9 April – Rotherbridge

It was a grey day. Damp, no wind and warm. Perfect weather for fishing but the gauge at Halfway Bridge read 0.294m, more than twice the height seven hours earlier and the river was still rising. I had hoped for a dry weekend but the occasional showers had fallen on saturated ground and drained straight into the river.

I was determined to fish the river and I had a cunning plan. On a previous visit I had surprised two Trout feeding on shrimps in the shallows between a weedbed and the river bank. With food and shelter, they might have remained in the area. I checked the lakes and collected the catch returns. There were fish rising on all the lakes but I stuck to the plan and ended my tour at Rotherbridge. The catch returns revealed that on one of the lakes, the total number of fish caught had exceeded the original number stocked. After a month of catch and release that was probably not a good thing. The fish would become uncatchable as the season progressed.

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I crept behind a leafless bush below the bridge, it was not much of a hiding place but I didn’t want to frighten any fish in the margins. The water under the bank was not too coloured, I could clearly see the green shoots of the weeds. I worked a black fly down and across, leaving plenty of time for it to sink before retrieving it along the edge of the weeds. I stepped to my right after a few casts and explored the margin further downstream. I repeated this for about an hour and had one heart stopping moment when I hooked a sunken branch. Eventually I lost concentration and packed up. The water was too muddy.

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As I drove away from Rotherbridge I saw a tractor spreading Nitram on a field beside the lane. The furrows ran downhill and were waterlogged. The next shower would wash the fertilizer down the slope, across the lane and into the ditch which drains into the river. It was not a pleasant thought on which to end the day.

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7 April – Morning Rise

I was keen to visit the lakes early in the morning and leave plenty of time for fishing in the afternoon. When I arrived at Little Bognor there were lots of fish feeding close to the bank on the bottom lake, trout were rising in all the usual places. They were feeding on small, white flies. On a previous trip I had made the mistake of ignoring the morning rise and returning to the lake later in the day when the intense activity had tailed off. I had the lake to myself but probably not for long. I tackled up from the back of the Land Rover where everything was close to hand. The roof is a convenient place to leave the rod while choosing the fly.

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I tied on a 2lb tippet about two feet long and a dry fly made out of white Neoprene. Closed cell Neoprene does not soak up water and the little fly would float for hours without any dressing. I started in the corner near the overflow where a lot of fish were swirling and sipping down the newly hatched flies. I cast left-handed and reminded myself not to lift into a taking fish until the leader moved. After a few minutes a fish swirled at the fly and the leader slipped across the surface. I lifted slowly and the fish was hooked. The Trout had the fly neatly in the corner of it’s jaw and was in pristine condition. No hook marks.

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Trout continued to feed under the tree and I positioned the fly close to several rises. The fish swirled at the fly but the leader didn’t move. At least I hadn’t scared them away. The tippet was visible on the surface so I rubbed it with clay and recast. The next rise resulted in a positive take and after a spirited fight, another small Trout was released.

The wind got stronger and colder so I packed up and continued on my journey around the lakes and river. Above Coultershaw Bridge I saw a Red Kite and a Crow arguing over road kill, the bigger bird lost the battle. The river looked much lower and a lot clearer, it would be fishable in a couple of days if there was no more rain. I walked around Little Springs with a cup of tea and some biscuits, quite a few fish were feeding. There were some big swirls close to the bank. Fry feeders.

On the journey home I resolved to fish the river on my next visit. A Black Spider fished down the margins at Rotherbridge should produce results.

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5 April – Spring Day

Easter had been grey and wet. It had rained every day. In fact, it hadn’t stopped raining for over a week. The river at Billingshurst had risen into the fields and retreated leaving silt and rubbish everywhere. The Rother had roared through the fish pass and stranded flotsam high in the bankside trees. It had been the sixth flood of the winter and hopefully the last. This morning was the first real Spring morning. Fluffy white clouds, a blue sky and clean air. I enjoyed the drive along the country lanes, particularly at Riverhill where I paused to look at the view down the valley.

I visited Little Bognor, checked every beat on the river and had breakfast at Great Springs. After tea and chocolate biscuits I returned to Little Bognor to continue my casting practice. The air was warmish and the gentle breeze supported three Buzzards mewing and circling high above the trees.

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I had tied some very small imitations of the hatching midges I had seen at Little Bognor on my last visit and I was keen to try them out. Tying flies after the event is flawed, on my return the fish have usually found another food source. That proved to be the case. There was a hatch of small, black terrestrial flies, too small for Hawthorn flies. I tied on a Black Buzzer and left handed, flicked it over the green rush shoots in the margins. It landed about four feet from the bank, sunk about a foot and was taken by a small Trout. I was surprised by the suddenness of the take and the fish wriggled free after a few seconds. I cast a little further into the lake and immediately had another take. The Trout was very dark in colour and had no hook marks in it’s mouth. A fish was feeding in the corner by the overflow but I couldn’t interest it in my buzzer. I tried the opposite corner but the fish had moved away from that end of the lake. I thought a black Neoprene Buzzer would do the trick but although it sat nicely in the surface film, the fish were not fooled. I had a nice take at the other end of the lake, under the Beech trees, but the fish came adrift. Size 18 hooks don’t hold well.

