14 June – Dress Rehearsal

It was a dress rehearsal for the big day, nothing could be left to chance. I arrived at Little Bognor at 1:00pm and was relieved to see that I had the lakes to myself. The grey, miserable morning had developed into a bright afternoon with a gentle breeze. There was a bit of leaf debris on the surface of the lake and the swirling breeze moved it around which must have been very confusing for surface feeding fish. There were a couple of fish rising close to the west bank. Very close, less than a foot from the rushes. I crept around the Yew tree and sat on the grass, well back from the water. I could see a good fish in the margins but it was not interested in a dry fly. After twenty minutes I gave up on that fish and moved to the opposite side of the lake. I sat on the crunchy Beech mast under the trees in the dappled sunlight. The bank was warm, dry and comfortable. Very relaxing. Several fish were moving under the trees, cruising along the margins feeding on buzzers.

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I flicked a Neoprene Spider under the trees near the little seat, a bow and arrow cast dropped the fly about a yard from the bank. I was patient but the Trout were rising further along the bank. I shuffled further along the bank towards the stone steps and found a comfy patch of moss. A Trout swirled under the Chestnut tree. I catapulted the fly under the branches and it was taken immediately. The fish went on several long runs but eventually found the back of the net. It was exhausted so I kept it for dinner. I moved along the bank and sat straddling the trunk of a Chestnut tree. It was a very comfortable seat and I was in no hurry to catch another fish. I watched the midges buzzing around just above the water. A fish took a fly as it swam past me. It was patrolling under the branches. I dropped a fly in it’s path and it took but I was too heavy handed and it escaped. I was surprised to see it rise again and take another buzzer.

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Once more I moved along the bank towards the shallow corner of the lake. I sat high up on the bank, hiding behind the leaning trunk of another Chestnut tree. There wasn’t much room for casting so I trimmed a few sprigs of Holly and moved the dead twigs. There was a thin slot in the branches above me alongside an overhanging bough. A roll cast from the hand put the fly where I wanted. A big fish cruised past taking a couple of buzzers, turned around and returned to the debris in the corner of the lake. I positioned the fly under the branches and waited for it to return. The Trout came back and gulped the fly down. I lifted the rod gently and the fish protested. I played it gently on a 2lb bs tippet and the fish didn’t get too excited. Then it went on a long deep run into the corner of the lake stirring up the mud and leaving a trail of large bubbles. I slid down the bank and put a good bend in the rod. That made the Trout angry and it screamed out into the middle of the lake. I didn’t panic and after a long tussle it was ready for the landing net. The net was leaning against the Chestnut tree, up the bank behind me. The Trout was exhausted and bleeding and if I had returned it, would not have survived. It weighed 4lb 8ozs on the scales in the hut. It will be tough to better my day.

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11 June – Just an Hour

I started my day at the garage, handing over the keys to the broken Land Rover. Somehow it was not the same driving to Petworth in a normal car. There was no sense of adventure and I arrived without any excitement, unlike Saturday. Little Bognor was pretty but the surface of both lakes was unbroken, the Trout had retired to deep water for the rest of the day.

I visited the lower beats of the river, unable to venture off road. The water was a little coloured but I could see the streamer weed and dark gravel on the river bed at Rotherbridge. There were no fish rising. Little Springs looked lovely and the marginal plants gave me good cover as I crept around the lake watching the feeding fish. I saw several Trout that looked about 2lbs, feeding confidently on buzzers. They couldn’t see me hiding behind the cow parsley and rushes. I was tempted to stay and catch a couple of the better fish.

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The river was calling, the Mayfly would soon be over and the fish at Little Springs could wait. The air was crystal clear and the BBC were warning about very high levels of UV. The skimpy clouds were high and the breeze warm. As I left the estate to drive south, I paused and looked back down the Rother valley. The side of the road was decorated with poppies and daisies and on the crest of the hill, where the wind was stronger, I had a panoramic view of the South Downs. Beautiful.

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I parked at Keeper’s Bridge which was as far as I could go without the Land Rover. I tackled up and signed in to fish Beat C, upstream towards Perryfields. It was very hot and humid under the trees and swarms of Horse Flies were attacking in formation. Two coats of Jungle Formula kept them at bay.

