6 June – Beat A

I stopped by the side of the road near Fittleworth to admire the view across the fields. The wheels of the tractors had cut neat pathways through the crops while delivering pesticides and weed killer. The fields were a uniform shade of olive green, no wild flowers were allowed. I thought about having lunch at Duncton Hanger, the cloudscape and patchwork of fields would be spectacular. I found a lone poppy by the side of the lane. Just after I knelt and took its portrait, a gust of wind stripped the petals off leaving just the seed head. Very poignant on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

Rather than detour through Duncton, I had lunch at Little Bognor watching the Trout. It was cold and blustery beside the lake. The shade and south-westerly wind were not ideal. During the drive South I’d considered fishing the top of the river. Jungle fishing at its best. Nobody had fished that beat since the start of the season, if I could find a Trout it would be uneducated.

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I parked the Defender under a small Oak at the top of the old railway line and set up my Hardy. Thrashing about in the bushes required a modern rod, not an irreplaceable split cane treasure. While signing the Beat book I had a moment to reconsider my plans, particularly as a Trout rose just below the bridge. I crept through the long grass and sat quietly waiting for the fish to rise again. Unaware of my presence a Moorhen paddled, head jerking, close by. It saw me, turned and fled downstream, its alarm call and splashing trashed the entire pool. I tried a couple of casts but the Trout had long gone. I marked it down for later and walked upstream.

The big pool at Ladymead had been changed by the Winter floods. A large sandbank filled half the pool which made access easier but there was no cover. Kneeling on the warm sand was comfortable but I was in full view of the fish. There were a few Olives hatching but no Mayfly and as I walked further upstream, the water became more coloured. I passed a side stream and the water cleared, I was above the run off. The shallow water and young streamer weed beds didn’t provide much cover for the Trout. They would be concentrated under the trees and bushes along the shaded bank opposite. At every fish holding feature I stopped and watched the river, looking for shadows on the sand or the swirl from a rising Trout. At about 4:00pm the wind dropped and the Mayfly started to hatch. The tree cover along the river provided immediate shelter and most of the Duns would survive the night.

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I came to the pool by the last gate where I had hooked and lost a good fish last season. As I waited for a sign I saw a dimple near the far bank in the shade of a tree. It looked like a Dace or small Chub. I squeezed the water out of my fly in a fold of my trousers, fluffed it up and checked for wind knots in the tippet. I waited for the fish to show again. I knew I would only get one chance, prospecting with a dry fly rarely produces a fish.

There was a good rise, five yards downstream immediately below a clump of Cow Parsley. My first cast hooked a flower head but miraculously came free without disturbance. Similarly, the second cast was wayward. I calmed down and presented the fly amongst the buzzing midge cloud, exactly where I had intended. The Trout rose confidently, was hooked, did two somersaults and unhooked itself. I was not too bothered. The presentation of the fly in a tricky position and deception of the Trout with a realistic imitation of a Mayfly was sufficient.

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I walked to the top of the Beat searching for another rise but found nothing. As I walked back to the bridge Spinners started to form small clouds in the lee of the bigger trees. I had a few casts in the Cow Drink on Beat B. The Trout in the pool below Taylor’s Bridge didn’t respond to my last cast. There would probably be an evening rise but I’d had enough. Besides, I had a pie left over from lunch.

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I had used only one fly all afternoon which must be some sort of record in the jungle. The raffia in the detached body Mayfly soaks up water but having to pause after several casts and dry the fly is no hardship. It gives me time to gather my thoughts and regroup.

There was one stretch on the Beat that I liked in particular. The river divides around a small island. The shallow threads of water and the overhanging bushes reminded me of the upper Brede at Sedlescombe where I caught my first Trout, crawling through the undergrowth. I will return to Beat A in a few weeks and fish in the evening when the Trout might venture out from under the trees.

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3 June – Keepers Bridge

It was a morning made for fishing. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds and a breeze to moderate the heat. By the time I arrived at the lakes the sky had darkened and the breeze had increased to a wind. I walked slowly around Little Springs with a large mug of tea, watching the Trout and looking for Mayfly. The gusty wind was knocking the Duns into the reeds and rushes around the margins. The cow parsley was covered in bees and various beetles.

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I found a newly hatched female Dun sheltering on the window ledge of the fishing hut, it flew away after resting for a few minutes. Martins were swooping over the surface of the lake and a cheeky Chaffinch sat high up in a young Oak waiting for the mayfly to arrive. A Wagtail perched on the little seat, flicking its tail up and down. Wagging.

