That would seem to be the picture that some people have in their minds about recent events at Blithfield reservoir. The truth however, is rather different! Letís start at the beginning.
Blithfield reservoir is an 800 acre water supply reservoir situated near the village of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire. The fishing is run by Blithfield Anglers Limited who stock the water each year with large numbers of trout. Trout fishing is available on a season ticket only basis and doesnít come cheap! As well as trout the lake holds very large stocks of coarse fish including dace and roach.
Pike fishing was first allowed on Blithfield back in the mid eighties. A series of pike trials were arranged and large numbers of pike were caught from the off. Most of the pike were retained and transferred to other waters. Despite huge numbers of pike being removed, the pike fishing remained superb. Lures and deadbaits only was the rule and at first most people stuck to the rules. Due to the relaxed atmosphere it was perhaps inevitable that someone would eventually try and smuggle some livebaits onto the venue. When they caught straight away, others not surprisingly followed suit. Before long, everyone was at it. The situation couldnít last though and sure enough someone was eventually caught with livebaits on them. The trout club acted decisively and the water was closed to serious pike angling.
For the next twelve years or so the pike remained relatively unmolested. This was with the exception of a couple of secretive local pike anglers who parted with a large amount of cash and actually joined the trout club. Their intention was to fish with fly for the pike in summer, and this they did with some considerable success. Quite what the two anglers, Martin Cook and Paul Harvey actually caught during this time is the subject of much rumour. It is however believed that they have both caught numbers of thirty pound plus pike on the fly. Martin Cook may have even caught more thirty pound plus pike than anyone else in the country!
The biggest pike to be caught by these two anglers is rumoured to be an astonishing forty two pounder, caught on fly by Paul Harvey! Neville Fickling is hoping to visit the captor of this pike soon and hopefully obtain a photograph of this historic capture for publication.
As well as the forty two pounder, two other forty pound plus pike have been caught by trout anglers over the last year or so. A pike of just over forty was caught on fly but sadly died when the captor left it on the bank and went to get assistance! Most impressive of all, though was a pike that was caught last May at a weight of forty three pounds twelve ounces! This pike was witnessed by Fisheries Manager Mike Reay and was returned alive to the water. It is without a doubt that Blithfield Reservoir is now the best big pike water in the country and may even be in with a chance of producing a fish to challenge Roy Lewisí long standing record of 46-13 caught from Llandegfed in Wales.
Another pike angler who fancied his chances with the Blithfield pike was Nige Williams, a well known tackle dealer from Wolverhampton. A couple of years back, Nige also took the plunge, dug deep into his wallet and joined the trout fishing club. Having got his foot in the door, Nige managed to negotiate some limited access pike fishing at a cost of two hundred pounds for six days fishing. By his own admission, Nige has broken a few rules in the past and he was quite open about this with Blithfield Anglers. However, if there is one person who could keep a bunch of shady pike anglers under check and stop things degenerating into the anarchy that took place last time, then I think Nige Williams is your man. A classic case of poacher turned gamekeeper!
Three days fishing were set for October last year, and another three for November. Lure fishing only was to be allowed. The rule imposed by Blithfield Anglers was that all pike under twenty five pounds were to be killed. Negotiations were however, ongoing on this matter and by the time the fishing took place it had all been sorted out. All pike caught under twenty five pounds were to be retained for transfer to nearby Rudyard lake. And that should have been the end of the matter!
To the astonishment of the anglers involved though, the most enormous row was about to erupt. The Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain issued a press release condemning the anglers involved and asking those who were PAC members to resign from the club. The issue has now split the pike angling world apart. Wherever pike anglers gather you can bet that the subject of Blithfield will soon crop up. The culmination of this row has been the expelling of Neville Fickling from the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain. Mick Brown, who like Neville is a former PAC Pike Angler of the Year has also left the club, as has John Davey from Stoke. John Davey was actually due to become the next PAC President in May! The situation has got so bad that it is now a very real possibility that an alternative democratic pike group may be set up. The phrase "much ado about nothing" seems rather appropriate.
I personally have been a PAC member all my pike fishing life and hope to remain so for many years to come. With the utmost of respect I have to say that the present PAC committee got this one badly wrong! Hopefully the new PAC committee that take over in May will manage to smooth things over. I am sure that we will all look back on this matter in years to come and wonder what on earth all the fuss was about.
When I was invited to fish Blithfield for pike for three days in March this year I was both pleased and a little apprehensive. Would I too end up getting booted out of the PAC I thought? At this point I should perhaps quote from my Blithfield Anglers ticket. With regard to transferring pike the ticket states "you are asked to return alive all pike over 25 lb but if you are able to retain any others alive these will be collected and subsequently transferred to another water. If you are not able to do this please return them alive to our water". Nothing wrong with that I think!
The reality of the situation is that Blithfield is now one of the best organised trout waters for pike angling that I have ever fished. The facilities are superb and you certainly donít feel like a second class citizen like on some trout waters I can think of. Both the management and trout anglers were friendly, helpful and not at all anti pike. Surely this couldnít be the same Blithfield that I had heard about?
Quite a few members of the trout club were also present on the pike fishing days. I got the impression that most of them were just out for a bit of out of season spinning for trout. The very few pike that were in fact caught by the trout anglers were all returned alive to the water. I certainly didnít see or hear of any pike being killed.
So what then of arch villain Nige Williams? I had never met Nige before and was half expecting him to kick me on the shins and then steal all my lures! The reality was again very different. On learning that we were to sleep in our cars over the three days, Nige in fact invited us to come and stay overnight at his shop.
The actual pike fishing turned out to be very hard. Numbers of pike are certainly well down compared to when the pike fishing took place in the eighties. The pike are a lot bigger now though. I personally thrashed away for three days without a touch yet enjoyed every minute of it. The biggest fish was caught on the second day by Brain Ingrams from Warwickshire. Fishing from the bank into the teeth of a gale, in an area of the lake that was very coloured, Brian managed to catch a 33-08 on a home made jerkbait. Conditions were so bad that most of the other pike anglers had gone home by this time!
On the last day I did at least get the chance to see a big Blithfield pike. A lad called Mark Golden had done very well by walking a long way to an area of the lake that had received very little, if any piking pressure over the first two days. I photographed the biggest fish of several that he caught at 27-04 and was hopeful that I too might get amongst the pike as well, as Mark had kindly invited me to join him. Sadly it was not to be. I think Mark had caught them all! Incidentally, as Mark was hand landing his 27, a bigger fish tried to join the first on the bank! That is typical pre-spawning behaviour and may help to further explain the poor results over the three days in March.
Another angler who also did well was the Ďjerkbait kingí Derek Macdonald. I think it would be true to say that Derek probably caught more pike over the three days than anyone else. The rumour was that Derek had actually paid around 700 quid to join the trout club so that he could pike fish for the three days! Now that is seriously keen! To watch Derek in action is a real experience. Not only is he better at lure fishing than the rest of us, but he also tries harder too!
Thanks to Nige Williams, pike anglers now have the chance to fish what is undoubtedly the best big pike water in the country. Furthermore, he has managed to get the rules changed so that no pike are allowed to be killed. Well done Nige! It is certainly not a closed shop as anyone can apply for future events. Inevitably though the waiting list is already growing and preference will of course be given to those who can be trusted not to break the rules.