I walked slowly upstream looking for any signs of a fish. The sun seemed to bounce back off the caramel coloured water. I floated a Mayfly imitation under the branches of an Alder tree. It looked convincing but nothing rose to inspect the fly. As I was walking upstream a huge Cormorant flapped down the Sandy Pool, too heavy with fish to take off. It disappeared into the bankside vegetation. That encounter was a major blow to my confidence. I knew that I would have to walk upstream quite a long way to ensure that I was covering pools that hadn’t been visited by the black death.

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I paused above the old riffle, looking for a rising fish. I thought that the fast shallow water would not have suited the winged predator and that I might get a fish from under the trees. I fished all the usual pools on the way to Perryfields. I used a Mayfly on the way upstream and a Black Spider on the way back. Nothing.

I was hot, tired and frustrated by the blustery downstream wind which made accurate casting impossible. I decided to return to the comfortable, air conditioned luxury of the car and head for home. I should have stayed at Little Springs. I must spend an evening on the river soon.

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7 June – Perryfields

Presentation was everything, it was a very exacting day on the river. I signed in at Keepers Bridge and walked upstream, past a lot of pools that normally produce a fish. The pools looked lifeless under the oppressive grey sky. It felt as if a thunder storm was about to unload torrential rain. I was heading for Perryfields but I couldn’t resist the temptation to explore the gaps in the trees just below the old riffle. The water looked a bit murky so I started with a Black Spider. No response. I felt sure that the Trout were hiding under the bushes but nothing moved. I walked upstream to the flat water above the riffle. There is usually a fish under the trees just above the fast water. I persevered with the black fly and after twenty minutes the water surged and swirled just as I was lifting off to recast. I had found a feeding fish. I worked the pool down and across then stood in the riffle and cast up under the trees. I wondered if I had put the fish down but just as I was turning to leave the water,  the fish rose for a Mayfly under the tree branch.

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I returned to my original position at the top of the pool and tied on a Mayfly spinner. I let the fly drift down in midstream. It was inspected by the fish, it was a very detailed inspection. The fly was rejected. I swapped the fly for another spinner with a dense black hen hackle wing. That was also rejected. I was amused by the Trout’s reaction to the flies. I chose a white Neoprene bodied pattern, that didn’t even get a glance. Finally, I selected a size 14 badger wing and hackle pattern. That was taken immediately. The fish was about 1lb 12ozs and in lovely condition.

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I moved upstream towards Perryfields Barn and found a fish feeding in a pool that, on a previous visit, was full of rising Trout. As I arrived a fish rose in midstream just under an Alder tree. I slid down the grass and sat behind the fringe of weeds. The first couple of casts were hopeless. Tangles, rod wraps and hooked weeds. I calmed down, took aim and flicked the fly out. It landed perfectly, the tippet curled upstream and the fly was seized by the fish which looked like a wild brownie about 1lb. The photos later revealed a damaged pelvic fin. The tell tale mark of a stock fish.

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I crossed the bridge to the north bank and walked downstream to the muddy cattle drink. As I crept towards the pool a good fish rose for a Mayfly. It kept rising. I dried the fly, replaced the tippet and made sure the fly line was not tangled on the reel. Everything was ready. I couldn’t reach the fish from the bank, the fly dragged before it got to the Trout. I inched forwards into the cattle drink and crouched on the firm mud near the edge. A sideways cast under a tree branch, a short drift and then a take. I connected but it was not my target fish. It was a small wild brownie which I released from the landing net.

The big fish kept rising but further downstream around a bend.  I could only cover the fish from the south bank so I walked back to the bridge and retraced my steps. The fish was below the bend in midstream and the cast looked quite easy. I checked everything except the fly which I had removed from the wild fish with forceps. On the third or fourth attempt the fly sailed down the current, under the bush and into the Trout’s mouth. I lifted the rod and felt no resistance. I thought I had missed the fish but on checking the tippet the fly had gone. I must have nicked the tippet with the forceps. Sloppy, I should have checked everything.

I was hot and tired. Three fish in an afternoon was sufficient but it should have been four. I was glad of a cold drink and a toffee before I drove home.

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4 June – Little Bognor

It was roasting hot over the weekend but by Monday morning the temperature had plummeted and the wind was from the north. Very odd indeed. I woke early and was keen to get to Petworth. I arrived at Little Bognor at 9:30am and it looked lovely. There was nobody there, I wandered around munching on my breakfast pork pie and watching the fish rise. I decided to return later in the day.

