With work just about wrapped up, it was time to load the van and head north with my old friend Gordy Howes from St Ives Lakes in Cambridgeshire. Each year we normally manage an extended trip away somewhere fishing. Past ‘somewheres’ have included a couple of trips to the Ebro in search of carp and zander and trips closer to home after barbel, but this year I had a hankering to head north, and pike were very much on the agenda.
Initially, the plan was to head to the Lake District and fish a few different venues, but as the news from that area was rather mixed we took the decision to head up to Scotland for a few days instead. Now, the last time I fished for pike in Scotland was as a guest of a couple of the PAC lads on Loch Lomond, and a fantastic time we had, so it was with happy memories that we pointed the well laden van up the M6 and hit the road.
Seven hours later we had arrived in the dark and after a slight detour to find the fishery entrance we were there. With no way of getting our bearings and a hard day on the road behind us fishing would have to wait as we set about cooking up some grub and chucking the Titans up. Next morning we were up before dawn and the Loch looked truly stunning as the darkness began to lift. Jimmy the Fishery Manager soon arrived and set about sorting us out with a boat and filling us in on what had been caught.
We spent the morning just motoring about on the loch with the echo sounder getting a feel for the place. I had brought with me a map of the lake and also an old bathymetric map showing the approximate depths, so we had soon found some potential fish-holding areas and before long massive shoals of bait fish were showing up on the sounder – game on! Finally, we loaded the boat with a bit of tackle and headed out to fish the short afternoon. Amazingly the surface of the lake was like a mirror with hardly a breath of wind and bright conditions. The temperature was still barely above freezing, and the water just over 3 centigrade, but it really was heartening to be out fishing on a new venue on such a fantastic day.
We decided to drift very slowly along a very obvious drop-off close to the bank where the water went from just a few feet deep to nearly 30 feet. Trout shaped arches were dotted around in midwater, but there were also some clouds of bait fish showing towards the bottom of the drop, so we reasoned that there might be a pike or two at home. Despite the cold water we would mainly be lure fishing with a float fished deadbait towed along out the back of the boat just in case. The secret when the water is this cold and the fish are potentially laying up deep is to use lures that are fast sinking and can be worked back at an absolute crawl. The aim is to keep that lure, normally a soft plastic Hollow Belly Shad fitted with a heavy jig head, or a Castaic style lure within a foot of the lake bed at all times. I actually modify some of my lures just for this job by cutting away some of the tail root, so that it takes much less movement to get the tail wagging. The slower the better is a good maxim when fishing cold water with lures, especially in deep water.
After about twenty minutes of drifting maybe 80 yards along the bank I felt a delicate pluck and then a tap and struck hard. The rod tip bent over and something alive kicked back on the other end. The fish battled well, coming to the surface and thrashing the water, sending spray all over the place. It was a nice fish at a bit over 13lb and was a lovely dark shade of green with almost orange coloured fins. A belter whatever the size and a real confidence booster.
All too soon the first day was over and almost in pitch dark with navigated back to the jetty and got settled in for the night. Now the original plan had been to bivvy up further along the lake and fish deadbaits at night, but with the conditions being pretty cold and large amounts of ice floating about we decided to stay in the car park area and just fish the days. We had the lake to ourselves, were on holiday and there was the serious matter of cooking up a three-course meal to be getting on with!
Day two dawned much the same as the first morning, although it was definitely a degree or two warmer. We decided to adopt similar tactics to the previous day to begin with, making use of the light wind to drift us about, and then to spend the afternoon fishing more intensively with float fished deadbaits from an anchored boat to see if this would bring much reward. By the end of the day both methods had scored, with a couple of single figure fish to Gordy, one on a lure, the other on a bait, and another 13 pounder to me, again on the new 6 inch Berkley Split Belly Shad. Although we weren’t catching any monsters it was nice just being out and we were getting enough action to keep us really working hard and trying to get as much out of the short days as possible.
Day 3 and the weather was definitely on the changed. The wind had picked up considerably and it was forecast to rain from mid-morning onwards. This was also to be out last day, so before setting out with packed away all the camping gear whilst it was still fairly dry and took out just the gear we needed for the day. On top of the change in the weather I was also feeling a bit crook, and my nose was absolutely streaming. To be honest I didn’t feel much like chucking lures about, so we decided that it would be a better option to fish deadbaits, giving each spot about an hour before moving on. We definitely had enough idea of the contours of the lake by now to have a good guess at where the fish should be, it was just a matter of whether they would be hungry or not.
We didn’t have to wait long as Gordy had a jerky take that he pulled out of; most probably a trout. We were having trouble holding anchor by this time as the wind had picked up quite a bit and the forecast rain had also arrived by the bucket load! In the second spot my float tipped up and moved off fast downwind. I wound down for what seemed like an age before everything tightened up and I set the hooks. It felt like another decent fish and after a cracking scrap a plump 15 pounder hit the net. The fish, like most of the action we had on deadbaits had fallen to a BaitBox medium herring flavoured with lots of salmon oil. A bait I have been doing well with on a few different venues.
Gordy swapped to the flavoured herrings and soon had a nice brace of fish from a couple of different spots, including a lovely 12 pounder to round off the day. We did stick it out to the bitter end despite the wet weather, but none of the lakes biggies came our way, but it really was a brilliant trip in great company and as we rolled up the track back towards the main road I was already planning a trip back in the Spring.
By the time we got back home my cold had been officially upgraded to ‘man-flu’ and it took me the best part of a fortnight to shift the blasted thing. Whilst I could of tried to soldier on and fish whilst under the weather there wasn’t a great deal of point. The rivers were over their banks again and with plenty to be getting on with at home that had been neglected over the last few months I decided it was time to get into the Christmas spirit. And so, as I sit here writing on the last but one day of the year with the last of the mince pies it is time to start looking forward to 2013, new venues to be fished, friends to share happy memories with and adventures waiting to be lived. I hope you have all had a great Christmas, and I wish you all a fantastic (and hopefully not quite as wet) 2013!