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I had a few casts on the top lake but quickly lost interest and walked back down the slope. I persevered with a white Neoprene spider which sat on the ripples and blew around under the tree beside the overflow. A fish inspected it and twenty minutes later I had a good take which I should have left a little longer. I lifted too quickly and missed the fish. The air was cooling and I was tired. I had a nice bottle of claret in the Land Rover, bought on the recommendation of the nice man in the wine merchants at Petworth.

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29 March – Rain

There was a frost overnight, the morning air was clean and still. I was hoping for dry weather over Easter so the river level would drop for the opening day next Tuesday. The sky had clouded over by the time I left for Petworth and I had to check the lakes before fishing could commence. I walked around the lakes with a cup of tea in hand, it was good to see Great Springs full to the brim. The high water level hid the digger scars and most of the muddy colour had gone. The ripples were washing reeds and grass, not bare clay.

I saw a Trout beside the overflow at Little Springs, it had been there on my last visit. It saw me but only darted away when I knelt down to take its portrait. The other lakes were coloured and uninspiring and I decided to continue with my casting practice at Little Bognor. When I arrived a member was already fishing the top lake. The fish were rising well on the bottom lake so I tackled up and walked down the track, along the side of the bottom lake. The wind was from my right and that would help with casting.

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I stood between two mature trees and rolled the size 14 black spider into the margins. I planned to move to my left a little after each cast, covering the water. On the second cast the leader dipped and I was into my first Trout. It was about 1lb and it darted back into the dark brown water none the worse for visiting me.

The fish were frantically rising to tiny grey midges on the surface. The hatching flies blew down the lake, tumbling across the surface and driving the Trout wild. It looked like a stew pond. I changed to a bushy nymph with a Partridge hackle at the head and a ginger hackle palmered down the body. I thought it was a good match for the adult flies. The Trout did not, several looked at the fly and moved on. It was too big. I changed to a buzzer and that was also ignored. It wasn’t floating.

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I went back to the Land Rover for my dry fly box. As I returned to the gap in the trees it started to rain. Things went rapidly downhill. The fish were rising very close to me, I took ages poking the varnish from the hook eye and tying on a size 18 Adams variant. My hands were cold and my casting became erratic. The fly line was in the tree, the leader was around a twig on the ground and the fly stuck in my coat. I laughed and told myself to calm down. Eventually I rolled out the fly towards a cruising fish but it ignored my offering. I was surprised, the presentation was good and the fly was convincing. The wind got stronger and helped with casting, the ripple also hid the tippet. Finally, a fish accepted the Adams and was hooked in the scissors. As I landed and released the fish, the other Trout were continuing to rise. They were not spooked by the splashing, they were hungry and preoccupied.

The wind got stronger, the rain started to soak through my Musto jacket and my casting became amateurish. I waited in the hut for the rain to stop but after thirty minutes I decided the rain was set for the rest of the day, climbed back into the warmth of the Land Rover and headed home.

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24 March – Little Bognor

The morning sky was grey, with lumpy clouds and no blue bits. There was hardly any wind, it looked like a good fishing day. The lycra maniacs were everywhere but they got out of the way of the Land Rover. I walked around the lakes and saw nothing untoward except a Cormorant fishing on Great Springs. The newly restored lake is devoid of any aquatic life. Serves it right. I didn’t meet anybody at the club house and after my usual cup of tea and a biscuit, I returned to Little Bognor.

The woods were quiet, the mist deadened the sound. The surface of the water was still, feeble ‘cats paws’ occasionally disturbed the reflection of the trees. Trout were moving and feeding on buzzers. I had glued a tapered leader to the line on my new Hardy Duchess reel, I was determined to christen the reel with a fish or two.

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I tied a small Montana to the tippet and went to the South bank where there is plenty of room to cast. I started well back from the waters edge and worked the margins. My left-handed casting had improved, I concentrated on keeping the line well to my left on the back cast and managed to avoid the dreaded rod-wrap. I cast towards the overflow and a Trout grabbed the fly. It was very dark brown and weighed about 1lb. It looked like a wild fish but I was unsure. I continued my casting practice and had a couple of half hearted takes. I changed the fly for a Teal, Blue and Silver as the fish had seen dozens of Montana variants. I hooked a fish but it came unstuck.

I moved to the steep bank under the big beech tree. I caught a couple of fish but the awkward casting angle detracted from my casting practice so I moved to the opposite bank and rolled a very small Black Spider along the margins. The wind assisted the roll cast and I saw several takes, all of which I missed. The fish were following the fly but sheering away as I lifted off. Eventually a Trout grabbed the fly and while unhooking and releasing it, I managed to get the fly stuck up a tree. It was time to leave. I was satisfied with my casting and liked the reel. It had been a successful couple of hours.

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