28 July – Keeper’s Bridge

In the hunt for a Sea Trout I had explored many of the likely pools and only caught the non-migratory variety. The numbers didn’t stack up. The numbers of wild fish and stocked Trout far outweighed the Sea Trout. These shy, wild fish probably move up river in the dead of night and hide deep under the tree roots during the day. In my favour, they occasionally jump clear of the water and their bright silver colour makes it easy to distinguish them from the normal brownies. Several members had reported sightings, mainly in the middle beats; that’s where they mainly fish !

The weather had changed, a West wind and overcast skies would make the Sea Trout more inclined to move upstream. I arrived at Coultershaw Bridge about 5:30pm and parked near the weir.  The stretch of water below the fish ladder must hold Sea Trout. They would wait in the deep runs until a spate gave them the depth of water they needed to clear the weir. Access to the river was very difficult. The high banks were overgrown with Willow, Alder and Himalayan Balsam.  It was a sheer drop into the pools about ten feet below me, if I hooked a fish it would be impossible to get it out of the water.

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I drove to Keeper’s Bridge and signed in. When I got to the river it looked perfect, the current was steady and there was a slight green tinge to the water. The streamer weed swayed in the margins and provided good cover for the Trout. I started with a GRHE nymph under the Alder trees and after about thirty minutes a fish rolled just behind the fly as it crossed the middle of the river. I flicked the fly back to the same place a couple of times and the fish eventually grabbed it. After a few seconds the fly came adrift.

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Then followed an hour of minor problems; flies in trees, tangles, erratic casting, frequent fly changes. It was time for a change of scene. I walked up to the Sandy Pool and fished it down systematically. I had a fish swirl around the fly a couple of times and eventually a nice fish took the fly confidently. It was a very yellow fish, it almost looked like a wild Trout but it had a slight kink in its dorsal fin.

As I left the river a few fish were starting to rise. I popped into the Badgers and had a pint of Cornish Orchards cider on the way back, it was a reward for my efforts. No Sea Trout had been caught but it had been a pleasant evening.

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25 July – Ladymead

The river level at Halfway Bridge registered 0.024m on the gauge which was the lowest I had seen for several weeks. The long hot spell and the lack of rain had lowered the water level and reduced the flow. Trout don’t like warm, slack water. They seek out faster, well oxygenated water with shelter from the sun and cormorants.

Ladymead was fast flowing and deep but I needed waders to get to the gully on the far side of the sand bar. The pool lies near one of the old locks on the Rother Navigation. Built in 1791 by the Third Earl of Egremont, the lock was one of seven between Midhurst and Stopham. The canal bought coal for the iron works and took stone down to the coast at Littlehampton. Ironically, I had driven along the disused railway line that put an end to the canal, one of Dr. Beeching’s many victims.

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Ladymead Lock – circa 1791

The pool could only be fished ‘up and across’, mature Oak and Alder trees hang over the twin sluices at the head of the pool and give shelter to the resting Sea Trout. I’ve fished the pool a lot but I’ve never caught anything there. The steep sandy edge of the pool and overhanging trees had kept me away from the run that undercuts the Alders along the far bank but this time I had waders with me.

I got to Ladymead about 6:00pm, there was nobody there. I waded out onto the sand bar and fished a GRHE nymph methodically up the right hand run. The sand was coarse and supported my weight. There was a spring bubbling up through the sand just infront of me. I was careful to keep well away from the bubbles. I gradually worked up the run, lengthening the line, until I could drop the fly under the overhanging Alder tree. It was hard work keeping in contact with the fly as the current washed the line back towards me. After about an hour I had a take but I missed it. I repeated the process with a black spider but had nothing. I switched my attention to the left hand side of the pool and again worked up and across, gradually lengthening the line. After thirty minutes a fish took, it was a wild fish about 1lb and it scrapped for ages. It was in fine condition but I couldn’t take a photo and hold the fish and the net and the rod….

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There was a splash just behind me in the left run. A small fish was rising so I changed to a dry fly and covered it. It rose to the fly three times and each time I missed.

A Kingfisher wizzed past me and flew between the stone pillars of the derelict sluice. There were quite a lot of pale yellow Olives hatching but the Trout seemed to be taking something very small.

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My arm was hurting so I got out of the water and wandered downstream to the Long Pool. It looked great but I couldn’t find a fish. I tried the Monster Pool on the way back to the Land Rover but after a few casts I packed up and walked across the field, the pub was calling. I saw a member at Keeper’s Bridge car park, he’d had two fish and seen a Sea Trout. Perhaps I’m fishing in the wrong places.

