Pike under threat at Chew Valley Lake

Bosses at the UK’s best pike fishery have this week revealed they may be forced to cull stocks in the not too distant future.

Chew Valley Lake, in north-east Somerset, has earned an enviable reputation in recent seasons for its catches of huge predators to over 40lb In the past six weeks alone, the 1,200-acre trout reservoir has produced more than ten 30lb fish and approaching 100 fish over 20lb as anglers from all over the country have flocked to the venue for the chance of catching the fish of their dreams during the short window of opportunity afforded by he annual ‘pike trials’.

However, according to Bob Handford, the fisheries nd recreation manager for Chew’s owner Bristol Water, trout catches at the reservoir have been ‘dismal’ of late, resulting in the decision to begin a tagging programme net year in a bid to discover whether the burgeoning pike stocks are to blame for the worrying trend. If research proves they are, then a ‘thinning out’ of stocks is likely to take place.

Bob, who has worked for Bristol Wate for over 40 years told AT: “People have to remember that Chew is first and foremost a trout water - it’s that it was built for and it’s what it is renowned for internationally.

“We never stocked pike ¬ they were introduced illegally in 1993/1994. We opened it in October 2001 for pike fishing, and the stocks have thrived because, as well as the trout, there is a massive head of coarse fish, including roach, perch, rudd and tench.

“I realise the pike will be eating a lot of these species, but we can’t get away from the fact that the trout returns have been awful. We introduced 45,000 trout in this year, but so far only 18,000 have been caught, a figure we’d expect to be around 25,000.

“As a result, next year we will start tagging the pike, plus the trout, to find out what the former are predating on. If it does turn out that the pike are proving detrimental to the trout fishing, then fish will be removed. I’m an all-rounder who loves all sorts of fishing and species of fish, but my job is to run a trout fishery. Without the trout fishing at Chew, there would be no pike fishing. If one goes, so will the other.”

One pike angler who knows the venue better than most is professional guide John Horsey, pictured below. He has worked at Chew full time for the past 18 years, catching countless huge fish in that time, including a 33lb 8oz giant just this week.

Although he believes other factors are to blame for the poor trout returns, such as a hot summer and algal blooms, John believes the tagging plan is based on sound science.

“I regularly see the enormous shoals of roach, and I believe this is what the pike are primarily feeding on. I’d stake my experience on it. But the bosses here are not rushing into anything, they’re simply looking into the feasibility of the pike being a problem ¬ it’s proper fishery management at work,” said John.