A STORMY START TO THE NEW YEAR

There is something special about the first fishing trip of a New Year. Perhaps it is the expectation of a new journey to the water’s edge, a fresh start, a time to recalibrate.

This year’s trip proved memorable in part due to the influence of Storm Henk the latest of many named storms over recent months.

The trip was in truth as much a social session as a serious fishing trip starting with a Full English in The Globe Inn at Sampford Peverel conveniently situated a short distance from the Tiverton canal. Keith Armishaw, Lee Armshaw, Dr Mark Everard, Dominick Garnett and two other chaps, one called Sid and the other Mark.

The Met Office promised rain and an amber warning of wind! After negotiating watery roads, we had all arrived safely by just after 8.00am and tucked into an ample breakfast along with fresh coffee. The breakfast chat agenda was mostly of piscatorial matters and of course a few diversions into the tragic state of the world. After planning how to put this right we headed for the muddy waters of the canal.

Each of us had a plan on how to catch a few fish. I had decided to target pike figuring that a smelly dead-bait fished beneath a bright crimson float would give a good chance of a bent rod. Others chose to offer maggots, bread and lures.

The canal water certainly reflected the recent persistent rainfall and water clarity was undoubtedly not good. I chose to fish in the wide basin close to the pub and set up beside a hedge that gave some shelter from the gusty wind and drizzle.

The two floats indicated the position of the baits and I planned to keep recasting every twenty minutes or so to areas that I had a hunch could produce.

         The rest of the party headed further along the canal to areas that had a good track record.

After fifteen minutes my right hand float bobbed and started to slide along the surface. I picked up the rod allowed the line to tighten before winding into the fish. I was using a single circle hook and cursed when the fish that felt reasonable came adrift after a few seconds.

I rebaited and flicked out a fresh bait. The wind strength was undoubtedly increasing with strong gusts bowing the trees. The electric blue of a kingfisher flashed past and patches of blue started to show in the Western sky above the village church. The church tower and resonate tolling of the bell within somehow seemed to add a sense of perspective as we embarked upon the journey into a New Year.

Dom came over for a chat and I told him of the lost pike. As we chatted the float on the right hand rod bobbed and the float again slid slowly away. This time the hook held and a pike of around 7lb graced the net. A pleasing start to the year.

By now the wind strength was increasing noticeably with some very strong gusts. Dom had spoken with Lee who had found some clear water on the canal at a location a mile of so away. As heavy rain was threatened and the storm intensified we decided upon a coffee break and a move to find the clearer water.

As we headed to the pub for a hot coffee the wind gusts were exceptional and we heard later that 80mph gusts had been recorded 20 miles away at Exeter!

Early afternoon and we set up a mile or so along the canal to be further buffeted by the howling gale. At least the rain had passed and brighter skies illuminated the scene. The water clarity here was good which gave far more confidence. I put out a bait near to an overhanging tree and started to prepare the second rod. To my amazement the float bobbed and I was in action landing a jack of 3lb before getting the second bait into the water.

“Note to oneself :- Check your hat for pope like style!

I put the bait back into the same spot and made brief contact with another pike after ten minutes or so.

The rest of the afternoon passed by the howling gale swaying the trees. I savoured the winter scene and the rural landscape.

The light slowly ebbed from the day and we all packed away trudging back along the canal towpath to compare notes. A few perch and roach had been tempted along with a small jack.

We reconvened in the Globe for a final coffee and chatted about the day and past and future forays. We were all upbeat and had relished our day beside the water despite the rather meagre results. Plans to return in the warmer more tranquil days of summer in search of tench and rudd were discussed with a youthful optimism that was refreshing considering the fact that several of us were semi-retired.

THOSE LESS PRODUCTIVE DAYS

Compiling reports for NDANs I see lots of images of good fish and stories of success and these can inspire but can also raise expectations leading to disappointing days. I feel sure I am not the only one who sometimes sets out full of expectation and ends the day feeling slightly deflated.
In my case this disillusionment doesn’t last long for I know that if I keep at it long enough something good will come my way. Basically, effort equals reward and if you can afford to invest time and a little thought good things will eventually happen.
I have enjoyed a few non-productive days recently, fish caught wise anyway. There is generally a positive to be drawn from less productive days in the nature that surrounds or the company that is kept.
I have already swung a fly across the River on numerous occasions in search of salmon and have learnt to accept blank outings as the normal. The salmon just are not present in any numbers so all you can do is believe in the fly and present it to the best of your ability in the places that salmon are known to rest on their migration upriver.

A trip to Chew Valley Lake with my good friend Bruce Elston in early April proved a frustrating day. We set out on a mirror calm lake after a Full English in the Lodge. With bright sunshine and only a light- breeze we knew it was going to be hard going. Plus; we didn’t know what mode the pike would be in pre or post spawning? Local guide John Horsey told us he had seen some big fish but that they were proving fickle following the fly and then turning away.
The mighty Chew holds a certain fascination as the next cast can always bring the fish of dreams.

We drifted the water extensively that day. Twenty pound plus pike followed our flies; glimpses in the clear water that failed to connect.
We took a short break from the piking to have rest and tempt a trout on a buzzer.

But with huge pike to target I find it difficult to stop casting big flies after bigger targets.
We fished until the light faded as the sun sank below the hills. A day full of memories, we exchanged many fish tales and laid plans for future trips.


Chew is a magnet for twitchers and whilst I am no ornithologist I always enjoy hearing the birdsong and watching the many birds that haunt the lake. Grebes, swans, moorhens and coots. We caught sight of a hawk gliding over the reeds and I wasn’t sure what type it was.
We will be back later in the Spring once again.

Upper Tamar lake has been hailed as a mecca for big perch anglers. I headed there full of expectation. A couple of pots of juicy lobworms from Quay Sports a bag of raw prawns and a bucket full of ground bait mixed with mole hill soil. I had been given a tip on a productive swim and arrived at the lake shortly after 8:00am.

It was the day after Storm Noa and the wind had dropped but it was still a tad breezy and cool. Bright sunshine and a cool North West Wind. I was well wrapped up and relished the early signs of spring. It was good to see swallows and martins swooping low over the water.
The bobbins remained stubbornly static throughout the first couple of hours. Eventually I started to get a few twitchy bites on the lobworm baits. As the day drifted past I eventually caught a few tiny perch on lobworm and one on the prawn. A brown trout of around 8oz and a single roach. The fish would have thrilled me fifty years ago as a young angler but with age comes expectation.


As the light faded from another day I headed for home pondering my lack of success and looking forward to the next trip.

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.

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

posted in: Coarse Fishing, Sidebar | 0

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

posted in: Coarse Fishing, Sidebar | 0

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.