It was an early start, I arrived at Great Springs at exactly 9:00am as planned. The night had been cold and there had been a frost, the first of the Autumn. Mist was rising from the lakes and several fish were swirling. They had been stocked the day before, it was nice to see life in the lakes after such a punishing Summer when the Trout were wiped out.
I had breakfast and wandered around the lakes leaving a trail of green footprints in the white grass. The sky was clear blue and as the sun moved above the trees, the air temperature quickly rose. There was a big cloud of midges under the trees and by next week the Trout will be taking buzzers.
As I drove away from Great Springs the telephone cables were lined with hundreds of House Martins warming themselves in the sun. They poured away, left and right, across the fields as I drove past, reforming on the wires after I had moved on. There were several Red Kite on the stubble at Stag Park, searching for leather jackets. They looked like tall, scrawny chicken at a distance and were too hungry to fly away as I rumbled along the estate road. The massive fields at Little Bognor had been rolled and harrowed, it looked like a desert landscape.
I planned to fish upstream from Keepers Bridge, mainly around Perryfields, which had been very productive for me. Most members don’t venture up there because it is a long walk and it is difficult to access the river. I had developed a series of heavy flies so that I could explore the deep pools more efficiently. They were based on the Copper Nymph but I had exaggerated every aspect. The size 10 heavy hook and thick wire ribbing would send the fly straight to the bottom of most pools.
I had a few casts in the First Pool, walked on and had a fish follow the fly twice in the Sandy Pool. That was encouraging. I walked slowly up to the Old Riffle, pausing occasionally to look and listen for Trout rising. I watched the water above the riffle for a few minutes and a fish revealed itself. I tried the copper version, then silver and red. The silver fly attracted most attention but the fish, more than one, sheered away at the last moment. They were educated Trout, not fooled by such an obvious deceit.
I found a good fish rising upstream of the Cow Drink and dropped the silver version around a branch, close to the ripples. A few casts later the fish took the fly and fought very hard. I bullied it away from snags, confident that the heavy hook would hold. It swam away quickly from the landing net.
As I walked towards the bridge I saw a fish rise below the Four Alders and wondered if it was the fish I failed to catch a few weeks ago, it was in the same position. I crossed the bridge and walked along the tree line. I peeped from behind one of the four tree trunks but the fish was not where I expected. I eventually saw it in midstream below a clump of dying streamer weed. It was about a foot below the surface and holding position in the main current. It was just a pale shadow, not the fish I had seen before which was very dark. The cast was impossible. The Alder branches were low, the dead bankside plants were high and the river was narrowed by a bush on the opposite bank. It was a challenge. After a number of failed attempts, tangles and curses I managed to get a parachute Hares Ear in the water. The fish rose, inspected the fly and sunk back to its holding position. I tried an Adams and a Black Gnat with the same result. Only one in four casts actually resulted in a successful drift and I was running out of patience. I tied on a sedge pattern, a bit like a Walker’s Sedge only smaller, which landed perfectly first attempt. The fish rose, took the fly and bolted off downstream around the bend. The fly pulled out. I had to smile, it was a very well educated fish that deserved to get away.
While I had been sitting under the Four Alders plotting the Trout’s downfall, I’d heard another fish rising upstream. I walked back towards the barn and found a fish rising opposite the stile, under a tree branch close to the far bank. There was a line of thick bushes on my side so I re-crossed the bridge and sat on the wet grass to watch the fish. It had moved into midstream a couple of yards below another branch trailing in the water. I tried casting both sides of the branch but the fish would not move upstream for the fly. I thought a cast well past the branch, upstream of the trailing twigs might work. I launched a long cast, the leader drifted onto the branch and the fly swung across the current. To my surprise the fish swirled and took the fly. I hurried the fish through the branches and into clear water. For once everything had gone to plan.
I returned to the pool above the riffle and saw a fish rise between two clumps of rushes near the far bank. I put the sedge fly down in the gap and the fish immediately swirled but refused. It rose and refused on three more occasions. The fly was tatty so I changed it for a fresh one, the fish rose and took the fly in a big gulp but I lifted too soon. A fish splashed a few yards upstream. I crept behind some weeds and put the fly over the Trout which was not at all fussy and took with a bang. After landing and releasing the fish I crept back to the fussy fish. I flicked the line into the water at my feet and as I was lifting off to cast across the river, a fish rose to the fly with a big splash and disappeared towards the lip of the riffle scared but not hooked. I was tired from walking and my nerves were shattered from an evening full of elation and disappointment. It was a good time to leave the river. It had been an exceptionally good day.