Although the sky was cloudless and the sun intense, the cool easterly breeze kept the humidity down and the temperature was bearable. I had lots of cool drinks and a new bag of toffees, the scene was set for an evening on the river. I parked the Defender on the slope under the trees at Keepers Bridge to assist with a bump start should the electrickery fail. Again.
The ground was rock hard. Only 2mm of rain had fallen in May, a record low for the South East of England. The grass in the water meadows was sparse and failed to hide a small deer grazing between clumps of rushes. The Sussex cattle had not been turned out and I had both banks to explore without distraction. I paused at the end of the farm track and watched two members in the distance downstream of the bridge. Their presence reinforced my decision to fish upstream towards Perryfields on the south bank and return to the bridge on the opposite bank. A full circuit.
The grass along the edge of the river had been mown to the roots and there was little cover for stalking wary trout. The early evening sun cast long shadows forcing me to back away from the river into the field amongst the sheep. I moved slowly, scanning the water and listening for a rising fish. I waited at all the usual places, willing a trout to swirl at an emerging Mayfly. I stopped at the Old Riffle which had been altered by the winter floods, nothing moved. Sheep skylined behind me and wouldn’t move on, stupid creatures.
Further upstream I heard the familiar sound of a rising fish, under an impenetrable wall of Alder trees. I knew that I could cover the trout from the opposite bank and marked it down for the return journey. I remembered the shallow run at Perryfields and the monster I had seen in the streamer weeds below the bridge. My optimism was earthed by a three young people picnicking. It seemed a shame to disrupt their enjoyment of a Pimms beside the river in the the soft evening light and I moved further down the north bank towards the Four Alders. I was confident of a take but after casting into the tree behind me, tangling the line in the Cow Parsley and generally mucking things up, I moved on.
The Cow Drink always holds a fish, the water is not deep but there are lots of tree roots and the soft muddy bottom is ideal for Mayfly nymphs to forage. As I approached the pool a fish rose in the usual place, below the overhanging branches in midstream. It’s a tricky cast but I knew the angles and the distance from previous encounters. The fish rose again and I got down in the mud and sand, shuffling forwards on my ripstop cotton backside, ignoring the dirt. It would wash off. I chose a small detached body Mayfly spinner with iron-blue wings. A delicate pattern for a choosy wild fish. I was excited because I could picture the rise, the frantic fight and a wild fish in the landing net. The cast was good, the fly drifted perfectly with no drag but nothing happened. I let the fly swing into the side, lifted and cast again, slightly further, towards the far bank. Nothing. The next cast produced an explosive take which I missed. I don’t believe it. Unbee-lieeeve-able !
I rested the fish and lost the fly on the next cast which resulted in an extended rest. I thought the disturbed trout might have taken refuge in the tree roots and drifted a fly under the far bank a few times then switched to my side. The fish swirled under the fly but departed, not to be fooled again that evening.
It was a long walk back. I had worked hard but failed to convert the only opportunity. I’ll try again next week, the fish will still be there.