Every year I try to include a couple of 2 day trips to Chew Valley Lake in order to indulge my favourite passion, namely fly fishing for pike. Many years ago I regularly fished Chew and Blagdon, initially with my first wife Lesley and later with my father who went down there to live in Somerset, nearby to those famous lakes. (Incidentally my dad, who is now 95 years old, flew a dual control Spitfire for 20 minutes earlier this year – 70 years after his previous flight – not a bad effort I thought!)
Anyway, the trout fishing at both these venues is and always has been spectacular, but latterly my interest has turned more to pike. In the last decade or so Chew has become quite legendary for large pike and I have enjoyed some fabulous days of sport there, and some notable fish including an immaculate 40 pounder, which held the lake record for two years. With all this in mind I arranged a visit with my son, James, and two great friends, Jamie Groom and Ryan O’Dwyer.
James could only manage the first day due to work pressure, so another good pal, John Sinnuck, joined me for Day Two. We set off with great anticipation but, as with all fish (and seemingly pike in particular), when they are not in the mood it can seem as if the water is totally devoid of life. Day One was a perfect example of this!
Over the years we have become familiar with many ‘likely’ areas, but drift after drift we had no action whatsoever, neither a pull nor follow, so it was a welcome surprise when Jamie hooked a nice pike of 15lbs 8oz just as he was lifting his fly from the surface. Typically it fought like a tiger and was in perfect order but, unfortunately, it proved to be a one-off and the other three of us blanked for the day.
I often remark to non-fishers that if I don’t catch anything I only enjoy the day 99%, and after a very tasty curry and 4 or 5 pints of Thatchers Rough Cider, we were all in high spirits and the virtually blank day didn’t seem to matter too much! I did however contact John to warn him of events, thinking that he may not want to make the long journey for just one (probably hard) day, but he was undaunted.
He was clearly full of optimism when we met him at Chew car park the following morning. The boats were loaded (not that you need too much kit for fly fishing) and off we set once more. It would be nice to report that things had changed overnight but this was not the case. Another gruelling day continued as the previous one had ended, not helped by an ever-strengthening South West wind. The water, however, looked perfect to me and we persevered regardless. We resorted to a couple of areas normally full of jacks but, again, we had no results, and despite a mid-afternoon follow and an ‘on-and-off’ from modest fish, things looked pretty hopeless.
However, as another fishing pal, Tim, always says: “ It’s on the day when you’re catching nothing – that’s when you get a biggy”. This has proven to be the case on more than one occasion and it always gives us a bit of hope. John and I soldiered on with aching shoulders and arms as the wind-force steadily increased. By 5pm Jamie and Ryan felt they’d had enough and made for the jetty, while we forged through the waves to a more sheltered bay for a last two or three drifts on the other side of the lake. Weeds were a slight nuisance initially but, as we drifted out into slightly deeper water, without warning my fly stopped with a thump. I knew instantly that I was into a good fish – miraculously!
The impossible had happened and the only question now was would it stay on?
“Will we need the net?” asked John as the pike charged off heavily, ripping some line from the Airflo ‘V lite’ reel I was using (on its maiden outing, no less).
“We definitely will”, I replied. “It feels BIG!”
For some 3 or 4 minutes the brute stayed deep whilst I clambered up and down the boat to keep my line from snagging. I really did not want to lose this one! Eventually I caught sight of a long green flank about four feet down and I confirmed excitedly that it was indeed a very decent fish. At the first opportunity John expertly scooped it into the net, and we shook hands and gazed down at what was surely an upper 20.
With dry mouth and trembling hands I made ready with camera, scales and weigh-sling etc., and together we lifted the beast into the boat. What a beauty – scale and fin perfect, and on the mat, it looked enormous.
After allowing for the weight of the sling, the scales turned around to 30lbs 4oz, which meant that I had caught my 4th 30lb plus pike on the fly rod and, needless to say, I was absolutely elated! One of my friends once remarked that if I fell out of an aeroplane I would land in a cotton-wool factory, and I have to admit that I considered myself one lucky son-of-a-gun that my one fish for a two day slog was such a belter!
It doesn’t get much better than that!
Perhaps for those of you who’ve had a few blank days fly fishing for pike (especially at Chew) this story will give you some heart. They’re in there – it’s simply a matter of persistence!