25 October – Keepers Bridge

I walked part of each Beat trying to assess my chances on what might be my last visit to the river until next season. The sun was warm and I took my time strolling along the river bank waiting for a fish to show. The weir pool was full of turbulent grey water and looked dead. I was not impressed. At Rotherbridge the water was a lot clearer but there were no signs of life. I walked downstream to investigate what looked like a rise but it turned out to be a Little Grebe. A few fish had been caught at Keeper’s Bridge but although I stood and willed a fish to move, the water was flat calm. I remembered the Impossible Trout in the wooded area below Keeper’s Bridge and decided to spend a leisurely afternoon trying to winkle one out from under the trees. I visited Taylor’s Bridge and walked down to the Shallow Pool but saw no signs of fish. I was confident that Keeper’s Bridge was the correct choice.

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I was comfy in a big Musto coat and walked slowly across the bridge and downstream towards the pair of Alder trees that would hide me from the fussy Trout. The warm Autumn sun was on my right and as I leant against the tree trunks, I cast no shadow. A fish rose under a low hanging branch which was encouraging. I chose a lightly weighted Black and Copper Spider which sunk slowly, dragging the leader through the surface film. I cast through a letter box formed by rushes and Alder branches. The fly landed close to the trees on the far bank and drifted down and across. I worked the tree line for about thirty minutes them moved to the other side of the tree trunks. After a couple of casts the line felt heavy and I lifted into a fish that stayed deep. It was a long, lean hungry-looking Trout that glowed gold in the low Autumn sun. I was relieved to have caught a fish, I wanted to end the season on a high.

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After returning the Trout I went upstream and spent a few minutes exploring the pool below the Alder tree where, on a previous visit, I’d lost a good fish in the roots. I saw a fish rise about fifty yards upstream in the shadow of another Alder. I knelt above the rise and was careful to work the fly gradually down the far bank, I didn’t want to line the Trout. It came up in a big swirl and took the fly. It was a plump fish and in great condition.

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Content with two fish, I wandered back to the bridge, stopping occasionally for a few half-hearted casts under likely looking bushes. I wanted to stay at the river and take a few photos of the sunset but a big grey cloud built up above the tree line and obscured the sun. There would be no sunset. Cold weather with Arctic winds had been forecast overnight and the angry evening sky looked wintery. I had an urge to fish the riffle but as I got there I saw another member on the opposite bank. I retreated downstream to give him room.

As I wandered towards the broken gate I heard a fish rise behind me. I turned and saw a small circular ripple near the far bank at the end of the Sandy Pool.  I thought a vole had dived into the remains of the streamer weed but went back to make sure. A small Trout seized the fly on the third cast and immediately jumped. It tangled the fly line and dived into a snag on my side of the river. I twitched the fly line loose and bent the rod from the butt to bully the fish into open water. It was a wild fish that nearly sneaked out of the hole in my landing net. It was very silver, a stark contrast to the stocked fish.

I had been in a relaxed mood all afternoon and was happy to have caught three fish. The river looked beautiful and I had ended the season well, the trip would remain in my memory until next April.

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20 October – Autumn Wood Magic

The river level had dropped but it was a little coloured and out of bounds because the pheasant shooting had started. As I drove into the top of the Estate I noticed that the fields were devoid of any bird life. No pheasants, kites, pigeons or crows. There were no cormorants at the lakes. I hoped that the regular shooting throughout the winter would keep them away. The sky was blue and cloudless. There was no wind, a ridge of high pressure had settled over the south of England. The river would be perfect on Monday.

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I decided to fish at Little Bognor, the woods looked lovely in the soft Autumn sunshine and it was quiet. I had both lakes to myself. A couple of large Trout were cruising on the surface in the shallows, occasionally swirling at buzzers. They looked about 3lbs. I crept across the grass towards the fish but they moved away, very spooky fish.

I sat on the mossy bank behind the ferns. The crunchy Beech mast was a bit uncomfortable but it kept me off the damp soil. Fish cruised past and I tried all the usual patterns without success. Several fish saw the flies but rejected them, leaving a swirl or bump in the water to register their distaste.