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21 July – The Weir Pool

Last weeks rain had given the Sea Trout an opportunity to find their way up to Coultershaw Bridge and this weeks hot sunny days had petered out. The river level was perfect and the weather forecast for a cool, overcast evening was encouraging. I arrived just after 5:00pm and went straight to the weir pool, it looked good. The water was cool and well oxygenated, as I crept around the edge of the pool a Trout splashed in the main flow. The air was sultry and the high, hazy cloud was some protection from the sun.

Before I set up my rod, I explored the fish ladder and the bend immediately above the weir. Everywhere looked promising. I started at the weir lashing and explored every inch of the white water with a weighted GRHE nymph. Then I repeated the process with a black spider. At about 6:00pm I had a tentative pluck but didn’t connect with the fish. A few pale yellow Olives were hatching and occasionally a small Trout splashed under the far bank as it took a fly. I was tempted to change to a dry fly but this was not part of the plan. I would concentrate on catching a Sea Trout.

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At about 7:00pm the sun started to disappear behind a bank of clouds and the gentle breeze dropped. A big fish rolled slowly on the surface just behind an overhanging branch. The cast was difficult, the fly line stretched across the main flow and washed round in a belly, the classic ‘down and across’ approach. There was a good thump on the rod and my immediate reaction was ‘Sea Trout’. It wasn’t. The fish fought very hard in the current and swum off strongly when released.

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I moved half way down the pool and put the fly over a fish near the far bank. The Trout took the fly but after wrenching the rod, the hook pulled out. It felt like a good fish.

I walked up to the Corner Pool and searched the pool from the top down to the junction of the side stream. There was no sign of life. I returned to the weir and fished across the current behind the overhanging branch where I caught the fish earlier. After twenty minutes I had another savage take and caught a fish that looked remarkably like the first one. I checked it’s mouth for hook marks but it was clean. The Trout seem to gather under the overhanging Alder branch, just on the edge of the current. My arm and wrist were painful from the constant casting so I packed up and walked across the field to the Land Rover. I met Andrew, the Keeper,  on the way and he said the Environment Agency had just electro-fished the stretch of river below the pub and that he would let me know the results. It would be encouraging to hear that they found a few big Sea Trout. Last year they caught ten Sea Trout weighing up to 10lbs.

It had been hard work searching the fast, deep water for a Sea Trout. Next time I might try the big pool at Ladymead, the remains of the old sluice interrupts the upstream journey of the fish and the pool is said to be over ten feet deep.

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11 July – Lower Figgs

After 10 days on holiday I was keen to get back to the river. The gauge at Halfway Bridge was reading 0.03m and the weather looked good. When I got to Keeper’s Bridge the river was at a good height but was too coloured so I decided to visit Lower Figgs instead.

At the lake the wind was quite strong and swirling around in gusts. The clouds gave some respite from the sun. There were a lot of Damsel flies and Dragon flies in the air but nothing hatching. The Trout were cruising around quite close to the surface, most of the fish were obviously distressed and not feeding, the water was too warm. Amongst the wobbly fish there were some faster moving Trout, they were feeding on something below the surface, probably buzzers.

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It would be dry fly only. I chose an Adams variant with a hackle stretching half-way down the body. There were some large fish showing, some over 3lb. I waited until a bigger fish came within range and put the fly down gently but the fish cruised past without a glance. That continued for a while. A couple of fish rose and swirled at the fly but I was so surprised I missed ! I found a feeding fish close to the bank and flicked the fly into the Trout’s path. It surged forwards, grabbed the fly and thrashed about on a short line for a few moments.

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I used the clumps of rushes to hide and the fish came quite close to me. A Trout was swimming straight towards me and was quite active, looking for food. I plopped the fly down and as soon as the fish heard the fly land, it accelerated towards the fly and took it confidently. The fight was feeble and the fish was obviously suffering from the heat. I decided to pack up and leave. Targeting the fish was fun but it was unsporting to catch them. We need some rain and chilly nights.

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43 Years Ago

Today I visited a stream that I have not fished for 43 years. In my experience it is not a good idea to relive memories, things change and it usually leads to disappointment.

I last fished here during my college days when I should have been studying the flora and fauna but I took a short rod instead of a notebook.

The buzzards were mewing in the stiff breeze and the harsh rattle of a 50 caliber machine gun sounded from over the hill. The RM gunners were live firing on the range. The red flags were flying. I always had the stream to myself when the range was in use. On previous visits I walked up the stream bed casting ahead and taking small trout from most pools. They were all returned.

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Today I was restricted by a lack of wellingtons, I clambered along the bank looking into the pools. The water was crystal clear and flowed swiftly, no change there. It was good to see green weeds in the water, a sign that the water was not too acid.

I didn’t see any trout but that was always the case, they hide deep in the pools under rocks and bankside rushes.

The little stream was exactly as I remembered. In fact, better than I remember.

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