Fishipedia report: Pike on the fly (well, almost)

August 7th, 2011| No Comments

This week I discovered an incredible fishery – one that’s been hiding in plain sight, right under my ignorant nose, for more than a decade.

An Australian friend of mine recently asked me about fishing in the River Thames. Now, as I’m both an obsessive fisherman and resident in London for most of the time, he was perfectly entitled to think I might have fished it more than once. He was also entitled to be more than a little surprised when I said I hadn’t, that I’d always favored small trout streams and lakes, overlooking every one of this mighty flow’s 215 miles in favor of other, seemingly more attractive options.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I’d been a bit ignorant. In the last few years, I’ve caught roosterfish and tarpon in Costa Rica, bonefish in Mexico and the Bahamas, permit in the Florida Keys, snook and baby tarpon in Cuba and trout from some one England’s beautiful southern chalk streams.  But to my shame, it began to dawn on me, I haven’t paid the slightest bit of attention to the river that flows through my city.

This week,  I decided to put that right – and I decided the best way to do that would be to go fishing for pike on the fly. Problem is, the Thames is pretty big, and I don’t have a boat (not essential, but preferable if you want to reach some of the best spots), and given my near-complete ignorance in this particular field, I decided to pay for a guide.

If I’d just pitched up on some remote out island in the Bahamas, I wouldn’t think twice about hiring a guide. Why should this be any different?

River Thames - pike on the flyThere aren’t as many guides working on the Thames as you think. Fortunately, Roger Wyndham Barnes who runs The Thames Experience out of The Compleat Angler in Marlow, is about as good as they come.

I called him and explained that I was itching to get a pike on the fly, and asked if he might be able to help me in my quest. He paused briefly, and I could almost hear him smiling. “Well, of course. I mean, it’s the new rock ‘n’ roll, isn’t it?”

A few weeks later, on a bright Friday morning in Marlow, some 20 miles west of London, we pushed off from his mooring by The Compleat Angler. As the boat eased out through Marlow Lock, we compared flies, traded fishing stories and discussed tactics for the day as the river woke up around us.

Kingfishers crossed our path, kites soared overhead, schools of fry broke the surface and the sense of anticipation – the kind you only get when you’re fishing – filled the air.

River Thames - pike on the flyFor those more used to the delicate art of upstrem dry-fly fishing for trout, casting a heavy pike fly can come as a bit of a shock. But that’s what you need for these freshwater beasts – big, garish creations designed to provoke a pike’s inherent aggressive nature. Subtlety is not the name of the game.

The good news is that huge distances aren’t required. Anchored in the boat, you’ll often only be casting a few rod lengths to find fish. Accuracy is key though, and you’ll often have to get the fly right under bushes and bang up against weed beds to put the fly in the strike zone.

It didn’t take long before the first pike hit. Unfortunately it wasn’t on the fly – it was on a dead bait we’d trotted out across the pool, but who’s complaining. Spotting some fry breaking the surface and twitching the bait back into the ripples did the job – the float disappearing about three seconds after arriving in the strike zone. A few minutes later and my first Thames pike was sitting in the boat. If I wasn’t already excited about the prospect of pike on the fly, the fizz with which that fish fought would have done the job.

River Thames - pike on the flyUnfortunately they weren’t as obliging as we may have hoped, and the day’s early promise faded as the temperature rose. Switching from one fly to another on sinkling lines then intermediates, casting lure after lure into every corner we could find, we came up empty. Some days are just like that. I know Roger felt a little perplexed at the inactivity, but that’s just how it is sometimes.

Anyway, it wasn’t the last of the day’s action. As we anchored up in Marlow Weir in the late afternoon sun, I decided to give the fly rod a rest for a minute or two and pick up the spinning rod. Out went a rubber shad, first cast, and pretty much on the drop it got nailed. A pike of about 4lbs was the result. Again, not on the fly, but I felt I was getting closer.

River Thames - pike on the flyI guess that will have to wait until next time. For now, I’m just happy to have ‘discovered’ this fishery. Ashamed it took me so long to get round to it in the first place, but happy all the same.

>> For more information on Roger Wyndham Barnes’ Thames Experience charters, click here

River Thames - pike on the fly

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