When I left you last I was looking forward to returning to Grafham Reservoir and doing some vertical jigging for the resident Zander. However, I run a small business and unfortunately staffing issues kept me away from all fishing throughout October, November and December.
Aside from a spell of travelling in the 90’s this was by far my longest lay off in 30 years of angling – and during some of my favourite months to boot. So despite the weather doing its best to console me, I was itching to get back out and fish for something toothy to get the new year off to some kind of a start.
With the lack of action and the disruption brought to work with the snow fall I didn’t take much encouragement to grab my piking gear for an impromptu afternoon at a local gravel pit. I wasn’t expecting any monsters but it was good just to be away from all the day to day stresses. In fact the snow seemed to muffle the rest of the world and for a few hours I enjoyed complete escape.
This was my first pike session of the season so I chucked out a couple of mackerel tails onto the edges of bars that I had found in the spring whilst attempting (and failing) to get to grips with the venues’ rumoured double-figure tench and I spent some time organising tackle and tying new traces. About an hour later the right hand indicator dropped to the floor and line peeled off the spool and I was shortly acquainting myself with a fish approaching double figures in the snow.
With a fish banked and new traces tied I went for a wander with the lure rod and managed a couple of jacks for what was a thoroughly enjoyable short session; this really was one of those days when size really didn’t matter.
I have enjoyed predator fishing on the trout reservoirs with their potential for huge fish and specific challenges for several years now and I often find myself wishing summers away for days bobbing about on vast and freezing expanses of water in search of their precocious prizes; the limited access we pike anglers get only serving to fuel the fire of anticipation.
In recent years Chew Valley has been the undoubted king of the pike reservoirs. I have been unlucky in the ballot system, only getting two days’ fishing prior to 2013. However, with a change of booking system and steely persistence I managed to procure two consecutive days in February and two for October later this year.
With only a few hours’ fishing in the snow and some jacks to show for over four months it couldn’t come around soon enough. However, as the day got closer metcheck.com was making for some alarming reading and it was becoming increasingly clear that the wind was going to be a significant factor.
With wind forecast to be well over 20 mph with gusts to over 40 mph it was a relief that they were letting the boats out at all, even with the warning that if the wind worsened the boats could be recalled. I had anticipated the conditions and brought along my drogue and rods rigged with drifter floats, along with the more standard static deadbait set ups and lure rods.
Although windy, it was dry when we left the jetty shortly after 08:00 and with little rain forecast I was not wearing my waterproofs but instead had them packed in a plastic and waterproof storage box I use when boat fishing. This was a big mistake. As we motored out into the ever growing swell, spray showered us with each crest that we bounced off and by the time we reached our first area I was soaked and it seemed pointless to don waterproofs over already dripping clothes. We spent ten minutes on the motor roughly mapping out an area the size of a football pitch with the echo sounder before setting the drogue and casting lures into the coloured depths in the most promising looking spots.
A couple of hours in and my boat partner demanded my attention as there, at his feet was a thick set pike that was comfortably over 25lb. It had followed his lure all the way to the boat and then just lay there completely unfazed by us or our rocking, buffeted craft before slowly and calmly sinking away and out of sight. I marked the spot with the GPS and we concentrated our efforts in this area and about 20 minutes later I had the first jack of the day.
This was enough for us to try our luck with dead baits but after an hour of failing to get our boat or floats to stay still I was now even wetter. The waves crashed against the anchored boat, spraying water all over us and with me now shivering and severely feeling the cold we decided to head behind an island in search of some respite from the elements. We found conditions not much improved there and after around 15 minutes we were heading directly for the calmer water offered by the sheltering embrace of the dam wall.
By now I was really suffering and had we not found this sheltered water I would have had to retreat to the warmth of the café or the car. However, with the respite I came to my senses and removed my soaked trousers and put on my thin waterproofs. With little sign of anything resembling a pike and my shivering abated we headed back out into the teeth of the elements and spent the remainder of the day drifting on the drogue.
I took two more jacks with my mate just having had the one missed chance with the follow to the boat. However, my biggest lesson of the day was that it doesn’t have to be raining in order for you to get wet and to always dress to the conditions – despite having a full set of waterproofs with me I was soaked before I even cast a rod!
Chat on the jetty as we packed up revealed that the day had been a grueller all round and a hot shower and a rack of ribs at a local hotel restored my vigour. Weather conditions were forecast to be improved, albeit slightly for the following day and the lack of fish caught by anyone had us motoring back to the same general area I had caught from the previous day.
The wind had dropped just enough to make fishing deadbaits on the anchor viable and it wasn’t long before we were watching three static floats and a drifter making a pacey departure from the boat. Andy took a couple of doubles within an hour or so, both on sardine, and with me not having had a touch on mackerel my static rod was also on sardine by mid-morning.
It wasn’t long before I had a jack on the drifter and dropped another. Although they were small sardine definitely seemed to be the bait of choice. I had not had any interest on my static rod all day so squashed up a sardine and spombed it over my float; ten minutes later I was playing another jack.
Things went quiet after that so we spent the next few hours lure fishing on the drift and searching out new water. With just a couple of hours to go, and no further fish banked, we returned to a feature we had found the day before but had not fished thoroughly due to the wind; almost immediately my static rod was taken and I was into my first double of the session.
By now I wanted to latch into one of the pike that Chew is really known for so swapped a sardine for a large herring. Shortly afterwards my float was nowhere to be seen and line was rapidly peeling from the spool. I wound down, set the hooks, and immediately knew that this was no jack. The fight was ponderous and within a few minutes a low 20 was safely in the net…but the anchor had dislodged and we were drifting.
By the time the weighing and photographing was finished and we had motored back to the feature there was only a short while left before we had to be in. I cast an even bigger herring out and within minutes the float was gone and I was feeling the line stripping from the spool.
Winding down expectantly I waited to feel the weight of the fish but it never came, somehow I had missed the take! On inspecting the herring I could see the deep 4in long gashes where the strike had pulled the bait from the pike’s mouth. I had been using the new Lynx readymade traces and although they had been great with sardines and half mackerel they were just not big enough for such a large bait. I had also put the lower treble in the back of the herring along the dorsal line and, having inspected the slashed bait, I feel if this hook had been in the flank it would have had a better chance of finding some purchase.
The depth of the teeth marks led me to reflect on what could have been and for the second day in a row Chew had taught me a very different but valuable lesson…