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CHUBBY DARTER – wobbler for vertical fishing

CHUBBY DARTER – wobbler for vertical fishing
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You think that you know everything about vertical fishing? You manage in all conditions and have no problems with catching fish. Only sometimes you complain about the size of your catch. Exactly. So, if you do not care very much for quantity and you would like to increase an average size of the fish you catch using that method, this is the text just for you!


Most anglers associate vertical fishing only with winter fishing under the ice. Probably, this technique, as well as most vertical lures, was invented for this kind of fishing. It is also commonly used by the sea anglers, fishing for cod and other fish living at great depths. Recently all the rage in Europe, and especially in Holland, is vertical fishing from a drifting boat with special silicon lures. The fish caught with this method is mainly zander. In some fisheries this method is just lethal.

There are many various and reliable lures available on the market. These are ice spoons of various kinds, bladebaits, mormyshkas and balance jigs

). In most cases they work very well and catch fish. However, most of them work only in the perpendicular, i.e. up and down. Almost every one of them can be moved up and down and will eventually catch a fish. You may experiment with how high and how fast you pull it up, you may change the speed of diving, the length of pauses, you may move it on the spot and try all the other tricks used in vertical angling that are to encourage fish to strike. Usually much more effective than traditional vertical lures are –


Balance jigs


            The angling technique for these lures has been repeatedly described in “Rybolov Elite” and there is no doubt that you have many undisputable masters in this field in Russia. It is a well known fact, then, that apart from classic vertical movement, balance jigs have also the ability to swim sideways in the direction in which the head of the lure is pointed. This gliding movement is caused by small “wings” made of plastic placed in the back part of the body. They work within a cone, the top of which is under the hole in the ice. Pulled up and let go on the loose line, the lure moves around the circle or along the sinusoidal track making wider or narrower “eights”. The more line we let go during diving of the lure, the further off of the perpendicular it will be able to go. It extends the fishing area, increasing chances for a strike. It is the main factor responsible for such high effectiveness of balance jigs, especially in fishing for bigger and active predators. Simply because of penetrating a wide column of water, we are able to attract fish from a greater distance.

As we know, fish use two senses for “detecting” their prey – eyesight and the lateral line. Thanks to a system of extremely sensitive neuromasts connected by a network of small tubes, fish can sense even minimum changes in water pressure from great distances. Scientists proved that in laboratory conditions it was even 30 m! Of course, in natural conditions it is not that easy to analyse signals received by the fish from its surrounding environment as too many disturbing signals reach the lateral line, which makes verification difficult.

Manufacturers of fishing equipment have been using this knowledge for a long time now, producing lures that do not resemble any living creatures in their looks or action in the water, but emanate very strong hydroacoustic wave that can attract and “seduce” the predator from a long distance. The best examples are spinners.

Let us then consider what lure has the chance to attract predators from the longest distance under the ice. The ice cap can block the significant amount of daylight. If the ice is additionally covered with a thick layer of snow, it is practically dark underneath. In such conditions the lure that will prove the most effective is the one producing the strongest vibrations. From among the lures mentioned so far the strongest stimulators of the lateral line are bladebaits, about which you could read in the excellent article published in the previous “Rybolov Elite”. But bladebaits dive almost vertically under the hole in the ice. Classic balance jigs move off the perpendicular. Yet, the waves they produce are very weak. So, is there any vertical lure that would combine the advantages of these two baits?

The answer is yes, there is! This is the only vertical wobbler in the world

Chubby Darter!


It was created and designed by the excellent American angler and journalist of “InFisherman” magazine – Jeff Simson and since 2003 it has been manufactured by the Polish company – Salmo. Since then Chubby Darter has won great recognition among the American anglers and is constantly rated among the most effective ice lures. Responding to the wishes of the European anglers as well, in the season 2007/2008 the Salmo Company has introduced a new size of this lure – Chubby Darter 3. And now the Chubby Darter family consists of four lures with lengths of 3.5; 4; 5 and 6 cm, available in a few colours.

At first glimpse, they are not much different from typical balance jigs. It very easy to notice, though, that they are much lighter. It is so because they are made of hard polyurethane foam. The secret of this inconspicuous-looking lure is special balancing of its body which make its action unique. Chubby Darter is a wobbler that works in many planes!

