20 October – Autumn Wood Magic

The river level had dropped but it was a little coloured and out of bounds because the pheasant shooting had started. As I drove into the top of the Estate I noticed that the fields were devoid of any bird life. No pheasants, kites, pigeons or crows. There were no cormorants at the lakes. I hoped that the regular shooting throughout the winter would keep them away. The sky was blue and cloudless. There was no wind, a ridge of high pressure had settled over the south of England. The river would be perfect on Monday.

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I decided to fish at Little Bognor, the woods looked lovely in the soft Autumn sunshine and it was quiet. I had both lakes to myself. A couple of large Trout were cruising on the surface in the shallows, occasionally swirling at buzzers. They looked about 3lbs. I crept across the grass towards the fish but they moved away, very spooky fish.

I sat on the mossy bank behind the ferns. The crunchy Beech mast was a bit uncomfortable but it kept me off the damp soil. Fish cruised past and I tried all the usual patterns without success. Several fish saw the flies but rejected them, leaving a swirl or bump in the water to register their distaste.

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I moved towards the shallows and hid beside the trunk of a Beech tree. The two big fish were exploring the shallow water, probably feeding on bloodworm in the mud or buzzers as they rose to the surface. Casting was awkward and the fish avoided various flies. An exceptional cast dropped a lightly weighted fly just behind one of the monsters. It’s reaction took me by surprise, the fish turned on the fly and I lifted too soon. The two big shadows moved up the lake and I followed along the opposite bank.

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At about 3:00pm as the sun sank and the shadows stretched across the entire lake, the surface came alive with feeding Trout. They were swirling and delicately sipping buzzers. I tried a black buzzer, a Neoprene Buzzer and finally a size 14 Adams. Fish swirled very close to the fly, taking naturals, but were not fooled by my imitation. A few fish boiled immediately underneath the dry fly and had obviously seen it but as usual the tippet was visible. I cast to a rising fish which immediately took the Adams. It wasn’t a monster. While landing and releasing the little Trout the rise continued. I cleaned the fly, dried it and quickly recast. As soon as the fly landed a fish rose but my enthusiasm resulted in another early lift of the rod.

The rise ended after forty five minutes and as the air was cooling, I decided to leave. The fishing had been difficult but the Autumn colours reflected in the lake and the magic of the old Beech trees had eased my frustration with the Trout. There is a mystical atmosphere at Little Bognor that is not found at the other lakes. I nodded goodbye to the gnomes as I drove away.

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13 October – Great Springs

After the storm I thought the river would be high and dirty but peering through the railings at Rotherbridge, I could see the last fragments of weed and a few Dace flashing on the sandy bottom. I even saw a Trout rise upstream of the bridge.

Great Springs looked great. The water was crystal clear and the marginal weed had shrunk in sync with the shorter daylight hours. The weather was weird. A hot southerly wind blew from the Sahara, drawn up by a dip in the Jetstream. The sky was grey and threatened rain.

I was in two minds about fishing the emerald green lake. It reminded me of the old brick works except for the scenery, no sunken cars or rusty rail tracks. The dappled sky and Autumn colours made up my mind, I would catch a few rainbows. The cold grey river could wait until next week.

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The strong wind swirled around, disturbed by the tall trees so I started at the southern end of the lake. I rolled out a black fly with my left arm and with considerable wind assistance, was able to work the edges of several small weed beds. I expected a tight line every cast but after thirty minutes I hadn’t had a take. I walked around the eastern edge of the lake and sat on the little wooden seat. I let the wind do the work. The fly drifted in an arc along the edge of a big weed bed where, several years ago, I’d caught my biggest brownie. There was a bang on the rod but it was far to quick for me to react.

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I felt the presence of Trout and saw a big shadow drift past but the line remained slack. All the experts advise fishing into the wind but it’s hard work with a long, light rod. I moved to the point and sat facing the wind with deep water only a few yards away. I fired a small black spider under the wind, fan casting around the point. There was a lull in the wind and I cast South to where a fish had swirled. As soon as the fly landed there was a very confusing, splashy take and the rod bent. I imagined a foul hooked fish but after a long spirited fight, I landed the smallest Trout in the lake. The tiny hook dropped out of it’s mouth into the landing net.

A few minutes later I cast towards a pale shadow and hooked another fish but it wriggled free after a few seconds. Although the wind was easing my aching arm became a problem and I retired to the fishing hut for tea and biscuits. Just two biscuits. The Trout was a perfect size for eating and tasted lovely. Poached, with a little lemon juice, brown bread and butter plus a chilled glass of white wine. Perfect.

