Each year since the centenary of Sir Edward Elgar’s first fishing trip to Little Bognor, I had remembered the day by catching a fish or two at the spring fed lake in the woods near… More
The weather was perfect; warm, overcast and a gentle breeze. How could I continue with chores when the Bank Holiday crowds had dispersed and the fish were waiting? I had planned on fishing my favourite Tavy pools but I realised that I had misread the rota. I eased the Defender out of the garage and headed south towards the Plym. A column of sunburnt 42 Commando Royal Marines marched back into barracks as I dropped down into the deep river valley and found a parking space by the bridge. The river looked beautiful, a few inches up with a hint of colour.
The water temperature was 14 degrees and upwinged flies were everywhere so I started in a fast run with a dry fly. The line curled out nicely and the fly rode the current convincingly back downstream towards me. The likely holding places, crevices in the bedrock and behind stones, failed to hold anything and I moved upstream to the first deep pool. As I approached quietly through the trees, a Sea Trout leapt and noisily splashed back into the water. I swapped the dry fly for a Teal, Blue and Silver and slid down the rocks at the head of the pool on my backside. The fast broken water and rock ledges hid me from the spooky fish and as I rolled out the first cast I had high hopes of a take. I worked the pool methodically, gradually extending line without a response. I’d try again in a couple of hours.
The bluebells were a distraction as I made my upstream along the riverside path. A combination of anglers, deer and badgers had crushed the stems and leaves which enhanced the flowery perfume. I sat beside a fallen tree at the head of a long pool where a culvert joined the main river on the far bank. The eddy had produced fish for me and I swapped the fly for a weighted nymph which would drop into the deeper water quickly. No bead, just a few turns of lead wire. As I was about to cast a lone Mayfly fluttered into the air and passed close over my head into the trees behind me. I was surprised to see a Mayfly on an acid moorland spate river, it lifted my spirits.
After exploring the eddy and the main pool, I rose from behind the ferns and turned to leave just as a good Trout rose close to the near bank. It was mocking my efforts, telling me that I should have used a dry fly, not a nymph. I fished the first pool again with a heavier fly but I had a feeling that the Sea Trout had seen me and retired to the safety of the tree roots.
It had been a lovely walk, I hadn’t seen anyone and fishing was a bonus. My tactics had been wrong, I would return late one evening with just a box of dry flies.
It hadn’t rained for 24 hours and the forecast for the bank holiday was good. The river was still coloured and wouldn’t be fishable until after I returned to Devon. I was drawn to Little Bognor where the springs run clear and the trees provide shelter. I listened to Elgar’s cello concerto during the journey, it was relaxing and reminded me of the magic trees and the gnomes. I wondered if Rex Vicat Cole’s Spanish Chestnut tree had been toppled by the recent gales. I was saddened to see that Edward gnome had been buried under a concrete and steel apron where the stream ran under the road. VC’s long dead chestnut tree had shed a few branches but was still embedded in the top of the ancient wall.
I stretched the Rio line and renewed the 5lb tippet before settling down on the mossy bank. The ferns were too short to hide me from the Trout cruising the margins but I sat still and soon fish were patrolling within a yard of my rod tip. Midges were skittering all over the lake surface and a black Neoprene buzzer was the obvious choice. I lowered the buzzer into the water and watched the tippet. The fly sunk slowly but several casts later I’d had no response. I fish rose to my left under a branch and I quickly flicked the buzzer into the widening ripples. It had only been in the water a couple of seconds when the leader tightened and the Trout was hooked.
It was an immaculate, fin-perfect wild Trout about a pound in weight which I unhooked in the landing net and released in the shallows. The buzzer was a bit chewed but it was the only one in my box, I must tie some more. I flicked the buzzer under the branches and watched the tippet as it sunk, inch-by-inch, through the surface film. Fish started to rise all over the lake, taking midges and sedges amongst the leaf debris. I swapped to a parachute Pheasant Tail and that was gulped down as soon as it settled gently on the surface. It was a bigger fish which I also released in the shallows.
The Trout moved down the lake, sheltering under the overhanging branches and continued to take surface flies in the margin. I crept quietly along the bank, using the tree trunks to avoid being sky-lined. I crawled onto the mossy hump and with a ‘bow and arrow’ cast dropped the dry fly no more than a yard from the waters edge. A good fish swirled on my left and I risked a quick overhead flick, avoiding the top of a holly bush, to land the fly a rod length away. Again, as the fly settled on the surface, it was confidently taken. The Trout went on a long run into the centre of the lake and then doubled back seeking refuge in the tree roots. I was confident of the tippet and hook hold. The rod bent into a frightening arc as I forced the fish out into deeper water. A four pounder rolled into the landing net, was gently unhooked, rested and released without fuss. Not my biggest brownie from the lake but a close second.
