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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29 September – Autumn Evening

It was 3:00pm on a Saturday afternoon and the river was deserted. A glorious Autumn day with blue sky, high wispy clouds and still air. What were people doing on such a lovely day ? Shopping ? The days were getting shorter and it would soon be time to put the rod away. Every Autumn day should be cherished not squandered in Waitrose.

At The Badgers I had a pint of Cornwall’s favourite beer, now brewed in Birmingham, while deciding where to fish. The Beats at Keepers Bridge had not been fished the previous day. It was sad that the river had been ignored but it was nice to know the Trout had been given a day off.

I walked downstream from Keepers Bridge on the South bank. Only fifty yards below the bridge a fish was rising in the long shadow cast by the big Alder. I thought a dry fly would guarantee results but the fish followed the sedge and rejected it. The tippet was too visible. I had a big swirl under a Black Gnat which was an improvement. I trimmed the Neoprene wing to make the fly sit lower in the surface film and missed a good take. I thought that would have spooked the Trout but after a short rest, an Adams with pinched-off wings was also closely examined and dismissed as an obvious fake.

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To avoid the problem of the floating tippet, I tied on a size 14 copper and Pheasant tail nymph. A cross between a Pheasant Tail and a Sawyers Nymph. With such a pedigree how could it fail ? I cast to the fussy Trout and as the fly swung round at the end of the cast, a fish flashed at the fly just behind a bed of streamer weed. I thought the fish had followed the fly across the river, quickly flicked it back out and immediately made contact with a good fish. The Trout fought deep and flashed gold in the low Autumn sun, all the signs of a big fish. It was about 2lb 8ozs, possibly bigger. As I was releasing it from the landing net, the fish under the Alder rose again. I had caught the wrong Trout ! I made a note to return later.

I thought I might repeat the ‘hanging-from-bush’ trick from a previous visit but at the first bend, the cover above and below the Alder tree had been neatly mown to stubble. I spent a while working the nymph among the tree roots but the leader refused to tighten.

I remembered the fish I had previously found in the wooded stretch and walked downstream to the Tree Tunnel. The Impossible Pool had changed. The branches on the young trees had sagged and the gap through which I had flicked a fly was more challenging. Nevermind, I could see a couple of fish shadows and there were several splashy rises while I was selecting a fly. It took many attempts to get a dry fly in the water and when I did, the fly was ignored because it dragged. I tied the nymph back on and after several botched casts, two fish followed it. In the confusion the two competing fish missed the fly. I tried the other, much narrower, gap in the bushes but the fish moved away, scared by my antics untangling the leader from the overhanging branches. I had found a group of fish in dense cover whereas the pools with neatly mown banks had been deserted. Although I hadn’t caught a Trout in the woods it had been fun trying.

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At 6:00pm the sun was setting and the air temperature dropped. I ambled back upstream and found a fish rising in the middle of a long straight pool. I well remember the Monster that stripped my fly line and crashed into the Willow bush at the bottom of that pool. It had been a couple of years earlier but I would never forget the day I nearly lost the tip of my rod trying to extract what was probably a Sea Trout. The rising fish nearly took a Black Gnat in midstream. At the end of the next cast the Trout jumped at the fly as I drew it towards me for the lift off. I swapped back to the nymph and had a nip but the old, deeply coloured fish was too wise and went down. I moved upstream to the Old Riffle but although there were a couple of fish moving, they would not take a nymph.

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At 7:00pm the sunset was spectacular. All the birds were calling and the still evening air amplified the sounds. The Pheasants out sung the other birds by sheer weight of numbers but the Owls came a close second. I even heard a Nightjar churring in the woods across the field.

The water was mirror calm and the Trout randomly rose for invisible morsels. I cast a nymph to a good fish that rolled over in the reflection of the sunset but it was not interested. The air was cold and a thin layer of mist was rising from the water meadows. It was time to leave. It had been a memorable day.

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27 September – Perryfields

There had been a hard frost a few days ago, my car had been white until quite late in the morning. With the equinox the season had changed, Autumn was in full swing. The morning was foggy, a clear sky overnight and the warm damp ground combined to produce a dense fog. It was late to clear. As I approached Wisborough Green I could see a bank of fog over the low lying ground. It looked like a stubble fire. There was no wind and I could also see a trace of fog in the Rother valley from Riverhill.

I toured the lakes and cleared the outflows to get rid of the floating leaves and twigs. By lunchtime the sun had burnt the air clean and it was warm. The absence of clouds and wind made it feel like July. The bright sun would make it difficult to tempt a Trout. I drove up the old railway track towards Taylors Bridge but an Oak had fallen blocking my way. The badger’s set in the sandy soil around the base of the tree had undermined the roots and on a windless morning, the old tree had slowly tipped over. I’m never confident when passing under the third railway bridge, it looks as if it is about to collapse. The old trees didn’t seem to pose a threat but the aluminium Defender would have been crushed like foil.

