I arrived at Keeper’s Bridge at 2:00pm and had the choice of both Beats. All the fish from the river had been caught at Rotherbridge, Beat D, but I had checked it earlier and it looked barren. There were no fish rising and looking down from the centre of the bridge, I couldn’t see any signs of life. The weather was hot and humid, thunder rumbled and the clouds were grey. I had driven through a swarm of honey bees at Kilsham Farm. It was the sort of weather that heralded flying ants.
I walked upstream keeping well away from the river, using the bushes and the fringe of nettles to hide from the fish. I didn’t cast until I reached the cow drink above the old riffle. I used a weighted size 14 GRHE nymph and worked it around the pool but had no response. Several times I heard a rise, like the sound of a bubble bursting, but I couldn’t see the ripples. Mayfly were launching themselves out of the current and fluttering into the trees. There were no swallows or chaffinches to snap them up, just a solitary wood pigeon disturbing the peace.
I swapped the nymph for an unleaded, straw coloured size 12 GRHE which would be more visible and nearer the size of a hatching Mayfly. I fished down and across drifting the fly alongside an overhanging bush. Eventually I saw a flash of silver in midstream and lifted into a very spirited Trout. It fought hard and was difficult to keep out of the tree roots. The bank was high and the nettles hid a steep drop into the water. I extended the landing net handle and directed it at the fish. The top section slid out of the handle. In a rush to net the fish I hadn’t tightened the screw properly. I laughed and nearly fell in the river as I rescued the top section from sliding into the pool. The fish waited patiently while I messed about. It was a wild fish about 12ozs and very silver, probably in the throws of migrating downstream as a sea trout smolt.
I decided to walk to the bridge at Perryfields and return on the opposite bank. I rarely fish that side of the river as the herd of Sussex cows, very docile creatures, are a constant distraction. As I ambled towards the bridge I saw a fish rise under a tree on the opposite bank. It was upstream of an overhanging branch, tight into the bank. It was taking Mayfly so I swapped to an imitation incorporating a rubber band. I don’t remember tying that fly. It had a Teal wing, perhaps it was a prototype.
The cast was almost impossible. The first attempts were short and below the fish, the downstream side of the branch. The fish continued to feed. I summoned up the courage to launch the fly in a last ditch attempt to reach the Trout. Miraculously the leader curled around the branch and the fly landed perfectly. The fish grabbed the fly and became entangled in several low hanging twigs. I pulled it free and battle commenced. It was a beautiful fish, black on top with gold flanks and was about a pound and a half. It swam away strongly, back under the trees.
I walked to Perryfields, stopped in the middle of the bridge and leant on the hand rail. The pool directly above the bridge had changed, it was wider and deeper. It looked very fishy. I went downstream to a rising fish that I had marked earlier. I met another member, pointed out the rise and left him to it.
As I walked away another fish rose, lower down, under the far bank. The bank I had just fished. Trout are always feeding underneath the far bank, never on my side. The path leading to the cow drink was overgrown and provided perfect cover. I sat in a ditch underneath an Alder bush and considered my tactics. The Trout was holding station about a foot from the far bank and the gap in the overhanging branches was about the same width. The fly would only drift over the fish for a few seconds. I was full of confidence having just caught a difficult fish from a similar position.
I measured the distance with a couple of trial casts upstream. With the rod at an angle under the bush, I attempted to reach the fish. The first cast was accurate but too short. I tried again and didn’t hold back. The fly landed nicely but drifted under the branches, past the fish and out of the target area. That enabled me to lift the line and cast again without disturbing the Trout which continued to rise. I threw caution to the wind and the fired the fly across the river. It went so far under the branches I couldn’t see it. The fish rose, I lifted the rod and connected. I bullied it out into open water and was congratulating myself when the fish dived into tree roots on my side and wriggled off the hook. It was another wild Trout about a pound in weight.
The wide pool looked good, it usually produces a fish. The fallen tree in midstream had been shifted by the winter floods and a curved bough poked through the surface. As I watched the river there was a splashy rise at the top of the pool. I flicked the fly into the ripples and it was immediately taken by a very small but brightly coloured Trout. I returned the fish and continued downstream.
I came to the stretch of river that I usually fish from the south bank, between the gaps in the trees. From the north bank all of the river is open, casting is easier. I sat on the gently sloping bank behind the fringe of nettles and balsam left by the Keeper. I relaxed on the newly mown grass and wondered how to fish that part of the river. I thought a GRHE nymph would work but before I could change the fly, a fish rose beside a bush just upstream from my hiding place. Again I measured the length of the fly line and full of confidence, fired the Mayfly at the Trout. Unfortunately I fired the fly too confidently. It hit the water with a splash and put the fish down. I waited for the fish to recover from my amateur casting but it had gone down until dawn.
I walked slowly back to Keeper’s Bridge but the Mayfly hatch was dwindling and I saw no further signs of activity. The fish had been feeding confidently, I had kept well hidden and my casting was accurate. Not many afternoons on the river go according to plan but it is very satisfying when everything clicks into place. On the way home the storm broke. Thunder, lightning and summer rain cleared the air. A memorable day.