Chew Valley Lake looking towards the lodge and Woodford Bank
It was my first look at Chew Valley Lake and the lodge and I must say I was very impressed. Having read so much about the place and even watched as it starred in a few fishing videos and DVD's it was finally time to have a go for myself. We had flown down from Glasgow to Bristol to spend a weekend in Somerset with my brother in law and former Crown F.F. member Jim Brown. Jim was working in the area and had managed to sneak a session on the lake into the itinerary with little protest as the good ladies fancied a day in nearby Bath and a chance to try the local spa. Conditions were very favourable and although there was no wind it was muggy with low cloud and a light drizzle, not bad for August unless you happen to be a sunseeker on your holidays.
Jim with a nice Chew rainbow caught in the calm conditions before the wind and sun put in an appearance. Fish of this size certainly fight above their weight
Although very busy due to the final practice for the Lexus competition to be held the following day we had managed to secure one of the last remaining boats. As we entered the shop to have a look around and pay for our boat I realised that it would be some time before I would be able to make that first cast as the long line of anglers waiting at the desk wound round the shop. It's at this point that I will make my one and only complaint, the only member of staff behind the counter was totally overwhelmed by the numbers waiting to pay for boats and purchase tackle and could definitely done with some help. So later than expected we made our way along the jetty to the waiting boat and with the sight of a few rising fish in the distance hopes were definitely high.
As we had travelled with only hand baggage on the flight tackle had been kept to a bare minimum. My plastic bag held a fly box containing no more than thirty patterns half of which were dries, a floating line on the reel and a sink tip on a spare spool, some nylon, fluorocarbon and a rain jacket with floatant and a tub of fuller's earth in the pockets. My rod had been borrowed for the day from one of Jim's work colleagues, a five piece nine and a half foot travel rod that took some time to get used too as I usually fish with something nearer eleven foot on the Scottish lochs. As we motored towards the east shore the sight of dorsal fins cutting through the calm surface of the lake had us quickly cutting the engine. It's not often I fish out in the middle of nowhere as the trout I usually target in our deep, dark lochs north of the border tend to hang around close to the shore where the bottom drops away quickly but in Chew's shallower water fish seemed to be everywhere.
A popular drift, right down the middle from the Moreton Bank to Denny Island
My original plan had been to fish a team of nymphs on a 6lb b.s. fluorocarbon leader very slowly on the Ghost Tip line, but with all the activity around the boat this was quickly abandoned and the floater with a cast of 4lb Maxima went on as fast as shaking hands would allow. It wasn't long before Jim who had started with a floating line was into the first fish of the day and although not a monster it certainly didn't want to come anywhere near the boat. Head down, tail up and a rod buckled with the top foot under the surface just about summed up the fight and after a few minutes of this the net was slipped under a fully finned silver rainbow. A couple of casts later and the line tightened on a slow figure of eight retrieve and I was in, a small Pheasant Tail on the point doing the damage and it was my turn to find out just how hard Chew rainbows fight. At this stage there was no need to target feeding fish as we were so confident that every cast was landing in the vicinity of a cruising trout. A terrific start to the day but our fortunes or should that be the weather was about to change.
Shortly after landing my first trout, same tactics, different fly, a Bibio Emerger this time and fish number two was well and truly on. In the time it took to land and dispatch this trout, unhook the middle dropper from the net and get ready to recast the wonderful conditions we had been enjoying had gone. In a matter of minutes a stiff south westerly had appeared, the cloud cover was replaced with a clear blue sky and that real fisherman's curse hot summer sunshine had ensured that surface activity had now come to an end as the population of the lake took shelter in the deeper layers. It was at this point only having a choice of two lines was starting to tell. By now most of the other anglers had followed the fish down and were stripping with fast long pulls on sinking lines while we just could not get deep enough and with the wind picking up we were now faced with a long afternoon of going through the motions, drastic action was needed and quickly.
Ian Caisley with his 12 : 10 Chew brownie in June 2005, the largest brown trout taken from the lake that season.
Jim remembered that on his last visit in 2005 the area from Villice Bay along the Woodford Bank towards the lodge had provided good sport and with the current wind direction this option offered our best chance of some shelter. It was on this earlier visit that a member of his party Ian Caisley has caught a cracking brownie of 12lb 10oz on a Diawl Bach from the same vicinity. Ian's fish now has pride of place on the Woodford Lodge wall. We decided to anchor up around fifty yards from the shore, this would open up some more possibilities concerning the methods we could use. I opted for the Ghost Tip, fluorocarbon leader and three buzzers while Jim chose a sighter and nymphs. Twenty minutes and with nothing doing up comes the anchor and as the boat starts to drift my rod nearly goes over the side connected to a very fit rainbow. The anchor is quickly lowered again and another excellent specimen arrives at the net. A size 10 Olive Buzzer protrudes from just under its snout.
Ian's fish is now beautifully mounted on the Woodford Lodge wall
Spirits now rise and concentration levels are back to normal, we reckon the trout are around nine feet down. Every cast is counted down and the retrieve is a very slow figure of eight, sure enough another fish hammers into the flies. Boy! These takes aren't half savage. As I land this one Jim's starting to question his tactics and just as he contemplates a change the sighter dips and he's in and it's his turn to try and control 3lb of fin perfect Chew muscle. Now we are having a ball and attracting plenty of attention not just from fish but from other anglers as more boats arrive in the vicinity. A take is not only anticipated on every cast but expected and on the odd occasion when a rainbow obliges a couple of minutes of mayhem follow. When things do quieten down a change back to the floater brings more takes and the fish seem to have come up to about the three foot mark. Eventually sport tails off and even though the sun has disappeared very few fish have been seen up top and we decide to call it a day. We have had eleven very fit, fully finned fish to the boat with plenty more takes missed and a couple lost. Six of these are going to our landlady at the B&B and the other five have been returned to hopefully provide some sport for other lucky anglers.
Three patterns that caught at Chew, top and middle two versions of a Dark Olive Spanflex Buzzer (size 10) and a skinny Bibio Emerger (size 12)
Back at the lodge we meet up once again with our better halves and over an ice cold beer decide to prolong our stay by having a meal in the restaurant before finally calling it a night and heading home to our digs. My first visit to Chew will certainly not be my last and with quality fish, facilities and food I would recommend that if you haven't been then try to have a session there as soon as you can.