28 June – Keepers Bridge

It was a glorious morning. I left the house eager to get to the river and to explore the Rother valley. I was undecided which Beat to fish but with low expectations of catching anything in the heat of the day, I chose the most scenic of the Beats, Keepers Bridge to Perryfields Barn.

As I wandered upstream I heard a rise below me, behind a bush, but I couldn’t find the decaying ripples. I decided to wait but soon heard the sound of another rise. By the time I’d retraced my steps upstream, that too had dissipated. I fished the Sandy Pool for a while convinced that a good fish was hiding under the streamer weed.

I lost a couple of nymphs attempting tricky casts through impossible gaps and under branches. The river had changed, the winter floods had reconfigured some of the fish holding places. Trees had come down and in places, the bank had collapsed filling deep runs with sandy soil.

I nearly reached Perryfields but heat and dehydration drove me back to the shade of the woods near Keepers Bridge. Nothing rose. Hundreds of blue damsel flies dashed from leaf to leaf and in the shade of the trees, horse flies zoomed around me.

One last cast. The long pool under the alder trees, where I had caught so many trout, would surely hold a fish. A big weed bed had formed under my bank. I flicked the nymph across the current and let it swing round alongside the weeds. The rod grew heavy and a nice trout became airborne. Several times. The long rod hooped over into a tight bend as I coaxed the deep diving fish away from the snags. It was a fin perfect brownie about two pounds which swam away from the net confidently, as if it knew the procedure.

I left the river, content that I had persevered in difficult conditions and that I had caught a good trout. I drove to Stag Park to admire the view and to check out the lakes. The landscape was stunning. The blue sky held a constant flow of fluffy white clouds which switched the sunshine on and off as they passed overhead. The cereal crops brightened the landscape and the headlands were full of wild flowers. The Sussex countryside was at it’s very best, softer than Dartmoor but equally impressive.

The lakes looked beautiful but nothing was hatching and the fish were not rising. The very hot weather during the last two weeks had sapped their energy.

My day had been a stark contrast to recent fishing trips on Dartmoor. The grass was easy to walk on and comfortable to sit on while waiting for a rise. I hadn’t seen a soul all day and spaniels were not allowed to jump in the river. The river demands a careful approach, it might deliver anything from a small chub to a mighty sea trout. I planned to return in July.

20 June – River Tavy

A couple of days ago I had a sudden impulse to fish, grabbed the gear and headed to the River Tavy. The weather forecast said that I had an hour before the rain arrived, it was wrong. As I set up my rod a gale force wind funneled down the valley and shook the ancient oak trees to their core. Concerned that my way out would be blocked, I jumped back in the Defender and beat a retreat. As I arrived home torrential rain hammered on the windows and the front path became a river. I therefore had unfinished business.

The river had only risen an inch or two, Dartmoor had soaked up most of the rain. The water was slightly coloured, like weak Earl Grey. The sun was bright but I was confident that I could winkle out a fish or two. Olives were hatching but the mayfly hatch had finished. I rolled a nymph through the pools, concentrating on the crevices in the bedrock.

A few fish rose but not consistently and I decided to stick with the nymph. The far side of the river was in shade but too shallow to hold fish. I slowly made my way down the Beat, trying to keep a low profile and avoid kicking any rocks.

I found a fish in the fast water at the head of a pool, it took the nymph gently and put up a decent scrap. I moved down to my favourite pool below the island where mature trees overhang deep water. Everything went rapidly downhill; wind knots, lost flies and tangles. The heat was getting to me so I retraced my steps and climbed the hill back to the Defender. The riverscape was beautiful and I had caught a trout. Perfect.

10 June – River Tamar

I’d heard on the grapevine that the fish were rising on the Tamar and that the recent rain had freshened up the river. I arrived at lunchtime, filled my pockets with a good selection of toffees and flies and walked across the fields keeping well away from the bull. The river had a brown tint but I could see the rocks scattered about in midstream, nothing was rising. I walked slowly to the top of the Beat, pausing for a few minutes at each gap in the trees. Mayfly were hatching and Blue Winged Olives were coming off in good numbers.

Blue Winged Olive

I fished the slow glides, rolling a nymph under the trees. I bumped a small fish which gave me confidence. I moved downstream until I reached the Ladder of Death and descended about 10 feet onto a rocky outcrop above a riffle. The glide above the riffle was shallow but the pool was deep and stretched for about a hundred yards, lots of water to explore. Sitting on a flat rock near midstream and casting from beneath an overhanging ash tree was challenging. While untangling the rod tip from a branch the line grew tight and I lifted into a fish. It felt like a good trout but to my surprise, it morphed into a graying. It was about 1lb, not a monster but a very welcome visitor to the bank.

