The two dropped runs have bugged me, especially after catching on the third run following a change of tactic to a popped up bait. So the plan this time was to further tweak the rigs making them with longer traces so the bait would definitely sit above the weed and try to be even more mobile than before.
The journey down was easier this time as the closed roads had magically reopened and I arrived at the reservoir at 10am on the nose to find it completely covered in thick fog!
Luckily I knew where to start having made a note of the wall markers from the previous session so I barrowed my gear round and set about getting the gear sorted. Two baits went out, one short and the other long and I sat back to watch the fog burn off.
Over the next couple of hours I moved four times with each move being twenty or so metres down the bank. It's amazing how much difference the distance can make to the amount of weed you're fishing over but with the baits popped up I wasn't overly concerned as I felt like they'd be presented and fishing.
One thing to mention with popping up the baits is that I've found that sardines tend to be buoyant while they're still frozen. I'm guessing this is due to air trapped in the swim bladder? So the trick is when you first cast the bait out it will be suspended in the water and as it defrosts it gently drops onto the weed (carp anglers achieve the same effect using pva foam nuggets). It does mean you need to put a fresh bait on with each cast but with sardines being so soft and the casts at Cheddar being long it's not too much of an issue. Plus any old baits end up in the spod bucket!
By now the sun had burnt off all the mist and it was a glorious day with virtually no wind. Terrible conditions for pike fishing but great for sunbathing! To be honest I wasn't too hopeful of a daytime bite and when a dog walker stopped to ask about the camera I was quite happy to sit in the sun and chat - as it turns out, for quite a while...
...so it was a real surprise when at pretty much 1.30pm on the nose the left hand rod suddenly burst into life! Having worked out last time that I was fishing in some really deep water (I was counting anything from 14 to 18 seconds before a 'donk' was registering on the rod) I had a suspicion that my 'strikes' were a little weak so I after registering that there was movement on the braid I absolutely banged the rod skywards making it almost bend double - and fish on!
I did wonder if it was a big ball of weed on the braid as it really felt like I was dragging in a dead weight but as a long dark shape moved into the shallows it became apparent this was a nice big fat pike. A bit of a tussle in the shallows and it was in the net, happy days! After such a good fight the pike was puffed out and was very docile on the unhooking mat, a bit of a godsend as the banks at Cheddar are concrete steps meaning you have to either unhook the fish in the net (always tricky with a 42" net and two sets of trebles...) or transfer the fish up above the wall.
This fish felt bigger than last weeks and although I didn't weigh it (the priority being to get the fish back in the water asap) I'd give it around 16lb or so which is a bit of a result! Resting the fish in the margin, it kept up it's docile appearance but gave me a massive shock by suddenly shooting off into the depths! Seeing it move in the clear water close to the bank was quite something...
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, despite the spot on looking conditions moving into dusk. Maybe I wasn't on the fish, maybe they just weren't hungry, who knows? As the sun slowly fell behind the horizon I made one more final move and cast but it wasn't to be so I packed down slightly disappointed not to have got another chance but incredibly chuffed with the fish I'd caught.
So that's it, last piking session in the UK for a while now! I'm glad that I found the time to do a couple of sessions at Cheddar Reservoir, it was amazing not to have blanked on such a sizable tough water and the promise that there maybe bigger fish to be had will definitely see me heading back this way sometime in the distant future...
At 105 hectares in size and 2 miles in circumference, Cheddar Reservoir is the biggest water I've fished in the UK and quite a daunting challenge. Where do you start?! Pub chucking dead baits into the abyss didn't seem the way to go but it was no easy task finding out any information on how best to approach this beast of a venue...
Luckily for me, the bailiff (who's number I found on the Cheddar Angling Club website) was happy to provide some invaluable information on where to start, as was Gary at Veals Tackle Shop. Both said that the western and southern sides of the reservoir was where the deep water was to be found and that fishing ledgered sea baits was the best method.
It took quite a while to get to the venue after dropping the kids at school, mainly due to several roads in the surrounding area being closed and Google Maps completely losing it's sh*t and sending me off in a wide arc rather than straight to the water... But I finally pulled into the car park on the northern side of the reservoir and set about barrowing (yep barrowing, I went in heavy!) my kit round past the tower to my chosen spot on the north west corner.
First task was to set up my rod pod. Now I've never used a pod, having always been a single bank stick kinda guy. But as Cheddar Reservoir is essentially a concentre bowl with a stepped bank, a rod pod is a required bit of equipment. After a bit of research online for rod pod alternatives, I found a suggestion from someone to use a camera tripod... Luckily, I have a spare heavy duty tripod kicking around and after a bit of time with a drill, the glue gun and a couple of bolts I had myself a rock solid pod! I knew GCSE woodwork was worth taking all those years ago ;)
Rod wise, I went with my usual 3lb test curve carp rods but rather than the usual midsize baitrunner reels I use on the river I went for my bigpits loaded up with braid which would hopefully give me a better casting distance. Apart from that, the set up was the same with 2oz gripper leads with big eye swivels and my regular wire traces. One rod went out with half a mackerel and the second with a sardine and I sat back to see what happened...
...which was not a lot! Over the next couple of hours I moved three times, which each hop being 20 or so meters further to the my right along the western wall of the reservoir. The weed didn't seem too bad with only small clumps coming back on the lead or on the trebles so I was pretty confident the rigs where well presented.