What makes Chubby Darter different from all the other vertical lures is the fact that it increases experimenting possibilities by luring horizontally with simultaneous vibrating action during both up and down movements. Diving on the loose line, Chubby Darter wobbles in horizontal position, then goes back and finally – into the middle. Additionally, while going back to the starting point it makes a curve, drawing wide circles or “eights” like a classic balance jig. While being pulled up, it also goes forward like a classic wobbler, strongly wiggling its tails, going up and off the perpendicular at the same time. While diving, it goes to the side, moving like a lively fish, flashing with its sides and then remains in a horizontal position still trying to “swim away”. This action is totally unique among vertical lures.

It is very difficult to keep the lure with such a centre of gravity motionless. Chubby Darter hardly ever stops moving. A tapering tail of the lure wobbles and vibrates long after you put the rod back to the rod rest on these deadly boring days without strikes. Often you may have the impression that the lure makes all the necessary luring movements itself, without the angler’s participation. But there are no such miracles. Just like every specialist lure also Chubby requires understanding and skilled “handling”. The anglers who have the greatest chance for really spectacular results with this lure are those who like new challenge and experiments. Considering a very wide range of possibilities and movements, handling Chubby Darter requires understanding and patience, but it will repay the angler with interest! As usually, fishing practice and drawing conclusions are irreplaceable here. However, you can surely make use of –


A few comments on the fishing technique.


We fish with a very similar method we apply when using other balance jigs, but every move we make with a rod should be more conscious. Not too strong and not too weak. If we jerk the rod too aggressively, the lure will get tangled. If our moves are too lazy, we will not make use of the lure’s unique abilities to attract predators from a long distance. This is what moving the lure up and down is for. After a few strong pulls it is good to calm the lure a little. If a predator has appeared nearby, usually just one small move with the rod is enough to provoke it to attack the lure.

Unfortunately, our Chubby has also some disadvantages. The price for its liveliness and intense action is its small weight. Because of this, the deeper the fishery the more difficult it is to control its action and register strikes. Depending on the lure’s size, the maximum depth of fishing is between 3 (for CD3) to 10 m (for CD6). Besides, it is practically impossible to fish with Chubby Darters in fisheries with a strong current. However, it has enough advantages to make this family of lures, still new for the European anglers, worth knowing.

In an unfamiliar fishery or if we do not know at what depth fish are we use the most popular technique of checking the whole column of water.

We lower the lure down to the bottom and we start so called “phase zero”. It consists in making rather rapid movements to take it off the bottom up to ca 30 – 60 cm (depending on the size of the lure) and then letting it drop freely back to the bottom. It is good to make a few first jerks at short intervals. Chubby Darter vibrates very strongly, rapidly going sideways and its hooks tear mud grains off the bottom, creating additional “commotion”. The aim is, of course, to attract predators’ attention from a longer distance. After three or four strong jerks we wait until the lure gets steady and we retrieve the line a little to make Chubby hang 2 – 3 cm over the bottom and then we start the proper fishing – “phase one”. Firstly again – 2 – 3 longer pulls to attract fish from longer distance. The subsequent pulls with the rod tip should be calmer. Usually movements of 10 – 20 cm. Short and rather aggressive movements usually cause the most interesting and thus the most effective action of the lure. These are generally not too extensive “eights”. After a few or a dozen or so movements at 2 – 3 second intervals. If there are no strikes, we retrieve about a meter of line and go on to “phase two”. We act analogically until we reach a planned depth. Sometimes the limit is 2 – 3 m up from the bottom and sometimes it is worth penetrating the whole depths up to the ice cap. It is best to work out an optimum pace for Chubby Darter on your own, watching its action in an aquarium or in the shallow clean water.

Each phase should consist of two stages. The first one consists in making a series of a few to a dozen of short jerks at 2 – 3 second intervals. If there are no strikes we go on to stage two. Each time after the lure has fallen and stopped in the perpendicular, we make a longer pause. The length of this pause depends, of course, on the activity of fish. Most strikes take place while the lure going down. Then mainly big fish attack. But many strikes take place also during “stoppage”, when Chubby after making a few cycles gets steady and hangs almost motionless under the hole in the ice. There are days on which predators attack even a few seconds after the lure stops moving. An optimum length of “stoppage” should be determined empirically.

