted by the earlier commotion. Netted, unhooked, snapped and released it was time to head home, and due to the excitement there was no “noddy dogging”* during the journey.

          *this is not referring to some sort of sordid activity involving newbie anglers and sexual encounters in public places before all you dirty minded bar stewards comment.

A few days later I got back out for a few hours having decided to revisit the same area but push further through the undergrowth to try and find a few more likely spots. A gazillion nettles 

 I’d found a couple of spots and managed a few micro chub but hadn’t seen anything of any stamp. I then happened across a deep pool that was screaming chub. Access to the pool was at 6’o’clock, with the stream entering fast at 11’o’clock, eddying around and exiting at 2’o’clock.

I'd lock with a big overhanging tree directly opposite at 12’o’clock with a big submerged fallen tree snag at the front of it. It was not an unfished mark as I could see the imprint of a bucket seat in the mud so I took it as a good sign that it must be worth a try.

 I cast in all the likely spots but had no interest and saw no signs, but then an absolute pearl of a cast, right under the overhanging tree branches saw a dark shape take a bit of interest but then a flash of bronze as it decided against it. At least I now knew there was a good fish to be had there. I carried on for a little while longer but couldn’t tempt a take so decided to head back and have quick stop at one of the other spots before heading home. A stealthy crawl to the bank where I’d spooked the fish with the plop of mini S on the previous session and I could see them again. This time I decided a tiny little crank of about 2cm and as many grams may be less disturbing and may tempt a take. I checked my trace as even the slightest kink destroys the action of these lures as they’re so light. No kinks, I was good to go. There were 3 fish and I flicked the little crank to the tail of the middle fish. It turned to the sound of the plop, looked at the lure, and as soon as I gave it a twitch, Whollop, it smashed it. Sight fishing at its best, proper exciting stuff.

A short fight and it was netted, snapped and weighed at 2lb 12oz, not massive but even these small chub hit lures so aggressively. Happy days, no blank.

 Another couple of days later and the gear was back in the car with the plan of dropping in on the river, bleary eyed after another night shift.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the deep pool where I’d seen the interest from under the overhanging tree and the plan was to make my way straight there and try to tempt the fish properly this time. I got there as it was getting light  and didn’t notice any fresh bucket or boot marks so it seemed no one else had been there since I last had. I proceeded to cast to all the likely spots, stream entrance, under the overhanging branches and then up into the stream exit, but I couldn’t buy any interest.

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve found with lure fishing for chub, disturbance is the enemy, so I try not to make too many casts, so every hour in a swim I may only be actively fishing for 20-30 minutes. I know that sounds counterproductive as the lure needs to be in the water to catch the fish but I’ll make a cast to each likely spot then ill rest on my haunches for a few minutes, rest the swim and just watch. Especially if I’ve made a bit of a fluff cast and created some disturbance getting my lure back, I’ll just wait and watch for 5 minutes or so and let everything calm down in the hope I haven’t scared every living creature a million miles away. I apply this to my pike fishing sometimes too but not as much as I’ve found the need to while chub fishing.

 Anyway, I digress, I fished the pool for maybe an hour with no signs of life whatsoever so decided to go exploring again and push further on, but after climbing over a barbed wire fence and slipping down a steep muddy bank I decided I was a bit too long in the tooth to be getting leggers off any angry game keepers so turned back and headed to more familiar ground. I decide to stop off and have a go at one of the swims fished previously again, so headed to the fast flowing section where I’d had the small chub and the 4lb jack. After crawling down the bank and a having a few downstream flicks, I was rewarded with a fish of 3lb 5oz in my net after causing a right commotion in the shallow water during the fight and soaking me.

Blank saver

During the next day or two I was musing about what had been working, lure wise, and I noticed I’d only caught on light coloured cranks, silvers and roach style patterns, so I commandeered my missus UV nail varnish cooker thingy majig and got to painting a couple of my darker lures. I painted a spare perch pattern mini S as a white red head, and one of the cheap eBay cranks with a white belly, glitter grey sides and a darker grey top. I had to get out to try them so back to the same spot and straight to the deep pool.