I thought my final fish would be hooked under the centuries old chestnut tree. I sat behind a tree trunk some ten feet above the water level and watched the fish patrol, occasionally swirling at buzzers. After casting into most of the bushes both behind and infront of me, I decided to explore more open water.
I sat behind a clump of rushes and observed a group of small fish greedily feeding on buzzers, they were so close I could have poked them with my rod tip. Better fish were taking sedges under the trees and I decided to focus on them. The cast was tricky. The branches slanted at various angles and different heights. The stiff hackles on the fly would help it bounce off the leaves and the wind was favourable, from over my left shoulder. I dropped the fly within a yard of a feeding fish which took and dashed out into the lake away from danger. After returning my fourth fish I decided to pack up but the ‘one more cast’ syndrome kicked in.
Trout were slashing at adult midges and I couldn’t resist the opportunity, it would be at least a couple of weeks before I could return. The first cast with a parachute midge connected with another spirited brownie which I bullied into the net and released.
It had been apparent all afternoon that accurately presenting a fly to a rising fish, gave little time for the Trout to examine the fly and tippet. The heavy tippet was visible in the dusty surface film but the ultra shy brownies were triggered to respond by the flies landing so close to them. As I drove home I thought about Elgar Day on 15 June and hoped that the fishing would be as good.
Luffs is an old Estate lake that has been a bit of a challenge for me. I’d lost some monsters there and I’m never confident of catching. Plan B was just a short walk away through the woods but I resolved to persevere with Luffs.
The weather forecast was for showers all afternoon but heavy rain at 7:00pm, it would be another Barbour day. The lake looked lovely, from the north bank I could see fish rising down the centre of the lake and in the margins along the south side. The west wind blew from the dam straight down the lake, easy casting. There were no flies hatching and very few birds feeding which I though was strange. I started with a Mayfly nymph, exploring the deep water along the dam but had no takes. I swapped to a weighted, dark GRHE but although it looked very realistic, I thought it was too dark to be seen easily in the depths. I changed to a paler fly but that was ignored. I could see dark shadows passing about two feet down so I changed to an unweighted fly. Nothing.
The sun broke through the clouds and the wind dropped, suddenly there were fish swirling everywhere but I couldn’t see anything hatching, very odd. I dropped a size 14 Partridge hackled nymph close to a rising fish, there was a tremendous wrench on the rod and the hook straightened. I’d chosen a stronger Stroft GTM tippet but the hook was too fine, I felt that my Luff’s gremlins had struck again. It was a good fish. I walked around the lake and cast to a fish rising close to a Willow tree but it disappeared. I wanted to continue up the lake towards the shallows but the Trout started to rise along the dam so I returned. After several fly changes I connected with a fish and was relieved to see it cross the front of the landing net. It fought hard and took a while to revive, the rising fish had departed.
I walked back to the car and was about to leave when the wind died, the sun shone and the Trout started to feed again. I watched the water but I couldn’t see anything on the surface. I thought the fish were probably taking buzzers as they emerged. I tied on a size 14 black fly with a white ethafoam wing which would float for ages. First cast to a rising fish produced a confident head-and-tail take and another fish in the landing net.
A few minutes later I anticipated the rise of a Trout on my left and dropped the fly into undisturbed water. As soon as the fly touched down a fish rose and took with a gulp. My premonition had been rewarded. It might have been experience, sixth sense or water craft. A fish had been rising in that area all afternoon and subconscious recall had kicked in.
It was 6:30pm and dark clouds were gathering to the west, I could see a violent storm approaching. Great sheets of rain were slanting down several miles away over the Rother valley, it was a good time to leave. I drove home in hail and sleet, very slowly along the country lanes. A generous glass of Lagavulin in a comfy chair was a perfect end to the day. The Luff’s gremlins had been banished.
Fishing on Friday was a non-starter, gale force winds bent the trees into an alarming angle and it would have been impossible to get a line in the water. I don’t normally fish at weekends but the Mayfly were hatching in clouds and the weather was perfect. I collected the landing net that I’d left at Keepers Bridge weeks earlier, confident I would need it to safely land an angry rainbow or two.
The lakes looked immaculate and the cloudscape completed a perfect picture. The marginal rushes were waist high and a slight breeze ruffled the surface making it easier for the Mayfly to escape the surface tension. Mayfly were blown across the lake by the westerly breeze, Olives hatched occasionally and Alder flies were everywhere. The sky above Great Springs was filled with swallows and wagtails. A swift wooshed past me as I sat on the bench. With a click of its beak it plucked a newly emerged Mayfly from the sky. The Mayfly’s life span had been about ten seconds.
