10 September – Little Bognor

I fancied a relaxing day beside a lake, walking miles in the early Autumn sun would be too much after a tiring weekend. I visited Little Bognor in the morning and it looked good, there were lots of fish rising on the lower lake. By the time I had visited the other lakes and river Beats, collated the catch returns and had lunch, it was 2:30pm. The south westerly wind had an edge. It had blown all the dust and leaf debris to the shallow end of the lake. Fish were rising everywhere, picking off emerging buzzers where the surface was clean and also among the floating Beech leaves.

I would be fishing at close range and therefore chose the Bob Southwell cane rod. It’s slow action is great for flicking out flies under the trees and roll casting. The ten feet of tempered cane helps me reach over the ferns and avoid most of the snaggy twigs in the margins. The weight of the rod is not an issue as I spend most of the time watching and waiting for the Trout to come within range.

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I started behind the ferns, sitting on the warm crunchy Beech mast. A constant rain of acorns and Beech leaves dropped into the lake and I quickly learnt to ignore the splashes. A sizeable branch crashed to the ground close on my left. Fish were cruising past just under the surface. I tied on a small black dry fly with a white hackle. A Trout ignored it but then turned, rose quickly and grabbed the fly. I didn’t allow for the momentum of the heavy rod as I lifted into the fish and it escaped.

Normally, after losing a fish, I move further up the bank. However, another fish appeared. It took a fly off the surface and moved away, unimpressed by my imitation. Trout wandered into range every few minutes but as usual, the tippet was putting them off. I changed to a black buzzer with a sparse white hackle so that it would sink slowly. At first it floated but the fly became waterlogged and hung about a foot below the surface. I twitched it occasionally and as it neared the bank, there was a swirl and a good fish was on. It ran under the trees and I lowered the rod to keep the line out of the branches. It moved into the middle of the lake, then into the shallows. I thought it was foul hooked. After a long fight I drew it into the net, it was about 2lbs and fairly hooked in the upper jaw. I nursed it in the landing net and watched it recover. I lowered the rim of the net and the fish escaped, back into the brown stained water.

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I was about to move but once again, a fish swirled so I resumed my seat behind the ferns. I used the same fly and after a few casts the line moved away and I was into another Trout. It was a smaller fish but spirited. When I eventually got it in the landing net I was surprised how small it was. It might have been a wild fish. None of its fins were deformed.

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I moved up the bank and sat on the mossy hump at the top of the stone steps. A Trout was rising under the branches. I flicked the fly out several times but it was ignored. I lengthened the line and stupidly cast the fly into the branches. I tugged the line and a dead branch crashed into the water. I laughed but was annoyed. I walked around the lake and had a few casts in the corner near the old stone quarry.

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A fish rose under the trees and I crept back among the Beeches below Rex’s dead Chestnut tree. I lost a fly in the margins, snagged the back cast, tangled the line in a small Holly tree and generally messed things up. When I managed to get the fly in the lake a Trout grabbed it without any warning. I held the rod low to my left as the fish ran up the lake into the shallows, it must have gone twenty yards. It was a long drawn out fight because it was foul hooked in the dorsal fin. I released the fish and as a party of other fishermen had arrived, decided to leave the lakes and head home. It had been a relaxing afternoon, a nice change from the river.

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8 September – Fish Pass

The road to Petworth was busy with lovely old cars on the way to the Goodwood Revival. For once the Defender was not the slowest vehicle in Sussex. After checking the lakes I drove to Coultershaw and walked across the field to see if the big Chub was still in the pool below the Fish Pass. The swans had torn some of the streamer weed away and while I watched, five big Chub cruised along the far bank then circled the pool. They were alert and feeding. The biggest fish was about 5lb. I checked the other Beats and was pleased to see that the muddy colour of the water at Taylors Bridge had gone and the water was clear. I returned to Coultershaw and stood behind a bunch of chest high balsam and dead cow parsley watching the Chub. They seemed to have a patrol route; slowly upstream along the far bank, turn downstream and swim alongside the weed, a couple of circuits of the pool, repeat.

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The group contained five big fish and a couple about two pounds. There were no tiddlers. The odds of a good fish were in my favour if I could induce any of them to take. The first few casts had the fish following but sheering away at the last moment. They inspected the tippet on the surface. I cast upstream a little and had a good take from deep in the middle of the pool. It was one of the smaller fish. It buried itself deep in the weed and was tricky to extract. I netted the fish and released it to rejoin the shoal.

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I remembered the large Trout I had seen jump on my previous visit. It had been close to the far bank of the weir pool where the current starts to slacken and where a bit of driftwood had lodged on a clump of rushes. I started exploring the deep water on my side of the pool with a black and copper spider. A fish rose in the hot spot and I immediately dropped the nymph close to the rise. As I twitched the fly back towards me I saw the line draw tight and lifted the rod but it was too late. The next cast the line moved again, two short pulls. I thought it was a small wild fish. I missed. The take on the third cast was positive and the rod bent alarmingly as the fish dived for the bottom of the pool. The fly line thrummed as the fish bored downstream. I was wary of the overhanging bush near the lip of the fish pass and steered the fish upstream into the middle of the pool. The Trout fought just like the three pounder I had caught above the Old Riffle a few days earlier. Except it felt bigger. It went on a long run upstream and the line fell slack. The size 14 fine wire hook had slightly deformed.

