The weeks had ticked by slowly. Finally, the season started on the lakes. The river would have to wait a couple of weeks. Snow had been forecast. Lots of it. I had taken little notice… More
The lakes opened on 11 March. Spring was early, the wild flowers were out and the trees were in bud. The Winter had been mild and without severe floods. Everything pointed towards a productive start to the season.
I promised myself that I would not use a strike indicator when nymphing. It was an experiment to determine whether or not an indicator gave me an unfair advantage.
The weather in March was warm, the South of England raced towards a long hot Summer. The sport at Great Springs was a bit slow but Little Springs fished well.
The season on the river started on 4 April. The weather throughout April was more like summer. The river was low and I had good sport with wild Trout and overwintered stock fish.
The Mayfly started hatching on 1 May which was very appropriate. There were not as many Mayfly as last year but there were very few birds about to eat them. There should be good hatches in 2018. As the months rolled by it became apparent that there was a marked decline in all species of flying insects throughout the country. Very worrying.
I caught my first ever Sea Trout on 1 May, by mistake. It was just a smolt but I was pleased to see the fish and release it carefully. I also caught a much bigger fish which was later identified as an overwintered Sea Trout, a kelt returning to the sea. Perhaps I will meet her again next season.
We had quite a lot of rain during mid May which raised the water level in the river about two feet and put the fishing on hold. The last part of the month was very hot and dry. The water temperature rose to 21 degrees at Great Springs on 30 May and the Trout were not happy. The high water temperature and rapidly growing weed caused wild swings in pH and clogged two of the lakes.
June was very hot. By the middle of the month the river had returned to it’s normal level but then we had a heat wave. At the end of the month there were six consecutive days over 90 degrees. I had five days ‘keepering’ while Andrew was away on holiday, it was interesting to spend quality time by the river and lakes.
In July we went on holiday to Dorset and I returned with a new Rio fly line. Throughout the month the weather was crazy, with strong winds from every direction. It felt more like Autumn. The rain in June had encouraged the Sea Trout to run and after July’s first full moon, they were leaping about everywhere. Something to remember for next season. The first two weeks of August were very wet, the river was high and the harvest was ruined.
I fished Luffs during September while the river was high and I had a great time. I got to know the lake well and caught some big Trout. October brought extreme weather. The tail end of a hurricane, red dust from the desert and quite a lot of rain. It was a productive month with a lot of takes converted into fish.
The New Riffle appears to have had an immediate effect on the river. There is already a good population of shrimps and the well oxygenated water has been colonised by the chub and the wild Trout. There were lots of Sea Trout smolts below the riffle early in the summer and mature fish in the 4-5lb class later in the year.
I fished the lakes during November and had a couple of fish. The water was clear and they were very shy.
Overall, I got to know the river better. I was able to locate the fish and turn most takes into hooked fish. I was consistent throughout the season.
I didn’t miss the strike indicator when nymphing, most of the takes were very positive. I also avoided the problem of trout rising for the blob of fluorescent putty ! I had a feeling that a couple of fish may have tweaked the nymph while I was fishing the river. Late in the season the fish are ultra-shy and I might have added a few to my tally if I’d used an indicator. The biggest change this season was probably my new Rio fly line, it improved my presentation tremendously.
A lot of restoration work is being done at Lower Figgs and Great Springs during the winter and I’m looking forwards to fishing there again next March.
The morning sky was grey but the south-westerly wind was warmish and the rain was hardly enough to warrant wind screen wipers. I visited Little Bognor and decided not to fish there. Most of the bottom lake was covered in a thick layer of golden leaves and the water was crystal clear. Both lakes had been fished over the weekend and quite a few good fish had been caught so I moved on. I drove to Great Springs and had lunch while watching for Trout. I didn’t see any.
I went to Luffs which looked inviting. The surface was clear of leaves and the wind rippled the surface which would help with presentation. I used the Rio fly line as there were some good fish in the lake and my modified Cortland line would be too short if a Trout went on a long run.
I started on the south bank, searching the shallows thoroughly with a size 14 weighted black spider. A Trout swirled close to the bank on my left and I flicked the fly just past the ripples. Several careful casts failed to produce a take. Strange, I was sure the fish had seen the fly. I covered all of the water, gradually extending the line towards the centre of the lake and letting the fly sink deep. Nothing.
