Friday, 11 July 2014

Fly fishing for pike at Chew

A few months ago I was invited to fish Chew Valley Lake. A couple of message exchanges on the Pikers Pit forum lead to a total stranger asking me to join him at the lake of dreams. The piking lads on the forum are second to none and there's always someone helping out another piker new or old or meeting up and fishing with someone they've never seen before. Add to that it being full of right old characters it's the place to be for us pikers. The time finally came and Monday and Tuesday of this week were the days I finally made my d├ębut at Chew Valley Lake.

Problem. It's fly only and I've never even picked up a fly rod before. So the week before I met up with my lure fishing buddy Matt (Fooling Fish), an all round lure-aholic who fishes with and makes lures and flies of all kinds. A short evening session on the canal where I could at least be shown the basics and have a crack with this curious form of fishing. Obviously a little weird to me at first, a few tangles and casting fails but I started to get the hang of it. We weren't using a pike fly set up just yet though, just a smaller all round pike and perch kit I guess. While I was left to flick around with no hook on for a bit of safety, Matt eventually picked up the other rod and proceeded to catch a dozen or so perch, showing me how it should be done. Cheers for the lessons mate.

I was in bed early Sunday night but it was tough getting to sleep. A bit like waiting for Santa, I couldn't settle but eventually dropped off around 11pm. At 2:40am I was awake, heart racing as seconds earlier I had been playing a good sized pike which had taken me under the boat. I was never going to go back to sleep now so I got dressed and headed downstairs. Everything was ready, I'd sorted it all the night before, even filling the kettle and getting my thermos mug ready so I could just pour in boiling water and then be off. The food and drink was sorted, clothes I was already wearing and the camera and batteries were all set. Since I have no fly fishing tackle at all I wasn't going to be worrying about forgetting anything. Actually I did have a little bit of gear. I asked Martin of MSCustomFlies to make me some, anything he thought I would need, and these are what he created. Super looking flies, which I did eventually get the hang of, and loved fishing with.

With my stuff and all my fly tackle sorted I jumped in the car and set off for the long drive, probably four hours worth of driving. I was early, but I would sooner be sat in the car park at Woodford Lodge for an hour than late. I should easily miss the traffic setting off now, and that I did, arriving at Chew for about 7am. Time for a quick power nap in the back of the car as fishing doesn't start until 8:30am. I didn't sleep at all, just managing to close my eyes for half an hour or so before getting up and having a walk around to see what was in store for me. I don't think I realised how big the water was until I first set eyes on it and even then the distance was hard to gauge, the water seemed to go out for ever. I chilled for a while and then made my way back to the car park and then a couple of minutes later Jon turned up and we met for the first time. The gear was unloaded, me and my one bag of food and Jon with everything else and we made our way down to the boats with the gear and then I nipped back up to the lodge to watch the safety video. "It's just like being back at work" I thought.

Finally I was on board and we were on our way. I had no clue about the place, hadn't done any home work or anything and relied totally on Jon. All I knew was it average about 12ft depth, there were some seriously huge pike in and they were often seriously hard to catch. Using alien fishing gear would surely make it even harder, but I was up for the challenge. I knew that the chance of a big fish was there and while I had that chance I didn't care how hard it was. First few chucks and It was weird as hell. The bigger pike rod and fly were much more difficult to cast than what I used with Matt but I managed to get the fly out. Then I managed to tangle it up, and then I managed to cast like a total twat. I never expected it to be easy so kept my cool, chuckled to myself and got on with it. I had two days of this so getting the monk on now would be no good, I had plenty of time to get to grips with it.

Well what an absolute scorcher of a day we were having. In no time at all we were down to the t-shirts and sweating buckets. I was fearing sun burn and sore skin at this rate and even though I joked about bringing some sun screen, I hadn't and I was regretting that. But then it changed. Good thing that I wasn't going to get burnt to a crisp but bad because it absolutely pissed it down. What a change in weather, one minute blue sky the next it was lashing it down, even making it too difficult to cast, especially for someone new to the sport like me. We decided to take a break, heading back to the lodge for shelter and a sit down while the rain cleared. It didn't take too long to be honest, just enough time to grab a bit of food and drink and then we were back out on the water. It was a nice little break and I felt a little more refreshed and hungry for a fish again. We'd not even seen a fish or a follow in the first part of the day but before long I got my first follow. As we drifted and cast the fly we were nearing a shallow, weedy bottomed bay as I brought in my fly something surged at it and then turned away. I first called a jack but thinking about it I reckon it was a big trout, the way it shot out and then turned away. The trout seem to hit fast and often miss a lure, it was exactly the same as I saw on recent ultra light trout fishing sessions. It was a fish anyway, we're getting closer.

Red hot morning on Chew
Miserable wet afternoon on Chew
By mid evening we still hadn't bagged a monster, nor a tiny jack or a crazy trout. We were seemingly trying everything and every location but just couldn't seem to get a break. My phone went and it was Woody checking up to see how we were getting on. He wasn't surprised we were struggling, he's had days like that on here too and so have many others. About five minutes after the conversation with Woody, Jon flicked on all of his GoPro cameras. He had four or five and had the set up all around the boat and one flick of the remote would turn them all on to film any action from different angles. Brilliant, I need more GoPro cameras too. The cameras must have been on thirty seconds and then I heard Jon, "I'm in!" I was hoping this was a big fish, I'd love to catch a Chew legend but seeing one caught would equally be a fantastic experience. However it quickly emerged that this was just a small jack. At least it was a pike and may be the start of more fish to the boat? It was exactly that, not too long later and Jon was in again. Another jack pike on the fly for Jon.

