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Playing Battleships

Ian Wakeford

Here follows a tale of torment and toil. I have had some limited success but also a lot of setbacks.

  • Have I given up... No · 
  • Have I achieved my target...No · 
  • Will I be back for more punishment...Yes (Probably)
  • That's right folks - it's fly fishing Rutland Water for Pike

This all started a few years ago, I live a few miles from Rutland Water you see and cannot help wondering how many species of record size fish are swimming about in it's depths. It is a "fly only" trout reservoir. Endless days of summer, walking the dog around it spotting fish and just saying to myself, "if only I could course fish it". There are carp in there the size of Water Butts and shoals of 1-2lb roach the size of a Polaris Submarine. And no, this is not a wind up!

Of course you have been able to fish Rutland for Pike for a good few years now, but you are very limited to where you can fish, you are limited to a few weeks a year and generally are limited to whopping great spoons or large seabaits. Also it is like the first day of Henley Regatta, too many pike anglers racing for the known hotspots that Anglian Water herd you into.

So this year I was determined to luxuriate in spending the spring and summer chasing pike on Rutland, but my problem was that I was not allowed to fish for them by conventional means. The reservoir is 3500 acres, and must be about 20 miles round. It is huge, next only to Kielder in size for an English Reservoir. Ironically it sits in the middle of the smallest County of the UK. Therefore I reckon that Rutland has a greater percentage of water to it's name than the Lake District.

The problems to be faced were could be summarised thus:-

  • What method should I use to catch pike?
  • How on earth would I find pike on such an Inland sea?
  • How do I broach the subject with Anglian Water, as it a trout only Reservoir.

Well it seemed to me that with the recent growth in fly fishing for Pike that this approach should be well documented by now. It was just a matter of buying a fly rod and a few flies and that was that. Wrong. Most of the flies that I looked at were no more than 4cm long, and for a pike used to feed on Stock Trout and Roach, these would hardly prove to be a tempting meal. What I needed were big flies.

I had also been down to the fishing lodge at Rutland Water to try and explain to them what I planned to do. Just to make sure that it was OK with the Bailiffs. I was met with the response that this was a trout reservoir and you could only fish for trout. Clearly I needed to talk to someone else within Anglian Water to hear my case. So I spoke to the manager in charge if Fisheries and Recreation for the company. He was very interested in the proposal and said that as long as I kept to the rules of the fishery he was happy for me to target Pike instead of Trout. He suggested that I buy a "Catch and Release" ticket. The next problem is that I generally fish alone. Rutland Water rules dictate that all boats must have two anglers in them and I could not find anyone that was interested in Fly Fishing for Pike or wanted to stump up 22 pounds every few weeks, probably to blank. Yes that's right a catch and release ticket is 44 pounds for the day if you use a boat.

I tried the Internet to recruit a fishing buddy and up popped Trevor Salmon who is a lure pike angler and was also interested in learning about fly fishing for pike. Trevor offered to make some flies to start with and he kept me up to date with scanned images of various concoctions, most of which looked like parrots mounted on very large salmon hooks. These flies would need some casting.

Now to the tackle. I had given up trying to buy anything over the counter in various tackle shops. Most rods went up to about a number 9 line. But they were far too floppy. What I really needed was a carp blank with a fly rod handle on the end. I also had been looking at the American Fishing Catalogues and saw that a range of Toothy Critter Rods by Masterline claimed to be up to the job. So I ordered a rod, which claimed to cast No.11 Line, a No.10 lead core line, a No.11 floating line and a fly reel with a spare spool.

The most vital piece of tackle was going to be the Eagle Fishfinder. I have a small portable Fish ID 128. The quality of image is acceptable but you do not have to take the battery out of your car top run it. It runs on torch batteries and is very light to carry.