After visiting the lakes and river I had my second breakfast, a yummy egg and bacon sandwich, at Great Springs and collated the catch returns. I returned to Little Bognor at 2:00pm, the fish were still rising and I had both lakes to myself.

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I started on the lower lake with a palmered, ginger dry fly and had a take near the outflow. I was impatient and lifted the rod too soon. I sat on the grass well back from the water and flicked the fly about twenty feet from the bank. A Trout found the fly and took it confidently. I waited for the leader to move but nothing happened so I lifted the rod anyway. The fish was hooked. Briefly. The palmered hackle masked the hook, not a satisfactory design.

I moved down the bank and repeated the process. The next fish stayed on the hook a little longer but wriggled free as I was sorting out the landing net. I consoled myself with the thought that I had intended to release the Trout. I changed the fly to a conventional pattern and I landed the next fish without any problems. The conventional dry fly, a size 16 pale ginger, floated well and didn’t helicopter on the cast. It took another fish in the corner of the lake.

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The fish in the lower lake stopped rising after all the splashing about. My best efforts to entice a fish from under the trees resulted in several lost flies. I walked up the slope to the top lake and found fish rising around the Willow tree.

I sat behind a clump of ferns and decorated the trees behind me with a few flies, my arm was beginning to ache and I was losing concentration. I flicked a fly under the overhanging Chestnut tree and let it float near the lily pads. I intended to rest but a Trout rose and moved away with the fly. I hooked the fish but it got off. I moved up the bank, to the other side of the Willow tree and quickly found another feeding fish. It took the fly greedily and when I looked in it’s mouth the fly was well back in it’s throat. I nursed the fish in the net and released it when it was ready.

Thunder rolled around the valley and I decided to leave. I had caught sufficient, one more fish wasn’t worth a soaking.

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2 June – Little Springs

It was a glorious morning and my journey along the lanes towards Petworth was uplifting, particularly as there were no cyclists about. I stopped at Riverhill and looked over the gate. The air was clear and the clouds were building as the prevailing south westerly wind climbed the slopes of the South Downs. There was complete silence at Little Bognor. The fish were rising but cautiously, examining the pond life with care before sipping it into their mouths. There was no breeze and the temperature was oppressive, I wasn’t tempted to fish there.

I heard the river roaring through the fish pass long before I saw the murky water. It looked clear as it passed over the lip of the weir but then became muddy as it swirled off towards the sea. The water was far too coloured to fish, even the shallow stretches would be opaque. I went to Rotherbridge and walked upstream to the New Riffle. About half way there I saw a fish swirl, it might have been a Sea Trout making the most of the high water. If the level drops over the weekend the evenings should produce a fish or two.

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The river valley around Keepers Bridge looked lovely but only the Sussex cattle were moving, the fish were huddled under the tree roots waiting for the water to clear. I returned to the Land Rover and drove to Great Springs. The edges of the fields were lined with wild flowers and I stopped for a few minutes to look at the view up the Rother valley.

When I got to Great Springs I had a cup of tea and two chocolate biscuits while admiring the scenery. The wind was ruffling the surface of the lower lake and the surroundings had been manicured. I felt privileged to be allowed access to the Estate and stood by the lodge for a few minutes soaking up the atmosphere. A few fish were moving under the trees at the shallow end of Little Springs and I knew I would be able to catch one.

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I wandered around taking photos for nearly two hours but the temptation finally got the better of me and I crept towards the little seat between the Alder trees. The grass was wet but I didn’t mind, my trousers would dry quickly in the hot sun. I sat quietly for longer than usual, the fly I had chosen wouldn’t accept the 2lb bs tippet. The eye of the hook was blocked. I gave up the struggle and chose another fly, a parachute emerger.

Several fish were within range but two clumsy casts frightened them away. While waiting for a Trout to appear I flicked the fly into the margins and promptly caught a very small Roach. I was reassured that it had been fooled by my choice of fly. I saw a Trout cruising on the edge of the ripple and presented the fly, the fish moved away at speed. I changed to a size 14 ginger, palmered-hackle dry fly with a tag of Neoprene foam to keep it afloat. I dropped the fly on the edge of the ripple and a couple of minutes later a Trout rose and was hooked. It quickly became airborne and I saw that it was a small fish. It weighed 1lb 4ozs, not enough for a Trout supper but, as a member remarked, sufficient for a sandwich.

When the river level drops the Trout will be hungry and in the absence of Mayfly, should give some good evening sport.

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