Silhouetted in the early morning sunlight, Rod selects a suitable spot to place one of his baits. He opts for a position tight up to the row of trees that divide the lake. Rod keeps the rod high to make sure his first fish of the day stays close to the surface. It has been too dark to check out the area close to the bank for possible snags. Bringing the fish to the top means he can judge just how big it is, and act accordingly.
Thorpe Park is a huge amusement park and leisure complex. Two of the five connected lakes are reserved for water sports. The other three are available for angling from 16 June 1993.
Rod is one of the country’s best known specimen hunters. A regular weekly columnist, DAM tackle consultant and star of numerous angling videos, he’s renowned for his big pike catches. He uses his simple running leger rig for deadbaits.
- Pike are delicate fish and need careful handling.
- Never use gaffs, pike gags or barbed hooks.
- Strike early to prevent deep hooking.
- Don’t retain pike in keepnets or sacks.
- Wet your net or sling before weighing pike.
- Always return pike as quickly as possible.
The first fish Rod caught goes off on another short run. Although the line of trees and bushes that run along the sunken causeway looks really ‘pikey’, Rod didn’t get one run from the baits he placed alongside it.
By road Thorpe Park is by the interchange between the M3 and M25. Access is only possible from the junctions on either side. Leave the M25 at junction 11 or 13 and follow the large brown ‘places of interest’ signs. It is very clearly indicated.
By train It is a short taxi ride away from BR stations at Chertsey or Staines.
Just part of Rod’s huge selection of plugs, spoons and spinners. He has about a dozen favourites that he uses most of the time.The first fish of the day is very long and lean. Weighing in at 12lb 12oz (5.8kg), Rod reckons that a few years ago it would have been a sixteen pounder (7.2kg).Battle over, Rod lifts net and fish from the water. He keeps his artery forceps clipped to the lapel of his jacket so they are always handy. This speeds up unhooking. Winter sunrise at Thorpe Park. Rod has chucked out a herring deadbait on a simple running leger rig and checks his set-up in the light of a headlamp.
A jack comes to the net. Use the biggest possible landing net for pike. This would hold a sixty-pounder (27kg) with room to spare.
Rod carries his frozen deadbaits around in this neat insulated canvas bag (top). It’s lighter and more compact than a coolbox. Herrings, mackerel, sardines, eel sections and smelts are all Rod’s favourites.
He doesn’t bother buying special rig foam to pop up his baits, he just uses scrap pieces of expanded polystyrene (above) – it works just as well and is free.
After hook removal Rod treats the hook-hold with Kryston Klin-ik fish antiseptic. This sterilizes it, preventing infection setting in and speeding up the natural healing process. Apply two to three drops to the area, allow five to ten seconds for penetration and return the fish to the water. Rod’s second double of the day is just over 10lb (4.5kg). Like the other fish it’s long and lean – no fattening trout any more.
After a bright start, it has become dull and windy. Acting on lan’s advice, Rod punches his bait a lot farther out.
It’s still dark on a chill January morning when we arrive at Surrey’s answer to Disneyland – Thorpe Park. Fishery manager Ian Welch escorts us through the elaborate security systems, around the perimeter road and through some old gravel pit workings, virtually to the water’s edge. He offers Rod a few words of advice and disappears into the gloom. “Ian says this is the area to be,” says Rod. “It slopes quickly to a depth of eight or nine feet, then is flat and gently shelves to about sixteen feet right out by the bridge. He fished it at the weekend and reckons we will be all right for a few fish here in the corner. It certainly looks O.K. “I can normally get a couple of kippers to tug my string on days like this, when there’s a camera around!” he adds confidently, putting on a headlamp and starting to extricate his rods from the car. “I was out piking yesterday, so my gear’s still set up,” Rod says, assembling two lift (3.3m) 23/4lb (1.2kg) test curve carbon rods. These are coupled with large baitrunner-type reels loaded with 15lb (6.8kg) line. “We’ll keep it simple to start off with – dead-baits on running legers. That bit along by the sunken bushes looks really pikey.”
There are five main lakes at Thorpe Park. All are old gravel pits which are now interconnected, giving a grand total of about 600 acres of water. Rod is fishing in the corner of one of the smaller lakes – it’s still about 30 acres in area.
To his left is a great expanse of open water. To his right is a submerged causeway covered with trees and bushes that trail invitingly in the water. “There’s just enough water over that ridge for fish to move from this lake into Nessie Lake. It’s called that because its got a bloomin’ great fibreglass Loch Ness Monster floating out in the middle of it,” Rod explains.
Rod has baited his snap tackles with small herring deadbaits. He casts the first close to the trees, about 30m (100ft) out, and the other goes straight out parallel to it, but 20m (66ft) farther along the bank. His rods are put in rests with the bail arms left open on the reels, and the line clipped into drop-back bite alarms.
We sit back and watch the sunrise, while waiting for the pike to show. “It’s not really proper fishing this, is it? Find a spot where fish have been caught, bang out a couple of baits and sit and wait until they turn up. “It’s not like stalking for chub on a small river or trotting a bit of flake thirty or forty yards for a shoal of big roach. Who cares though, on a lovely morning like this,” says Rod, starting a discussion on the merits of the different styles of angling. It’s a good way to help pass the time.
