Whilst everyone at home is queuing up to fish their favourite ‘big brown’ pool on the Eucumbene and Thredbo rivers, I’m doing it tough in the Old Dart waking up in a cold sweat thinking about the top of the lake writhing with golden browns. For this trip to the UK we’ve had some magnificent weather, sunny but cool days with hardly a drop of rain; and we’ve viewed some grand old structures – a whole room full at Mum’s 80th birthday party – and despite all the work, the sight-seeing, and the historic tours, I’ve managed a few days fishing.
The Chew Valley is in north Somerset, in the south west of England, close to Bristol. The River Chew runs into the Avon River – famous of course for Stratford-upon-Avon, Mr Shakespeare, and black timber and whitewash Tudor architecture. The Chew River was dammed in the 1950s to create Chew Valley Lake, as a water supply reservoir for Bristol. The river is not a particularly well known trout fishery and is mainly full of coarse fish (roach, tench, rudd, perch, pike). On the other hand, the lake has become one the country’s best put-and-take managed rainbow trout fisheries. It’s shallow, full of weed, full of small coarse fish, and has great public facilities.
I first fished Chew in 1982, and it’s been a long time between drinks, too long, about 30 years! The arrival is picturesque. Chew Valley Lake’s Woodford Lodge is about a kilometre off the main drag along a single lane tarmac road bordered by neatly trimmed hedges with manicured lawns, the car park surrounded by trees in full spring blossom. All very English. The lodge is where you get your licence, it has a good tackle shop, DIY tea and coffee, and plenty of complimentary advice. You can head to the lodge to warm up out of the cold wind, or to cool down out of the sun (both states often occur on the same morning), or to top up on advice when things are slow. There are plenty of tables and chairs and the view is right across the lake. I mean this is spectacular – and so far all I’ve spent is 50 pence in the honesty box for a cuppa. I had booked a boat for the day, but weekdays early season are not busy and there were plenty available. It cost 40 “quid” for the day. Not cheap, but well worth it to a well trained Pavlovian response flyfisher ‘you-only-get-what you-pay-for’.
The boats are typical small-water loch-style boats, nothing like our nice stable tinnies. There isn’t much space for gear, and they rock like Elvis. Lifejackets are a compulsory ‘tick’. They have small outboard engines, and the boat’s max speed is a bit under 10 km/h. All very genteel.
I managed three days fishing. Each very different. The weather ranged from a howling southerly with freezing and heavy rain; to millpond calm full sun T-shirt weather. The fishing was equally fickle from a hit or a hook up on almost every cast to long periods where the fish just refused to play at all.
Chew Valley Lake is quite shallow and on advice from the Woodford Lodge team I fished a floating line with a team of black and red, and red and black epoxy buzzers (midge) on (what seemed to me to be huge) size 8 and 10 hooks, with 3X tippet all sunk deep on long leaders – fished static or with a very slow retrieve. In one quiet period I stripped an intermediate line with a couple of big wets and teased several fish right to the boat without being able to get them to take. I managed one good brown to my twenty plus rainbows, and one 3 kg pike – my first ever, and it took a red midge! Whilst that seemed impressive to me, a 40lb fish had been caught earlier that week – take that!
The Chew Valley Lake fishing stats are pretty impressive. The average daily bag for last season was 4.2 fish; the average weight 2lb 10oz. And that’s killed fish, not counting catch and release. The fish are released at a bit over 2lbs, in response to catches, and they grow quickly with the productive weed beds and all those small coarse fish.
An interesting observation, not one rising fish in three days. I remember an evening rise on midge all those years ago, but for whatever reason I think if you fished a dry you would go home disappointed. The lodge team said it’s not really a dry fly fishery – which is a shame because that would make it perfect.
Back to the most perfect lakes in the world, Tantangara is stable at 16%; Jindabyne stable at 74%; and even Eucumbene has been stable for almost 2 weeks at 38%, after a continually falling 20% drop in lake level over the last 4 months. Now all we need is a really wet winter. Looks like the rain might have arrived to get the fish moving into the rivers in good numbers; some were there already for the persistent and observant.
As a post-script to the blog I thought it worth mentioning the early part of the first millennia B.C. The late Bronze Age and early Iron Age saw the first occupation of the Cadbury Hill Fort. On the way to fishing one morning I walked up Cadbury Hill and the wall remains are still clearly visible thousands of years later. I’m not a superstitious person but the hair on the back of my neck refused to settle. I can’t imagine the Dumnonian tribe had figured out the epoxy buzzer, but I bet there were trout in the creeks even then. What a successful little survivor and populator they’ve turned out to be. Brown trout have an incredible range of genetic diversity with more genetic variation in wild brown trout in the UK than in any human population.
Steve (Snowy Lakes Fly Fishing Charters)