During the last summer of WWI Sir Edward Elgar could hear the heavy guns in northern France from his cottage at Little Bognor. A few days before his fishing trip on 15 June 1918, the German advance along the Matz River and subsequent counter attack at Compiegne, had resulted in 65,000 deaths. The War had a direct effect on Elgar’s music. His last major work, the cello concerto, was a lament for a lost world, it had an underlying tone of sadness and sorrow. I meant to listen to the piece on the way to Petworth but the rattling Defender shook a fuse loose.
On 15 June 2018, the centenary of Elgar’s first visit to the lake at Little Bognor with a fishing rod, I had reconstructed his day. A hundred years earlier he had caught three Trout but I had struggled to catch a single fish. On 15 June 2019 I had caught two Trout. Surely, this year I would catch three. As in previous years I planned to fish the bottom lake, the top lake had not been built in 1918. Early maps show only a stream running through a field and the old millpond that is now the bottom lake. I arrived in the middle of the afternoon and was pleased to see several fish rising for midges.
I thought it fitting to use a cane rod and a silk line, not that Sir Edward would have bothered with such niceties. He probably used a float and worms. I strung up Southwell II, “The Chew Valley” with the troublesome silk line and resolved to change the line if it was a handicap.
I took my usual seat on the mossy hump behind the ferns and waited for the fish to show. I didn’t have long to wait, after ten minutes the tippet slipped away and the first fish was hooked. I played it gently, leading it towards the shallows and netting it after a bit of a scrap. It was a great relief not to lose the first fish. It was not long before I lead the second fish into the shallows but the hook pinged out just as I drew the Trout towards the landing net. I didn’t panic, there was plenty of time.
I employed a minor tactic. Hanging the buzzer from a branch of the overhanging tree. Was that cheating ? It took nerve to aim my cast at the branch but all was well. A good fish confidently took the fly and charged off under the trees towards Fittleworth. I couldn’t give line quickly enough and again the fish was lost. After a short interlude a cruising fish took the buzzer and despite several spirited runs, found the back of the net. Two out of four is my historical average.
The Trout were becoming wary and retreated under the tree canopy further along the bank. I followed and lay down by the old steps. I admired Rex Vicat Cole’s long dead Spanish Chestnut towering over me and managed to tangle the landing net in several bits of tree debris. Fish were circling under the trees and a fish took the buzzer within seconds. It screeched off across the lake and I was sure that it would come unstuck. Despite my antics the fish joined the entangled branches in my net. Hurrah ! I had duplicated Sir Edwards achievement 102 years earlier. After a break I returned to the mossy bank under the Beech trees and waited for another take. The tippet moved twice but I missed both fish. When I did connect the fish made a long run under the trees and avoided capture. That was enough. I drove home happy and celebrated with several glasses of Port. I’m sure Sir Edward would have approved.