It is very important to let our Darter fall freely. Any attempts to keep the line tense result in “trapping” the lure’s action and in consequence decreasing its effectiveness.

The American ice anglers keep reporting on beautiful zanders caught with Chubby Darter. All of them point out to one important detail. Since they added this lure to their favourites, the average size of the predators they catch has increased considerably. They also agree that strikes are much more certain with Chubby Darter than with any other bait.

This is what a well known American fishing guide from Devil’s Lake in North Dacota – Jason Mitchel – writes about it:


” What is really fascinating to me however is how these baits seem to turn ordinary walleye into monsters. These same fish that would hit the traditional baits with the traditional “bite” would sometimes slam a Chubby Darter so hard you would feel the strike in your toes. You have to have pliers with you when you fish these baits because the bait is often gone. The hits are awesome, bone chilling and violent.”


We use the specialist lure and fish for bigger fish. Let us consider then if our success may be influenced by -


The equipment we use for fishing Chubby Darter.


            The experienced anglers have no doubts about this; in order to fish with this lure effectively it is necessary to choose carefully every element of our set.

Let us start with a rod and a reel. Still, many anglers think that the rod and the reel for ice fishing do not have to possess any special features. They fish with equipment that could as well be handed over to the museum of angling history. The rod made of a broken rod tip of an old spinning rod, a cheap old style reel this is the picture often seen on our waters in winter. I know, of course, that those anglers do catch fish and it is the knowledge of fish behaviour and fisheries that is the most important. But no one will convince me that such an angling set may help in fishing or give satisfaction. Also, no one will manage to persuade me that only applying an appropriate towing technique you can win with any fish on the ice with such an antique. I have heard too many stories about trophies that “were impossible to take out”! There are many cheap and quite good rods for ice angling made of glass and carbon fibre. The length should be adjusted to our habits, but usually the 20 – 60 cm rod proves the most comfortable. We will fish in a relatively delicate way. The rod cannot be either too stiff or bend under the weight of the lure.

The strikes indicator is always a very good accessory. Of course, vertical wobblers are not as subtle as, for example, mormyshkas. Yet sometimes, when predators are not active (especially perch), a good strikes indicator may save the day.The reel is even more important that the rod. I strongly recommend a smaller models of spinning reels. There are quite many of them available on the market. I agree that sometimes it is better to stay with a reliable, smoothly working reel with a movable spool that to buy a shiny, beautifully painted “piece of scrap” with numerous bearings, the only advantage of which is a low price. However, in my opinion, it is worth an effort to invest in a better model with a reliable drag and a handle that will not fail you even in sub-zero temperatures. Such a reel will be useful for many years as it will not be exploited as intensively as a reel for spinning.

Then, a question arises – mono or braided line? Everyone makes his own decisions. However, professional anglers are unanimous here – they all choose braided line.

The experienced users of Chubby Darter give three main reasons why they almost always use braided line:


  • possibility of using very thin braided line with relatively high strength,
  • better control of the lure’s action,
  • repetitiveness of the lure’s movements.


The first reason does not require much explaining. After all, we want to catch bigger fish.

The second reason is also clear. Non-stretchy and stiff braided line can tell an experienced angler practically everything what is happening at its end. In fishing with a vertical wobbler most of the time we work on loose line. If we use monofilament line, we will miss some of the strikes. Besides, even the softest line of more than 0.15 mm in thickness, reeled on a small spool will twist into a spiral, effectively making fishing difficult, especially in sub-zero temperatures.

The third point, however, requires a few words of explanation. Everybody knows that every line has a tendency to get twisted into spirals. The consequence for ice fishing is that the lure spins after it stops. This unusual behaviour of the potential prey alone may arouse mistrust of predators. They always try to assess the situation to make their attack successful so that they did not have to repeat it. It becomes visible especially in winter when every calorie counts double. This relates to the fact that in winter predators are not very eager to chase their prey. They prefer to get ready and strike once but successfully. The only exceptions are perches, and not the biggest ones. But let us see what happens with Chubby Dart hanging on the twisted line. After almost every move with the rod it goes to a different place. It irritates predators, which every time try to foresee where the prey will go so that they could catch it eventually. If, due to wrong fixing or whirling of the bait, the predator misses its prey, it usually gives up the next attack completely or at least for a long time. It is true especially for zander, which in winter can get away from its near victim which instead of avoiding the hunter “attacks” it. And thus for fishing with Chubby Darter master anglers recommend braided line with tight plait, for example Fire Line with strength of 4 – 8 Lbs (2 – 4 kg). The line has to be strongly impregnated so as it did not absorb water. Too soft braided line is not suitable for this purpose. They get frozen and “swells” on the spool, making fishing impossible.