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I moved towards the shallows and hid beside the trunk of a Beech tree. The two big fish were exploring the shallow water, probably feeding on bloodworm in the mud or buzzers as they rose to the surface. Casting was awkward and the fish avoided various flies. An exceptional cast dropped a lightly weighted fly just behind one of the monsters. It’s reaction took me by surprise, the fish turned on the fly and I lifted too soon. The two big shadows moved up the lake and I followed along the opposite bank.

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At about 3:00pm as the sun sank and the shadows stretched across the entire lake, the surface came alive with feeding Trout. They were swirling and delicately sipping buzzers. I tried a black buzzer, a Neoprene Buzzer and finally a size 14 Adams. Fish swirled very close to the fly, taking naturals, but were not fooled by my imitation. A few fish boiled immediately underneath the dry fly and had obviously seen it but as usual the tippet was visible. I cast to a rising fish which immediately took the Adams. It wasn’t a monster. While landing and releasing the little Trout the rise continued. I cleaned the fly, dried it and quickly recast. As soon as the fly landed a fish rose but my enthusiasm resulted in another early lift of the rod.

The rise ended after forty five minutes and as the air was cooling, I decided to leave. The fishing had been difficult but the Autumn colours reflected in the lake and the magic of the old Beech trees had eased my frustration with the Trout. There is a mystical atmosphere at Little Bognor that is not found at the other lakes. I nodded goodbye to the gnomes as I drove away.

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13 October – Great Springs

After the storm I thought the river would be high and dirty but peering through the railings at Rotherbridge, I could see the last fragments of weed and a few Dace flashing on the sandy bottom. I even saw a Trout rise upstream of the bridge.

Great Springs looked great. The water was crystal clear and the marginal weed had shrunk in sync with the shorter daylight hours. The weather was weird. A hot southerly wind blew from the Sahara, drawn up by a dip in the Jetstream. The sky was grey and threatened rain.

I was in two minds about fishing the emerald green lake. It reminded me of the old brick works except for the scenery, no sunken cars or rusty rail tracks. The dappled sky and Autumn colours made up my mind, I would catch a few rainbows. The cold grey river could wait until next week.

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The strong wind swirled around, disturbed by the tall trees so I started at the southern end of the lake. I rolled out a black fly with my left arm and with considerable wind assistance, was able to work the edges of several small weed beds. I expected a tight line every cast but after thirty minutes I hadn’t had a take. I walked around the eastern edge of the lake and sat on the little wooden seat. I let the wind do the work. The fly drifted in an arc along the edge of a big weed bed where, several years ago, I’d caught my biggest brownie. There was a bang on the rod but it was far to quick for me to react.

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I felt the presence of Trout and saw a big shadow drift past but the line remained slack. All the experts advise fishing into the wind but it’s hard work with a long, light rod. I moved to the point and sat facing the wind with deep water only a few yards away. I fired a small black spider under the wind, fan casting around the point. There was a lull in the wind and I cast South to where a fish had swirled. As soon as the fly landed there was a very confusing, splashy take and the rod bent. I imagined a foul hooked fish but after a long spirited fight, I landed the smallest Trout in the lake. The tiny hook dropped out of it’s mouth into the landing net.

A few minutes later I cast towards a pale shadow and hooked another fish but it wriggled free after a few seconds. Although the wind was easing my aching arm became a problem and I retired to the fishing hut for tea and biscuits. Just two biscuits. The Trout was a perfect size for eating and tasted lovely. Poached, with a little lemon juice, brown bread and butter plus a chilled glass of white wine. Perfect.

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8 October – Taylors Bridge

After my last frantic fish catching visit to the river, I thought a more leisurely afternoon was appropriate. The river season would end in three weeks and I wanted to see the wilder stretch of river above Taylors Bridge before then. The weather was unusual, a warm wind from the south-west with a threatening overcast. The jet stream was drawing warm air up from Africa and the forecast was for 23 degrees mid-week. Summer in September.

I signed in about 2:30pm and wandered upstream towards Ladymead. The pool looked good, there was a mixture of leaves decorating the sandy margin and the water had an attractive bottle green tint. I searched the pool with a weighted black and silver spider for longer than necessary, convinced that a Trout would grab the fly. The pools upstream of Ladymead were devoid of streamer weed and I explored a few, losing only one fly in a tree. As the depth of water reduced so did my expectations of finding a Trout. On an impulse I turned and walked downstream towards the bridge.

