I thought about taking two coats but decided against it, the BBC always exaggerate the weather forecast. As I drove towards Petworth the air was moist and there was a chilly north east breeze but… More
I was determined to catch a Trout from the river and set off for Petworth just after the school run. I’d fitted a new leader and tippet and made a picnic lunch before I left. I parked at Keepers Bridge and checked the signing in book, the Beats hadn’t been fished for a couple of days. I put a good selection of nymphs in my waistcoat pockets and walked down the farm track to check on the condition of the river. The level had dropped slightly and I could see the subtle changes in colour where the sandy bottom caught the sun. I started fishing the pool by the broken gate, full of confidence that I would get a take. Nothing. I moved upstream fishing all the usual fish-holding places. I expected a fish to grab the fly in the fast shallow stretch by the gap in the trees but there was no response. I concentrated and fished hard under the trees and bushes on both sides of the river but I couldn’t entice a Trout. I didn’t see any signs of fish. It was very odd, the river seemed empty.
The New Riffle was calling me. I retraced my steps to Keepers Bridge and continued downstream. The areas of scrub below the bridge had been cleared giving more room for a backcast. I spent an hour at the riffle and the run below it, but had no takes. I thought that had been my best chance of a fish and trudged wearily back to the Land Rover to consider Plan B. The midday sun was bright and the wind was downstream, not ideal conditions. I decided to have lunch at the lakes and to return to the river in the evening when the Trout might be feeding.
I had a good lunch and spent a long time chatting. The sun dropped behind the trees and the breeze created a nice ripple on the surface of Little Springs. A few fish were rising and everything looked positive. I knelt on the wet grass on the sunny side of the lake and cast across the ripple so that the nymph would cover a wide area at an even depth. A variety of flies produced only one take which I missed. I switched to a dry fly and had a take from a Roach which was a sign I was on the right track. Then things went quiet, the fish disappeared. I returned to the clubhouse, had a cup of tea and another long chat.
At 5:30pm I thought about returning to the river but I was too tired and decided to spend an hour at the lakes instead. There were no fish rising at Great Springs but while I was wandering around, I noticed a couple of fish rising under the trees at the shallow end of Little Springs. I shuffled towards the water on my knees and was careful not to cast a shadow, I stayed well back from the edge of the lake. The fish were taking something very small so I tied on a 2lb tippet and a size 14 dry fly with a palmered ginger hackle and a tag of foam to keep it afloat.
I sat and waited for a fish to show itself but despite my patience the surface of the water remained unbroken. There were no flies hatching which made a rise unlikely. I thought I might induce a take by drifting the fly under the trees. I cast so that only the leader and tippet floated on the water, the fly line rested on the grass. A Roach nudged the fly. I placed the fly to my right so that the breeze from behind me would swing it around infront of me. As I was about to reposition the fly again a Trout swirled, I lifted into the fish and battle commenced. It was a long time before I could ease the fish into the landing net, I couldn’t bully it with only a 2lb tippet. It weighed 1lb 12oz and was in perfect condition. Walking for hours in the sun had left me tired and dehydrated, I drove away anticipating a glass of wine at the end of my journey.
We started the day at the Fish Pass. The water level had dropped but the colour hadn’t changed much, it was a pale muddy brown. Like Yorkshire tea with milk. I could see the beds of Starwort close to the bank upstream of Rotherbridge but there was no streamer weed in midstream. The constantly coloured water had suppressed its growth. The river was just fishable. I started well above the weir pool, at the stretch where the bankside trees form a tunnel. I concentrated on presentation and explored under the bushes with a Black Spider. I expected a wrench on the rod at any second but there was no sign of a Trout. My left-hand casting was quite accurate at short range. I moved down the river fishing under the trees and bushes from both the upstream side and the downstream side. The wind was warm and blustery. Thankfully, it was upstream which helped with casting and controlling the fly. Each time I came to a productive stretch my hopes raised but eventually I arrived back at the weir pool fishless. I had neither seen a rise nor had a take. We agreed to have lunch at Great Springs and to fish the lakes in the afternoon.