The first trip was in April, Trevor and I met up at about 8am at the fishing lodge and parted with our cash. Trevor was using the same fly rod as me and also had a mixed bag of assorted fly and lure tackle with him. Our first port of call would be the South Arm of Rutland Water; right up into the bird reserve where we felt that newly spawned pike might still be hanging out. The trip was about 30 minutes in the boat from the lodge to the far end of the lake and I watched the sounder all the way. Most of the lake was barren of fish and then all of a sudden you would pick up a feature like a riverbed, tree stumps or farm wall and fish would be stacked up like pollock on a shipwreck. These were not trout but were shoals of perch or roach. Trout could be easily identified; they were usually mid water, would show up as a medium size "blip" and would disappear from the sounder very quickly. Coarse fish tended to congregate in very large shoals, very often in the lower layers of water and would generally be a small "blip" on the sounder. Then there were the pike, these would be found either trailing the coarse fish shoals or would lie in wait hard up against a feature. They were large "blips", usually hard against the bottom and we found that the pike tended to follow a 13-foot contour around the lake.

The Fish ID 128 - Don't leave home without it!

OK, so we have found a likely looking spot, a half mile drift over 10 to 15 foot of water, over a old river bed, and plenty of fodder fish. Watching the sounder is a bit like playing battleships; you know somewhere there is a big old battle cruiser but you have to just keep popped away at different co-ordinates until something turns up. Casting one of Trevor's pike flies is also an interesting experience, the response of the fly rod is not very snappy ( but is very snappy sometimes - see later) and we both came to the opinion they were woefully under-powered for the job. Casting a line only in the local field, the rods performed fine, but bobbing around in a boat, with a gale blowing hurling a fly that weighs about 2oz around your head gives you a wrist ache like a dormitory full of fifth formers with a years supply of Penthouse.

So back to our first session, an overcast day, a little drizzly, a slight chop and about 12 degrees C. If I were fishing a gravel pit it would be perfect. Well to be honest I just did not know what to expect, would we be hauling or would we struggle to find the pike?

I had all these visions of being able to cast to reedbeds in a bird reserve, laden with 30's. The other vision I had was of being pestered by trout all day long. The truth of the matter is that the banks are generally rocky shores, you cannot fish nearer than 50 metres from any bank from the boat and trolling is generally banned in the reservoir arms.

The North Arm at it's narrowest point.

First fish of the day was a 4lb Rainbow, this was after about 2 hours fishing and caught on a small perch fry imitation. Then I snagged on the bottom, I gave it a quick tug to try and dislodge it and I thought I had snagged a tree branch that I wound up to the surface. To my surprise up popped a pike of about 3 feet in length, which gave me a long hard stare. 

A long hard stare from a fat pike, note the short wire trace.

Clearly it had never been caught before and obviously did not know what to do next, so Trevor prodded it with the landing net and it decided that tail-walking would be a good plan of action. This was fine by me. Once netted this fish was a bit on the tubby side and the scales went round to 22lb 3oz. My first fly caught pike and a 20 as well. As you can see from the picture it has had an easy life munching stockies. 

22lb 3oz, and excellent beginning.

Disaster then struck for Trevor, his fly rod snapped in mid cast - it was only late morning as well. Now what. As fate would have it Trevor had mistakenly brought along his lure kit with him as he thought that fly only meant just that, but what it actually means is that you must fly fish with a fly rod and reel and cast a fly. His flies are quite large and heavy and can actually be cast, hence why he brought the lure rod. So he tried to marry up the fly reel with the short lure rod to see if it was castable. Not really was the answer.

On the horizon a launch loomed up on us, it was the Reservoir Bailiffs who seem to do a good impression of Customs and Excise. We were boarded and all suspicious items of tackle were confiscated that did not look like they belonged in a trout angler's bag. We explained that we were pike anglers and had permission from their boss to fish for them as an experiment on outsized flies. After a bit of a debate they decided that maybe they would tolerate us but would be checking our story out with head office. Off they went. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, I had a small rainbow that dropped off at the boat and Trevor had a momentary lapse on one of his famous pink balsa wood flies that connected with a jack. We returned at dusk to the lodge shattered and feeling disappointed with Trevor's ruined trip. All credit to him for basically watching me fish most of the afternoon, as all he could do was drift fish.