The last couple of hours flew by and before long it was time to make the way back to the launch, day one was over and I'd failed to land a fish let alone bag a monster. Gear in the car and we headed for the hotel. Too late now for food in the hotel we headed for the Chinese takeaway where Jon grabbed something to eat. I declined, deciding on a brew and then straight to bed. I didn't sleep too bad apart form waking at around 4am with a bad head ache, probably from a bit of dehydration, so I necked a bottle of juice and a couple of headache tablets and grabbed another hour of sleep. I was awake before the alarm, in the shower and down for a full English which went down a treat. I was now ready for another hard day, but this time I wanted a fish.

By now I was a little better with the fly but I wasn't consistent enough. A good cast was followed by a couple of shabby ones, the odd tangle and then another good cast. Again it was hard work as far as the fish, not a single follow or sighting of a pike. I made a decision. It was harder to cast big flies than small ones, that was obvious. So I made a switch, with the thinking being that a smaller fly would be easier to cast, that's what I had been taught by Jon. Easier to cast meant less tangles and less poor casts. I could get the fly out further, and in turn all this would mean a fly in the water for longer. I wanted to give myself the best chance of a fish. The best chance of a fish was while I was fishing, not casting and not faffing. I chose a small white fly, similar to the one Jon had caught on yesterday, apart from the fact that his one was bigger. My casting improved and I was fishing more than before. I was happy, and so stuck with this fly instead of chopping and changing. We covered loads of water, drifting and casting and then moving off to new spots for more of the same. Drifting out of a bay and not far from a shallow to deeper drop off we had a second run at it. We'd drifted ten feet or so and then finally I felt something. Where before all I had felt was a bit of weed on the bottom, this time the bit of weed started to tighten up and instead of breaking free, this bit of weed was a fish. I stripped more line to keep it tight before lifting in to my first Chew Valley pike. Of course my heart raced at first, how big would this fish be? Before I quickly knew this fish was never going to be anything huge. But it didn't matter at all, this was my first Chew pike and my first on the fly. One to remember for sure, hopefully the first of a few more.

My first Chew Valley Lake fly caught pike

A little later another storm rolled in. Knowing what happened the day before we headed off to the lodge before it caught us out. I downed some food and drink and Jon had a little snooze on the bench. I watched the storm roll across the lake, thunder in the distance. Once it cleared we were back out again for another crack, giving it our all right up to kicking out time. No matter how hard we tried we just couldn't get any more fish. It's a tough nut to crack is that place, particularly with a technique I'm not comfortable with. However by the end of the two days I was comfortable with the fly finally. I was casting the big flies with ease, much more consistently and much more like a fly angler. I can see me getting myself a pike fly set up and having a bash on my local spots in the future. It's a great way to fish, and since it's a lure, it'll do for me.

Sunset on Chew Lake
Sunset over Woodford Lodge

As the sun came down, giving us a spectacular sight to finish on, we made our way back to the lodge for the last time. The two days on Chew were a fantastic experience, even without the monsters making an appearance for us. It's probably given me a bit of a desire to fish a few more places like this, the Lakes, Scotland who knows where else. I have to thank Jon for the invite, coaching, supply of the gear and generally being good company, however I will never ever play cards with him. Thanks Jon!

Jon has already knocked up a video of our days on Chew and it's up on Youtube to watch, or click the video below. A fantastic video and to be honest, looking at the few clips I have, I doubt I'll bother making my own version. This one will do for me and it's a great little memento of my first ever trip to the lake of dreams.


  1. It was an absolute pleasure to be on Chew with Paul for two days. Great company for sure.
    I find it very rewarding to take someone fishing who is new to it and see them catch. Or in Paul’s case, is an experienced angler yet new to fly fishing for pike. ( By the way, I only started fluff chucking this year myself and this was 6th session. ) It wasn’t until my 3rd trip out I managed to catch something, so well done Paul on bagging one on day two.
    Fly fishing for pike is a great technique, however, it is also one of the hardest ( I find ) as you are constantly casting. My shoulders and arms are aching after only half a day at it, let alone two full days! Add to this the fact that you are standing all the time makes for a tiring day. It certainly won’t appeal to the “Bivvy up and sit behind buzzars all day” brigade. I wasn’t looking forwarded to my 2 1/2 hour drive back to London at the end of it, but glad I didn’t have the 4 hours Paul had to do!
    You made a smart decision to switch to a smaller fly. You certainly won’t catch anything whilst your fly is flying through the air, or your line is tangled up. The longer a lure is in the water the more chance you have. There is certainly nothing wrong with those small flies, the pike certainly feed on the roach fry ( which your fly imitated ), and the trout anglers catch enough pike on tiny trout flies as well.
    As a venue I just love Chew. A large expanse of water, loads of features, shallows, reeds, drop-offs, deeper water, weedy bottom etc. It has a huge head of pike, yet is not an easy water, or a lottery that some people try to make out. Yes you can just turn up and throw your fly ( bait ) anywhere and there is a chance you will catch, but I believe that those anglers with better water craft and fishing skills will catch more fish.

  2. Fantasic report as usual Paul. Would love to have a crack down there myself, one day.

    Jon - Brillant video bud, really well put together and most enjoyable!

  3. Nice one Paul, glad you got one but dowt that mattered fishing somewhere like that, looks a cracking place just to spend a couple of days.

    Are you tempted to get a set up?

  4. Boat is nice but i like kayak fishing in lakes or clam rivers.