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I parked in the shade of the bushes at Keepers Bridge and had lunch while filling my pockets with essential bits of tackle. I decided to use a Cortland line, tricky casting under the trees would be easier with a peach coloured line. Although the river was about a hundred yards away I heard a couple of splashes. The still air transmitted the sound which echoed through the woods. I tied on a small sedge in the hope of finding a rising fish. I stood beside the river and waited for a rise but the water was undisturbed. It might have been a Sea Trout jumping, several had been caught.

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I walked upstream to the Old Riffle and sat on the newly cut grass. All of the bankside cover had been mown away. The banks looked neat and tidy but it was impossible to approach the pools undetected. I also had the sun behind me. A couple of fish were feeding under the far bank and a fish jumped at the top of the pool. Despite three fly changes and a thorough search of the pool, the Trout would not respond. The fish melted away and needed a rest. I had a few casts in the pools immediately below Perryfields but it was impossible to hide from the Trout.

I crossed the bridge and walked downstream with the sun in my face and better cover.  I focused on the lies under trees and worked them methodically with a nymph. I expected the line to draw tight any second. When I got to the Old Riffle I stood beside the fast flowing water and flicked a weighted nymph upstream. A good fish swirled at the fly three times but would not take. I tried a dry fly but the current was too strong and it skated towards me, dragging a wake behind it. After a fruitless hour I reached Keepers Bridge. In the shade of the trees the temperature dropped significantly and I was glad of my waistcoat. It was 6:00pm and the light was failing. A few fish were moving and I decide to return to the south bank of the Old Riffle. The sun had gone down and I was sure the fish would be active again.

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The were several Trout rising. One fish was near the lip of the riffle, close to the bank on my side. Another rose slightly upstream and a third was rising under the trees along the far bank. I had a choice. I cast a copper and black nymph upstream and connected with a good fish. It fought hard and swam strongly away when released from the landing net. I had bullied it upstream to avoid disturbing the other Trout.

I couldn’t reach the fish in the fast water from above the tree so I moved down and presented the same fly upstream. A good fish swirled at the end of the cast but missed the fly. I cast across the lip of the riffle and a big fish grabbed the fly but the hook bounced out. I had lifted too soon. The fish all went down and the brief spell of activity was over. I had walked much further than I’d planned and was happy to arrive home and sit down with fruit cake and a cup of tea.

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24 September – Little Bognor

The Autumn equinox brought gales and heavy rain. It was mid-morning when I arrived at Little Bognor. I cleared the outflow of the lower lake and the water gushed over the sluice dragging leaves and grass cuttings out of the lake. At Coultershaw the river was high and a dark grey colour. I looked down into the fast flowing water at Rotherbridge and decided that it was unfishable.  I drove to Stag Park and as I crossed the brow of the hill, I disturbed four Buzzards and a solitary Red Kite. They were sharing a patch of stubble, searching for crane fly larvae.

Little Springs seemed to be coloured which I thought strange as Great Springs was clear. The ditch supplying water to Great Springs was dry. Luffs looked good but I eventually found myself back at Little Bognor. I may have been influenced by the presence of my Southwell rod in the back of the Defender. It suits my style of margin fishing.

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Since I’d cleared the outflow the lower lake had been transformed. There was no dust or tree debris on the surface which was like a mirror in the early afternoon sun. The North wind had helped guide the rubbish towards the sluice. The ground under the Beech trees was a little damp but I ignored that and sat down behind the ferns. My trousers would dry on the way home.

I started with a dry fly but it was immediately obvious that the 4lb bs tippet was a problem. I browsed my fly box looking for inspiration and chose a size 14 Partridge and Amber. It would sink slowly and looked vaguely like a drowned midge. I had a good take on the second cast. The fish stripped most of the fly line off the reel and went deep, leaving a line of bubbles in the centre of the lake. It felt like a three pounder. I allowed the fish to move into the shallows. The Trout surfaced and revealed itself, it wasn’t a monster. It wasn’t foul hooked but put up a spirited fight. As I unhooked it I noticed that it had a deformed left pectoral fin. The fin had split and looked like a pair, I would recognize the fish if I caught it again.

I was about to move along the bank when a fish rose only a rod length away. I covered various fish as they cruised past me in their search for buzzers. I continually teased the fly towards me and shook the rod occasionally to give it life. After an hour a bow wave followed the fly towards the bank. I paused then lifted the rod. The fish was surprised and thrashed about on the surface for too long, frightening its companions away. I drew the fish into the shallows, netted and quickly released it. The disturbance put the fish down and after another fruitless hour chasing spooky fish under the trees, I wandered back to the Defender and packed up. The rod had performed well, it is perfect for short line work.

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