I moved down the bank and repeated the process. The result was the same. I walked around the end of the lake to the deep water down the centre channel. A couple of Trout were feeding in the middle of the lake, way out of casting range. I tried a slightly bigger fly but that didn’t help. The water was very clear and this late in the season the Trout had seen a lot of flies. I admitted defeat after an hour and headed home. Perhaps I should have fished at Little Springs.
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 when I arrived the influence of the sea and the South Downs had cleared away most of the clouds. It was a bright Autumn day again.
I could only fish at Springs or Little Bognor, the other lakes were closed. I visited Little Bognor and looked in the feeder stream for the Trout I had annoyed during my last visit. It was still there, occasionally swirling in the shallow water. I would return later, the fish would be more likely to take a fly at dusk.
I drove to Lower Figgs to see what progress had been made on restoring the lake. Two monster diggers were gulping silt and clay, removing the weed beds and sculpting the banks. It looked very impressive.
As I drove along the Estate road the sheep were relaxing on the tarmac. On top of the hill the track temperature was a lot higher than seven degrees. I had coffee and chocolate biscuits at Great Springs. Both lakes looked lifeless and the cold wind channeled straight down the valley. It was too cold to fish there. I returned to the shelter of Little Bognor and set up my rod with a Cortland line I had customised. I had devised a ‘long tip nymphing special’ from the back end of a Weight Forward line incorporating a bit of running line. Just like my Rio line but a nice peach colour. It was a ‘Weight Backward’. I used a ten foot leader, a three foot tippet and a small black spider with a crimson hackle. I stood well back from the waters edge and covered all the margins and the inlet stream without a response. A fish swirled on my right but it ignored the fly. I swapped the fly for a size 14 GRHE and it ignored that as well. The 4lb bs tippet was probably a bit heavy but I decided to keep it because the lake held some big brownies and it would be a shame to lose a good fish.
Trout were moving along the south bank so I crept round the lake and watched. They were cruising along the marginal band of floating leaves taking something small. I stood at the back of the grassy slope and cast so that only the leader dropped into the water, the fly line rested on the leaves. Several Trout were patrolling and I was confident that I would catch one.
As I stood watching and waiting for a fish to rise I could feel the frost creeping along my shoulders. The top of my head was getting cold. A fish rose infront of me and I dropped the fly into the ripples. I waited a few seconds and lifted the rod. The Trout swirled at the fly but did not take. Dusk arrived early in the woods. As I got colder the pain in my right hand and arm was a distraction. I drove away with the Land Rover’s heater on full. It didn’t work. The sunset was spectacular but by the time I reached my favourite gateway at Riverhill, the sun had just disappeared below the hills. I should have left ten minutes earlier.
My Weight Backward line was a revelation. I had given it a couple of extreme stretches to remove the memory and the cold water made it stiff but it was excellent at short range. It will be interesting to see how it compares with the Rio on the river next season.
The river season ended last week. I planned to fish the lakes a few times before they close at the end of November. The Trout in the lakes have seen hundreds of flies and disappear as soon as a fly line floats overhead. Time for a long leader, a fine tippet and small flies.
Last night there was a full moon, a clear sky and the first heavy frost of the Autumn. The morning sky was bright blue and the puddles were frozen, a bad combination for fishing. There were clouds of midges under the trees which made fly selection a lot easier.
I had an excellent lunch. A mug of coffee, chocolate cake and Christmas cake. I drove to Great Springs and looked around. While I was admiring the Autumn colours and chatting, another member arrived and started fishing Little Springs. Two is a crowd and I decided to spend a couple of hours at Little Bognor with the ultra fussy Trout. The Oak trees along the lanes had retained their leaves and the fields had been harrowed revealing the pink sandy soil. Reminiscent of Herefordshire. The ground looked very dry. I arrived at 3:00pm and as I parked the Land Rover, a fish was feeding a few feet from the bank at the shallow end. The surface of the lake was covered with Beech and Chestnut leaves which gave the Trout shelter and confidence.
I quietly set up my rod and stood well back from the water. I had a twelve foot leader and a 2lb tippet. I chose a size 14 parachute buzzer and flicked it towards the corner of the lake where a fish was swirling around. Only the leader landed on the water, the fly line rested on the short grass. I hooked a leaf with the first cast and a twig with the second. The fish was not impressed and moved away.