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8 October – Taylors Bridge

After my last frantic fish catching visit to the river, I thought a more leisurely afternoon was appropriate. The river season would end in three weeks and I wanted to see the wilder stretch of river above Taylors Bridge before then. The weather was unusual, a warm wind from the south-west with a threatening overcast. The jet stream was drawing warm air up from Africa and the forecast was for 23 degrees mid-week. Summer in September.

I signed in about 2:30pm and wandered upstream towards Ladymead. The pool looked good, there was a mixture of leaves decorating the sandy margin and the water had an attractive bottle green tint. I searched the pool with a weighted black and silver spider for longer than necessary, convinced that a Trout would grab the fly. The pools upstream of Ladymead were devoid of streamer weed and I explored a few, losing only one fly in a tree. As the depth of water reduced so did my expectations of finding a Trout. On an impulse I turned and walked downstream towards the bridge.

The deep stretch by the cricket-bat Willows failed to produce a take. So did the deep hole just above the Shallow Pool. I hid behind the dying rushes at the top of the new cattle drink and worked the fly across the pool. A small wild fish grabbed the fly and despite its aerobatics didn’t shake the hook. The silvery little fish wriggled back through the weeds and dashed into deeper water. Having caught a fish I felt relaxed. The pressure was off.

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The deep water on the long bend swirled around and folded into seams. The wind drew cats paws across the surface and I was confident that a Trout was hiding down among the rotting streamer weed. I cast, let the line swing round and took a step along the bank. Just like Salmon fishing. It took half an hour to cover the entire pool and by then I had lost concentration.

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I walked back and spent a few minutes searching the patches of sand above the bridge for any signs of a Trout. There were none. Below the bridge the water was grey, shaded by the Alder tree. I thought about having a few casts but decided to leave.

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The afternoon had been more relaxing than I had planned. I had caught a lovely wild Trout but I had not convinced one of the shy monsters to visit me on the bank. I had seen the wilder side of the river and I was content.

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4 October – Rotherbridge

I was a grey day, a stark contrast to Monday. A gentle breeze from the South barely managed to move the slightly broken overcast. It was warm, humid and perfect for fishing. As I toured the Estate I needed to use the windscreen wipers but the roads were dry and I didn’t bother with a jacket. I saw seven Red Kites on the newly sown fields at Stag Park, one large pale specimen looked like an eagle but lifted off and moved away when I stopped the Defender to take a photo.

As I approached the river at  Rotherbridge a Cormorant flapped off downstream which was annoying. I thought it would fly to Coultershaw. I peered through the railings and saw a shoal of Trout and lots of coarse fish. The fish looked like Roach or small Chub about 8ozs. I thought the wretched bird had forced them upstream into the cover of the bushes and weed beds around the bridge. The water had a grey tint but I could clearly see the Trout as they moved over the sandy bottom. I decided to return after visiting the other Beats.

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I returned about an hour later and the Cormorant was in the pool above the bridge. It flapped off upstream as soon as it saw me. I was fed up chasing the Black Death around the Estate and was inclined to abandon the river. From the centre of the bridge I was surprised to see the same shoals of fish moving around. Perhaps the predator had arrived only a few minutes before me. I set up my rod and chose a size 14 copper ribbed Black Spider. It would be visible in the slightly coloured water and would sink quickly, concealing the tippet. It was also small enough for the Roach to take.

My first cast over a patch of sand in mid-river produced a flash of gold and a wrench on the rod. One of the biggest fish in the group had seized the fly. It was a very strong fish which dived into several weed beds. I thought about “Trout for dinner” but after a long, tough battle I didn’t have the heart to kill the fish and returned it to the chilly water. It was a lovely looking Trout about 3lbs and very long. I was about to leave the pool when another fish rose under the Willow on the far bank. Several casts later that fish also took the fly and fought hard. I realised that these were new fish, probably stocked earlier in the week.

I moved upstream to the New Riffle and trundled the spider through the tail end of the pool. There were a couple of bald patches in the algae on the stones which looked like Sea Trout scrapes. Not redds, they have gravel humps. I had no response at the riffle and remembered the shy fish that lived in the pool by the landing stage.

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The resident Trout conveniently rose as I approached the pool, it was a very aggressive rise. I flicked the spider out into midstream and a fish followed it to the bank but wouldn’t take. I dropped the fly behind the weeds near the trees and the fish followed it twice but sheered away at the last moment. I changed the fly to a bigger, heavy silver and black spider. I let the fly sink and then slowly raised it. A big fish grabbed the fly, not the Trout that had followed the smaller fly. It dived deep and made the reel scream. It was the resident fish that I had targeted. It was a long lean fish with a big head and a slightly hooked lower jaw. He had been in the river for a few months and looked annoyed. I put him back and wondered if I would see him again next season.

