Walking back along a local drain at the backend of the 2000 season I stopped to chat to another pike angler and he mentioned that Chew Valley lake was opening in October for pike fishing. I had stopped taking the angling weeklies for a few years and had missed this special news.
Chew had been in my thoughts throughout my life, a big beautiful stillwater that only trout anglers could fish seemed cruel in a area of fairly average pike fishing. A trip fly fishing when I was about thirteen was not enough to convert me to that side of the sport but having to drive past the lake on a regular basis when on a trip to Bristol kept the water in my thoughts.
Sometime in the late 90’s our local paper reported in the small fishing section that trout anglers had been having trouble with small pike. This was new as all previous enquiries to me there was no pike in there,only perch etc. A couple of years later on the grapevine I became aware that some pioneering anglers were fly fishing for the pike, but mostly small fish were caught or so I was told!. Applications were posted and we got our dates for October 2001.
Chew was not my first experience of trout reservoir fishing as in 1988 I fished Llandegfedd with Trev Roberts, we both had a poor results, but one of my best mates Carl Garrat famously did ok !. Subsequent years with my pal Domonic Strawbridge were no better and I called it a day on there with only a handful of average pike to show for about a dozen days fishing although I did witness Stuart Gilham catch his forty pounder.
During the mid 90s my pike fishing slowed down as a young family came along and I got into lure fishing as it suited the shorter sessions I was doing. It was through reading the excellent series of articles by the late Charlie Bettell that gave me some inspiration and good fish followed, although no monsters.
The advent of specialised lure fishing companies made collecting some lures easy, if not a little expensive and addictive!. When we fished Deggy my lure box, an ice cream tub, held the usual Abu Tobys, Atoms, Hi Los, some mepps spiners, one spinner bait, a Creek Chub Pikie ,Rapala Minnows and various odds and sods!
We decided that with the Chew opening approaching some bigger lures would be handy and we ordered some Ace Flipper jerk baits despite knowing little about using them!. When they arrived I thought it best to try one on my local ressas, first cast using a 11ft carp rod and 30lb braid, crack !, my lovely new lure went flying out to a watery grave. A bit more damage to the plastic saw another one on it's way, an expensive lesson learned!
October arrived, Dominic and I had days on the 2nd ,4th and 6th and one nearer the end of the trials. We expected lures would be the number one method after remembering how poor Deggy was on dead baits.
Friends of mine had been to the West of Ireland during the 90s and the main method there had been float trolling herring or mackie so we decided that this would be our first line of attack, trolling using the electric motor.Dom purchased a Garmin fish finder as mine was permanently fitted to my boat............ we were ready!.
The opening day came along but I remember this was pre-texting onmobile phone days so I had to wait for the evening before I spoke to Carl to find out how it had fished, remember those days!.Today everybody is ringing and texting on Chew and when sat at home you know what is being caught!. Funny now but looking back the first mobile call I was party too was Carl using Stuart Gillhams mobile on Deggy to tell us he had caught had his historical 44. Full of anticipation I rang Carl only to be disappointed, they had caught just two jacks but an angler we knew had a huge catch with a 34+ plus and there were at least two other thirties caught.The island and dam wall area seemed best avoided but the rest of the lake from Villace up to Stratford seemed well worth a go.
Dominic met me in the car park and we went for breakfast in the Lodge.Carl joined us and gave us a general breakdown of the previous day, telling us that the three thirties had come from different areas so we decided we would float troll deads and see if we could find some fish of our own. This was a tactic I had employed in my own boat and was successful in Ireland.
We got off to a slow start as boats raced off in all directions and we were setting up the brand new finder and my electric motor but we left the jetty and trolled our way into Villace Bay which looked tempting. We decided to turn left up the lake and do what all Chew virgins do and some more experienced anglers by nearly running aground on the Nunnery spit! Soon we were opposite the entrance to Herons Green Bay and still with no action we anchored in about seventeen feet of water and cast lures with an instant result of a brown trout and two small jacks. We were deciding whether to move into Herons when we noticed a camera flash in the region of three boats in Stratford, decision made, rods in an up we moved on the petrol motor to this area.
Nearing the first boat we switched to the electric and seeing Carl and Harry we shouted over asking if they had they had any. Carl cheekily replied five, what doubles I inquired, no twenties Carl replied !.Bloody Hell! five twenties to 29.14 to be exact. We backed away a bit and dropped anchor. I clipped on one of my new jerk baits and first cast, whack !, it was hit before I could retrieve, I shouted to Dom who was yet to cast out that I was “in” !. I could hear Carl laughing, he told me later he knew we would hit fish instantly as their area had gone off the boil a touch and they were thinking of a short move.This fish turned out to be about 14 and I decided to pop it straight back as we expected there was a chance of more and bigger fish.
Next cast me and Dom are both in at the same time and after a good scrap I had my fish in the net and decided to net Doms in the same net too, not ideal but it worked out ok, mine was 20.08 and Doms 23+!.