The freshly painted Gary Glitter crank was up first but the initial casts to the likely spots produced nothing again. Casting to the stream exit was difficult as there was a high overhanging tree I kept just catching the edge of and having to yank out my line out of. Then another pearl of a cast  saw the lure fly past and keep my line clear of the branches, it flew right up close the reed on the far side of the exiting stream and landed with an inviting plop.

Three or four turns of the reel handle and an absolutely savage, lightning fast take had me thinking I had a pike on. It was staying deep, taking line and darting for snags. I kept pressure on and bullied it out of the snaggy areas until it came closer and seen it was a real chunk of a chub. I was convinced this was a new PB so was a little surprised when it only tipped the scales at 4lb 7oz. Oh well, still a good fish from my river, and gave a fight like a fish possessed. Was this the fish I’d seen take interest previously? Probably, although the pool is definitely big enough to hold a few decent fish so it will be re visited. I had another few casts but decided that the commotion had probably spooked anything else into hiding so moved back in the direction of the car.

I stopped at the trampled grass swim for a few last casts before heading back and managed to find another spot where it was possible to cast across the upper pool and still maintain a view of the lure. It left you a bit more exposed and spottable, but keeping a low profile I flicked Gary Glitter as close to the far bank features as I could. Fan casting from left to right, I got to the point where the pool narrows and the water speeds up to exit as a stream again. I cast to the far edge of this where there was a small island of flotsam caught on an exposed tree root. The lure plopped down just in front of this and I can’t even remember turning the handle before I saw the dark shape dart out from under its cover and mug the lure off the surface. It felt like another decent fish and after a great little battle it was netted and weighed at 4lb 4oz.


My luck was definitely in.

After this session I felt I’d pretty much exhausted the fishable spots and didn’t want to pressure the area too much in the fear of ruining it for future fishing, so with another backwater already in mind was planning my next trip out.

I’d fished the next area the previous year also but hadn’t actually managed a chub out of there, although I’d had countless missed takes on surface frogs.

A few days later and a few hours to kill, I’m on my way. It’s a fair walk away which I quite like as it normally stops the likely hood of anyone else being there.

I got to the first spot and was casting across the weir pool. I could see a snag pretty much right in front of me, a big tree branch that’d obviously been dragged down during the previous floods. I was casting either side of this and trying to get my lure to swim as close to it as possible without snagging. Gary glitter was back on and just swimming past the snag when all hell broke loose on the surface!

A big Chub leapt clear of the water but missed the lure, damn.

I had a few more casts but couldn’t tempt another take so I decided to move to another swim for half hour or so then come back. During this time the heavens opened and I was soaked to the bone, not just from the rain but from the soaking wet waist high grass and nettles I was pushing through also. The other swim produced nothing but a couple of micro chub with eyes bigger than their bellies so I returned to the weir pool again.

I ran Gary past the snag a couple of times again but nothing stirred. I had a change and thought maybe the Mini S would have more of a chance due to it diving slightly deeper, it may give the fish a bit more confidence to strike if it had spooked itself with the previous attempt.

Low and behold, second cast on the downstream side on the snag, I’d thought I’d caught on a protruding branch I’d not seen until a head shake and the clutch giving line told me different.

This fish ran me ragged, trying to dart back into its snaggy home, and then 20 yards across the pool to a load of overhanging trees and more snags. It was an awkward fight due to the location I was fishing from and I was convinced he was going to get me snagged or snap me off, but after a load more to’ing and fro’ing, he tired and allowed himself to be netted.


A chunky Chub of 4lb 12oz which is a new PB, by only 4oz, but a new PB is a new PB.

Again I was a little disappointed as I was convinced this fish was over 5lb, so I’m obviously terrible at guessing fish weights.

I tried a few more spots in this area but they were quite difficult casting, and there were a few which were impossible, even for a little underarm flick and landing a fish would’ve been another impossibility, so I gave up and headed home happy with my new PB and with a plan to return with my cast waders to try my luck in a few of the harder to reach areas.

At home, I’d started to making lures following a few tips and tricks I got from some likeminded folk on a well known forum (plug plug). I bought a few components and basic tools to get myself started and was enjoying the process of creating my own little custom cranks. My painting was pretty uncouth as I was still only using my better half’s UV nail varnish gear but the use of the foil tape on the sides with the added scale and gill plate details really made them look pretty good, even if I do say so myself.