I felt as if I had fished a different river. Saturday had been bright and windy, the fish had been difficult. This afternoon had been still and warm, the fish had co-operated.

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1 October – North Bank

I signed in at Keepers Bridge just before 3:00pm on a breezy Autumn day. The plan was to fish the North bank. For two reasons. One, I wanted a clear shot at the fussy Trout in the Impossible Pool. Two, from the North bank the breeze would assist my casting. The day was much like Saturday. The high wispy clouds, blue sky and clean air were uplifting and I had been delayed on my journey around the Estate by several photo opportunities. In the shade of the trees the wind was uncomfortably cold, nearly cold enough for a jacket. In the sunshine I felt relaxed and in no hurry to catch a Trout. The Sussex heifers were browsing the water meadows in the far distance. They are a docile breed but a distraction. They didn’t see me cross the bridge.

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Before I crossed the bridge I’d had a couple of casts at a fish rising below an Alder tree but the headwind was too strong for good presentation. Having crossed to the North bank I crept on all fours up to the tree and peered over the edge of the high bank. There was a fish close to the tree roots and about a foot below the surface. With the wind behind me it was easy to flick the Walker’s Sedge under the branches.

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The Trout rose vertically and in slow motion, gently gulped the fly down. I paused and then lifted the rod. The fish was hooked, taken by surprise. It was a very bright fish which recovered quickly and dived back into the tree roots over the edge of the landing net. I’d only been fishing for thirty minutes and was happy with such a good start.

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I walked around the bend and stood opposite the Tree Tunnel well back from the river while identifying the gaps in the bushes along the far bank. The forked trunks of a big Alder helped me hide from the Trout. I leant back against the warm wood and watched three fish feeding in midstream. They were very active, patrolling in a group, occasionally gliding up to the surface and taking an insect amongst the leaf debris. I was confident enough to wait for the biggest fish to appear, a lull in the wind and the absence of floating debris.

After half an hour of waiting patiently, everything looked positive and I side-cast the dry fly through a letter box of overhanging branches. It landed perfectly just upstream of the Trout. The fish ignored the fly and melted away. Just like a shoal of spooky Chub, the shadows faded and didn’t return. I was surprised how sensitive the fish were. Two farm dogs had passed me by without a glance in my direction, I was well hidden. I planned to return another evening after sunset when the fish might be less cautious.

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I retraced my steps while mulling over my stealthy approach, my choice of fly and presentation. There were no obvious errors. I turned my thoughts to the fish I had marked down on my last visit. As I approached another big Alder on my side of the river, a fish rose in midstream just below the tree. I sat on the short grass and covered the rise with a series of gentle casts, gradually working downstream. As I was about to rest the fish and continue on my walk, the fish rose above me. It was just clear of the overhanging branches and took the sedge fly immediately. The big Trout went on a long run down the river, turned and dashed past me through the submerged branches on my right. I was in contact with the fish but the fly line was snarled up. The fish relaxed and surfaced within reach but when I dipped the landing net in the water it shot off downstream again. I was left with the fly line going upstream from the rod tip and the fish downstream ! It ended badly as I knew it would. The barbless hook dropped out and the fish escaped. It was about 3lbs. I got the fly back.

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I walked upstream, crossed back to the South bank and went to the Long Straight where I’d had an encounter with an educated Trout. As I arrived at the pool the fish rose where I had seen it on Saturday, it hadn’t moved in two days. I approached very quietly from downstream. I checked everything then presented the dry fly accurately. After a dozen casts I rested the fish, I planned to have another attempt later.

By 6:00pm the pool above the Old Riffle was calm. The wind had dropped. A fish rose between the clumps of rushes, another was active under the tree to my right and there was a good rise in the narrow stretch at the top of the pool. I had a choice. First, I tried the top fish with a trimmed Adams. Next, I cast the same fly to the fish between the rushes. Then, from the riffle, I cast upstream to the fish near my bank. The light was fading fast, the mackerel sky was turning pink and as I turned to leave the riffle, I saw a rise in the fast water just above the gravel bar. I fired the fly across the pool and just as the Adams was about to cascade into the rip, the Trout grabbed the fly and became airborne. Then it dived into a weedbed and my hopes faded as I contemplated another loss. I bullied it out of the streamer weeds and guided it into the landing net. I released it into the fast water below the riffle.

I walked back to the Defender, turning occasionally to look at the sunset. The air was cold and there were no fish rising. I’d caught two Trout but it should have been four or five. I would remember their position and return later in the week.

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