Monday, probably my last visit to the river this season. It’s Half Term and my diary for the last week of the season is full of Grandchildren and shooting. Pheasants that is, not children. It was… More
It was a cold, grey morning with a gusty east wind. Not traditional weather for fly fishing. I wanted to fish a stretch of the river that I wasn’t familiar with. It would be more of a challenge. I decided to fish in the wooded section between Keeper’s Bridge and Ladymead. I haven’t been there this season and it would be like fishing a different river. I made an early start as the evenings are short and the light goes about 6:00pm.
I walked upstream from Keeper’s Bridge. I paused and watched each pool for a few minutes to see if the Trout were rising. It was about an hour before I reached the footbridge by the abandoned Sussex barn. There’s a Barn Owl’s nest inside the old building. Although I waited in the bushes, the owls didn’t show themselves. I found lots of Blackberries on a south facing hedgerow. They were sweet and not ‘pippy’. I left a few for the birds.
As I was admiring the clouds a fish rose in a narrow section of river just below the fallen Oak tree. It was impossible to cast so I lowered a Black Spider into the water a few times but the Trout had gone. I walked back towards the riffle, casting into the likely looking gaps under the trees. When I got to the Sandy Pool there were signs of fish moving. I covered every part of the pool with a weighted nymph but I didn’t get a take.
I was contemplating an early visit to the pub when I saw a fish rise in the straight section of river below the pool. I could see the fish hanging in midstream just under the surface. I swapped my fly for a weighted Black Spider and crept down the bank until I was opposite the rise. I kept still and watched the river, nothing happened. I cast the fly across to the far side of the river and watched the leader. It twitched then drew away from me. I lifted into the fish and kept it out of the bushes and weeds. After releasing the fish I decided to go to the pub as I was convinced that I wouldn’t get another. I picked up my rod and net and started walking but another fish swirled.
The fish had torn the fly but I decided to trim the hackles and use it again. It looked like a black nymph, I must tie some like that. First cast there was a flash and a swirl at the fly but the Trout did not take. I rested the fish and tried again but it had gone. I saw a fish rise in the tail of the Sandy Pool but it had also disappeared by the time I got there. I wandered back towards Keeper’s Bridge and stood on the corner waiting for a fish to show itself. The light was fading fast but a couple of fish rose just past the big Alder tree. The trees behind me made it difficult to cast properly but I flicked the fly out just under the branches. It was taken without hesitation. As I was struggling with the landing net another fish splashed downstream from the bridge.
The two Trout had torn the fly to pieces. The silk thread was coming undone and it looked a mess. I tied on a new fly and went in search of another fish. I found the fish below the bridge and presented the fly just upstream of it’s position. After a couple of casts the leader tightened and I was into my third fish. I unhooked it and released it from the landing net. I was using a pan-shaped landing net which is not very traditional. However, it is easier to nurse the fish and allow it to swim off from a shallow net. The light had gone, I could no longer see my leader and the fish had stopped rising.
I had thought that I would return home without catching anything but three fish in the last hour was a good result. If I had gone to the pub earlier I would have missed the evening rise. There is no doubt that the hour before darkness is the best time of day.
It was a beautiful Monday morning with blue skies and a gentle North wind. I’d had a message from the Keeper last Friday to tell me the trout were going ‘crazy’ at Ladymead. However, my weekend was messy and fishing had to wait a couple of days.
I drove along the disused railway line to the start of the top beat. There were Pheasants everywhere. October is a great month for country sports because the fishing and shooting seasons overlap. As I set up my rod three Buzzards were wheeling around the sky, riding the thermals to gain height. They were calling to each other, an unmistakable sound. I walked around the headland to avoid the cover crop and signed in. A member had recorded a good Trout, taken on a dry fly the previous day.
I walked around the old lock and crept to the edge of the pool. I hid behind some rushes and scanned the water for fish. There were several in midstream and amongst the group was a large Trout. I estimated it’s weight at about 4lb. The fish were just under the surface in the main current, I could see them clearly. I thought a dry fly would be the best option. I chose a large badger winged Mayfly, the nearest imitation of a Crane fly that I had in my box. I lengthened the line on the grass behind me and tried to cast the fly upstream of the fish. The wind caught the line and the fly landed right on top of the big Trout. It turned, looked at the fly and moved away. A smaller fish swung round, followed the fly and grabbed it. Luckily it dashed off into the tail of the pool and I was able to land it without too much disturbance. After releasing the fish I rested the pool for a while and the other fish returned. The big Trout was still there in midstream. I tied on a black Neoprene Spider and cast well upstream. It drifted down the right line but started to drag just at the critical point. The fish moved away from me. I tried again with the same result.
I rested the pool and walked to the top of the beat trying a few likely looking holes on the way. I didn’t see any signs of Trout. When I returned to Ladymead the fish were back. I swapped to a size 12 weighted GRHE nymph. The cast was perfect, another one of the smaller fish took the fly confidently. I saw the fish turn and lifted the rod. Once again it went downstream and I netted it from the sandy bank at the tail of the pool. I thought I would have to give the fish a rest but while I was taking some photos another Trout swirled. I watched it for a while and couldn’t resist a cast. To my surprise the fish greedily accepted the nymph and tore around like a mad thing. It jumped out of the landing net but I managed to net it again.