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There were lots of black winged damsel flies, Banded Demoiselle, along the river but only a few Mayfly managed to get airborne. The wind had increased and the river valley channeled it downstream, not good for presentation. I watched the water at Keepers Bridge for a while, a couple of Trout rose in the usual places and that made up my mind. I would start there and if the fish were difficult, I would move to Taylors Bridge.

A fish picked off the odd Dun hatching beside a Willow bush at the head of the run by the farm track. I sat and watched, it was a tricky cast between an Alder and the Willow even in still air. The branches were waving about so I waited for a lull in the wind. To my surprise the first few casts into the wind were on target but the fish didn’t rise. I walked down to the bridge crossed over and sat under the Alder with the wind behind me. I dapped a plastic winged Mayfly into the fast water by the trailing Willow branches convinced that Trout number one was a formality. The presentation was perfect but the fish had retreated under the bush. I marked it down for later.

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I walked upstream a hundred yards to look for the Trout-that-rises-vertically. I checked the tippet and tied on a new fly, a detached body Dun with dirty olive hackle point wings. I sat behind a wall of young rushes and allowed the fly to drift downstream close to my bank. An open mouth appeared under the fly and the fish rose cautiously to inhale the convincing imitation. I lifted too soon. Why did I do that ? I knew that would happen. I would return later.

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I crossed to the South bank, dangled the Mayfly over the bushes and lost a few flies in the process. Casting into the wind was making presentation very difficult and the line was blowing into the overhanging branches when I lifted off. I walked down to the bend that I had fished on the last two trips. There were no bushes to eat my flies.

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The waves sunk the fly and made it skate across the river. Hopeless. I returned to the fish I had marked down but they were waiting for dusk, three hours later. I adjourned to The Badgers and sat in the sun with a pint.

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1 June – Keepers Bridge

I had tied some detached body Mayflies. The ultra fussy Trout I had encountered on my last two trips meant that I had to up my game. Too many fish had risen to the fly, inspected it and turned away in contempt. I could imagine the mixture of fishy disgust and hilarity at my crude imitations. Presentation had also been an issue, the tippet was visible in the surface film which was thick with pollen and dust. In a slow moving river the Trout do not hold a position facing upstream, they wander around and approach a dry fly from any direction. A finer tippet was not the answer, it would not hold a 2lb+ Trout away from the tree roots and streamer weed. I went armed with a pot of degreaser so that I wouldn’t have to scrabble around for dock leaves or mud.

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The afternoon started with a beer at The Badgers, the map was spread and a plan agreed. I walked along the South bank upstream from Keeper’s Bridge looking for rising fish. I stepped over the electric fence into the shade of the first Alder tree and in the absence of any surface activity, flicked a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph across the river. I twitched it back in an arc, just avoiding a bit of streamer weed. I was convinced the deep shade held a fish. Sure enough, a fish rose to my left, upstream, behind the tree. I changed to one of my prototype Mayfly, cast up and across and allowed the fly to drift along the far bank. The fish rose vertically and gulped but missed the fly. It looked suspiciously like a Chub.

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I slowly made my way upstream to the Old Riffle, expecting to find a fish in the pool above the fast water but the surface was undisturbed and the wind was against me. I moved on. The Wide Pool looked lifeless, I left it for the return journey. The water meadows came alive in the late afternoon sun. The high wispy clouds cast a bright but hazy light. Just like old fashioned net curtains. It was hot and humid and every flying biting insect was active. The Jungle Formula failed to do what it said on the tin.

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I drifted a Mayfly under the branches below the Cow drink, nothing. I wondered if the monster Trout was still in the shallow run below the bridge at Perryfields. I stood in the middle of the bridge peering down into the green, cloudy water. I studied a wavering shadow for a while, reluctantly deciding it was just a fish shaped weed frond. On the return journey down the North bank I had the advantage of the breeze behind me and the sun in my face. A few Spinners formed a cloud near an Alder tree and the breeze began to fade.

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A fish dimpled the surface of the cow drink, under the branch that divides the pool. I chose an extended body Mayfly and presented it without getting tangled, in midstream well above the rise. The fly drifted under the branch and swung in towards the near bank. I glanced across the river, selecting a gap in the trees for my next cast. As I looked back, ready to lift the line, I saw a rise where the fly had been and tightened into an unlucky Trout. If I had been paying attention, I probably would have tightened too soon. It felt like a wild fish but as it came into the shallows, it woke up and went on a long run downstream. The tiny hook which had caught in the corner of its mouth, in the scissors, was easily removed and the fish sped off towards the deeper water.

