The day started with a cold, dry north wind and a baby blue sky. Only seven degrees Centigrade, it was definitely a big coat day. On the drive to Petworth the sky clouded over but… More
Last week’s extreme weather kept me away from the river. The tail end of a hurricane, red dust from the desert and a rain storm heralded the arrival of half-term week. The river level had reached 0.130m on Sunday, the highest level since March. I looked at the river as I crossed Coultershaw Bridge and as I suspected, it was unfishable. Zero visibility and a strong current.
After visiting the lakes and the river to collect the catch returns, I drove to Little Bognor. The Hunt had passed through the woods earlier and the hounds had used the lower lake as a swimming pool. Despite the disturbance a few Trout were rising. Not splashing about or leaping but slow head-and-tail rises. A few tiny midges were buzzing around in the damp Autumn air. There were just enough of them to be annoying. As I’d seen several rises at the southern end of the lower lake I decided to fish there, in the corner near the overflow.
After only a few casts I snagged the leader and it snapped off. Completely. That’s the third time I have done that this season. Rather than mess about with an improvised needle knot I walked back to the Land Rover and changed my reel. I hadn’t used the Cortland line for several months and I was interested to compare it with the Rio line I am testing. I tied the leader to the door handle and stretched the first fifteen yards of the fly line. It felt crude and stiff but I could see it in the air and on the water. I stood well back and fished the deep water close to the wall, gradually working further out. A fish swirled but ignored the fly. I changed my small Black Nymph for a small GRHE nymph and cast to several rising Trout but they ignored that as well.
I moved to the other corner, under the Chestnut trees, where I had seen a fish move. The water was crystal clear and flat calm. I had the feeling that fish were inspecting the fly but we’re spooked. I changed to a 2lb bs tippet but it made no difference.
I walked up the slope to the top lake and saw fish rising amongst the floating Chestnut leaves. They seemed to be feeding underneath the leaf rafts. I started by dropping the fly close to the clusters of leaves. A Trout followed the fly but sheared away. I cast across the leaves and let the leader sink through them. There were several Trout close to the fly and I was confident of a take but nothing happened. I saw a good fish close to the weeds near the inlet stream and flicked the fly in it’s path. There was a big swirl but the leader didn’t move. I pulled the fly and induced another swirl but no take.
I worked the area around the Willow tree but without success. It was damp and chilly, my arm was hurting and I decided to leave. I think the Rio line has the edge. Presentation is good and it has no memory. The Fox Illusion fluorocarbon is a good leader material, it also has no memory and sinks like a stone. A good combination.
The river looked perfect. The current was normal and the water had a lovely olive green tint. The sun shone and the breeze was warm, the scene was set for a lovely afternoon stroll along the river bank. Hopefully the Trout would join me. I decided to visit the places that I could rely on to produce a fish, the bushes and weed beds that always hide a Trout. I started fishing by the broken gate, below the big Willow bush. I chose a weighted Black Nymph, it usually does the trick. After a few casts the leader stopped drifting and slowly dipped, a very delicate take. I lifted gently and the Trout shot off down the pool and into some dead rushes on the far bank. The Trout was about twenty yards away. It dashed back across the river into the rushes on my side. I eased the fish into midstream and carefully played it out, gradually bringing it upstream to the landing net. It was about 2lb and coloured like a Leopard. I nursed the fish in the net and eventually it swirled away into the weeds. I munched on some chocolate to celebrate while watching the river. No Trout revealed themselves, just the occasional Dace.
My next stop was the pool below the big Alder tree, I caught several fish there in the Summer. Everything went to plan. After several casts the leader moved slightly and another Trout fought hard to avoid the net. The second fish was smaller, about 1lb 8ozs, but was coloured like a Char. It revived quickly and dashed away from the landing net as I was trying to take it’s photo. I had only being fishing for an hour and had caught two good Trout. Two gentle takes had been converted into two fish, 100% success.
