1 June – Keepers Bridge

I had tied some detached body Mayflies. The ultra fussy Trout I had encountered on my last two trips meant that I had to up my game. Too many fish had risen to the fly, inspected it and turned away in contempt. I could imagine the mixture of fishy disgust and hilarity at my crude imitations. Presentation had also been an issue, the tippet was visible in the surface film which was thick with pollen and dust. In a slow moving river the Trout do not hold a position facing upstream, they wander around and approach a dry fly from any direction. A finer tippet was not the answer, it would not hold a 2lb+ Trout away from the tree roots and streamer weed. I went armed with a pot of degreaser so that I wouldn’t have to scrabble around for dock leaves or mud.

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The afternoon started with a beer at The Badgers, the map was spread and a plan agreed. I walked along the South bank upstream from Keeper’s Bridge looking for rising fish. I stepped over the electric fence into the shade of the first Alder tree and in the absence of any surface activity, flicked a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph across the river. I twitched it back in an arc, just avoiding a bit of streamer weed. I was convinced the deep shade held a fish. Sure enough, a fish rose to my left, upstream, behind the tree. I changed to one of my prototype Mayfly, cast up and across and allowed the fly to drift along the far bank. The fish rose vertically and gulped but missed the fly. It looked suspiciously like a Chub.

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I slowly made my way upstream to the Old Riffle, expecting to find a fish in the pool above the fast water but the surface was undisturbed and the wind was against me. I moved on. The Wide Pool looked lifeless, I left it for the return journey. The water meadows came alive in the late afternoon sun. The high wispy clouds cast a bright but hazy light. Just like old fashioned net curtains. It was hot and humid and every flying biting insect was active. The Jungle Formula failed to do what it said on the tin.

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I drifted a Mayfly under the branches below the Cow drink, nothing. I wondered if the monster Trout was still in the shallow run below the bridge at Perryfields. I stood in the middle of the bridge peering down into the green, cloudy water. I studied a wavering shadow for a while, reluctantly deciding it was just a fish shaped weed frond. On the return journey down the North bank I had the advantage of the breeze behind me and the sun in my face. A few Spinners formed a cloud near an Alder tree and the breeze began to fade.

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A fish dimpled the surface of the cow drink, under the branch that divides the pool. I chose an extended body Mayfly and presented it without getting tangled, in midstream well above the rise. The fly drifted under the branch and swung in towards the near bank. I glanced across the river, selecting a gap in the trees for my next cast. As I looked back, ready to lift the line, I saw a rise where the fly had been and tightened into an unlucky Trout. If I had been paying attention, I probably would have tightened too soon. It felt like a wild fish but as it came into the shallows, it woke up and went on a long run downstream. The tiny hook which had caught in the corner of its mouth, in the scissors, was easily removed and the fish sped off towards the deeper water.

I saw another member downstream, on my bank, so I left his water alone. As I was passing unseen, I bade him ‘Good evening‘. Surprised, he turned to reply and missed a take. Oops. It was nearly 6:00pm and I made my way back towards Keeper’s Bridge to swap beats and to have a rest.

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After a glass of water I shed my waistcoat, the heat was unbearable and I already felt tired and dehydrated. The bluebell wood was cool and the smell of wild garlic was very strong. When I returned to the river I was surprised to see several fish rising under the line of Alder trees, they were gulping down Duns and flashing under the surface, taking Mayfly nymphs. I had a toffee, tied on a new fly and cast it gently into the swirls. It was immediately taken and while battling with the Trout, fish continued to rise under the trees.

I returned the lively fish and moved downstream a few yards. For the next hour I chased Trout, moving up and down the stretch from the bridge to the first bend, casting and missing. I rested that stretch and moved to a bend above the Tree Tunnel. The group of fish I had found on my previous trip were still there, rising for Duns. As I sat checking the tippet and tying on another new fly, the herd of Sussex cattle walked along the edge of far bank and stood watching me. The Trout disappeared. I degreased the tippet and waited ten minutes. A fish rose, I cast, there was a big swirl but the fly was rejected. Several times I saw fish rise or flash under the fly but they were not fooled into taking.

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I went back to the bridge and watched three swans flap and paddle the water for a hundred yards. It was like the deck of an aircraft carrier except they didn’t get airborne. That trashed the entire stretch of river. I had to wait a long time for the Trout to recover, the rises were intermittent. I dibbled a Mayfly over a bush, high sticking to keep the tippet off the water. A small Trout tried to grab the fly but I lifted too soon.

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The hatch stopped at about 9:00pm and we adjourned to The Badgers to rehydrate and to celebrate our score, two fish each. Unfortunately, in the UEFA Champions League Cup Final, Spurs couldn’t match our success.

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