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.

CHEW VALLEY – chasing dreams and creating memories.

There is always a feeling of intense anticipation as a visit to Chew Valley lake approaches. The vast water undoubtedly holds numerous pike of a lifetime but the reality is that such fish are hard to come by. Catching a big pike is like most specimen fishing a combination of being in the right place at the right time. A slice of luck can play its part and ensuring that everything is in place for when connection is made seals the deal.

I was very fortunate to have been invited to join my good friend Bruce Elston who had secured tickets to fish the boat trials. Early October and the weather was set fair with  a blue sky and calm waters.

Due to other commitment’s, I didn’t arrive until late morning and climbed into the boat to find that Bruce had boated two jacks and had several follows. We started off with a bit of trolling using Bruce’s electric outboard. After a short while Bruce boated a jack of 5lb or so which was an encouraging start.

The rest of the day was spent using varied tactics. Anchoring up for periods we put out a float fished dead-bait and searched around the boat using various lures. I experimented with some of my soft plastic bass lures and had a few hits without contacting the culprits. A change to a bright orange shad pattern also brought a few tugs, pulls and  follows from small jacks and trout.

We also enjoyed spells drifting with a dead-bait suspended a few feet above the bottom whilst searching with the lures.

As evening approached and the sun sank lower we savoured the scene. We chatted about lures and I dug a bright orange and yellow spring dawg from my old lure bucket. “They have gone out of fashion” commented Bruce. A few moments later a jack hit the lure and was brought to the boat side. To my relief it saved me unhooking it by erupting from the water to shower us in spray, shaking the hooks free. I was pleased to have avoided a blank trip.

The cry of Bruce’s reel alerted us that a pike had taken a mackerel dead-bait. I watched hoping that this would be a big un as Bruce set the hooks. Unfortunately, it was another jack. A few moments later I boated my second pike of the day a small jack of a couple of pounds tempted on a wobbled smelt.

As the sun slowly sank we were forced to head back to the lodge another enjoyable day chasing dreams and creating memories.

Bruce returned the following day to bait this pleasing double!

A Day with the Fluff Chuckers

The calm expanse of Chew Valley Lake on an Autumn morning is an inspiring location to start a day if you are an angler. I have fished this renowned water on numerous occasions with mixed success but always relish the challenge that it provides. The water renowned for its huge pike brings a mixed response for as with all famous waters it brings with it the politics and traits of human nature born of egos and a desire to succeed.

I first fished the water for pike during the season it first opened to this branch of the sport and remember those early trips with fondness. Early morning breakfasts in the Lodge prior to loading the boats with tackle. The room packed with the big names of the day; legends of the pike and specimen angling world.

Even then the fishing wasn’t always easy despite the headlines in the angling press. Plenty of twenties, lots of thirties and even a few forties. These fish made the news but nobody read of the blank sessions that demoralised those who went to the lake expecting the fish of their dreams.

The seasoned specimen hunter eagerly spent hours on the phone trying to secure a day on the water that is presently run by Bristol Water. In those days there was a certain amount of friction between the trout fishers and the pikers. Fortunately, I think those days have to some extent gone as the angling world contracts and different disciplines to some extent diverge.

I had joined an online Facebook Group named the Fluff Chucker’s after speaking with my good friend Bruce Elston who is like me an all-round angler and occasional fly fisher. A species competition at Chew Valley Lake armed with the Fly Rods sounded fun so I messaged Bruce and suggested we give it a try.

And so, we found ourselves at Chew Valley Lake as the morning mist lifted from the water and low cloud hung in the autumn sky. An eager group of anglers assembled tackle and climbed into the flotilla of boats. The lakes surface was mirror calm with barely a breath of wind.

The boats headed off to various areas of the water as anglers used their intimate knowledge of the lake or followed their instincts. Bruce and I were somewhere between the two as we had both fished the lake on numerous occasions and knew the topography well.

We spent the first hour exploring the deep water in front of the Lodge hoping for a perch or trout without success. Deciding that we should get a pike under our belts we headed off to fish the shallower weedy areas where we expected to find the pike.

Casting a big pike fly into the vast waters of Chew Valley Lake is always filled with expectation and hope. The fish of dreams dwell within and each cast has the potential to connect so it is always particularly thrilling when the line draws tight as a pike hits the fly.

It only took a few casts before that exhilarating pull came as a jack hit the fly giving a spirited tussle before sliding over the rim of Bruce’s capacious net.

Pike came steadily to our flies throughout the day. I used a large black lure with marabou that pulsed tantalizingly as it was retrieved. Bruce swapped and changed using various pike fly patterns tempting several pike throughout the day. To be honest I’m not too convinced the choice of fly is that important when targeting pike. I just persist with a fly I have confidence in hoping I drop it in front of a feeding pike. Depth, speed of retrieve probably more important than the actual pattern?

We ended up sharing a haul of eight pike between us nothing over 5lb but good fun.

The trout proved harder to tempt. Bruce had a rainbow chase a large white pike fly which inspired me to try stripping a white cat’s whisker. Bang! A hard fighting rainbow trout of just under 3lb.

A steady stream of posts appeared on the phones telling of big pike and a few rainbows. The thought of that big pike lurking in wait somewhere kept us fishing hard until the competition closed at close to 5:30pm.

By now I think most anglers knew the result. The biggest pike caught was an impressive 28lb. Many thanks to Rodney Wevill, Jethro Binns, Bristol Water and Orvis for putting the event together.