I thought the fast water in the run below the Sandy Pool would produce a fish but although I concentrated hard, I didn’t get a take. I left the Sandy Pool for later, with the sun behind me I would have created a shadow on the water. The pools by the gaps in the trees didn’t produce a fish. I only hooked the tree once. I tried the fast, deep water below the Old Riffle but as usual, there was no response from the Trout. I’ve spent hours at that pool this year. One day I’ll get a fish there. I walked beyond the riffle to the Wide Pool. I managed to tangle the fly line around a thorn bush and destroyed any chance of a take while untangling the green knitting. I had a token cast but I knew it was a waste of time, the Trout had long gone.
As I walked downstream I remembered that a fish usually hid under the tree in the fast water just above the lip of the Old Riffle. It was quite a long cast but just as I had hoped, the leader twitched and Trout number three was hooked. It was a small, wild fish but it fought hard and was immaculate, fin perfect. It was quite fat and beautifully coloured. Quite different to the previous fish. Three takes, three fish.
By the time I got back to the Sandy Pool the sun had disappeared. I worked the entire pool down and across, expecting a bang on the rod at any moment. It didn’t happen but just as I was reeling in the line to change pools, there was a rattle on the rod tip and I missed Trout number four. I walked downstream to the bridge and saw a fish rise next to a bush. I had a cast or two but left the fish for another member.
It had been a good afternoon. The colours on the different strains of Trout were amazing. It was comforting that I knew the regular lies of the Trout but it will all be different next season. The winter floods will rearrange the sandy river bed and rip out some of the weeds and bushes. It will all have to be learnt again.
The river level had dropped and the weather forecast was good for fishing. Warm, overcast and a west wind. Everything looked good for a walk along the river. Last season, in late October, I was picking ripe blackberries at Perryfields and there were lots of fish about. This year, in early October, the blackberries have all gone and the Trout are hard to find.
I went to Rotherbridge and had a look through the bars on the parapet of the bridge. I could see the bottom of the river and a few bits of yellowing weed hanging in the current. The water had a nice greenish tint and looked great. A fish rose amongst the bushes below the bridge and I decided to stay there and try to catch that Trout. Very ambitious. I tackled up beside the Land Rover and crossed the bridge to fish from the north bank. I remembered ‘The Incident with the Trout in the Bush’ last October and didn’t break any of the dead stems. I saw a small trout circling around under the bush on my side. I flicked a weighted Black Nymph upstream and let it drift. The leader started to sink very slowly and I resisted the urge to lift the rod. It sunk a little more and I tightened into the fish. It fought downstream and I got it in the landing net without a problem. As I released it another Trout rose under the bridge.
I walked back across the bridge and cast down and across to the sandy shallows. After a couple of casts the leader dived under and another small Trout dashed about amongst the sparse weeds. It became snagged on a bit of weed close to the bank and I thought it would wriggle free. I managed to net the fish, unhook and return it without any problems. I had caught two fish in under thirty minutes. I fished from the south bank below the bridge for a while but didn’t get a take. A rain cloud rolled over the Downs and across the field towards me. I could see the rain advancing so I retreated to the Land Rover and had a can of Coke.
The sun came out and I walked upstream to the New Riffle. The banks had been strimmed and the gap in the trees above the riffle was open again. I rolled the fly line across the pool, being careful not to hit the trees with the rod tip. As the line drifted downstream I saw a Trout rise just above the gravel ridge. I drew the line towards me and steered the fly over the fish. To my surprise it came up, took the fly and spat it out before I could react. I tried to roll the line out again but the cast was splashy and the Trout disappeared.
I saw a large Sea Trout jump in the middle of the riffle and worked the pool for thirty minutes but there was no response. I moved downstream and found another Sea Trout just upstream of an Alder bush. That fish ignored the nymph. Rain clouds were building and I walked back towards the bridge. I couldn’t resist one last cast in the pool above the last Alder tree. A good Sea Trout took the fly, jumped and slipped the hook. My shoulder was painful so I wandered back to the Land Rover and left the river. I had caught two small Trout but it should have been four. Nevermind.