A momentary lapse in fly selection.

The next trip was late spring. The weather was a pea souper to start with and Trevor was delayed an hour on his journey because of the fog on the motorway. It did not matter anyway, at 9.30am the bailiffs still would not allow any boats to launch because of the fog, they feared we would all get lost at sea. Trevor now had a new replacement fly rod from Masterline and an even greater collection of flies to choose from. At about 10am we were allowed to launch, we pointed the boat due West and headed for the South arm again. After about half a mile we were surrounded by fog on all sides and could not see a thing. I was sure that we were going fine and we would eventually hit land. To be fair we ended up about half a mile from where I was expecting to be which was not that bad. The fog was now starting to burn off very quickly and within 15 minutes we were in the middle of a scorching hot summers day. The lake was flat calm. It stayed baking hot and calm all day, neither of us had a take all day. I got a nice sun tan though.

On the way back to the lodge I left the sounder running, and we passed over a weed-bed that according to the sounder was fourteen feet thick in fifteen feet of water. We stopped for a look, as this was bizarre. It was in fact an enormous shoal of roach, which was about the size of two tennis courts. The shoal was so dense that the sounder could not distinguish individual fish and concluded that it was a weed bed. We peered over the side of the boat and it was like one of those nature films where you see huge shoals of herrings being herded by whales or seals. I reckoned that if the shoal was 50 yards by 50 yards and was on average 10 feet deep. The density of fish would mean that there was in excess of a million roach in this shoal. Something to wet the appetite of the average match angler and these fish were not tiddlers either, they were hand-sized up to about 2lbs. "I gotta catch me a roach" I said to Trevor, "I can't blank". So I popped on a Black Chenille trout fly about an inch long and tried to tempt the roach. They were not interested. Maybe it was the 15lb mono or the wire trace. So I snipped off the wire trace and tied on a 5lb leader. Still they would not take it. "At this rate I might catch a trout for tea" (catch and release allows you to keep one trout) I said. The tip hammered round and I was into a fish a bit bigger than a roach but not a trout either, it did not feel that lively. Low and behold a pike. Sods law really but that is Rutland Water for you. Still a jack is better than a blank.

We agreed that the weather conditions were now too summer-like to bother for the Pike and that we should plan our next trip for the autumn. Our third trip started with a drizzly day that within an hour turned into quite heavy rain. We decided to go for the North arm this time and spent most of the morning drifting over weed-beds trying to tempt pike out of them. The fish were there but were just not interested. On one of my casts my fly rod now came apart, I thought the spigot had just come loose but on closer inspection the female joint of the rod had split and the joint now would keep working loose every few casts. This was becoming a real bind and I knew it was only a matter of a few hours before the rods snapped all together. We were now suspecting that there was a problem with the rod quality from these Masterline Toothy Critter rods, as both of us had experienced problems.

Moments later in the teeth of a gale, Trevor's rods then snapped. We both sat there staring at each other. I was nursing my rod, his had snapped and it was only just after midday. The rain was torrential and we were both so fed up, wet and cold. We called it a day and headed for the lodge. What a waste of money that trip was.

So that is it, things started well, we leant to avoid hot sunny days and also we can definitely recommend which Pike Fly Rod not to buy. Will I be back again next year? Probably, I am keen to waste more money, as I know deep down that a 30lber will be produced to a fly. The UK fly caught record is only 36lb and Rutland can easily produce bigger pike than this. The only problem is the location of the fish and the restrictions that you must work within. I also think that the spring offers less weed hassle and cooler temperatures, the pike are probably more bunched up after spawning. My only gripes are the late starting times for the boats; I would prefer dawn, the expense; surely a pike ticket for a tenner could be accommodated and the "kill all pike" attitude of the trout anglers and most of the Bailiffs at the fishery.

Still if anyone had deep pockets and a taste for blanking on inland seas, then this could be for you. And I am always open to offers for a trip.

More information on fly designs for pike can be found here and here.





(C) Baintonfisheries.co.uk, 29 May, 2014 . All rights reserved, no reproduction without prior permission

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