Ladymead needed a rest so I walked down to the Shallow Pool and changed to a dry fly. I had a couple of tentative takes but couldn’t connect. One of the fish looked like a wild Trout about 12oz. Back at Ladymead I saw only one fish, not the big one. It was lying deep, just the other side of the sandbank. I dropped a GRHE nymph infront of it and the Trout moved up in the water, turned and took the fly. This fish behaved differently, it made a dash across the pool but then gave up. I guided it into the net and while unhooking it, I noticed a cut in its upper jaw. It had been caught the day before.
When I returned to the bridge I watched the shallows and a fish rose under the trees. I presented a nymph accurately but there was no interest. I stopped at Keeper’s Bridge on the way home and checked the signing in book, a few fish had been caught over the weekend.
Autumn arrived with attitude. A strong east wind tore the curly brown leaves off the Chestnut trees. Grey skies and jumpers indoors. It was time to put my waistcoat away and get out the Barbour jacket. I retrieved my old Border from the back of the cupboard and re-waxed it. Good as new. Thursday is a popular day at the river and I resolved to get there early. At 1:00pm the conditions looked perfect, the journey seemed to take longer than usual.
The river flows west to east and an upstream wind would help with presentation. It makes it easier to throw a ‘curve ball’ cast so that the leader lands upstream of the fly. It’s easier to mend the line upstream and the ripples help hide the leader. When I arrived the sky was leaden and the wind was blustery.
On my last visit to the river I fished upstream of Rotherbridge and caught a few fish. I parked near the bridge and looked up and down the river for signs of Trout. A good fish rose below the bridge under the trees and I decided to stay on that beat. I tackled up and was minded to save the pool below the bridge until later, perhaps as the sun went down. Improvements to the new gravel bed and river banks were ongoing above the bend. That limited my travels upstream. I formulated a plan. I would fish the pools upstream until I reached the bend. Then work back downstream, ending by the bridge at sunset.
I explored the shallows above the bridge, convinced there was a Trout in residence. I tried casting under the bridge and under the trees on the near bank but to no avail. At the top of the shallows I had better luck. A good fish seized the fly in midstream and charged around leaving fronds of streamer weed everywhere. The weed is dying and is easily cut by a taught leader. The fish was a beautiful colour and when I released it, swam away into the weeds. I had trashed the pool so I moved up and fished around another weed bed for thirty minutes.
I saw a fish swirl amongst some clumps of streamer weed just upstream so I crept along the bank. I hid behind some rushes and Himalayan Balsam. The casting was awkward but the fish hadn’t seen me, it rose again close to the bank. I chose a Black Spider and put it above the fish. The Trout came up, circled the fly twice and disappeared. I changed the fly a couple of times but the fish had gone. It had seen the leader.
I’ve noticed that when a fish rejects a fly it usually seeks shelter upstream or under the far bank. The gardeners were pruning the bankside trees opposite me. I thought that the fish would have hidden in the next pool. I moved upstream a little and the tree pruning stopped; silence once again. Sure enough the Trout splashed on the surface. There were Autumn leaves floating in midstream, held there by the stiff breeze. The fish was testing the debris to see if it was edible. I tried a dry Daddy-Long-Legs but the Trout ignored it. It’s been a bad year for Crane Fly, I haven’t seen any on the water. I sat behind the rushes for a while and had a toffee, thinking about my next fly. I chose a size 12 Amber Nymph but chopped the tail short. I used a little piece of florescent orange floating putty squeezed on the tippet knot. It helped me see the leader in the ripple.
I was watching the speck of orange drift downstream against the breeze, when it paused. I lifted the rod and an angry Trout screamed across the river and downstream alongside the far bank. The line was catching clumps of weed and I had to get to my feet and follow the fish. The rod bent into an alarming curve as I gave the fish the butt. The fish felt big and I thought it might be a Sea Trout. Two members came to see the action and one gentleman offered to net the fish for me. I was grateful for his offer because my landing net had run away. I eventually saw the fish which was foul-hooked in it’s side. An embarrassing situation made worse by my inability to control the Trout. It charged around, visiting every weed bed. It’s difficult to subdue a foul-hooked fish because it can keep it’s mouth closed, swim fast and get broadside on to the current.
I unhooked the fish and it was released unharmed but a little wiser. I think the fish may have swirled at the nymph, the turbulence causing a slight movement of the sight indicator. When I lifted the rod the fly probably dragged across the Trout’s flank. The chemically sharpened hook just catching in it’s shoulder. We discussed the merits of using a sight indicator. I don’t think my explanation was convincing enough but I know that I would not have seen that ‘take’ on a bare leader. Some people regard sight indicators as unsporting and several fisheries have banned them. Each to their own.
