The God of Fishermen

A few weeks ago I bought an old Japanese rod, a time capsule from my early childhood. I bought it on a whim with no intention of using the rod. I paid more than I should but it was not an investment, it was a reminder of days beside the River Brede.

I was given my rod in the 1960s as a Christmas or birthday present, I can’t remember which. The five pieces could be assembled in different combinations and I spent hours switching the sections around and dreaming of monsters. I always fished with the rod in its longest configuration, the fly rod, because a long rod looked more impressive.

I caught roach and eels from the Haven and Crucian carp from a small pond across the fields. The rod was smashed around the brickwork of Brede Bridge while battling with a giant pike. I didn’t know about giving line and the slipping clutch knob was locked down tight. The rod was replaced with a bright yellow, hollow glass rod which was equally abused but survived to be given away many decades later.

My β€˜new’ rod was made in the 1960s by the Ebisu Company Ltd, which was established on 10 August 1954 in Japan. In Japanese mythology Ebisu is one of the seven Gods of Fortune. He is said to be the God of fishermen, working men and good luck, a great combination.

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Sapporo Breweries Ltd. was founded in 1876 and is based in Ebisu, Tokyo. The God of fishermen is also the company logo. Ebisu’s festival is celebrated each year on 20 October and it seems fitting to use the rod on Tuesday 20 October and drink a cold Sapporo beer. How lucky can I get ?

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22 July – Keepers Bridge

Monday was the start of a heatwave. The BBC had announced that temperatures would increase steadily throughout the week. I visited Rotherbridge at lunchtime and watched the water for twenty minutes, the fish were hiding. A few Spurwing were hatching amongst the buzzers. The water was coloured a mahogany brown but I thought that might be an advantage in the bright sunlight, natures Raybans.

The river at Keepers Bridge looked beautiful but lifeless. The balsam, cow parsley and ragwort added splashes of colour along the margins. The only flying insects were the biting or stinging varieties. I went to The Badgers for a pint and for an hour, watched a buzzard perched on the top branch of a long dead tree. Like a vulture surveying the desert. It flew an occasional circuit over the dusty stubble and finally retired to the shade of the woods. At 3:30pm I returned to Keepers Bridge and decided to walk downstream for a few hours before an early evening halftime break. I took a few GRHE nymphs and a small box of dry flies. The sky was heavy with dark grey clouds and it was very humid, thunderstorm conditions. The warm breeze was downstream but I was grateful for every puff of wind, the temperature was about 30 degrees in the shade.

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I practiced casting through a narrow gap in the Alder trees, firing the nymph low and holding the line back to turn over the leader. My target was the tangle of tree roots under the far bank. I heard a small splash and saw the ripples radiating out from under the trailing branches of the last Alder in the row. It sounded and looked like a catkin had fallen into the water so I ignored it. Five minutes later it happened again. Not a catkin, a fish had risen. I crept along the bank and watched from well below the rise. Nothing happened and I spent fives minutes deciding whether to use a dry fly or a nymph.

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I chose a parachute Pheasant Tail with a Neoprene tag. I lengthened the line along the grass, measuring the amount I would need, then flicked the fly up and across. It landed a little short but the fly was immediately taken and I lifted into a wild fish. It was in perfect condition with a big tail and swam away strongly when I released it from the landing net. That boosted my confidence and took the pressure off the rest of the afternoon.

The grey clouds dispersed, the breeze died away and the temperature increased. It was too hot to sit in the sun and I confined my fishing to the pools with shade for both myself and the Trout. The last Alder before the tree tunnel looked inviting, I had caught many good fish from its roots. The current deflected under the branches and it was a straightforward cast to the far bank. I let the line drift downstream and wrap around a small clump of streamer weed then lifted slowly and wiggled the rod to give the nymph life. The induced take worked and the rod was thumped by an angry fish. It was about 1lb 8ozs and looked angrily at me as I released it. A fish with attitude, probably annoyed at being deceived.

It was 5:30pm and I needed a break to rehydrate. Just before I reached the Defender, in the First Pool, I saw a good fish snatch at a couple of damsel flies flitting about close to the surface. It was attempting to grab the flies out of the air as they visited the fronds of streamer weed to deposit their eggs. I positioned a nymph near the far bank so that it would swing across in the current to where the Trout had risen. Within seconds there was a golden flash as the fish seized the fly and then turned away. It took a long time to quieten the Trout and guide it along the weed beds into the net. Three fish by half time was a great result.