I saw another member downstream, on my bank, so I left his water alone. As I was passing unseen, I bade him ‘Good evening‘. Surprised, he turned to reply and missed a take. Oops. It was nearly 6:00pm and I made my way back towards Keeper’s Bridge to swap beats and to have a rest.

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After a glass of water I shed my waistcoat, the heat was unbearable and I already felt tired and dehydrated. The bluebell wood was cool and the smell of wild garlic was very strong. When I returned to the river I was surprised to see several fish rising under the line of Alder trees, they were gulping down Duns and flashing under the surface, taking Mayfly nymphs. I had a toffee, tied on a new fly and cast it gently into the swirls. It was immediately taken and while battling with the Trout, fish continued to rise under the trees.

I returned the lively fish and moved downstream a few yards. For the next hour I chased Trout, moving up and down the stretch from the bridge to the first bend, casting and missing. I rested that stretch and moved to a bend above the Tree Tunnel. The group of fish I had found on my previous trip were still there, rising for Duns. As I sat checking the tippet and tying on another new fly, the herd of Sussex cattle walked along the edge of far bank and stood watching me. The Trout disappeared. I degreased the tippet and waited ten minutes. A fish rose, I cast, there was a big swirl but the fly was rejected. Several times I saw fish rise or flash under the fly but they were not fooled into taking.

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I went back to the bridge and watched three swans flap and paddle the water for a hundred yards. It was like the deck of an aircraft carrier except they didn’t get airborne. That trashed the entire stretch of river. I had to wait a long time for the Trout to recover, the rises were intermittent. I dibbled a Mayfly over a bush, high sticking to keep the tippet off the water. A small Trout tried to grab the fly but I lifted too soon.

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The hatch stopped at about 9:00pm and we adjourned to The Badgers to rehydrate and to celebrate our score, two fish each. Unfortunately, in the UEFA Champions League Cup Final, Spurs couldn’t match our success.

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27 May – Evening Rise

I saw a Trout upstream of the bridge and a small shoal of Dace flashing silver on the sand between the beds of streamer weed. Rotherbridge was exposed to the strong prevailing wind and it looked like casting was going to be hard work.

I walked up to the New Riffle and crept to the top of the pool under the trees. The flow had increased and the river was a transparent shade of jade green. A few Olives and Mayfly fought against the wind but inevitably crash landed on the ripples. I worked a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph down the deep channel and just as I was off-balance, shuffling through the nettles, there was a rattle on the rod. I cursed my bad luck and steadied myself. The next cast across the channel ended with a take from a fat little wild Trout. It was in good condition and had obviously been feeding well on the shrimps and nymphs in the riffle.

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I moved upstream to the big bend above the cattle drink and sat in the sun for a while admiring the soft light on the water meadows and trees. I fished the deep water on the outside of the bend without a response. I walked further up the river, past the long straight, through the tree tunnel and rested opposite an Alder tree where a fish had risen.

The trout ignored a series of nymphs and I decided to swap to a dry fly. If only I had remembered to put the box in my pocket. I scoured the nymph box and found an emerger that had a hackle. The Trout looked at it a few times but was not fooled. It wanted newly hatched Duns and had plenty of naturals to chose from. The fish was moving around the pool, it didn’t have a patrol route or station. At first glance it looked like a group of fish. Eventually it tired of my casting and went down.

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The wind dropped and a good hatch further upstream encouraged several fish to rise. Three or four small fish and one better Trout were rising together, picking off Duns before they could free themselves from the surface film. I tried the emerger Mayfly with a short hackle. It was rejected because the tippet was too visible. I swapped to a pale yellow nymph with a short grizzle hackle. I had a couple of violent takes but missed both.

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I watched the Duns float downstream and dropped my fly under the tree next to one. The biggest Trout took the fly and I connected for a second. That put the fish down and I made my way back to Rotherbridge.

I fired a long cast across the river to the far bank where I had earlier seen a Trout. It rose immediately and surprised me. I missed. It was cold and the light was failing. I had a pint at The Badgers before driving home through the deserted lanes.