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I walked upstream and fished for a while, running the fly under the overhanging Oak trees. I was just filling in time before my return to the Chub. When I got back to the Chub pool, two swans were tearing at the streamer weed and the fish had moved away. I will return next week.

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6 September – Fish Pass

The BBC weather forecast was for bright sun in the morning and an overcast afternoon. The forecast was correct but the weather was three hours late. The morning was too hot for fishing which was just as well as I spent most of it walking around the lakes and along the river chatting with other members. I found time for a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit at Great Springs. There were lots of small Roach and Rudd swimming just under the surface but no signs of any Trout. I shared my seat with a dragon fly, a Red Veined Darter, but there were no other flying insects.

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There were three members at Keepers Bridge and I didn’t want to share a Beat even though a Sea Trout had been caught there the previous day. I drove to the end of the railway line and had a leisurely lunch while listening to the mewing of a Buzzard. The bird sounded close but although I searched the sky all around me, I couldn’t see it. I walked to the bridge and was surprised by the colour of the water. It was very muddy. The water at Coultershaw, Rotherbridge and Keepers Bridge was clear. I thought one of the Sussex cattle had fallen in so I walked to the top of the Beat looking for a swimming cow. I didn’t find anything and returned to the Landrover, hot and annoyed that I couldn’t fish.

I remembered the big Chub I had seen in the fast water below the Fish Pass. I took the rod apart and drove to Coultershaw. Since my first sighting of the Chub I had waited for the nettles and balsam to thin out and for the streamer weed to die back. The time had come to present a fly. I peered over a clump of balsam and the fish was still there, tucked under the far bank. I had been very careful with my approach but the fish became nervous and drifted downstream into deeper water. Several gentle casts later there was a splash and I hooked a Chub. A small one, not the monster. I returned the fish and left the pool for later.

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The bushes around the main weir pool provided good cover and I settled down on the grass covered gabion near the bottom of the pool. I used a long tippet and the heaviest Copper Nymph in the box. As I high-sticked the nymph at the end of a cast a Trout swirled around the fly but didn’t take. A few minutes later a fish rose in the centre of the pool, I extended the fly line, dropped the nymph into the ripples and it was immediately grabbed. As I was landing the fish another trout rose to my right, near the lip of the fish ladder. After I had released my fish, which was about 1lb 4ozs, I covered the other fish but it had gone, probably frightened off by the splashing.

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I fished the pool where the river divides and then returned to the weir pool. A fish rose very close to the far bank but the wind prevented me from reaching it. A big fish jumped clear of the water in midstream, it wasn’t feeding. The clouds were gathering and the blustery wind was making it difficult to cast. I went back downstream to see if the big Chub had relaxed. I missed a take from a small fish, probably another mini Chub. I left the river but the late evening was overcast with a fine misty rain and I probably should have stayed.

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3 September – Keepers Bridge

The morning started with a bright overcast. The sky looked like an enormous lightbox with a uniform white from east to west. As the morning progressed the overcast burnt away and by lunchtime the sky was blue with high wispy clouds. I saw two red kites on the stubble at Stag Park Farm, they were the same colour as the soil. The gentle breeze from the north made it difficult for them to get airborne.

After checking the lakes I drove to Keepers Bridge. I’d seen from the catch returns that quite a few Trout had been caught there and I was confident that I could find some fish under the trees. I arrived about 2:00pm and was undecided which Beat to fish. The water had a dirty grey tint, as if something had disturbed the silt upstream.

There were no signs of fish. The complete absence of flying insects, except wasps, meant that there was no reason for the fish to feed at the surface. I decided to concentrate on the deep pools with a nymph and therefore headed downstream. As I was working a nymph through the shadow of the Alder trees above the bridge, I was surprised to see a fish swirl on the first bend.

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I crept into position below the tree so that I could cast upstream and have wind assistance. The fish swirled again a couple of times but although I tried a parachute Pheasant Tail, Adams and Olive it wouldn’t take a dry fly. The glare was intense but I thought I saw the fish inspect one offering before going down, spooked by the tippet. I degreased the tippet with a dock leaf but it wouldn’t sink. I tied on a Partridge and Amber nymph which sunk a few inches. There was a big yellow flash about a foot down and I tapped the hook home. The Trout wandered about for a few minutes, not fighting hard. It looked a bit tatty in the landing net and I was sure it had been caught during the previous week. It was about 2lb and recovered in the net before disappearing into the weeds.