6cm 16g crank & 5cm 6g surface beetle                     5cm 12g crank & 4cm 8g crank                                                                                           

I obviously wanted to get out to try them out and hopefully catch something on one, or all of them so I was deliberating about my exploits and I got to thinking about the original backwater again where I’d first had my luck. I was convinced there must be a few more fishable spots beyond the barbed wire fence so was an early session one morning, possibly before any angry gamekeepers or more importantly, their dogs, were awake. I had an early night and set my alarm for 4.30am with the missus looking at me like I had two heads! “you’re getting up at what time on a Sunday?" Needs must!

Now I’m not an advocate of fishing private areas or to simplify it “Poaching”, but also, I don’t understand or agree with how stretches of natural river can be owned by an estate or household to the exclusion of all others. And anyway, there’s always the get out of jail free card isn’t there ’’Me sprackens de non Anglais mate !’’

 So with the alarm silenced and a quick caffeine injection, I made my way, stealthily, to my chosen spot of transgression.

Arriving at the barbed wire from a different path this time I found there was no need to climb over it risking the safety of my most prized assets. The fence actually stopped a few yards back from the edge of the water and so could be negotiated quite easily.

I found a spot just past the steep slope I’d slid down previously where you could cast from a high ledge across the start of a deeper pool. There were enough features to hold fish but after a few casts to each likely spot, I’d seen no interest from anything. I could see quite a few shoals of micro chub which I never take as a particularly good sign as I’ve found they tend to stay away from the bigger fish. I don’t know if chub are cannibalistic but I’m sure if a quick flash of a side flank took their fancy, they wouldn’t stop to determine the species before engulfing it.

I could see a clear green area just through the trees further on so I pushed through and come out onto what could only be the very edge of the garden of whatever household owned it. Feeling a little apprehensive and naughty I thought “just a few chucks then ill scarper”, after all, it did look very chubby.

Well after a dozen or so casts fanning the area from my knees, not just keeping a low profile for the chub this time, I plopped the lure right on the edge of a snag on the far bank. I’d tried all of my lures at this point and was happy with the action from them, but now Gary glitter was back on, which was becoming my banker!

I noticed a dark shape follow it but turn away making me think it’d spooked, only for it to smash the lure from underneath and go berserk on the surface!

“Shhhhhh,dont you know I’m not meant to be here!”

Anyway, after a brief but chaotic fight she was in the net and I got a proper look at her. I knew it was a decent chub but this was big, and I know coming from me after my previous disappointments from fish guesstimations my word can possibly not be entirely trusted but this was definitely bigger than any chub I’d had yet, it had thick back more liking to a carp a really big head. I would say confidently this was my 5lb plus fish.

But as karma has a way of kicking you in the assets you’d successfully protected from the barbed wire, especially when you’re being a bit naughty, I got to my bag to get my scales for the all important weighing, and realised, I’d left them on the worktop in the garage where I'd used them to weigh a parcel I was sending through the post, which serves me right for being a downright dirty trespasser.


A few snaps and with the fish returned I made my escape with mixed emotions. Happy with the capture of such a great fish but annoyed at myself for such a stupid mistake in preparation.

I will finish off with admitting that I got brave again a week or so later. Another early alarm had me heading back to try and catch the same fish again in the hopes of confirming my presumptions with the scales, which were most definitely in my bag this time. The fish was easily identifiable as I’d noticed its left eye was bulging out like you see on saltwater fish after they’d been dragged up to a boat from a deep wreck or reef. No idea what could have caused it?

I made my way back to the scene of the crime but was met with a bit of perimeter modernization. The barbed wire fence had been extended by some way into the water.

Had I been spotted ? did they have cameras ? had I left some footprints?

God knows ? but I took it as a sign to close this chapter and push my luck elsewhere, and as little bonus, after trying a few “legal” spots on the way back to the car, I had my first fish on one of my homemade lures. Only a jack of around 3lb but it still felt good.

So in a nutshell, that’s the start to my 2020 chub season.

The hunt for an officially recorded 5lb+ chub continues and if it comes to one of the lures of my own creation, it will be all the more special.

Stay safe all and tight lines, over and out!

Joe Birch