Chasing Pike on the Fly

When my good friend Steve Dawe expressed an interest in fly fishing for pike it seemed a good idea to arrange a trip to that mecca of pike fishing Chew Valley Lake. This large expanse of water in Somerset has a well-deserved reputation for producing huge pike. It is also a water that has shattered more dreams than it has made for its rewards are not always easily won.

It’s a venue I love to visit when I get the chance though rising fuel costs are certainly a cause for concern when travelling outside of North Devon in search of fish. We seemed to have struck it lucky when we arrived at the Lodge to look over a flat calm lake. The previous two days had seen all boats cancelled as a result of strong to gale force Northerly winds.

Calm waters on a Spring Morning

Early April is perhaps a little early to target the pike on the fly as they will still potentially be recovering from spawning. May is probably the best month before weed growth and high water temperatures put paid to pike on the fly until September when the water starts to cool again.

We were encouraged by reports of a few pike seen in the weedy margins and decided to head to these areas first. I have enjoyed some success in the past targeting pike on the fly and tend to stick to the flies I have confidence in. Medium sized black lures with perhaps a bit of lure flash added.

Confidence is key to enjoying fly fishing, especially pike fishing with the fly. The allure of Chew is that you know that the next cast could bring the fish of your dreams. Thirty pound plus pike are present with twenty pounders likely. The reality is of course that the majority of pike caught will be jacks. These give exciting sport and help to maintain that interest.

In the first hour the pike were certainly feeding with several hits that resulted in a nice jack to get Steve off the mark. I hooked and lost one and had several follows. Moving into deeper water we had several fish follow the fly to within a few feet of the boat. Some of these were good fish certainly upper doubles maybe bigger. Steve added a second jack to the tally.

Early success for Steve Dawe

By mid-morning the takes dried up a bit and we searched the lakes known hotspots. Each area brought a hit or follow with good sized trout also attacking the large flies from time to time. We both had a brief interlude with the trout gear but our hearts were not in chasing trout we wanted a big pike and soon returned to casting the big flies despite aching arms.

A second jack for Steve

The weather seemed to be going through all seasons with calm conditions early changing to cold and windy later in the day with a brief shower that abated as soon as we got our coats on.

By late afternoon I was starting to contemplate a blank session. I still believed though and persisted. Each move brought a little hope that we could find that big pike that was on the feed.

At just after 5.00pm after eight hours of constant casting I put the boat into a reed fringed bay and put out another cast. The line was jerked savagely tight the rod hooping over and the water surface erupted in a flurry of spray. The pike looked far bigger in the water than the scales would tell. At 12lb 8oz it was no monster but it was reward enough for a long hard day of persistence. Steve captured the image in the late afternoon sun and we fished on for another hour before deciding to pack up with a long drive home ahead of us.

Back at the Lodge we chatted with trout anglers who had been practicing for a big competition over the weekend. They had caught several pike on buzzers whilst fishing for trout. Perhaps we should have scaled down on our big flies! We will hopefully be back in a few weeks when the waters have warmed up a little.

CHASING PREDATORS

As I write this on a Sunday morning rain is lashing down beating against the window driven by a strong South West wind, the fire is crackling in the grate. It’s a good time to reflect on two days chasing predators with good friends.

I was awoken by the alarm at 3:45am on Thursday morning eager to visit the legendary Chew Valley Lake near Bristol. The 100 mile journey proved uneventful and I pulled into the carp park at 7:30 to greet my long term fishing buddy Bruce Elston. Shortly after 8:00am we were anchored up in twelve feet of water as the morning sun illuminated the calm lake.

We both cast out dead-baits beneath crimson topped floats the baits resting on the bottom. Lures were cast to search around the boat and a pike followed Bruce’s latest lucky lure to the side of the boat before disappearing with a flick of its tail.

My float stood abruptly to attention before sliding beneath the water! I wound down immediately to feel a pleasing resistance. Chew Valleys long history as a water containing massive pike always gives a deep sense of anticipation. Is this a jack or the fish of dreams, that thirty pounder or perhaps even a forty?

The pike is a jack of five or six pounds. Ten minutes later the float slides away again and this time it’s a far better fish. As it approaches the boat it launches itself attempting to shake the hooks free. The image of the pike erupting from the water in a flurry of spray is one of those images that will be etched upon the minds eye for many years.

The pike pulls the scales down to 17lb 3oz and is no monster in Chew terms but a good result for an occasional piker like myself.