A good fish swirled under the far bank of the inlet stream. I cast gently and hauled out another twig. Things were going badly. I stood and watched the water, a small fish was rising frequently, taking buzzers just under the surface. My cast was a bit short but the leader moved and I lifted into a spirited wild Trout. It was a perfectly formed, dark coloured fish which weighed about 12ozs. It recovered quickly and dashed away from the landing net. I moved away from the lake and rested the fish.
After twenty minutes a fish swirled under the trees in the corner on my right. I stayed away from that corner and put the fly about ten feet from the bank. Nothing happened so I slowly lifted the rod, it felt heavy. There was a tug, a big swirl and the Trout bow-waved into the middle of the lake. Unfortunately it was not attached to my line. The fish had seized the fly gently and I hadn’t seen the take. I had just annoyed it. Bad luck, it was a good fish.
I had been at the lake for an hour and my casting arm was painful, the cold air and rising mist were unhelpful. I stopped at Riverhill on the way home and watched the sun drop below the South Downs. It had been a lovely day of Autumn colours, clear skies and rising fish. The sunset was a fitting end to the day.
I watched the water level over the weekend hoping the river would drop before the last day of the season. On Monday the wind had been from the north, cold and dry. Tuesday was warm, overcast and with a gentle south westerly wind. Just as it should be. I wanted to visit each part of the river but I didn’t have the time or stamina to walk three miles in muddy boots. It would be nice to catch a Trout on the last day but it was not essential.
I took the Land Rover for an MOT and was a bit miffed when it failed. Nevermind, I drove to Petworth via Kirdford along roads I’d never seen before. It was a nice drive along narrow country lanes bordered by mature trees in various shades of orange. I stocked up on toffees at Northchapel and drove to the Fish Pass. Another member had beaten me to it but I found a large fish in the tail run on a patch of sand opposite a feeder stream. I drove to Rotherbridge and looked upstream. A couple of small Trout were feeding among the dying streamer weeds. They were probably looking for shrimps. I returned to the Fish Pass to find it deserted, the large Trout was still in the run accompanied by another fish twice it’s size. A big black monster of a Sea Trout. The Monster saw me and disappeared upstream. The other fish ignored my carefully positioned Black Nymph. Several times. Eventually it became agitated and followed the Monster upstream into the roots of an Alder tree. I decided to rest the fish and return to the run at sunset.
I went back to Rotherbridge but three other members were fishing both beats so I turned around and drove to Keeper’s Bridge. Hurrah, it was quiet and the catch returns told me the Beats had not been fished that morning. I went downstream and saw a fish swirl just below the Alder. I crept along the bank until I was just below the fish and flicked my last Black Nymph upstream and across. On the second cast the leader snaked away as the Trout took the fly. It put up a spirited fight, looked about 1lb 4ozs and dashed away from the landing net. It was happy to be back in the cold water. I was also happy, I’d caught a fish on the final day of the season. I had a toffee and walked on.
I fished a few pools without any response and started to lose concentration. The big pool below the Alder tree on the bend looked good. I lost my last Black Nymph in the tree and tied on a weighted Black Spider with a bright red palmered hackle. After a few casts I was distracted by the mew of a Buzzard but just as I looked away I noticed the line tighten and lifted into a better fish. It was about 1lb 8ozs and nicely coloured. I nearly fell into the water while netting the fish. The bank had collapsed during the recent floods.
I thought the two fish were sufficient but I was also conscious that it would be five months before I could fish the river again. One more cast. I walked through the tree tunnel and stopped below the last tree. The bank was covered with teasel and casting was tricky. I was confident there would be a fish under the bushes and several casts later a big fish flashed under the leader. I drew the line tight and the fish went berserk. It was bright silver and I was sure it was a sea trout. It took a lot of line and buried itself in the sunken branches on my right. I didn’t panic and netted the fish at the first attempt. It was a very silver stocked brownie about 2lb.
I was content with three fish so I walked slowly back to the Land Rover. The river, fields and woods looked lovely in the misty overcast. The clocks had changed and the light was failing as I drove away. It had been an excellent afternoon. The river had been kind to me all season. The fish had been fussy on occasions but not impossible. If we have another mild winter a lot of the fish should survive and put on weight.