Sunday, 1 December 2013

Chew Valley reservoir pike fishing - easy does it?

I initially said that I would have a couple of days fishing for the monster pike of Chew Valley reservoir just to say I'd been and leave it at that. Those first two days were fished just over a year ago and I've added another six days since, I'm weak willed you see! Well in fact that isn't fair, the lure of the place is hard to resist, you truly do not know what could be swimming in front of you at any given time to the extent that it is almost frightening to contemplate.

As frustrating as it can be the excitement for me actually starts on booking day. Previously you emailed, or wrote, to Woodford lodge and if your application was randomly drawn then your luck was in. This year the system was changed to one where you had to ring the lodge on a specific day. There is one phone line, there are hundreds and hundreds of anglers trying to get through, I don't need to tell you how difficult it is to get to speak to someone. When you do finally find the phone ringing rather than engaged after hours and hours of trying your heart skips a beat yet I have even got to that stage and been disappointed as the ringing goes on and on unanswered. Early in January my luck was good and my umpteenth call was answered by an incredibly calm sounding voice considering how hectic his day must have been. I had the option of booking four days but I was still in denial at that stage and held back, no I would be happy with just two bank days thank you very much.

I can't claim that I was feeling quite so excited when I pulled up outside Leo's house at 3am on a November morning but the journey to Somerset passed by fairly quickly and I was driving up the access road to Woodford Lodge not long before daybreak. On our first visit we had literally spent hours driving around looking for various access points but this time we were prepared and had some idea of where we fancied. After a quick scout along the bank in darkness we decided to have  a swift look at Nunnery point which is only just down the road but we found it to already be pretty much stitched up with anglers. Not only that but the water level was a good six feet down which left some of those anglers clambering down some seriously dodgy rocks to their rods, back to Woodford we went.

Access to the reservoir bed where we would have to set up due to the low water was a tad tricky but after negotiating the wire caged rocks I was soon setting up my tackle on the mud which was a mass of tiny rivulets due to heavy overnight rain.
Chew valley pike fishing
A glorious morning
In fact the water level raised noticeably as the day went on which is some going on a water of 1200 acres. A band of patchy weed ran parallel with the bank but a few trial casts showed that this wasn't a problem further out and I soon had a couple of sardines in position and sat back to begin the long wait. In fact I didn't have to wait many minutes for my first indication as the trout were all over me like a rash. A few bleeps and a rod top knock gets your excitement up the first few times but after a while they became a real nuisance. Quite often that is the only indication you get and you wind in a trashed bait but not that day, I had trout soup in front of me and they wanted feeding. By the end of the day I had landed four rainbows to around 6lb in weight and had countless other dropped takes and indications, each time you secretly hope that a pike might be responsible. A hundred yards to my left Leo wasn't suffering quite so badly but I still saw him strike into a couple of trout before the day was out. On the bright side it was a cracking day weather wise, I real pleasure to be out blanking in!

After a quick change and brush up it was off to the curry house for some traditional fishing grub eaten in true starvation style, gone in sixty seconds! We've eaten at the Sutton Spice in Bishop Sutton a couple of times now and have no complaints at all, worth ago if you are over that side of the ressy. Stuffed to the gunnels we then retreated to the Stoke Inn for a couple of pints before calling it a day. The necessary early start and long drive does make it hard work and we had to be up and on the bank the next morning.

Rain pounding on the van roof during the night signalled that a forecast change in the weather had arrived and it was in full waterproofs that we we made our way along the bank just before dawn. We'd plumped for a change of area and set up at the top of the Walley bank in the area that I had caught from back in February. In fact we were sitting amongst the rocks that I had snagged up on back then, more or less where my baits had been.

Chew valley pike fishing
What a difference a day makes
Another angler could just about be made out through the gloom a couple of hundred yards to my right and I was just cursing having to set up in a downpour when I noticed him paddling around in the margins with a net. I stopped what I was doing to try and make out if he had a fish and saw the poor bloke fall over flat on his back in welly deep water, I suddenly felt much drier! It turned out that he did have a fish in the net and he came down to ask for help in photographing a cracking fish of 29lb 12oz. That was an encouraging start, we weren't a million miles from some pike. Unfortunately that hope was false. The day passed with only the occasional trout pickup between us and all too soon the clock beat us and it was time to hit the road.
Chew valley pike reservoir
Taken from where my rods were earlier in the year. I caught from amongst those rocks!
As I mentioned I'd only booked two days for the year but when I heard that a few extra boat days had been released for the end of November I couldn't resist picking up the phone. In fact picking up the phone many times. I started ringing at about 10.30am and finally got to speak to someone at about 2pm, when you finally hear that voice it's a huge relief and you've already had a result. You've had your first bit of luck, you'll be needing another good dose when your session comes around.