After a sandwich and a cup of tea I felt energised. I crept around the far side of Little Springs looking for feeding Trout. There were many. Some jumping but most of the fish were porpoising. Classic dorsal fin and tail rollovers as they sipped buzzers and nymphs. Mayfly were hatching and the large, green flies were fluttering into the tops of the Oak trees. A solitary Grey Wagtail gave chase vertically but most of the Mayfly made it to safety. There were clouds of Spinners rising and falling along the grass verges.
I started fishing with a Black Neoprene Spider. I sat on the damp grass and waited for a fish to cruise past. A fish came into range and I positioned the fly just ahead of it. The Trout inspected the fly but turned away. It came back and took the fly but I was watching a newly hatched Mayfly and missed the take. I changed the fly to a small Mayfly imitation but the fish didn’t like the look of it. Several passed underneath but ignored my creation. A pale fish about 4lbs, possibly a blue Trout, drifted into view. I put a parachute emerger a couple of feet infront of the fish which turned towards the fly, rose up and took it. In my excitement I lifted the rod too soon and the fish departed at speed. I missed several similar takes from smaller fish but connected with a fast moving fish almost under the rod tip. It was probably the smallest Trout in the lake. Nevermind, it had been a lovely afternoon. Warm sunshine and a cooling wind with lots of feeding fish.
As I drove back I thought about the weeks fishing. Monday Trout, Wednesday Carp with my Grandsons, Thursday traditional Carp fishing and Friday more Trout fishing. Excellent.
I was keen to fish the river. The level was dropping quickly and the colour was gradually disappearing as the fine silt from the lettuce fields settled. I visited Little Bognor on the way, it was sultry, quite oppressive. There were fish moving under the Beech trees but I’d had my fill of margin fishing.
At the river another member had already signed in for the Beat that I intended to fish. The stretch below the Fish Pass looked inviting but I thought Rotherbridge might be more productive. I could see the riverbed from the centre of the bridge or was it my imagination ? The streamer weed was visible in the shallower water along the edge of the river but the main flow looked barren. The weed was probably uprooted during the winter floods.
After discussing the weeks catch returns I headed North, Petworth was clogged with tourists but the Defender soon cleared a path. I had a leisurely lunch at the fishing hut and sat in the sun listening to the Cuckoo and watching the trees move in the gentle breeze. The air was hardly moving and seemed to change direction every few minutes. The temperature was 82 F and there were no clouds to interrupt the suns rays. Thankfully, I’d stopped at Pulborough earlier and bought some factor 20. I parked under the tree at Luffs and walked to the far side of the lake, the overhanging trees provide cover and shelter for the fish. The breeze ruffled the surface of the water and occasionally a Trout rose to snatch something off the surface, probably tadpoles. I started at the shallow end but there were no signs of fish, it was too exposed. I moved along the bank and fished close to an overhanging Oak tree. The tree was cover for some nice Roach which chased my fly but wouldn’t take it.
I moved down the bank a bit further and fished beside the Willow tree. Fish were moving in the centre of the lake, way out of range. I walked around the lake to the dam end and stood in the shade of a big tree. The breeze was blowing towards me and the margins were covered with bits of algae and tiny leaves. A fish moved on my right, just within range. It was circling around, rising every few minutes.
Several casts later the leader twitched and started to move. I lifted into a fish which skittered around half heartedly and felt small. I encouraged it towards the net while wondering if it might be a big Roach. Then the fish woke up, it went on a screaming run up the centre of the lake. A Trout, no doubt about that. It fought long and hard back towards the landing net. It spooked again and shot away from me. I let the reel spin freely until there was a sickening tug. I thought the line had jammed. Not so, I had reached the end of the fly line. I thought that was the end but held tight and luckily the fish turned. It made several more long runs before I saw it clearly, it looked about 3lb.