It is also important not to tie the lure directly to the line. No surprises here – Chubby Darter is a wobbler and this rule applies to all the lures from this group. We have to let it vibrate freely after every move with the rod. We should use the smallest snap possible or a loose knot (as for example Duncan’s loop recommended for small wobblers).

A few times an important problem of an insight into the situation under water came up. How to do it?


Very rarely the water transparency and the depth of a fishery let us watch the underwater world directly through the hole in the ice. There are underwater cameras available on the market, thanks to which in favourable conditions we can observe not only the lure’s action but also fish reaction to our efforts. Unfortunately, very often the water is so cloudy that the camera is of no use. Especially, if it is about observing the whole column of water under the hole and analysing the situation at various depths in the same time. But there is a device that fulfils all the conditions to become an absolutely indispensable item of equipment of an ice angler. This is a depth sounder of a special type – so called –



The first device of this type was built by an American company – Vexilar in 1960. Since then this company has been an unquestionable leader in the field of “winter” electronics, covering about 90% demand of the American market. Actually, it is not possible to meet there an angler fishing on the ice without the flasher! Many of them use two devices simultaneously – the flasher and the underwater camera for recognizing species of fish detected by the sounder.

The device looks very strange and this often discourages anglers from trying it. In practice, it is very easy to operate and simply irreplaceable on the ice. It works very similarly to the classic echo sounder – ultrasounds emitted by the transducer and the computer analyzing signals. The readings are an analogy of so called “Fast track” mode. The Flasher simply shows what is happening under the hole in the ice in actual time. There are no “fish” “swimming” across the screen of the sounder, which actually appeared under us for a second and are long gone. Instead, on the perimeter of the round display there appear colourful stripes that represent everything that there is between the water surface and the bottom in a given second. It is difficult to describe the principle of operation of this genial device. But I think that it is enough to say that on the screen we can see even the smallest bait (from 1 mm), every fish that appeared in the cone of the transducer, how it approaches the bait and attacks it!

Of course, everything is against the scale so we know the depth. The width and colour of the stripe suggest the strength of the signal (the size of the fish and its deviation from the perpendicular). The first contact with the flasher is an unusual experience. What is really incredible is the possibility of observing if and at what depth the fish are at the moment, how they react to particular movements of the bait or to the fact that one of them has just been taken out! It is a well known fact that one of the key issues of ice angling is to find fish. With the flasher you do not have to guess anymore. If there is water on the ice, often it is not even necessary to drill a hole! We look for fish by putting the transducer close to the ice once in a while. Using the flasher readings and fish reaction to the lure’s action we will bring our knowledge of ice angling to a new level. We will discover new fish hideaways and learn their habits that were unknown to us. We will also verify our ideas on the most effective types of lures and their action. For example, we all know that if a predator gets interested in our lure, the worst thing we can do is to try and “bring” it to its mouth. Instead we should keep it 10 – 20 cm above its head “escaping” to the surface. In this way we imitate the behaviour of a weak fish, remaining in the area best visible for the predator. Without the flasher it is, of course, impossible. Just think how many fish you have lost only because of that! There are also days when predators are especially sluggish and unwilling to “co-operate”. You can see that they are in the fishery and they are attracted by the lure, but not enough to attack it. It is good to use a simple trick then, consisting in creating a tandem – Chubby Darter plus natural bait. The Americans usually use red worms or a piece of a small bait fish.

You can bait it on the hook, but it is better to tie to the bottom ring of the wobbler a short leader made of line and ended with a small hook. In both cases Chubby looses much of its liveliness and all the manoeuvres must be done very slowly and carefully so as not to tangle the whole set.


The expedition to the familiar waters with the flasher and Chubby Darter will open a new chapter in your angling life. Try it and you will not regret it! See you at the water!



Piotr Piskorski





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