I released the fish and decided to continue fishing that pool in the hope that a shoal of grayling lived there. I moved further along the line of rocks creating the riffle and found a comfy seat facing downstream. The casts flowed and I got into a rhythm. I heard a fish rise behind me in the glide. I flicked the nymph above the rise but the fish had moved on. A few minutes later there was a splashy rise on the lip of the riffle. I put the nymph about five yards upstream and just as the fly line started to drag into the fast water, a fish seized the fly and dashed downstream through the rocks and into the pool. I was convinced it was a trout but a much better graying eventually came to hand.

Fish began to rise in the glide, I saw several dimples within casting range. They were sipping down BWOs trapped in the surface film. I covered a few fish without response. I dropped the nymph about ten yards above the rocks, towards the far bank. Again, as the line started to drag, a fish grabbed the fly. There was no doubt about it’s identity, the brownie jumped repeatedly before heading through a gap in the rocks and releasing itself. It was a good fish, over 1lb, but I was not too miffed.

The wind strengthened and black clouds gathered along the horizon. I’d had a challenging but enjoyable couple of hours. The bull had followed the herd to an adjacent field, all was well in the world.

8 June – River Walkham

A gentle breeze, showers and sunny spells were perfect conditions for a walk in the woods. With a rod. The privacy of the River Walkham middle reaches would ensure solitude and unspoilt countryside. I parked the Defender and locked the gate behind me. A barrier to those who would drop litter and throw rocks in the best pools.

I found a rising trout under the near bank. It rose continually while I set up my rod. That’s probably why I missed the first ring. The fish had moved upstream a little by the time I had sorted out the rod and selected a fly. I hid behind a tree trunk and presented a small badger-hackled pattern which was ignored, as were several other dry flies. I tied on a tiny partridge hackled nymph and had a take first cast. Too slow. I was in ‘Sussex-mayfly-slowly-lift’ mode.

I walked upstream and found a few fish rising under a tree branch. Each time the breeze shook the bough, debris dropped into the water and the fish rose. Perhaps they were vegetarian. I tied on a midge and flicked it downstream, the fish moved away. I followed but the fish retreated even further and eventually stopped rising.

I walked down the Beat, through the beech wood and fished the fast, rocky water with a weighted nymph. I didn’t see any fish but the pristine, ancient woodland bordering the river was uplifting. A storm drowned the garden shortly after I arrived home. Perfect.

27 May – Beat A

The top Beat is a jungle, very few members fish there. The river is shallow and in places, quite swift. The fallen trees, high banks and bushes demand accurate casting. A 10′ rod and telescopic landing net handle are essential.

I arrived at the top of the old railway track and stood watching the river for a few minutes. The watery sunshine enabled me to see the sunken branches and streamer weed. There were no flies hatching and consequently, no fish rising. I walked past the big pool and settled down on the grass to watch a stretch below a tunnel of alder trees.

The upstream breeze enabled me to flick a nymph under the trees and work it back towards me alongside the streamer weed. After several casts, just as I was lifting off, a small wild trout grabbed the fly but I lifted it out of it’s mouth ! It was good to have contact with a fish so early in my walk.

The sun broke through the overcast and almost immediately, mayfly started hatching. The air was full of duns fluttering upwards into the security of the tree tops. For the first time this season I saw swallows swooping over the river, snatching wayward flies unable to cope with the breeze.

Female dun

I walked slowly upstream, pausing at every opening in the vegetation, waiting for a trout to reveal itself. A big fish splashed at the duns floating past a partially submerged branch. I had a dead overhanging tree on my left, a tall bush to my right and a limited drift. The first mayfly imitation was ignored completely but the fish continued to rise. The second imitation brought the trout up but after an inspection, it swirled away. I was surprised, I had expected a confident take. The fish had obviously seen better.

I swapped the fly for a white, neoprene bodied mayfly with a generous hackle. It landed perfectly, the trout rose and gulped it down. I made the connection but the fish leapt out of the water and threw the hook. A long distance release. Shame, it was a very nice trout about three pounds.

The sun became more intense and the mayfly continued to hatch. I walked upstream, pausing at the gaps in the trees to watch the sandy patches where, in previous seasons, I had caught a trout. I turned back before I reached the very top of the Beat, I was tired and the sun was draining what little energy I had left.

I saw a trout rising in an impossible lie, the overhanging bushes left no room for an overhead cast. A bow and arrow cast was the only solution. My 10′ rod and 10′ leader were two feet short. I edged forward onto the very lip of the high bank and stretched my arm as far as possible. I avoided hooking my finger as the line pinged out, the fly dropped in exactly the right place and was immediately seized. I held the fish tight and encouraged it downstream where I could clamber down a tree trunk to the waters edge. It was about two pounds and dashed away from the landing net, a little embarrassed at it’s capture.

An early meal at the Black Horse in Byworth was a fitting end to a memorable day.