21 June – Summer Solstice

I started Trout fishing on the River Brede around Sedlescombe when I was a teenager. I usually started at one of the bridges and worked my way upstream crawling under bushes and lowering a float fished worm into the pools. The fish were small but I occasionally caught one big enough to eat. On the way home I called at the Silverhill off-licence for a bottle of Watneys Pale Ale to drink with my pan fried Trout and brown bread.

In the Summer of 1975 I went to Weirwood Reservoir at Forest Row for my first proper fly fishing trip. I well remember that first day at Weirwood. My parents dropped me at the fishing lodge and I stood looking at 280 acres of reservoir. I was alone on the gently sloping concrete slipway infront of the fishing lodge surrounded by boats and ropes. It was intimidating and unlike any lake I had fished. It had waves.

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I opened the door to the ticket office and a tall angry looking man scowled at me. He resembled Robert Shaw in ‘Jaws’. Ken Sinfoil, the inventor of Sinfoils Fry, was the water bailiff and he didn’t suffer fools. I explained that I had never fished with a fly and his mood immediately changed. He was friendly and very helpful. He told me to walk across the dam, along the North bank and to fish from the point by the electricity pylon. It was a long walk across the dam and I was exhausted when I reached the gate at the end of the concrete embankment. The North bank was deserted, I was grateful that my first attempt at fly fishing would be unseen.

I had practiced my casting on the lawn for several years and had been tying my own flies for even longer. I’d posted some flies to John Veniard for appraisal and he had been kind enough to write back and complement my early efforts. I had built a rod from a Hardy Jet blank ordered from Jack Frosts in Crawley. It could be described as ‘through actioned’ but it was just floppy. It also had a distinctive set.

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Ken told me to use a black lure but I preferred a white lure made from genuine polar bear fur. I cast as far as I could across the south westerly wind and drew the line back towards me not knowing what to expect. There were several knocks on the line but I assumed it was weed. Eventually a knock resulted in a fish hooking itself and I landed a small rainbow. Success on my first trip. As I unhooked the fish there was a swirl about twenty yards from the bank, a very big fish had moved. I quickly recast as far as my rod would allow, into the flattened water, pulled the line and was shocked when the rod banged over. Chaos ensued, the fine wire Aberdeen hook I’d used to tie the fly kept it’s shape and after a long battle the giant fish was netted. To me it looked huge, it was a brownie about 2lbs.

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I took a photo of the two fish. I didn’t expect to catch another but in the afternoon a small rainbow hung on to the lure taking my tally to three. I went back to the fishing lodge and proudly showed Ken my fish. He was impressed and told me the brownie might be fish of the week. I thought I’d mastered the art of fly fishing. However, despite many return trips to Weirwood that year, I didn’t catch another Trout. The homemade rod served me well but a few years later, after a visit to Bewl Bridge, a friend strapped my rod to the roof of his car for the journey home and crushed the fibre glass.Β The rod remained untouched for over forty years. A few weeks ago I restored it. The crushed butt section was not as bad as I had thought.

I arrived at Great Springs at lunch time and wandered around with a mug of tea, looking for rising fish. I found a group of Trout feeding on buzzers and cut my tea break short. I assembled the old rod and threaded the green Rio line through the rings. Its colour was the only similarity to the cheap line I had used in 1975. The old Intrepid Gearfly was a very heavy reel and I threw it away years ago. The Hardy looked vaguely similar. I knelt on the grass and flicked a buzzer on a light tippet towards a cruising fish and after a few attempts, a good Trout took hold. I lifted the rod slowly and the fish didn’t react, it was unaware that it had been hooked. Then it woke up and went on several long runs. The floppy rod protected the light tippet. I was desperate to land the fish and played it gently. It was a rainbow about 2lbs and I took a photo just as I had done forty four years ago.Β I hooked another Trout but it dived into a weedbed and escaped. After a long lunch I caught another fish on a GRHE nymph from Little Springs.

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On the way home I reflected on the floppy old glass rod. How had I managed to cast a white lure twenty yards to a rising fish ? My casting must have been better than I remember. I had poached Trout with brown bread for tea and a Budweiser instead of a Watneys.

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