The sun is nearly over the horizon now and Rod isn’t completely happy with the position of his right hand bait. “Now we’ve got some daylight, I think I can get it a bit closer to the trees,” he says, leaving the debating chamber to recast his herring tight in to the snaggy branches. “Most fishing doesn’t really require that much skill,” he continues, having just demonstrated quite a bit of it with the pinpoint accuracy of his cast. “I would say that around 80% of it is down to water craft and only 20% is about tackle control and technique. Location is the difficult part.”
Our discourse is rudely interrupted by a shrill blast from Rod’s left-hand bite alarm. He clicks it off and watches the line slowly uncoiling from the spool. He lets it run only a few yards, then hits it hard to set the size 6 barbless trebles. The fish comes in quite meekly at first, only kicking up a bit of a fuss when it gets close to the shore and catches sight of Rod. “It’s a nice kipper, this,” he shouts, “it should be a double. Oh yes, it’s a good fish.” The pike reluctantly glides over the rim of Rod’s monster-sized landing net. Within a matter of minutes it is deftly unhooked, carefully weighed, photographed and lovingly returned to the water. Just as it should be. “Twelve pound twelve – funny, it looked bigger. Quite a slim fish wasn’t it? Still, a best to assume it’s a big fish for safety’s sake,” he advises.
Rod has decided to try a change of bait on his right-hand rod. “Smashing baits these. I use them a lot,” he says, hooking up an eel section. “And smelts. They’re very good as well. Sardines can have their day too.” His faith in the eel is unfounded, as the next run again comes from the faithful herring on the other rod.
Rod strikes and this time makes solid contact with a fish. After a brief struggle a j ack of about six pounds (2. 7kg) comes to the net. As it is lip-hooked, he unhooks it in the net and in less than a minute it is swimming strongly away.
It has clouded over and a cold wind has sprung up. Rod decides to try a spot of spinning, first with a plug and then with a big copper spoon. “It’s a good way to keep warm and often works well here. This is interesting. I’m working this spoon very close to the nice start to the day,” says Rod, casting another herring to the same spot. “We’ll have a few more yet. Plenty more where that came from.”
We have waited patiently for some more action, but none has been forthcoming. Rod puts forward the next topic for discussion. “I think I can explain why that fish wasn’t very heavy for its size. It should have gone to about sixteen – and would have done a few years ago. About five years ago there were a lot of trout pens in the lake, but the place was raided by the ‘Antis’ who released them all. “Of course with thousands of trout swimming free, the pike all grew big and fat on this rich diet. Now that all the trout have been eaten, it’s back to the less nourishing roach and bream, with the result that the pike have all lost weight.” It seems a reasonable theory. Rod’s right-hand alarm bursts into life.
The run stops, then starts again. Rod strikes, but his contact with the fish is only momentary. “It was just a jack. That’s one of the problems with using a biggish bait like a herring. “If you delay the strike too much, a big fish takes a bait well down and is deep hooked; if you strike early enough to prevent that, a small fish doesn’t have enough time to take the bait properly. It’s always bottom about thirty yards out and there’s no weed. Yet that coot is diving for mouthfulls of the stuff just ten yards farther out,” he observes.
Rod’s spell with the spinner has proved warming but fruitless, so it’s back to the deadbaits. He’s just had a dropped run on the eel section when Ian returns.
Ian is somewhat scathing about Rod’s choice and positioning of bait — popped-up herring, as far out as you can get it, is his suggestion. Rod complies, putting some lumps of expanded polystyrene down his baits’ throats and casting them well out. It’s sound advice, for five minutes later the left-hand alarm sounds and Rod strikes into a good fish. “We’re going to have some problems with this one,” Rod says, as the fish comes into view. “I daren’t risk the net because one of the trebles is hanging loose.” He gently eases the beaten fish in to the bank, then deftly reaches down and slides his fingers into the gap between chin and gill covers and swings it out of the water. “It’s another double, but a small one,” he says, weighing his latest capture. “Ten pound two. It’s another long, lean fish that should go more like fourteen. He’s beer lying on the bottom for a few days. Look al these leeches on his belly.” He cleans them off, applies some special fish antiseptic and then returns it to the water. “I like to thin! it does them some good, it certainly won’t do them any harm,” Doctor Rod explains.
Several hours have passed without a bite and Rod decides to go before the traffic builds up on the dreaded M25. “Well, it’s not a bad day when you get a couple of doubles even if they were small. Shame we didn’t have a twenty. There are a few in here and loads of medium doubles. “I had a twenty eight a couple of years age and I think that’s still the best to come out o here. But then it doesn’t get fished very much. In fact, I won the National Lure Championship here, back in 1987 with nearly 100lb of pike – and that included eight doubles – so you can see the great potential it has got. ‘You wait till next season 1993-1994 when it becomes day ticket — someone will have a thirty. And Ian’s spotted a carp that he reckons goes sixty-plus, so I’ll be back. Good luck Rod.