Pete’s Big Fish History

Here’s a track record of specimen fish and to quote the late great Richard Walker there is ‘No Need To Lie’ as all of these fish were properly witnessed and weighed or measured.

Way back when I started fishing it was for roach and dace on the canal at Bude and as I got into trout fishing this was in the days when almost everyone killed fish if they made the size limit as there really was no appreciation of the wild fish resource or indeed how long it took for fish to grow. Restocking with trout happened on the reservoirs and lakes but mostly with 10 inch fish as there wasn’t a cormorant problem back then and therefore anything of size on a lake had to have grown on. Fishing pressure was of course very much less and fish sometimes had the chance to grow.

Seychelles bonefish, the genuine speed merchant

Seychelles bonefish, the genuine speed merchant

On the rivers around Bude I never did better than 1lb 2 ounces for browns but friends had them to 1lb 8 ounces and it’s only in later years that we realised just how exceptional these fish were. The upper reaches of the Tamar were then full of small browns and salmon parr but I never had a brown of a pound although occasional grayling were often bigger and one of 1lb 7ozs really got me into loving this particular fish. A passion that endures to this day.

About the time that I was moving away from ‘home’ I was regularly travelling down to Stithians reservoir which had recently been flooded and was stocked with fingerlings. Here, I peaked at 2lb 13 ozs for rainbow and 4lb 2ozs for brown and that one really was a monster for its day.

I remained very keen on coarse fishing and helped set up a club on the Bude canal and restocked it with fish collected from farm ponds and elsewhere after a huge saltwater influx wiped out the canal stocks. We also at that time imported the first ever stocking of perch, carp and bream into Cornwall. I had a time when big eels fascinated me and caught them to 5lb 8ozs and also did a fair bit of sea fishing. Almost always for bass off the rocks with bait and sometimes spinner but never had a half decent one. I also fished mullet a lot in the summer and did well on bread and then fished fly for them with limited success but had quite a lot of small bass. This in the mid 60’s and long before today’s craze for bass on fly.

Float tubing in Oregon and a trophy rainbow

Float tubing in Oregon and a trophy rainbow

I even once had a 60lb blue shark off Looe but other than occasional boat trips for bream and the like I have never really got into sea fishing here at home in the UK. I have fished Halibut off Alaska but only ever for the small ones to 40lbs and I have fished Sturgeon on the Columbia in Oregon. No real monsters for me but 250lbs is enough of a handful.

All the while it was really trout on fly which most took my time and back when the small fisheries with their stocked trout were just getting going in the late 60’s and I regularly fished at Damerham which was one of the forerunners.
I can well recall catching my first four pound rainbow and being amazed at its size. One of 7lb 4ozs got me a front page pic on Angling Times and my best from here went 8lb 8ozs although I never managed to pip the great Bill Sibbons.

I was also fishing Weir Wood in Sussex and here again a 1lb fish was worth talking about and the day I had a 1lb 12oz rainbow was such a thrill. I did get just a couple from here that went to 2lb 4ozs and it’s a shame the reservoir eventually failed.

I was also fishing a couple of small lakes in Surrey which were only stocked with a few 6 inch browns and rainbows, very lightly fished too and a take was a success. I had rainbow to 2lb 14 ozs and browns to 3lb 2oz and genuine grown on fish.

On  trips back ‘home’ I used to often fish at Stafford Moor just into Devon and one day in 1977 I had a brown of 7lb 12oz on a dry daddy. That was a huge fish for its day and I had it mounted. I think that’s when the big fish bug got me and I started to chase big stocked rainbows eventually getting my first ever double from Avington.

I fished here a lot and became firm friends with the late Roy Ward, often helping out on the fishery in winter with the breeding work.

 A March Tweed springer, quite a rarity

A March Tweed springer, quite a rarity

Around this time too I got to know Taff Price and when he and John Veniard, Donald Downs and David Jacques started up the retail outlet of John Veniard Ltd I used to tie their special orders and work over at Westerham in Kent on Saturdays. Around 8000 flies a year was the usual number and somehow I was also working and fishing.

I got lucky in 1986 and had the first ever authenticated 20lb rainbow at 20 – 07 from Avington so that gave me a British Record and in that period of time when I really was into big fish I also had a couple of memorable four fish limits. These were without catch and release being used to select a catch and maybe now I think it was wrong to publicise these catches as they led in part to the trend for ever bigger fish which couldn’t be sustained as feed costs escalated.

Anyway, that’s the way it was in those days and also at Avington I had a Cheetah trout of 9 – 14 which remains the biggest ever caught. This was a hybrid of brook and rainbow trout but I don’t think that anyone has made the cross now for around 30 years.