The leaden skies had been swept away by the east wind leaving fluffy white clouds in a bright blue sky. The low sun threw long shadows and the contrast gave depth to the landscape. The river looked stunning but it was getting colder and the constant buffeting of the wind had worn me out. I left the other members and took refuge in The Badgers. I got home before sunset.
Sunset would be at 18:36, a civilised time. ‘GuageMap’ showed that the river level at Halfway Bridge was up. That would encourage the Sea Trout to climb the fish ladder. However, the water might be a little coloured. Perhaps too coloured for a dry fly or nymph.
When I arrived at Rotherbridge I had a look at the river before deciding which Beat to fish. While watching the water from the bridge, I was pleased to see that the level was normal and the water was clear. Upstream I saw a good Trout holding station behind a stone. Downstream several fish were rising under the trees. I decided to stay at Rotherbridge.
I cast a Black Neoprene Spider to the fish above the bridge. I tried a few other dry flies and a nymph but there was no response. I resolved to try again later. I moved upstream opposite the big Alder tree where a fish was rising. I flicked out a weighted nymph which was grabbed but the fish came unstuck. I rested the pool for fifteen minutes and cast downstream, near a clump of streamer weed. A Trout took the fly and fought hard. I released it into the pool and was about to walk upstream when another fish rose under the Alder tree.
I worked the fly under the tree, the fish followed but it wouldn’t take. I swapped to a small shrimp pattern and that was successful. The fish was a good size and it took a while to get it in the landing net. The cool water meant that the fish was not too stressed and it swam away strongly.
I moved upstream to the shallow pool above the Alder tree and cast ‘up and across’ where I had seen a fish swirl. I searched mid-stream and the weed clumps but it wasn’t until I put the shrimp under the far bank that I had a take. The fish raced off downstream and eventually escaped in the weeds under my feet.
I walked up to the new riffle to take some photos and to find out if the Trout had set up home there. The sun was setting and the tail of the riffle looked like it might hold a few fish. I cast ‘down and across’ and let the line swing round to the near bank. I had a double tap from a wild fish. I cast again and fed the line downstream. I was expecting a take but I couldn’t connect with the tug on the line.
As the sun dipped below the horizon I walked back towards the bridge. I saw a fish rise in the middle of the pool above the Alder tree. It took within seconds of the Black Spider landing and I had an audience while I fumbled with the line. Luckily the fish stayed out of the weeds and I landed it with congratulations from the opposite bank.
The light was going, I picked up the landing net and I thought it was time to re-visit the fish at the bridge. Just as I walked past the Alder tree a fish swirled under the far bank. I put the net down and cast the mangled fly into the ripples from the rise. Again the Trout took the fly without hesitating. This was a much better fish and I was glad I had chosen 5lb bs fluorocarbon. I bullied the fish into the net and released it, this time without applause.
When I got to the bridge I sat on the grass and tied on a new Black Spider, the other fly was too tatty to use. My first cast landed in exactly the right place and a good fish slammed into the fly. The position of the take convinced me it was the fish I had seen a couple of hours earlier. Another member watched me land the fish and return it. The light had gone and I packed my tackle away in the Land Rover. It had been an evening to remember and I celebrated in the usual way at The Badgers.
The weather forecast was bad for the latter part of the week so I decided on an evening session before the rain arrived. Andrew had seen a big Sea Trout and I thought a late session on some of the deeper pools would be a good idea.
I had modified my little Hardy Marquis reel to make the drag mechanism quieter. A few minutes with a Dremmel polishing disc had reduced the edge of the pawl so that it only just made contact. No more embarrassing tangles and just a faint purr as I strip line from the reel.
The bright, sunny morning had given way to a warm overcast afternoon with a brisk south-westerly wind. When I got to Keeper’s Bridge two cars were parked under the trees so I continued to the Top Beat. I signed in and stood on the bridge for a while looking for fish. Strangely the water had a greenish tinge and had risen quite a bit. Either there had been a lot of overnight rain higher up the river or the new riffle at Rotherbridge had backed the water up further than I’d imagined.
I saw a fish rise just under the bank and tried it with a Black Neoprene Spider. There was no response, I think the fish had taken refuge under a nearby bush. I walked all the way down to the gate at the bottom of the beat, fishing most pools. It was a long walk in waders. Crouching, crawling and creeping to avoid scaring the fish. I had a hard take at the Shallow Pool but didn’t connect. On the way back up the beat I fished the pools I had leap-frogged. I walked on past the bridge, up to Ladymead. I waded out gingerly onto the sand bank in the middle of the pool avoiding the springs. The water was about a foot deeper than normal, previously I had fished there in wellies. I worked the fly across the current on the far side and then up the near bank under the trees. I had a double tap but again I failed to connect with the fish. It felt like a small wild Trout.
I was tired from walking in waders and thirsty so I adjourned to the Badgers just as the light was going. It had been an interesting evening, I was convinced I would get a fish but I’d messed up the only two opportunities.