I had never previously boat fished the water but Gary Knowles was joining me and he knows the place fairly well having fished it a good few times over the years with some great results so I decided to do the right thing and hold him totally responsible for catching us some pike! Of course the beauty of boat over bank fishing is that you can move at the drop of a hat and cover a lot of water, the question is should you do that? It can work both ways, for or against you, and you just have to make your choice and accept the consequences. If we had more concrete information to go on from the previous few days results we would have had a clue as to what to do but the fishing had been slow and unusually the bank anglers had been the ones getting the best results. You can't motor up in front of a bank angler and drop baits all over the place and you also have to consider than many of them also use bait boats and so are fishing at quite some distance. Our first port of call was an area off the North shore which gave us just over 20ft of water. A solitary bivvy was positioned on the bank between us and another boat and as if to prove my boat a bait boat was soon motoring out towards us, in fact we started to wonder if it was actually going to stop, that bait was dropped a long old way out.
Chew reservoir pike fishing
Off the North shore looking towards Denny island
We'd sat for maybe an hour or so when we decided to have a change of position. No sooner had we stood up to wind in that one of Garys rods absolutely belted off, the float was incidental, this thing was ripping line from the reel at a rate of knots. Unfortunately the excitement was short lived as the fish was lost just as quickly, oh dear we said, or something along those lines. Obviously after getting a bite we revised any idea's of a move and stuck it out in that area for a while but eventually decided to move off and look elsewhere. News was filtering in of the bank lads catching a few fish once again including a monster of 36lb 12oz, I suppose I should have expected no less on my first boat trip, the law of sod was coming into effect.
Chew valley pike fishing
The ever motionless float
We tried a few other spots and features in various depths without a sign of action and too soon 4.20pm came around and we had to motor back to the jetty. As we passed Woodford bank a camera flashed away in the gloom emphasising another difference between boat and bank fishing. The boats give you a lot of flexibility and allow you to cover a lot of water but you get a longer session from the bank. Combine this with the fact that a good few fish come out at dawn and dusk (remember that 29 from my last trip) and you can see that it really is swings and roundabouts as to which option is best.

One thing that boat fishing most certainly does have in its favour is that the hours are much more sociable with no need to get up in the middle of the night for the second days fishing. With that in mind we were propping up the bar and enjoying a roaring fire at The Stoke Inn within ten minutes of leaving the fishery. Somehow I'd missed the fact that the pub has a curry house attached and so there was no need to travel anywhere else. To be honest I don't think I you could wish for much more from an apres fishing pub, friendly staff, good curry and only minutes from Woodford Lodge, job done.

Day two was pretty much a repeat performance except that there seemed to be even fewer fish coming out. We tried a few spots that were seeing little attention and then sat it out off the Woodford bank which was obviously holding a few fish but none of our floats showed any sign of sinking despite our best efforts. Dusk signalled the end of any chance and after hauling the kit up the hill to the car park we made a quick getaway in the vain hope of beating some of the rush hour traffic. It didn't work, I arrived home three and a half hours later.

So there you have a snapshot of the reality of fishing Chew. Quite a few people seem to be surprised when you tell them that you haven't caught but you never see reports of blanks in the papers do you. There are twenty bank anglers fishing each day and I believe twenty boats with two anglers in each, most of those anglers will blank. Over the course of those last two days that I fished I estimate that four or five small fish were caught, perhaps a dozen to fifteen fish between twenty and thirty pounds and two in excess of thirty pounds. You should consider that quite often if one fish is caught from a swim then others may follow so those twenty odd fish would not be spread over twenty anglers. Those figures are quite staggering really and you have to be in the mindset that you will suffer some blanks to be in with a chance of something very special, quite simply that is big fish angling.


  1. Chew is enormous and pike are quickly educated - the chances of cracking it as a new visitor are remote at best. But its a beautiful venue with a constant hint of 'What if' and that is more than enough for some great days.

    Good luck in your quest, it may happen next time :o)

    1. It's the anticipation that keeps us going isn't it mate. More than any other big fish water a lot of folk seem to think you turn up and haul, wrong! The longer the wait and the greater the effort the better the reward when it comes