Each year since the centenary of Sir Edward Elgar’s first fishing trip to Little Bognor, I had remembered the day by catching a fish or two at the spring fed lake in the woods near his cottage. At dawn on 15 March 1918 Sir Edward and Lady Alice walked through the woods to the lake. I drove to the lake at 6:00am. Dawn was 4:45am, much too early for me.
I listened to Elgar’s cello concerto in E minor as I drove south, along the narrow Sussex lanes towards Fittleworth. It was his last major work. Lady Alice died in April 1920 shortly after the first public performance of the concerto and a lonely Sir Edward lost his creative spirit. He wrote the concerto while staying at Brinkwells, walking through the woods and fishing between bouts of inspiration. WWI changed Europe and this is reflected in his music. The slaughter and sorrow cast a shadow over the outcome of both the war and his music. The public didn’t like the music, Elgar was no longer fashionable. Jazz had replaced Rag Time as the dominant style. I don’t like jazz.
The hot weather was a problem. On the plus side, everyone had gone to the beach over the weekend and not much had been caught. I don’t like fishing in the early morning, the conditions deteriorate as the day warms up. Whereas, in the evening the chances of a fish improve with the passing of time. The plan was to catch a fish at Little Bognor and then visit the river before retiring to Great Springs for lunch.
Sir Edward probably used a float and a worm, I used a Bob Southwell creation that I had failed to christen on several previous trips. Using the rod was tempting fate but somehow carbon fibre didn’t suit the occasion. I used the Rio small stream line with an over rated front taper which I thought would match the compound taper of the old rod.
I tried the usual selection of buzzers, nymphs and dry flies. I had one tentative pluck at the line but I think it was a sunken twig. I remembered my last visit when the fly had to be presented to a rising fish. Prospecting didn’t work. Out of the blue a fish rose on my left, I flicked the nymph out and it was taken immediately. The Trout fought hard and I expected it to throw the hook but I carefully drew it towards the landing net and the pressure was off. Mission accomplished. Rod christened.
Fish started to rise all over the lake but I knew the feeding spell would be short lived so I packed up and drove to the river. The sunlight filtered through the woods and illuminated the path to the river. The early morning sun slanted across the river and everything looked good. While I was choosing a fly a fish rose several times beside an overhanging bush. I presented a parachute Pheasant Tail perfectly and was confident of a take. Nothing happened and the fish moved further downstream. It rose again and I pestered it with a couple of different patterns. It went down and I marked it’s position for later. I found another rising fish but that also disappeared.
I walked down to the New Riffle but as I went downstream the water clarity deteriorated and the riffle was decidedly muddy. On my return journey I tried the fish I had marked earlier and although it was still rising, it soon disappeared. I was hot and tired, the cars air-co was very welcome. The fields at Stag Park were full of black plastic bales, buzzards and red kites were circling over the tractor and baler. The Estate roads were fittingly lined with wild rememberance poppies.
The lakes looked beautiful but the water temperature was high and the Trout were distressed. I had a long lunch and walked around the lakes. A few mayfly were hatching, damsel flies covered the water surface and the marginal plants were alive with bees. Large dragon flies were feeding on the Mayfly as the duns headed for the trees.
I had achieved all of my objectives by 2:00pm. I was tired and looking forward to the journey home in a cold car. On the way home I listened to Elgar’s Enigma Variations, fourteen portraits painted in music during happier times at the end of the 19th century. The first Variation was for Lady Alice and the fourteenth for himself. His Enigma Variations were popular and established his reputation as a composer. They remain very popular, particularly Nimrod, the hunter or inept person depending on the context. Quite appropriate for me ! It had been a good day.