The deep stretch by the cricket-bat Willows failed to produce a take. So did the deep hole just above the Shallow Pool. I hid behind the dying rushes at the top of the new cattle drink and worked the fly across the pool. A small wild fish grabbed the fly and despite its aerobatics didn’t shake the hook. The silvery little fish wriggled back through the weeds and dashed into deeper water. Having caught a fish I felt relaxed. The pressure was off.

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The deep water on the long bend swirled around and folded into seams. The wind drew cats paws across the surface and I was confident that a Trout was hiding down among the rotting streamer weed. I cast, let the line swing round and took a step along the bank. Just like Salmon fishing. It took half an hour to cover the entire pool and by then I had lost concentration.

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I walked back and spent a few minutes searching the patches of sand above the bridge for any signs of a Trout. There were none. Below the bridge the water was grey, shaded by the Alder tree. I thought about having a few casts but decided to leave.

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The afternoon had been more relaxing than I had planned. I had caught a lovely wild Trout but I had not convinced one of the shy monsters to visit me on the bank. I had seen the wilder side of the river and I was content.

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4 October – Rotherbridge

I was a grey day, a stark contrast to Monday. A gentle breeze from the South barely managed to move the slightly broken overcast. It was warm, humid and perfect for fishing. As I toured the Estate I needed to use the windscreen wipers but the roads were dry and I didn’t bother with a jacket. I saw seven Red Kites on the newly sown fields at Stag Park, one large pale specimen looked like an eagle but lifted off and moved away when I stopped the Defender to take a photo.

As I approached the river at  Rotherbridge a Cormorant flapped off downstream which was annoying. I thought it would fly to Coultershaw. I peered through the railings and saw a shoal of Trout and lots of coarse fish. The fish looked like Roach or small Chub about 8ozs. I thought the wretched bird had forced them upstream into the cover of the bushes and weed beds around the bridge. The water had a grey tint but I could clearly see the Trout as they moved over the sandy bottom. I decided to return after visiting the other Beats.

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I returned about an hour later and the Cormorant was in the pool above the bridge. It flapped off upstream as soon as it saw me. I was fed up chasing the Black Death around the Estate and was inclined to abandon the river. From the centre of the bridge I was surprised to see the same shoals of fish moving around. Perhaps the predator had arrived only a few minutes before me. I set up my rod and chose a size 14 copper ribbed Black Spider. It would be visible in the slightly coloured water and would sink quickly, concealing the tippet. It was also small enough for the Roach to take.

My first cast over a patch of sand in mid-river produced a flash of gold and a wrench on the rod. One of the biggest fish in the group had seized the fly. It was a very strong fish which dived into several weed beds. I thought about “Trout for dinner” but after a long, tough battle I didn’t have the heart to kill the fish and returned it to the chilly water. It was a lovely looking Trout about 3lbs and very long. I was about to leave the pool when another fish rose under the Willow on the far bank. Several casts later that fish also took the fly and fought hard. I realised that these were new fish, probably stocked earlier in the week.

I moved upstream to the New Riffle and trundled the spider through the tail end of the pool. There were a couple of bald patches in the algae on the stones which looked like Sea Trout scrapes. Not redds, they have gravel humps. I had no response at the riffle and remembered the shy fish that lived in the pool by the landing stage.

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The resident Trout conveniently rose as I approached the pool, it was a very aggressive rise. I flicked the spider out into midstream and a fish followed it to the bank but wouldn’t take. I dropped the fly behind the weeds near the trees and the fish followed it twice but sheered away at the last moment. I changed the fly to a bigger, heavy silver and black spider. I let the fly sink and then slowly raised it. A big fish grabbed the fly, not the Trout that had followed the smaller fly. It dived deep and made the reel scream. It was the resident fish that I had targeted. It was a long lean fish with a big head and a slightly hooked lower jaw. He had been in the river for a few months and looked annoyed. I put him back and wondered if I would see him again next season.

I felt as if I had fished a different river. Saturday had been bright and windy, the fish had been difficult. This afternoon had been still and warm, the fish had co-operated.

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