I weighed it at the hut, it was 2lb 12ozs. A beautiful looking fish, all muscle. I poached it gently with a little lemon juice and ate it with thinly sliced brown bread accompanied by a glass of beer. A meal that brought back memories of trout suppers at my Grandparents.
Little Bognor – I left later than usual, the local roads were clogged with Bank Holiday Lycramaniacs but once over the county border, the lanes were empty and I had a relaxing drive to Riverhill. I was looking forward to exploring the woods at Little Bognor. The sky was baby blue and the sun shining through the young Beech leaves made them glow bright green. I intended to explore the area but as I walked beside the lake several Trout were feeding close to the bank and the temptation was too great. I collected my rod from the car and settled down under the Beech trees close to the seat. I sat still for ten minutes, watching the fish under the bank. One was even feeding underneath the fishing platform. The steep sided valley, the ancient trees and the near silence created a magical atmosphere. It was easy to watch and wait.
I decided to try something different, a winged Olive. I only needed to flick the fly into the margins, it wouldn’t twist the tippet. A fish was patrolling the water just beyond my rod tip. A bow-and-arrow cast dropped the fly in it’s tracks. The fly floated well, the surface film was thick with dust and I could easily see the tippet. So could the Trout. I waited patiently, occasionally flicking the fly into different positions and allowing it to drift close to the bank. A fish swirled under the fly, the water heaved and the ripples subsided leaving the fly half submerged. I changed to a Black Spider but although several fish passed close to it, none investigated. It seemed too small, it was indistinguishable from the dust and plant debris.
I tied on a size 12 parachute emerger and flicked it out, the movement of the rod frightened two fish infront of me. Perhaps it flashed in the sunlight. After a short rest the fish resumed their patrol. A Trout made it’s way towards me. I jiggled the rod tip to make the fly twitch, then raised the rod to induce a take. The fish grabbed the fly and charged out into the centre of the lake. Twenty yards of fly line poured off the reel. I didn’t touch the reel, the tippet would have broken. The thick grease I put on the spindle stopped the spool from over-running without a screeching ratchet. After a lengthy fight I netted the fish which had swallowed the fly and was bleeding. There was no point in returning a damaged Trout, it would die. It was 2lb and very plump. The first fish I have retained from Little Bognor this season.
I went for a walk in the woods and visited Rex Vicat Cole’s twisted, old Spanish Chestnut tree. It has been there at least two hundred years. He sketched the dead tree between 1901 and 1907, it’s lost some top branches but still looks much the same.
Little Springs – I was thirsty and hungry so I drove to the fishing hut and had lunch sitting beside the shallows at Little Springs. The fish were feeding on the surface very close to the bank, similar to Little Bognor. Several Trout about 3lb were within range and once again, the temptation was too great. After lunch I set up my rod beside the car then crept back to the shallows. I sat on the grass well back from the waters edge and waited for the Trout to cruise past. I cast a size 14 Neoprene Black Spider infront of a couple of fish, both of which inspected the fly. One swirled but I lifted too soon. The next fish rose in slow motion, poked it’s nose out of the water and gulped the fly down. I waited. When I lifted the rod the fish exploded, thrashing the water then speeding away on a long run. A very long run. It wasn’t 3lb but it fought like it. I gave both fish to a Guest who hadn’t caught anything.
A Cuckoo was calling loudly as I left the lakes and the fish were still rising. I searched the rushes and trees for Mayfly but I couldn’t find any. The weather is set fair and the river level is falling. On Monday it would be nice to catch a fish from the river with a Mayfly.
‘Wood magic … so delicate and elusive’
‘A fine spirits lifelong wistful brooding upon the loveliness of earth’
‘The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things ….’
‘… their colours, lights and shades; these I saw, look ye also while life lasts.’
The Sinister Trees
Sir Edward and Lady Alice