15 June – Fishing with Elgar

Traditional fishermen were preparing for the start of the new coarse fishing season on Sunday but my mind was full of Trout and music. Plus single malt and fruit cake. A refurbished rod and a time capsule from my early childhood were also in the mix. Such a lot to mull over. A relaxing morning at Little Bognor would clear my head. It was a day for messing about. Vintage, slow action split cane and an old Hardy reel were suited to the occasion.

A hundred and one years ago, very early in the morning of 15 June 1918, Sir Edward and Lady Alice had walked through the woods from Brinkwells and had fished for Trout in the lake at Little Bognor. His letters and Lady Alice’s diary, revealed the details of their first trip to the lake with a fishing rod. Last year I celebrated the centenary by catching a fish from the lake and had vowed to return every year. My diary entry had subsequently been published in Fly Culture magazine.

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I tried to listen to Elgar’s cello concerto on the way to Riverhill but the music stopped every time a bump dislodged Fuse 3. Moreover, the rattle of the diesel engine and booming of the aluminium panels spoilt the ambiance. I felt under pressure to catch a Trout. Sir Edward had caught three but he was probably using worms and my reconstruction of his day involved nymphs and dry flies.

I arrived at the lake early, it was just after 10:30am, well before lunchtime. I said ‘hello’ to the gnome effigy of Sir Edward. The stone carving of Lady Alice had been stolen last Autumn.Β I acknowledged Rex Vicat Cole’s ancient Spanish Chestnut tree which he had sketched over a hundred years ago. It was dead when he drew it and the tree had somehow escaped the foresters chain saw. I wondered if a Tree Preservation Order could be made on a dead tree, probably not.

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Fish were rising everywhere, taking small white flies. I sat quietly behind the fringe of ferns and dropped a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph near several cruising fish. A Trout flashed golden brown and the leader twitched but I was too slow.Β The breeze got up and made casting from under the Beech trees tricky but the short fly line and 14 foot leader found its way through the letter box of branches and ferns without snagging.

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I changed to a dry fly with a pale yellow body and short hackle. A Trout inspected it carefully and rolled away. A few casts later there was a good take, I lifted into the fish and enticed it into the shallows to avoid scaring the others. The tippet was putting a lot of fish off. I let the fly sink slowly and twitched it to attract attention. The leader moved and a second fish was eventually released from the landing net in the shallows. The pressure to catch a Trout to mark the anniversary had eased but I thought it would be nice to catch three Trout, just like Elgar 101 years earlier.

I swapped rods, used a lighter tippet and moved around the lake covering fresh fish. I missed quite a few good takes, mainly because of distractions. Heavy rain arrived and two fish suddenly seemed sufficient. I called in at Great Springs on the way home, had a chat and some yummy cake. All was well with the world.

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