My best reservoir rainbow is 8lb 4ozs off Bewl Water and brown was 6lb 1oz from the now closed Queen Mother reservoir.

Without doubt my best truly wild rainbow is one of 21lbs from Jurassic Lake in Argentina.

Working more and more for Trout Fisherman and developing a bit of a reputation for catching big fish I got to see a wide range of fisheries and did indeed catch a lot of big trout.

By now I was fishing in Alaska every year and had some memorable catches with the biggest fish by far being a king salmon (Chinook) which I had on the fly from the Kanectoc river. It measured 51 inches with a 34 inch girth which using weight length formulae gives it something over 70lbs. It really was immense and although I had caught a few 40’s this was by far the biggest I had ever seen. Nowadays I rarely fish kings but they sure are impressive fish and a genuine handful on fly gear.

I have tried many types of fishing throughout the world, only once for tarpon, on the fly out from Islamorada in Florida at 60 odd pounds, it’s something i would one day like to do again as they are such a beautiful fish.

I did a few trips for bones and found I loved the demanding casting even though the heat gets me and my best was 29 inches (around 10 – 11lbs) from Andros although I lost a bigger one in 2013 when a shark got the leader, but not the fish.

Atlantic salmon perfection from the Cork Blackwater

Atlantic salmon perfection from the Cork Blackwater

I used to fish sea trout in Cornwall and Devon where they are rarely of any size but almost always a mystery as to how they sneak into rivers almost unnoticed but I did once get a 7lb fish from Woodmill Pool on the lower Itchen and really got to fish the big boys when I ran trips to Tierra del Fuego on the Rio Grande. Here the sea run browns are enormous and my best went 23lbs. An amazing country to go to and I loved those trips.

Atlantic salmon are another species that can test the best. I have had my share over the years but never really got into them until I started to get invited to fish the Tweed at Hendersyde each March. Getting a springer is quite a thing and I had seven over a five year period but skunked on the last trip. A dream fish for me would be a 20 on the fly although a 14 off the Irish Blackwater in 2014 was a lovely fish.

There’s something about a big brown trout and the stocked ones are just as special. My best from the smaller fisheries is 14lb from Avon Springs and that on a dry mayfly.

Fly fishing for carp really took off around 2000 and I have had many great trips for them on the local carp lakes with a best at 22lbs, quite a battle on trout gear. My record on coarse fish is poor as I really don’t get to go much but by chance I have had 3lb perch on fly and would dearly love to catch a barbel one day. Chub best is 4lb 4oz and again on mayfly, this time off the lower Test.

I have done a fair bit of steelhead fishing, Oregon, BC, Alaska, Canada although never to the genuine big fish rivers but they are the most beautiful of fish when straight in off the ocean. Kodiak Island is a favourite venue and on the Karluk I had a 35 inch fish which would have been around 17lbs and an absolutely epic fight.

Another lovely salmonid is the Brook Trout (actually it’s a char) and I have caught them to 7lb 4ozs in Labrador. Their near relative, the Arctic Char is also a lovely fish and in Alaska I have  had them to 27 inches. The home of the record char is the Tree River up in the arctic and my best at 21lbs here is way short of the record 32 pounder but a great fish on the fly and an awesome fight. It was on one of these trips, based at Great Bear Lake, when I had a surprise catch of a Lake Whitefish on the fly which at 7lb 10ozs  was 3lbs over the line class record and got me an IGFA line class record.

A Labrador brook trout

A Labrador brook trout

It’s a wide range of species from many different places and all through these years I would fish for grayling whenever I had the chance as that fish was and remains my favourite. Here in the UK a true 2lb fish remains a genuinely large grayling although nowadays on many rivers there are true three pounders and some even better. My personal best is 2lb 15ozs off the river Itchen and one of these days I hope to have more time to fish them and maybe get the true three. The arctic grayling is even more beautiful and I became obsessed with this fish, searching ever more remote places to try for a genuine four pounder. Great Bear Lake in the North West Territories gave me some magnificent fish to just over 3lbs and slowly it became clear that a truly big one would have to be incredibly old so that meant the search had to be in ever more remote locations. Three trips to the Seward peninsula out from Nome in Alaska finally found the true big ones with several four pounders culminating in a fish of 5lb 1oz which in 2008 was the new Alaska State Record and the IGFA World Fly Record. Probably my best ever achievement.

It’s a complex mix of species in a lifetime of fishing but oddly I nowadays get a real thrill from helping someone else to catch a really big fish and I can well remember my son getting his first carp on fly and my daughter her first double rainbow. It was the char my wife had in 2014 in Alaska which was fantastic as it was 27 inches and equal to the best I had ever managed off the Kanectoc. That’s what makes fishing so memorable!

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