This action went on with constant fish a cast of the like I had never experienced before. Dom then went on a run of amazing fish of 22.08,16,19,23.12 and 22. Harry and Carl were also catching steadily.I lost two sets of gear in a bad snag which set me back a bit. When the action slowed Dom changed to a Abu Uto spoon which made a huge improvement and he added a 26.08 and a hooked a large upper 20 which threw the hooks at the boat. Dom suggested a move of about 70 yds after a lull and instantly we caught, I had two large fish follow me in and I remember Carl getting a 26 and a 27 to add to his total !.
There was constant banter going on between our two boats as to how many 20s we`d all had but I was still stuck on just the one then right on dusk almost pitch black I had a 23 with everybody willing it to be a bit bigger. Our total catch was 28 double figure fish of including 7 x 20s, Carl and Harry had a staggering 46 double figure fish including 13 x 20 pounders. Dave Gawthorn and his partner Theo had another huge catch with Dave having a 32+ and 4 x 20s. Theo was hampered by getting a large treble stuck in his hand, picking the wrong day to do it.
Back at the boat pontoons I spoke to The Pikers Pit very own Dave Lumb who too had enjoyed a similar day to us with 7 x 20s, Dave and his partner were not that far from us. That whole bottom of the lake about the size of a football pitch must have been solid with big pike.That night the phone was red hot as friends rang to find out more and it felt nice to play a small part in a special day.
You can not believe the excitement of preparing for our second day!. Carl and Harry were again on and we knew exactly where we wanted to head to. The days start was more like the Deggy ones i remember, Le Mans style !. Mine, Carl and Dave Kelbricks boats were soon positioned in the hot area from the two days previous. Casting out the Utos from the first day (Dom lent me one) my boat partner was in first cast like a repeat of the first day with a fish of 13 or so. This was going to be another day of hauling we thought but the pressure of the previous two days had taken its toll plus also nearly every boat was in the same small area of the lake !.
Then Bang !, after an hour I had my first take with a lovely 23.12, then a while later Harry had a 29.15 but still hardly any takes were forthcoming. Then Dom tells me he is in and I can remember his braid singing as an obviously big fish came in slowly kiting to the left. As it came close to the boat it swam past just under the surface and it was enormous!. After seeing lots of recent 20 lb pike in the water this fish was just immense, it turned away from the boat and powered away coming to the surface. She was just so wide across the back, she then took 20 yds of line and disappeared diving deeper, then disaster happened with the line going slack and the fish was off !. Dom and I fish together every year and this fish always get mentioned. I know it hurt to lose it. The following day Pete Morgan had his 38 plus and I suspect it may have been this fish.
Interestingly I was never blown away by the photo of this fish in Nevilles Mammoth Pike book but I had the pleasure of fishing with Steve Marshall a couple of years ago and he told me the wrong picture had been used in the book and the fish shown was in fact an upper 20.
Anyway.... Dom whacked out again and bang 19.10 but I don’t think it made up for THE FISH he'd lost. It then went very quiet so we decided we would try Herons Green bay,trolling over there on the electric I lost a good fish and had a double before we even got in there,the whole bay was empty of anglers and a big fish swirled invitingly as we were studying the finder to decide where to start. Straight away we were into fish with Dom having another 19 plus a 16 and then a new pb of 27.04. This went some way to compensate for his earlier loss.
I then learnt an important lesson. Picking a big Buctail spinner I’d had in the box for years I hooked a fish which stripped yards of line then dropped off. Then another fish took under the rod tip which felt very good too also dropped off. On checking the hooks I could see they were far from sharp having been rattling about in my lure box for years !.I never now go without a hook sharpening file and spare trebles.
To finish off a special afternoon for Dom we saw another fish strike and we both cast to it with Dom landing a 24.14. Carl and Harry came across for the last half an hour as the hot area at Stratford was not producing. Having a pint in the bar later we told Dave Kelbrick about our fish from Herons and he had a 30+ and 4 x 20's from there the following day.
Day three came round and the boats raced over to Stratford and Herons and we gave each area a short time but the amount of boats and pressure from the previous couple of days made me want to try and find a new area and away from the armada of boats. We went into Villace Bay which surprisingly had no boats on it. The fishing here was a lot slower but we
caught some small fish.There was virtually no wind and it was very mild with no other boats about so I moved us around the bay very slowly on the electric motor.
Dom picked up two doubles then I had a 19.08 on a Creek Chub Pikie, but Dom was getting regular action from small fish and trout and out of frustration I put on a Mepps Aglia Longue in it's largest size thinking it might get me a jack as I had not had a take for a while !. Then Bang it was hit by a lovely 21.00, manoeuvring the boat into some shallow water at the end of the bay casting towards a weedbed I hooked something special and after a terrific fight in the clear shallow water a beauty of 28.06 was landed and a new pb to boot. Interestingly we saw another boat come into the bay and troll around the whole bay and leave with no action but my three fish took most of the day to winkle out casting countless times.
Our final day proved to be uneventful but we couldn’t complain after three amazing days.