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I decided to fish into the evening and thought the pools below Perryfields Barn would be a better option. I walked upstream missing out the pools I intended to cover on the return journey. As I walked past the Old Riffle there was a big swirl under an overhanging branch. It was a tricky cast through a gap between the branches and just above a clump of weed. The water was very coloured so I swapped to a Copper Nymph which would be easily seen.

I lengthened the fly line and put the fly over the fish on the first attempt. Before I had the chance to work the fly and while looking at the reel, there was a big splash and I instinctively lifted the rod. There was a big thump and the fish bored deep, it went down about six feet. The line grated on the streamer weed and the fish fought like a Carp or Barbel. I didn’t see the fish for a few minutes and was quite shocked when it surfaced, it looked big. I struggled to lift the landing net. The Trout was as long as the net ring and I estimated it to be at least 3lb, probably a bit more.

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I walked upstream and fished the series of pools around the cow drink. Several Trout were rising but I only attempted the fish where I had a clear cast. The Sussex cattle were in another field and I intended to fish the other pools from the north bank as I walked back. I marked down the fish and crossed the bridge after a snack of berries. Yummy.

The first rising fish was in the middle of the shallow water of the cow drink. It looked like a small wild fish. The first cast was clumsy and I put the fish down. I moved to the Wide Pool where another wild fish was rising in the main current down the centre of the pool. I cast, the fish rose, was hooked and immediately came off. It was only a few ounces and a long distance release was the best outcome. I strolled downstream to the pool with three Alder tree trunks to hide behind. I saw a ripple under my bank and peered around the tree trunks. A very dark trout was hanging in the current about a foot from the bank. I lowered a series of dry flies but each was rejected. There was only a few inches of tippet on the surface but it was enough to alert the fish.

The air temperature dropped at 6:30pm as the sun hid behind clouds. I crossed over to the south bank at the riffle and walked slowly back to the Landrover. It had been a long walk but I was pleased with the results. It had been my first late stay of the summer. As the days cool and shorten there will be more opportunities like that.

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1 September – Autumn

It was officially autumn. The weather was not autumnal. The breeze from the south was warm and the clear sky allowed the sun to burn off the morning dew. It felt like July. I had seen two big Trout at Little Bognor cruising under the dust and leaf debris, sipping buzzers. I knew they would spook and sink out of sight at the first cast so I moved on. I found a nice fish in the run below the Fish Pass and was in two minds about spending the morning there. I decided to leave it for another day. The river had risen during the week but had dropped to 0.028m on the gauge and the water was remarkably clear. I sat in the Landrover at the junction of Kilsham Lane trying to decide where to fish. I had a hunch that Rotherbridge would be good, the wind was upstream and there was plenty of shade on that Beat.

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There was no sign of life, the Dace had deserted the shallows and although I watched from the bridge for ten minutes, nothing rose. I had made the best of lasts weeks wet weather at the fly tying vice. I had tied some Pheasant Tail nymphs with extra copper wire in the thorax and close ribbing to give weight. I had also tied several copper bodied flies with black hackles, spider style. I decided to start with one of the copper bodied flies. I walked across the field on the north bank and crept up to the fringe of dead cow parsley mixed with nettles. I peered into the water, it looked perfect. The fly sunk and dragged the leader down, it was working close to the bottom. I covered the river to my right, up the tree tunnel. A fish rose about twenty feet away under the trees. Well out of range.

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I switched my attention to the water on my left. The fly trundled along in the current, down and across, towards a sparse clump of streamer weed. I held the rod in my left hand and rolled the line out a few times. As I was lifting the fly off a good Trout swirled on the surface, it had just missed. I flicked the fly out and a few seconds later the line moved forwards a few inches. I lifted the rod, expecting contact, but there was no response. A few casts later the line snaked across the surface and I hooked the fish. It made a very strong run downstream and the reel handle caught on my hand, the rod pointed and the hook pulled out. The hook had straightened. My fault. Shame, the Trout was about 3lbs.

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I walked down to the limit of the Beat on the north bank and fished a few pools but the sun was too bright for the shallow water. I must fish that stretch one evening before the season ends. I walked back to the bridge and saw a Cormorant. I thought about leaving but couldn’t resist one last cast up the tree tunnel. I was surprised to see a good fish rise and take a midge in the shade of the big Alder bush. I tried a parachute Pheasant Tail an Adams and a small Olive but the fish wouldn’t respond. A Trout swirled in midstream to my left. Then another fish head-and-tailed close to the trees, it looked like a small Carp. I switched back to a copper nymph and twice the line moved forwards a few inches, I think it was small Dace or Chub. Eventually I had a strong take and was careful not to touch the reel. The fish fought well but I bullied it away from the overhanging trees and weeds and used the landing net with a telescopic handle to good effect. I released the fish, which was about 2lbs, from the net and it moved upstream under the trees.

Upstream of the bridge I saw a Trout rise just below an Alder tree on the far bank but it was not interested in a nymph or dry fly. I left at 5:30pm which was probably too early. It had been a great afternoon.

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