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After a luxurious late afternoon tea of pork pie and Red Bull, I walked upstream to Perryfields. I saw no fish. There were no rises. Although it was 8:30pm it was too bright, the setting sun threw my shadow across the river and I stood no chance of surprising a Trout. The mist rose from the warm grass in the water meadows, completely hiding the herd of Sussex cattle. As I walked up the slope away from the river I turned and watched the sunset. On the river, nothing moved.

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16 July – Evening Rise

The cool, bright morning quickly developed into a hot Summers day. There would be no fishing until the late evening. I resolved not to become impatient and leave the house too early. Moreover, I needed to recover from the previous afternoons extended liquid lunch with Fullers at Elstead. Yesterday I had watched the streamer weed swaying in the mill stream on the River Wey, just below the stretch I had been invited to fish earlier in the season. The fish were cruising over the sand banks and occasionally rising but I had been distracted by the free beer and Premier Grand Crus Chablis, my favourite white wine. The family celebration continued into the night.

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A very late breakfast, a long siesta and a Red Bull revitalized me for an evening at the river. I visited Little Bognor and was grateful for the cool breeze and the shade afforded by the mature Beech trees. There were Trout rising everywhere and I was tempted to catch a few but I stuck to plan A and after a leisurely stroll around the lower lake, I departed for the river.

The Fish Pass looked beautiful but lifeless, there was little shade and the Trout would be buried deep in the tree roots until darkness fell. Similarly, Rotherbridge looked promising and I marked several likely pools between the Alder trees. I investigated a rise near the springs but the culprit crept out of the water and sat on the grass. Mink are not good fishing companions so I walked back to the Defender and drove to Keepers Bridge.

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At 7:00pm I started the long walk upstream towards Perryfields Barn. The stretch had just been fished by another member who had caught three and lost two. If I had arrived a little later I would have been unaware of his success and would have fished all the usual pools. My strategy was to fish the impossible places, the weed beds and gaps in the trees that everyone else ignores.

While walking across the sheep strewn field I saw a fish rise at the top of the Sandy Pool, in open water. It rose again. As I sat and watched the pool a few Olives hatched and I decided to fish a GRHE nymph upstream. If I had approached the fish from upstream, the setting sun would have thrown my shadow across the top of the pool. Despite my careful approach and methodical casting, the fish went down. I had probably lined the Trout as I lengthened the cast. Fishing down and across from the opposite bank would have been a better tactic.

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I continued upstream to the tree lined stretch just below the barn but could not resist the pool above the Old Riffle which always contains a Trout. I had good cover and the pool was dotted with small clumps of streamer weed. Perfect. I dropped the nymph close to each clump of weed along the far bank and allowed the fly to pass under the branches. An anti-pigeon gas gun exploded in the field behind me and as I flinched, there was a swirl behind my fly. Unfortunate timing.

I rested the pool and then started exploring all the likely lies. Eventually there was another big swirl as the fish turned away. It looked about 3lbs. I found the fish again, between two clumps of weeds but it flashed gold, deep down and was obviously not impressed by my nymph. A change of fly to an olive seals fur nymph and a long rest, produced an immediate take. It was not the same fish, it was about 1lb 8ozs. I released the Trout in the riffle after resting it in my landing net. The pool was trashed so I went upstream to the Wide Pool and the Cattle Drink but they were quiet so I turned around and went back to the Sandy Pool.

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I saw a few fish rise but they were only Dace or small Chub, my evening on the river ended at about 9:15pm with just one Trout. I was pleased with the result, I’d had several opportunities to catch a good fish in beautiful Sussex countryside. As I drove towards Wisborough Green on high ground, I could see the moon glowing red during a partial eclipse. It was a fitting end to a lovely evening.

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9 July – Keepers Bridge

Dungeness had demanded maximum relaxation. The wind and the waves rattling the shingle had hypnotised me. The wine and hot sun had helped. I had been amused by the antics of the sea anglers, trudging over the gravel ridges built up by long shore drift, carrying mountains of equipment, tripods, tents and heavy rods. I watched the mis-casts, the carefully hooked bait flying everywhere and the lines festooned with weed. Many hundreds of man-fishing-hours had only produced a few small mackerel. One of which had been stolen by a wayward black Labrador called Frank. I’m sure that’s what his owner called him.

