A Fish of Dreams

 

 I have been visiting Chew Valley Lake on a fairly regular basis since it opened to pike angling on a limited basis in October 2001. Since those early days the lake has built on its reputation for producing huge pike and I have long dreamt of catching one of these huge fish.

Whilst I have tempted several twenty pound plus pike on lures and dead-baits during the annual pike trials my most successful days have come whilst fishing with the fly. My best pike being a fish of 27lb 12oz caught on a fly in April 2008.

27lb 12oz pike from April 2008

Spring time from late March through until late June and September are the months I try to visit with the fly rod. During the warmer months of summer pike are potentially  susceptible to stress with water temperatures high and weed growth extensive.

On each visit to this vast 1200 acre lake there is the knowledge that the pike of a life time could be just a cast away. The desire to catch the elusive thirty pound pike has resulted in many years of heartbreak for dedicated specimen hunters who visit the lake year after year enduring many blank trips and days when just jacks seize the bait, lure or fly.

I have always enjoyed fishing the lake and whilst I always hoped to catch the monster I generally just enjoyed the fishing. The lake has an abundance of wildlife and the vast sheet of water always provides a spectacular back drop throughout the seasons.

On June 18th, 2022 my luck was to change when I fished the lake with my good friend Steve Dawe. As is often the case when catching a big fish there was a big slice of luck involved with circumstances combining to bring about success. Several big pike had already been landed earlier in the season. Bruce Elston a long time fishing companion boating a huge pike of 33lb 13oz in May. Steve and I booked a boat for June 14th and were looking forward to a day on the lake despite the forecast of hot sunny weather. The afternoon before I received a call from Bristol Water to say that due to staff shortages they would have to cancel all of the boats. They offered us alternative dates of the following Friday or Saturday. The only day that both Steve and I could make was the Saturday so on Saturday morning I met Steve at the fishing Lodge for 8:00am.

We steamed out onto a flat calm lake beneath a dark and cloudy sky. This was perhaps our first stroke of luck. The previous day had been the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures into the high twenties. The cancelled day on Tuesday had also been hot and sunny. These conditions seemed far more conducive to the search for pike.

As we steamed out we talked of the Chew Valley giants and of the lake’s history and the expectation that always lingers. There is much talk of the pressure of fishing for these pike yet when you steam out you realise that this is a vast body of water and locating pike is not always guaranteed. Add to this that the pike needs to be feeding and you soon appreciate that finding a big pike is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Basing location on previous experience and instinct we headed for a favoured area and commenced a drift. At first there wasn’t a breath of wind to move the boat. We knew that this was to be short lived as the forecast gave a strengthening northwest wind.

As predicted within half an hour the wind picked up and the drogue was employed to slow the drift. An hour into the trip and we had not had a pull or seen a follow. After five minutes of starting a drift I observed a boat that I thought we would drift closer to than we would like. This was perhaps the key stroke of luck. I pulled in the drogue and motored fifty yards closer to the shore. As we set off on a new drift I noted that the boat we had moved to avoid had motored elsewhere!

We need not have moved but this new drift line proved to be fruitful beyond our wildest dreams. A few minutes into the drift the line was jerked tight as something big hit my fly. There was nothing I could do initially as what was undoubtedly a big fish surged away stripping line from the reel. I tend to play fish hard and piled on pressure as soon as I could. The fish circled the boat fortunately on a long enough line to miss the drogue that hung behind the drifting boat. The fish made repeated powerful runs against maximum rod pressure. We both knew that this was a big fish but were still shocked when we eventually glimpsed the magnificent creature in the water.

At this moment the wire trace seems worryingly thin. This is the fish of dreams; how good is the hook hold? Fear and anxiety play on the mind for these vital final moments of drama. Steve sank the net beside the boat and I coaxed the pike closer until it was over the net. Steve lifted and I gave a shout of triumph; YES !!!!

A warm shake of hands in celebration of shared success.

I held the net as Steve prepared the unhooking mat dousing it in cold water. The scales were readied and weigh sling set up. Both cameras were switched on in readiness. I lifted the pike from the water shocked at its weight. I slipped the barbless 6/0 from its jaws and lifted the fish from the net. I rested the huge fish onto the weigh sling and allowed Steve to witness the weight. The reading fluctuated between 42lb and 43lb so subtracting 4lb for the weigh sling the weight of the pike was a minimum of 38lb.

38lb Pike
The successful fly at the end of the day with fourteen pike wear and tear
38lb pike

I cradled the fish briefly for a couple of photos then held the fish in the water for a few moments. I released the fish when I felt it was ready and watched as it sank slowly before swimming strongly away coming to the surface just in front of the boat to disappear with a defiant swish of its tail.

Such moments in a fishing life always seem slightly surreal. To catch early in the day is perfect as for the remainder of the day you can just bask in the reflection of success. There is of course the knowledge that the conditions are good and that just maybe another big pike will succumb.

We had several more drifts in the same area catching numerous jacks of between 3lb and 4lbs. Even these small pike give a surprisingly good account on fly tackle.

We tried drifts around various areas of the lake finding a few jacks at each location often at the edge of deeper water where weed growth provided some cover.

It was good to note large numbers of swifts swooping over the water feasting upon the prolific fly life that helps make this a superb trout water.

Pike 16lb 5oz

We returned to the area that had produced the big pike and after a couple of drifts I was pleased to add a 16lb 5oz pike to the days tally. This was followed by Steve hooking into a fish that powered away stripping line form the reel at such an alarming rate that Steve feared he would run out of line. I pulled in the drogue just in case we had to follow and was relieved to see Steve’s backing knot approaching the rod tip. After several more powerful runs a large pike eventually appeared beside the boat was soon safely within the waiting net. At 20lb 5oz it was a best on the fly for Steve and cemented a highly successful day.

Steve with is 20lb 5oz pike

We fished on as dark clouds gathered adding a few more jacks and a low double to the total. The tally when we packed up shortly after 6:00pm was 23 pike.  A fine day’s fishing by any standard.  We will be back in the autumn once again to continue chasing dreams and perhaps catching them.