Around 1ish my mate Jim (from 'Jim's Lure Challenge') arrived and set about getting his lure rod set up... at which point, the left hand rod sprung into live with a blistering run! Amazing, seriously he is a bit of a lucky charm ;) However, my luck wasn't in as on striking the rod it was quickly apparent the fish had spat the bait. Damn. After such a long wait and getting a run at probably the most unlikely time of day it was pretty gutting to have lost it. I get the impression that bites are few and far between and if this was going to be the only run of the day, it was pretty frustrating for it to have fallen off!
But hey, it gave me hope and the rod went back out to the same spot toot sweet. One other thing that I'd started to do was spod out a pretty foul mixture of chopped up mackerel heads, sardiens, herring, sprats and thai fish sauce (basically, all the leftover bait I had in the freezer from previous sessions!). If the slick on the water was anything to go by, there was a big sent trail in the water and fingers crossed the pike were homing in on it.
Which seemed to be the case as after 20 minutes the left hand rod ripped off again! This time, I was a bit calmer and left the fish run after I'd picked up the rod. A strong strike and.. fish on! But only for seconds, as after a couple of heaves on the rod the line lightened up and all that came in was a big ball of weed... Double damn.
A bit deflated, I decided to keep moving up the bank and Jim set off on a lap of the reservoir in search of perch. Time was beginning to march on now and with only 3 or so hours of light left I was beginning to feel I was looking down the barrel of a blank. But no, I will not be defeated! I decided to head back to the spot that I'd had the two runs from and fill it in with the remainder of my gross spod mix and cast my baits right into the middle of the slick. The only change I made was to replace the trace on the left hand rod with a popped up sardine. I've never used popped up baits before but my feeling was that the pike might not have managed to get the whole bait in their mouth as it was resting in weed. With the bait popped up vertically above the weed, my thinking was that the bait would be easier to grab and the hooks easier to set.
As it turns out, the change of tactic made all the difference as around 5ish (which I had a feeling would be 'bite o'clock') the left hand rod sprang into life with a one toner! This time I took a big deep breath before picking up the rod, if this was to be my last chance to bank a fish I wanted it to count. Feeling the braid in my hand I could feel it twitch and move away from me so the fish was definitely on... A quick reel down to take up the slack, a really solid strike and bang - fish on at last!
The pike went mental and really pulled back. Fights on the river can sometimes be over in minutes as you tend to be fishing quite close in but as this fish was a good 60 yards out it felt like an age before it showed in the margins. The water in Cheddar is incredibly clear and to see this black shaped slide towards the net was incredibly exciting. But after a few lunges in the shallows a plump Cheddar Reservoir pike slipped into the landing net - happy days ;)
I didn't weight the fish but it felt like a solid 14lb or pounds, with a really big tummy and a thick set back. It was completely different to its river relatives, very dark across the head and back but lilly white on its underside - a bit of a looker to be honest and I was made up.
After the pike was slipped back I fired the rods out again but despite it looking spot on for a bite there were no more takers and Jim and I spent the last hour watching the bats chase flys over the water before packing up and heading back to the cars in near darkness at around 6.30pm.
To have got 3 runs and 1 fish may sound like a poor result but for me, I was over the moon. It's such a massive piece of water and I'd really thrown everything at it. The session could've easily ended as a blank but with the right advice, a good bit of research and a big slice of luck it'd been a great day.
The question is, can I squeeze another session in before the pike spawn and I return to Australia?! We'll see...
The first spot to try was the ever reliable Weston Lock over near bath and it didn't disappoint, producing a fine jack after a good 30 minutes of fishing. The water lever was really up and with such a chop on the water I was amazed to get any action, but targeting the slack water and bouncing a bigger lure off the bottom managed to tempt a fish so it was definitely worth the hike over to Bath.
After bath I tried the shallows at Saltford (which was flooded) and then the lock at Keynsham (which was flooded) before heading to Swineford which was, you guessed it... flooded! I've never seen so much water, it was almost up to the top of the wall where the inflow pipe flows into the river in the first swim.
Rather than risk the lethal banks I decided to call it a day and head for home.
Which means that's it for the river season and Jim's Lure Challenge is now at a close. It's been a lot of fun and a massive change for me as I've spent the last 4 or so years deadbaiting for pike on the river. So thank you Jim, it's been a blast!
But today I decided to throw caution to the wind and head over to Weston Lock in Bath to see if the pike were shoaled up in the slack water.
The water was really, really choppy and to add to the challenge there were two massive tree trunks eddying around in the current. There also seemed to be a whole host of new snags that had washed into the cut and I lost two lures in quick succession...
But amazingly I did manage two fish! They both took me completely by surprise, the first coming from the inflow pipe on the far wall while I was watching some circling birds and the second after a miss cast round the corner into the main flow of the river.
As with previous sessions, nothing massive but it was amazing to even get a bite in such terrible conditions.
I did head onto Keynsham to try the lock there but with the walkway submerged and the rain pushing in I decided to call it quits and head for home.
We only had an hour or so early in the morning and although the action wasn't nearly as frantic as the day before I did manage this fine looking jack after 10 minutes or so of casting around. Unusually, Jim blanked - a bit of a first, he always catches!
The weather had completely changed, going back to cold and grey and although it wasn't raining the day felt very different. After spending some time at the lock I headed onto Saltford where I spied a huge otter fishing under the bridge which may have explained the lack of bites... I also headed onto Conham River Park for a looksee but it was dead as a doornail...
It was always going to be tough following on from yesterday's epic session but today I couldn't help feel a little deflated, even though I bagged a jack. Praps it was the weather than got me down?! That hit of vitamin D sure did seem to make all the difference, both to the fishing and my mental state ;)