Trout were swirling on the surface all over the lake, not splashy rises for adult flies but sub-surface turns and flashes that indicated a feast of ascending nymphs. I started with a Mayfly Nymph but it sunk too quickly and was ignored. I swapped to an emerger and that got some attention but was rejected. The fly was too big and the tippet too visible. I chose a size 12 Partridge hackled nymph which hung sub-surface concealing the tippet. It was soon grabbed and the initial run of the fish nearly emptied my reel. The fish battled long and hard and was in fin perfect condition. It weighed about 3lbs and I released it from the landing net without handling it.
The sun broke through the clouds and the Mayfly stated to hatch from the margins infront of me, the fish were feeding within a couple of rod lengths. I knelt behind the rushes on the soggy grass and flicked the nymph out but the Trout had switched to adult flies. The simple olive green Mayfly, that I had designed last year for the river, was eagerly taken by a cruising Trout which was the twin of my first fish. I was using a 5lb tippet and bent the rod into a circle but it was a long time before the bar of silver slid into the landing net.
A third fish was not so energetic and had probably been caught and released earlier. I have a self imposed limit of four fish which I rarely exceed. After four fish I feel that I have had a good day and that more would be greedy. Besides, I get tired after a couple of hours. My attention wandered as I looked for photo opportunities and although I hooked a couple of fish they soon wriggled free of the barbless hook.
A brief shower was not enough to drive me to the shelter of the hut. I sat on the bench in the rain watching the flies hatching and the birds whizzing about. I found some Mayfly spinners in the marginal weeds and watched as a Mayfly broke free from its shuck and fluttered into the sky.
I could have stayed longer but it had been a perfect afternoon and the Mayfly would still be hatching next week. The weather during May had been wet and windy, not so nice for the two Bank Holidays but ideal for fishing. The water temperature had stayed low and the fish had not suffered, the prospects looked good.
Modelling is not normally part of my fishing trips. Our catwalk would follow the edge of the wood and the backdrop would be the towering pine trees high above the river on the valley sides. The weather would keep dog walkers, stone throwers and the paparazzi away from the Tavy. Heavy rain was forecast for dusk but I could fish and pose for a couple of hours before then. The soft drizzle wafted down from a pale grey overcast, perfect for fishing but tricky for the photographer. I was ready to go long before our appointed meeting, full of enthusiasm and confidence.
Several days earlier the Defender had rumbled along the minor roads westward and squeezed into its new home, my garage in Devon. I chose a low gear and let the old truck find its own way down the steep, rocky track to the valley floor, it looked at home among the primeval woodland. I was confident that we could climb back up the track. If the Land Rover electrickery behaved itself.
The scenery was stunning. We both felt privileged to be in such an unspoilt environment. The deep sides of the valley and the tall trees sheltered us from the gentle breeze. It was silent, warm and overcast, perfect. The soft rain was barely noticeable but I wore my lucky hat anyway. I also found a few toffees in the bottom of my bag, it was a sign from Izaac that everything was well.
The river was dropping after heavy rain. The crests of the broken water were pale cream and the deep water, the colour of Fuller’s London Pride. The river rushed past ferociously but there were plenty of slacks and back eddies to explore.
The fast coloured water was not the place for a nymph. I chose a traditional fly, the Teal, Blue and Silver tied on a small, long-shank hook. I started near the top of the Beat and swung the fly through the slack water behind a big rock. My first cast produced a heavy take and the rod bucked as a green plastic bag fought to escape. Great rod bending material for the camera. I’d underestimated the current, down and across lasted about five seconds. I moved upstream to a wide riffle that looked like a kayak slalom course. After a few casts I moved downstream and found a long deep run under the near bank. I got into a rhythm; cast, mend, hang and take a step. I was hopeful of a take and enjoyed searching a seam only a couple of rod lengths out. I was oblivious of the long lens recording events.
I had saved the best pool until dusk, the light was failing as I crept out to the end of a rock pier. I had a hundred yards of deep, slow moving water with the main current running along the far bank. I rolled the fly into the current and let the line stream out. I retrieved the fly slowly allowing it to sink into the slack. Every cast I extended the line and worked the fly further into the pool.
A good take made me laugh nervously. I’d hooked a fish for the camera, excellent. I preyed the fish would stick and cautioned against premature celebrations. Inevitably as the Trout came to hand it got smaller. It was a beautiful fish which showed signs of migration, the lack of colour and dark fins suggested a Sea Trout smolt. It was a plump fish which was keen to get back on it’s journey to Plymouth Sound. It was a good time to leave, we were both in good spirits having achieved our respective goals and the Defender fired up at the first turn of the key.