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I watched the container ships and yachts passing Cap Gris Nez and Calais, all thoughts of fly fishing were lost in the blue haze. One calm evening on the top deck I had a brief vision of an Appetizer, twitched through the shoals of brit in the shallows but quickly dismissed the thought and refilled my glass.

The holiday had ended. The high humidity and gentle southerly breeze were a stark contrast to the weather at the coast. The Defender started on the first turn of the key and followed the well rehearsed route to Petworth, windows wound down. The river level had been steady for several days and a few Mayfly had hatched. I had high hopes for a couple of Trout in the evening. I took the Hardy, for the serious stuff and both Southwells for messing about if the fish were rising well.

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The Fish Pass and Rotherbridge had not been fished but I felt my chances were better at Keepers Bridge where I would have the choice of two Beats. The intense sunlight pierced through the skimpy clouds. The countryside stood still, it was too hot and sticky, all the creatures were resting. I walked upstream where the Alder trees cast large shadows across the river. I saw a fish rise in the middle of the first pool. I sat behind the fringe of marginal plants and worked a nymph around the pool for thirty minutes without response. I heard several splashes in the pool above and moved to the shade of the next Alder tree. Half way down that pool I had a tug at the nymph but missed.

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The heat was unbearable and I sought the shade of the line of trees below the Old Riffle. Despite some magic casts there was no response but a fish rose twice in the next pool upstream. The nip at my nymph and the upstream splashes reminded me of a Sea Trout I chased up the same pools two seasons ago.

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I walked up to Perryfields and found another fish rising under the far bank amongst the bushes. I crossed the bridge and targeted the Trout with a Mayfly but couldn’t entice it to rise again. The heat finally got to me and I walked back to the Defender to rehydrate.

It had been hard work, I should have arrived much later and fished at dusk. The humidity and still air had drained me, I missed the fresh onshore wind and clean salty air. Perhaps I should take up mackerel fishing.

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24 June – Buzzers

I visited all the river Beats and was surprised to see that the water was still coloured. The heavy rain last week had run off the fields dragging more of the sandy soil into the river. I saw a fish rise at the tail of the Fish Pass and another just below Taylors Bridge but the heat and humidity were unbearable and I decided to fish at Little Bognor. The shade and breeze in the valley would help me concentrate on the fishing.

There were fish rising all over the bottom lake and I thought that it would be fun to try and catch a few using buzzers. I had deliberately switched my focus from buzzers to nymphs a few years ago. I had become bored with fishing static flies. It was too easy. The fish at Little Bognor were very fussy and I was curious to find out if they would respond to a new approach.

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I sat on the Beech mast behind the wall of ferns and watched several fish taking buzzers within a few feet of the bank. The ferns had grown high enough to completely hide me. I started with a fine tippet and a size 18 black buzzer but the fly was too dark and too small, the fish couldn’t see it. I scaled up to a size 12 black buzzer with white Neoprene breathers. I flicked it into the margin and after only a few seconds, the tippet drew away. I was surprised and lifted too soon. I delayed my reaction on the next take and the first fish was hooked. The floppy rod soaked up the lunges of the Trout and I guided it into the shallows to avoid spooking the other fish. I released it from the landing net and returned to my seat under the Beech trees.

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The next cast produced a take and I repeated the process, releasing the second fish from the landing net in the shallows. I was pleased that the method was producing results, it showed that the fussy Trout could be fooled with a realistic imitation and stealth. The third fish was not so easy, it went on a powerful run down the lake and the drag from over 25 yards of fly line enabled it to escape. It could have been a monster or just foul-hooked. The third fish took very gently and after a short fight, was also released in the shallows. The disturbance finally spooked the fish and they moved away.

I went around the lake and sat on the grass near the brick wall. There is always a fish under the tree beside the outflow and I allowed the breeze to slowly move the line in that direction. The line stopped moving, I lifted the rod and a small fish was hooked. It felt like a wild brownie but as I reached for the landing net the situation changed. It charged away to my right, all the way along the bank and into a small clump of lily leaves. I think the hook had pulled and reconnected with the tail of the Trout. It escaped. I had a couple of takes in the corner of the lake by the stone quarry but didn’t convert them.

I enjoyed the brief session with buzzers. I had proved that even the ultra wary fish could be caught. The black buzzer with white breathers and the light tippet were crucial. I’ll tie a few more for use in emergencies.

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