29 May – Perryfields

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.

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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.

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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.

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25 May – Keepers Bridge

The roasting hot weather kept me off the river until 5:00pm. I checked Rotherbridge but it looked lifeless. When I arrived at Keepers Bridge there were already three cars parked in the shade and I was tempted to fish the top beats. I wandered down through the woods and watched the river. I saw a couple of fish rise and that made up my mind, there was no point in fishing elsewhere.

The Mayfly hatched sporadically and most of the duns made it to the trees. The rises were not consistent. A fish would rise a couple of times and then disappear. There were a few female spinners depositing eggs, rising and dipping to the surface on a slow journey upstream.

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I sat on the grass and peeped over the marginal fringe of weeds where I had seen a fish rise. I waited for twenty minutes but it didn’t show. I heard a splash and saw a good fish rise just below the bridge in the shade of the rushes close to the far bank. I moved downstream and waited for the fish to rise again but the surface remained unbroken.

After about thirty minutes the fish took a Mayfly dun in the shadow of the bridge. I flicked a detached body imitation slightly upstream of the swirl. Several gentle casts later it slashed at the fly and I lifted into a good Trout. I kept it out of the the tree roots but when it was ready for the landing net, I discovered that the telescopic extension would not lock in place. I climbed down under the bridge to water level and netted a very annoyed looking fish which departed with a determined flick of its tail. It was my first fish from the river this season. I modified the landing net handle under my right wellie so that it would not extend.

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I found a fish in the pool by the broken gate, recently mended, and adopted a sit-and-wait approach. I covered a rise but there was no response. The angle of the sun and the coloured water made it difficult to see if the fly had been rejected. I found several other fish in the pools upstream but none of the fish could be tempted.

The Barn Owl was hunting in the water meadows and a young Buzzard drifted low overhead from the woods behind me. I was tempted to wait another hour to see the sunset but I was too tired and dehydrated. I had also eaten all my toffees. It had been an interesting evening and I was relieved to have caught my first 2020 Trout from the Rother.

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21 May – River Itchen

I had been dreaming about the Itchen for six months. My last visit in 2019 was a one-off but it had been such a revelation that I had immediately taken a Rod for the 2020 season.

Nothing could be left to chance, my gear was cleaned and sorted. Repeatedly. A route map had been downloaded and a picnic hamper prepared. I set off with enough clutter for a family holiday. I had a full tank of diesel and plenty of toffees. A gentle south-westerly and clouds had been forecast, everything looked set for a memorable day. My expectations were high. A quiet day, beside gin clear water, a couple of nice  Trout and a relaxing lunch.

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I arrived about 10:00am by which time the clouds had burnt off and the cool start to the day had turned into a baking hot morning with a breeze from the Sahara. I walked the beat, keeping out of sight, using the bushes and trees to hide from the spooky fish. The lack of clouds and con trails allowed the sun to penetrate down to the gravel, revealing monster fish, most of which were chub. I watched a six pounder on a patch of gravel occasionally pick up a shrimp or rise to intercept a passing nymph.

The water was fast and there was a lot of surface debris from the Willow trees. The fluffy seeds floated downstream amongst the froth from the riffles. It would be difficult for a fish to lock on to a dry fly.

This was not a day for messing around. I set up my rod and loaded my pockets with essential toffees. Intense concentration would be the order of the day with occasional breaks for food and drink. I spent an hour trying to tempt Mr. Chub from his patch of gravel, side casting from under a tree. Each time I managed to get the presentation right the fish melted away into deeper water.

I eventually found a feeding trout and presented a selection of tasty morsels. It rose, quickly checked out the series of flies and rejected them all. After each rejection I browsed my fly box for inspiration thereby giving the fish time to relax. A dark brown detached body Mayfly spinner eventually deceived the trout which dashed off downstream at an alarming speed and dived into a weedbed. Much laughter and tugging resulted in the capture of my first fish of the day. It was a wild trout about 1lb. I was surprised at how hard it had fought and wondered how I would control a trout four times the size.

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The bodywork of the car was too hot to touch so I stood in it’s shade while having lunch. Quiche, warm sausage-and-bacon roll and ice cold orange juice refueled me and put me in a positive mood. It was too hot for wine or beer, I would have fallen asleep. Lunch over, I wandered around the beat searching for trout but the sun was high and they were all hiding under the weeds. I bothered a group of chub in a whirlpool on a bend. They all ignored my flies while continuing to intercept nymphs. I had a short siesta and moved upstream for the evening rise.

As I knelt under a Hawthorn taking photos of a resting Mayfly spinner, a good fish rose several times just upstream of a Willow bush. A passing swan put the fish down but my patience was rewarded when, fifteen minutes later, it resumed feeding. I flicked out what I thought was a good imitation of a spinner, the fish exploded through the surface like a missile and thrashed about before seeking deeper water under the Willow. I bullied the trout and kept it away from the tree roots. It was a pristine two pounder. I released the fish and compared my imitation to my photogenic friend on the Hawthorn leaf. I was embarrassed by my imitation which was an amateurish bodge compared to the delicate, symmetrical beauty of the real thing.

