The river trout season in Sussex ends on 31 October. I could fish the club’s lakes until 30 November but I only had a week before I was due to return to Devon.
The morning was overcast and warm, ideal conditions for my final day on the river. I looked forwards to seeing the river again. However, as I drove over the North River at Billingshurst I saw that the Rother tributary was slightly up and muddy. As I walked slowly down the slope at Keepers Bridge some of my enthusiasm evaporated, the river swirled around the bushes and looked almost unfishable.
I was determined to catch a trout and started at the known holding lies around the bridge and alder trees. I cast into the trees, hooked bankside vegetation and generally messed things up. My spirits fell and the mistakes grew.
Mid-afternoon the sun broke through the overcast and I decided to fish into the sun along the north bank, to avoid throwing shadows. The highlight of the afternoon was a buzzard hunting inexperienced, young pheasants and a daylight owl calling from the dense woodland. The fish were deep in coloured water and were not interested in my nymphs and spiders.
I fished upstream to the Sandy Pool and downstream as far as the first bend. More tangles, poor casting and lost flies knocked my concentration and I found myself just going through the motions. Time to pack up. I collected a hat full of plump, sweet chestnuts, some to plant amongst a new hedgerow on the farm and the rest for the fireside in Devon.
A couple of days later I drove to Little Bognor via Bedham, along the lane through the magic trees past Brinkwells. Countryside unchanged in hundreds of years. Autumn in the sheltered valleys at Little Bognor was retarded, most of the beech and chestnut trees were still green.
The early afternoon sun burnt through the morning overcast intensifying the colours of the leaf litter. Fungi grew everywhere, close to the trunks of the trees, some in fairy circles. I tackled up and decided to start in my favourite place, under the beech and chestnut trees on the east bank. I chose my most realistic imitation of a buzzer and added it to the end of a long tippet.
I crept along the bank and flicked the buzzer into the margins over a fringe of ferns. A good fish bolted from under the bank, upset by the movement of my rod. The sunlight probably flashed on the varnish. I stood still for a few minutes and noticed a dark shadow moving very slowly to my right, well within casting range. I dropped the fly ahead of the trout and to my surprise it took the slow sinking buzzer without hesitation. It was a good fish, about two pounds. I gently coaxed it to my right and released it in the shallows.
The buzzer has a black neoprene body and white closed cell breathers. It sinks very slowly and in my opinion is a very good imitation of the trout’s main food item. The clear water from the spring at the top of the lake enabled me to see the shadows moving past. I cast to another fish and landed the middle of the tippet on a floating leaf, the buzzer hung about a foot below the surface and was again taken confidently. Minor tactics or cheating ?
Fish three and four fell to the same tactics. I missed a couple of takes and the trout drifted away to my left under the canopy formed by the overhanging chestnut trees. I crept along the bank and flicked the buzzer into the deep margins. I gradually extended the cast until it reached the fringe of the tree cover and a cruising fish engulfed the buzzer. Neatly hooked in the upper jaw.
My self-imposed limit of four trout had already been exceeded. I had been fishing for only an hour and it would be six months before I could fish again. I decided to carry on. I moved to the corner by the old quarry and cast without restriction, towards the overhanging branches. I hadn’t disturbed the fish and the tippet soon moved. I missed and smiled. It’s the take that counts.
After resting the fish, I fired a fast, low cast far under the branches and the buzzer was taken before I had time to tidy the fly line in my hands. It was a small dark fish which departed at speed when released from the landing net. On my way back to the car I couldn’t resist a couple of casts. I hooked two fish but they came adrift after a few seconds.
Greedy ? Probably but it had been a great way to end the 2022 trout season. What a contrast between the two days; a disaster on the river and a very satisfying afternoon at Little Bognor.