Would a proper dry fly have made a difference ? I doubt it, the tippet was visible and the Trout had plenty of natural Mayfly.

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25 May – A Wey day

The day started with proper tea in a country garden. From a proper tea pot. Very civilised. Only the bumbles bees and song birds broke the silence. The drive to the river along familiar Surrey roads bought back memories of too many hours at work behind the steering wheel. The river was not as I had imagined. On my last visit to the Wey I had been introduced to a chalk stream. Shallow crystal clear water, the narrow stream clogged with Ranunculus. This was a big, wide mature river running through a nature reserve. It looked beautiful, wild and timeless.

Hundreds of black headed gulls were swooping and diving along the river, feasting on Mayfly. Their attack was relentless. As we walked upstream the gulls moved away from us to continue harvesting the hatching Duns on another stretch of river. They silently dipped onto the surface like enormous white swallows. It was reminiscent of seagulls chasing whitebait but without the noise.

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We retraced our steps and explored downstream. The river meandered through the water meadows channeling the steady stream of hatching flies to the outside of each bend. I elected to fish upstream where I had seen lots of Trout holding features that cried out for a nymph. Each bend, willow bush and weed bed offered new challenges. I used the Mayfly nymph that had deceived my last Trout at Little Springs, I had confidence in the imitation.

It was very bright with occasional high cloud cover and a gentle downstream breeze. I fished hard, expecting a swirl or bump on the rod but my concentration eventually lapsed and I had a Red Bull lunch in the shade of a group of Alder trees. A newly hatched Dun landed on my arm and I carefully transferred it to the tree trunk where it would be safe. It flew away towards the gulls. Over lunch we chatted and agreed to swap beats.

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The gulls continued to massacre the Duns but in late afternoon they switched their attention to a fall of Spinners. I stood between two Willow trees and drew a nymph from deep water back towards me over a sand bank. Nothing. I drifted the nymph under a tree on the far bank, convinced there was a Trout under the raft of weed and twigs. Cast, twitch, repeat. Nothing. The air was thick with Spinners, two came to rest on my arm as I was casting. I took that as a sign to stop and rethink.

We met again under the Alder trees and I was placed in pole position on the inside of a bend above a long straight. I sat among the rushes and nettles waiting for the evening rise. I sat on my landing net. The pole fitting broke. The sun began to sink, the temperature dropped and the light changed. The soft evening light gave the clouds a silver halo and the river sparkled. The gulls thinned out and I thought about where they came from, how they knew about the Mayflies and where they were going to roost.

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Eventually a couple of tiny rises along the far margin stirred me into action. I tied on a size 12 long shank green nymph and cast upstream. The line twitched but I was too slow. There were hundreds of Spinners drifting in the current along the far bank so I swapped to a dry Mayfly and covered several rises. The fish inspected the fly but swirled underneath it to convey their contempt. As I reeled in to change the fly a good fish made a couple of grabs at it but in the confusion, missed its target. The irony struck me; a well presented, drag free imitation had been rejected but a fast moving dry fly with a wake had provoked a take.

Two or three fish were cruising around the pool taking the little black sailing ships that stood out clearly on the calm water. It was 8:00pm and all the gulls had departed. I tried various Mayfly patterns, some of which were closely inspected but most were ignored. There were so many natural flies on the slow moving water that the fish were swimming around at random, there was food everywhere they went. I tied on my reliable squirrel hair Spinner and waited.

A good fish rose twice going upstream close to the far bank.  I dropped the fly two yards ahead of it and the fish took with a thump. The Trout shot off downstream and after it had gone twenty yards, I decided to follow. I left the pole and tucked the net frame under my arm as I stumbled through the nettles and small bushes. The fish jumped well clear of the water, it was a rainbow about 2lbs. By the time I drew level with the fish it had found a weedbed. I tightened slightly and the hook pinged out. I was not disappointed as landing an angry rainbow with a pole-less net was always going to end badly.

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I walked back upstream and found a couple of fish rising only a yard from the bank. There lots of swirls but no takes. It became too dark for my tired eyes to see the fly. It had been a lovely day. Long, hot and demanding but very memorable. Quite unlike any other river fishing I had experienced. The river had not been stocked, we had been chasing overwintered rainbows and wild brown Trout.

On the way home my mind was a swirl of Mayflies, fussy Trout and gulls. I listened to Elgar’s cello concerto in the car and finished the day in my armchair with a cold beer. Excellent.

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