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I moved upstream on the opposite bank and saw a rise under the far margin. A well presented Quality Street sedge fooled the trout, a small wild fish. A couple of minutes later a Walkers Sedge accounted for another two pounder. I struggled to draw the fish upstream against the current and had to walk down to net it. As the light dimmed the fish switched on and I covered a few fish each of which went down. I rested them but when they came back on the feed the outcome was the same. Either poor casting or the wrong fly was to blame. Probably both.

I’d had a great day. I need to improve my casting, devise more realistic fly patterns and consider using stronger tippets.

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18 May – Rotherbridge

A cool breeze, baby blue sky and thin wispy clouds produced a light as intense as St Ives or St Tropez. Not ideal for trout fishing although it might encourage the Mayfly to hatch. I am usually so keen to get to the river that I am exhausted before the evening rise starts. To pass the afternoon away I messed about with an old telescopic landing net handle that I had found in a junk shop. I’d bought it for pennies because it was identical to the Efgeeco handle that I used as a boy. It was bent, not as telescopic as it used to be.

I arrived at Rotherbridge at 5:30pm and was immediately struck by the lack of any wildlife. It was quiet, no birds or insects and no rising fish. I ambled upstream, keeping well back from the river, looking for any signs. The river looked very tidy. The winter floods had washed the debris out of the low hanging branches and had scoured the margins. The water had a dark green tint and looked sterile.

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A flow deflector had been built in the New Riffle and a couple of members were fishing from the opposite bank so I moved upstream, pausing on the bends to observe the longer stretches of water. The fields to the north of the river had been wrapped in countryside-cling-film and the irrigation machines were spurting water on multi coloured salad crops. Madness.

I paid particular attention to my favourite fish holding places, the familiar Alder trees and back eddies where the sandy bank had collapsed. I stood beside the Overhanging Tree where I had always managed to winkle out a fish. After a few minutes a fish rose in the usual place, in the fast water along the far bank, under the lowest branch. It rose a couple of times, small splashy rises, it looked like a wild fish taking duns. My first couple of side casts were amateurish, I fired the detached body Mayfly low and hard and it landed heavily. Not a good start. I rested the fish then flicked the fly across the pool, close to the far bank. The fish rose, I lifted too quickly and cursed. My first take of the season botched.

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I walked back downstream and sat on the sand opposite another Alder at the head of a long pool. I had forgotten the toffees. As I was resting a spinner fell and perched on the electric fence behind me. While I was taking its portrait a fish rose at the end of a trailing branch. It took three Mayflies in quick succession and looked like a good prospect. I took much too long tying on a small spinner imitation and by the time I presented the fly the fish had stopped rising.

I waited patiently, occasionally drying the fly on my trousers, drifting it down the far bank but either the fish had swapped lies or I had put it down. I walked back to the bridge very slowly expecting to find a rising fish under the trees but the sun was low and the evening rise had finished. The evening had shown me that I needed to up my game for my first visit to the Itchen on Thursday. Basic errors would not be tolerated by the shy chalk stream brownies.

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14 May – Beat A and Little Bognor

I listened to a Ludwig van cello concerto with Jacqueline Du Pre during the drive to the river. I could listen to the music in the hushed cabin of the motorway-cruiser, chosen in order to boost the battery charge. The soft leather and air conditioning were a change from the noisy, drafty Defender. Normal noisy, drafty service would be resumed on Friday.

I was relaxed and hungry when I arrived at Ladymead. I had lunch on the tailgate in the bright sunshine. It was 1:00pm before I filled my pocket with toffees and wandered around the headland to the river. The water looked perfect and I stood on the bridge scanning the tail end of the skimpy weedbeds for signs of Trout. There were none. A kingfisher arrowed underneath me. The river was deserted, only the wind broke the silence.

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The pool at Ladymead had been rebuilt during the winter floods. A huge sandbank had appeared along the north bank and a sheer cliff scoured out on the opposite side. Hundreds of tons of sand had been moved about. The main current had increased in speed and a bar with a steep drop-off, ran the entire length of the pool. It looked like a good place for trout and chub. I worked a black spider down the pool and explored the upslope of the sandbank. I was tense, expecting a thump on the rod. Nothing. I wandered upstream and explored a few pools before deciding to spend the rest of the afternoon at Little Bognor.

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Southwell II, the ‘Chew Valley’, continued my #caneonly approach to slow fishing. The rod is lighter than its length would suggest. I don’t like short rods. It has a compound taper which gives a nice flick at the end of the cast and suits a light line. The lower lake at Little Bognor looked stunning and the tall trees reduced the strong wind to a flukey breeze. Perfect.

I sat in my usual place under the beeches and watched a couple of nice trout cruise along the margin sipping down midges. A few fish flashed under the surface, turning a golden brown as they rolled over an ascending buzzer. The fly choice was obvious. I slumped into the new ferns and flicked a slow sinking buzzer under a bush to my left. I was happy to wait for a cruising fish to return. Eventually a good fish took a buzzer close to my imitation. It looked at my fly, sneered and drifted away. The sunlight and ripples prevented me from seeing the leader at any distance from the bank. Fish were rising along the shaded west bank and the water was calm, it was time to move.

I crept along the bank and sat on the bone dry grass behind a clump of ferns. I drifted the buzzer from left to right in an arc about ten yards from the bank. Fish were moving but the leader remained slack. I swapped to a lighter tippet and almost immediately the leader slid under the surface. It was a dark overwintered fish about a pound which I returned. Presentation is everything.

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