This proves to be the highlight of a great day shared with a good friend. We savour a full day upon this vast reed fringed lake. Planes fly overhead from nearby Bristol Airport a sign that the world is moving once again after two very strange years. A pair of swans fly past majestically, terns and gulls constantly twist and turn in the winter sky. The cold winter air bites at the extremities. Sausages sizzle on the stove and the kettle whistles as we enjoy the occasional warming joy of hot tea and coffee. Blood trickles from lacerated fingers after handling numerous pike as the day progresses. All of today’s fish fall to dead-baits, joey mackerel, smelt and blueys.

We end the day with seventeen pike between us and two hard fighting rainbow trout that also seized dead-baits.

We arrived back at the jetty as the light began to fade. “Any good ?” I ask a fellow angler. “A few Jacks and a low double; not what we came for”. he replied in a slightly dejected tone. Bruce and I had also come in hope of that fish of a lifetime but had enjoyed the day immensely just catching a good few pike. Savouring the atmosphere and anticipation. I have fished Chew for close to twenty years and will keep returning. One day I might just tempt that thirty pound pike but if not I will enjoy the journey and each dip of that crimson topped float.

A mid twenty conger
(Above) Les Smith with one of many spurs
Rob Scoines holds a bull huss with attitude

Steve Dawe with vividly marked huss

(Above) Brian Hopcroft with a good spur
Good eel for Chris Hodgson
Bob Hopcroft with a fine spur.
Chris Hodgson with a good spur

The next day I set sail from Ilfracombe with seven other anglers in search of spurdog. We are blessed with a calm day sandwiched between days of strong winds. The spurdog packs seven miles offshore provide an exciting day with over two hundred a conservative estimate. A few good conger to mid-twenties add to the excitement along with handsome bull huss their sides decorated with a multitude of leopard like patterns. Hopefully a full account of this trip will appear in a future edition of Hookpoint Magazine.

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.

An Autumn day after pike

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A late Autumn day and pike seemed to be the perfect match so with a light South-East wind forecast I decided to head for Lower Slade Reservoir. I set up in the bay that was filled with large amounts of Canadian pond weed a mixed blessing as it makes fishing difficult but holds plenty of food for the fish.

I tend to keep on the move when pike fishing giving it an hour or so in each swim. As I reeled in the baits to move a pike emerged from the margin to seize my small herring, a shake of its head and it was off.

I posted recently about the new rules that prohibit the use of treble hooks. Below is my new pike rig ensuring the size 4 single unimpeded.

I moved to the roadside and replaced the baits. The day drifted past as fishing days do and it was exceedingly mild for early November.

Mid afternoon and I baited up with the only smelt I had brought along having found it tucked away in the freezer as I grabbed my baits this morning. Was it coincidence that the float bobbed immediately after casting this out resulting a pleasing jack of around 4lb.

The rest of the afternoon passed by with clouds and reflections upon calm waters.

As the light faded I was reluctant to pack away the rods and left them out until the last minute dismantling bite alarms, packing bags etc until just the rods were left.

Take care of precious pike

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Late autumn is a time when many coarse anglers start to target pike a species that has always been associated with the colder months. North Devon has only a handful of waters that contain pike so it is essential that anglers take every possible precaution to ensure that valuable stocks are not impacted upon by careless handling or use of inappropriate tackle. Pike are not the most robust of species and it is often quoted that they thrive in waters with limited angling pressure.

Pike have a formidable set of teeth so it is essential that a wire trace is used to prevent the fish severing the line leaving hooks within the fish. South West Lakes Trust has introduced a ruling banning the use of treble hooks on waters within their control. A size 2/0 single hook is the maximum sized hook allowed. Anglers fishing for pike should have a suitable sized landing net, long handled forceps, long- wire cutters and a large unhooking matt. Anglers unhooking pike should ensure that they hold the fish carefully and firmly and may find specialist gloves beneficial to reduce the risk of cuts. Many anglers find unhooking a large pike an unnerving experience and should ideally seek advice from a regular pike angler before fishing for the species alone.

Richard Ball caught this fine pike of 14lb 4oz using a sardine ” it was hooked in the scissors it was my first pike on a single hook so I was happy to gain confidence in the rig.”

Richard Ball

sent

18 minutes ago

Carp and Pike from South West lakes

(Below)Aaron Bunning has this lovely 19.12 mirror from Upper Tamar recently. His first carp of 2020. Nash baits scopex squid boilies as always for Aaron.

(Below) Barry Lee has this cracking 14.10 common from lower Tamar over the weekend in pretty cold conditions. Barry cast to showing fish at 120 yards range and caught on a tiny popup and stick bag.

(Below) Toby Bassett with a double figure pike from Slade Reservoir.

Slade pike

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Toby Bassett fished a wet and windy Slade reservoir to tempt a 10lb 8oz pike. The stunning looking fish was his first of the species. Anglers are reminded that before fishing for pike they need to use a wire trace at all times and carry adequate handling and unhooking equipment.