The 2018 season was eventful and if I had to sum it up with one word, I would say it was ‘memorable’. The extreme weather was frustrating but I particularly enjoyed fishing at Little Bognor and the river. The “Beast from the East” delayed the start of river fishing and the long, hot dry summer ruined the trout fishing on most of the lakes but despite the weather, I had many enjoyable moments.
At the start of the season I had several objectives in mind. I planned to reduce the wear and tear on my right arm by learning to cast with my left. After 40 years of casting badly I would have an opportunity to correct my wayward style. How hard could it be ? I used the first few weeks of the season to practice casting with my left arm and became quite proficient. As the season progressed I became ambidextrous but continued to use my right arm for tricky casts around bushes or under trees. It was probably just a lack of confidence.
I used the new Hardy Duchess reel that I bought from Peter Cockwill. I matched it with a cut-down Cortland 444 and it was excellent. I loaded the line onto the reel for right hand wind and reversed both ratchet pawls so it didn’t make a noise. I used it mainly on the river and it quickly became my favourite reel.
The catch and release experiment at Little Bognor enabled me to fish frequently without the embarrassment of dead but unwanted trout. I used March and April to learn new casting skills, test leader and tippet combinations and to experiment with new flies ready for the river which eventually became fishable in mid May.
The Mayfly hatch was interrupted by heavy rain at the end of May and dwindled away during June. I will always remember June 2018. I had a potentially fatal experience in the Land Rover when a wheel bearing seized on the way to the Orvis Day. Which I missed. June 15 was the centenary of Elgar’s first fishing trip to Little Bognor and I caught a brownie of 4lb 8ozs while rehearsing for the big day.
In July I christened my Bob Southwell cane rod which was immediately reserved for special occasions. The July temperature reached 35 degrees. I spent a memorable holiday in Rye, staying for a week at the Mermaid Inn, visiting the beach and some of my boyhood haunts. I was relieved when it rained at the end of the month and the Sea Trout started to run.
In August the river was refreshed by heavy rain and I enjoyed a memorable day on the top beat which had remained unfished since April. I didn’t catch anything but I deceived and hooked a good fish, in a difficult lie, with an upstream dry fly. It snagged me and got off but finding, stalking and hooking the Trout was extremely satisfying.
September was a productive month, the Autumn Equinox brought gales and heavy rain but earlier in the month the river had been in perfect condition. The mornings were chilly and the House Martins left for warmer climes. I had great sport with copper nymphs and dry flies, particularly a small sedge pattern. Quite a few Sea Trout were caught but I had resolved, at the start of the season, not to fish for them. Fishing a deep sunk lure would be hard work and boring. Moreover, I wasn’t comfortable trying to catch a fish that had survived a long journey to the sea and back.
In October I visited Little Bognor, Great Springs and the river. I caught fish from both the lakes and the river. It was a final tour of the Estate before the trip to Dartmoor and before the bad weather set in. October is usually the best month on the river and I had an excellent day at the start of the month, netting a big resident brown that had evaded capture. I finished the river season in the wooded section below Keepers Bridge where I caught one of the Impossible Trout. A great way to end my year on the Rother.
In early November a holiday on Dartmoor had interrupted fishing. The week away had enabled me to walk along the banks of the rivers Meavy, Blackbrook, Walkham and several tiny moorland streams. I didn’t see a single fish. Not even a minnow. Dartmoor in November is an evil place, devoid of tourists, dark and threatening. The rivers were fast and crystal clear unlike the Rother. I hung over the parapet of a tiny stone bridge contemplating a game of Pooh Sticks. Early next April I will fish the Derwent for the first time and in my mind, I practised running a weighted nymph through the turbulent pools below the bridge. I didn’t get a take.
In Sussex the late November weather was cold, wet and windy. I cleared the outflow on the lakes at Little Bognor a couple of times each week but the Chestnut and Beech trees shed their leaves faster than they were swept downstream. Each time I visited the lakes during November I saw fish moving but the frozen water troughs and the biting wind meant that the rod stayed in its tube. My season had ended on 25 October, the earliest ending for years.
Although I caught fewer fish than last year, I had more enjoyment. The catch and release experiment at Little Bognor meant that I didn’t have to worry about killing the fish and I also had the pleasure of seeing them swim away. Finding a rare pristine Southwell fly rod and celebrating the Elgar centenary were the high points of a very memorable season.