I returned from Somerset to find the river level dropping and an overnight storm dwindling into bright Autumn sunshine. The end of the season is only a few weeks away and I wanted to take every opportunity to fish the river. The north-west wind would be a problem but most of the streamer weed would have died and been washed away by the high water last weekend. As I drove slowly over Coultershaw Bridge I was surprised to see that the water was very coloured. I walked along the bank of the side stream below the Fish Pass. The stream was crystal clear and I saw a shoal of small Dace dash away from me. The streamer weed had all gone but the water was too swift and coloured to winkle out a Trout or a Chub. I visited Keeper’s Bridge but the shallows above the bridge were also unfishable and I decided to spend the afternoon at Luffs.
I sat in the sun on the bench at the top of Little Springs and watched the water, nothing moved. Similarly, Great Springs looked uninspiring. I had lunch at Luffs, a bacon and egg roll and a pint of beer. I looked out from under the trees, watching for rising Trout. I didn’t see any but I was confident that I would catch at least one fish. The wind was swirling around, mainly from the north-west but the mature trees funneled it down the lake. I stood downwind of the Willow tree and watched the wind put a nice curve in the line. It dragged my GRHE nymph slowly from left to right. After thirty minutes covering the water I felt the line start to drag and lifted into a fish. It was a Roach, the usual precursor to a take from a Trout. I expected a savage take at any moment and kept my concentration going by watching the tip of the line and checking my reel for loops. Nothing happened and I moved upwind of the tree. I worked hard but didn’t get a take. I sat on the bench by the sluice and tried a Partridge nymph. I saw a fish rise close to the bank on my right but I couldn’t tempt it.
The setting sun was golden and there were hundreds of young Pheasants pecking at acorns on the road. I packed up and went to Lower Figgs to see if the water level had dropped. The lake would be drained and dredged before the start of next season. Ironically, a good fish swirled close to the overflow.
There had only been a brief shower of rain in Newdigate but the river level had risen to 0.038m and continued to rise. How could that happen? The Rother valley is not saturated, the Greensand should soak up the odd shower. It was very annoying. I’d waited patiently for three days but I probably wouldn’t be able to fish the river.
When I got to Rotherbridge I looked through the railings, the water had a green tinge and was moving faster than normal. I could just see the roots of the streamer weed below me but the river was rising and I was not optimistic. There had been about an inch of rain overnight at Petworth, hence the reading on the gauge.
I had a leisurely lunch at Great Springs watching the Trout jump. A couple of fish were feeding but the majority were trying to shake off lice. After a walk around the lake I drove to Luffs and set up my rod. The water was calm and lifeless but I was confident of a fish or two. I walked around the road end of the lake looking for feeding fish but saw nothing except small Roach. I started fishing beyond the Willow tree because I’d found fish there on previous visits. I’d prepared the tackle carefully. The knots were good and the tippet unblemished. I made sure the line was not looped on the reel and trod down a few weeds around my feet where the loose line would fall. I’d tied on the Partridge nymph that I had created for fussy Trout. Everything was set, I just needed a take.
A gentle breeze put a curve in the fly line and I let it swing round to my left before recasting, Arthur Cove style. There was a very strong take and the fish headed for the far bank. I gave line and was careful not to touch the reel. The fish jumped several times and then continued down the lake. I was almost at the end of the fly line, the fish was nearly thirty yards away. I gained a little line but the fish took it back. The Trout relaxed and I coaxed it towards me, it kited into the trees on my left. Then the fish turned and found clear water infront of me. It had exhausted itself and was soon in the landing net. I was surprised at it’s size, I had estimated it between three and four pounds when I saw it jump but it was exactly 2lb 8ozs. It was a chubby fish in excellent condition.
I moved down below the Willow tree as a couple of Trout were feeding up and down the centre of the lake opposite the gap in the trees. The Partridge nymph was floating on the surface for a few seconds before the fluorocarbon leader dragged it under. I saw a small Trout head towards the fly, rise in the water and nose the fly before rejecting it. I cast again but the fish only gave the nymph a cursory glance and disappeared. The tippet was floating and was easily seen. I changed to a lightly weighted GRHE nymph which would sink slowly and pull the tippet under. I presented the nymph several times and the fish showed some interest but wouldn’t take.
I had a few casts from the road bank and over the dying weedbed by the boat but the Trout had stopped rising. No doubt disturbed by my casting. I packed up and drove back via Loxwood to avoid Billingshurst. It was a lovely drive.