A Very Important Parcel

Actually it wasn’t quite the parcel I had expected. I opened the front door to a young lady who handed me a fishing rod. In a canvas rod bag. No tube. No wrapping paper. No address label. Just a rod. It had travelled from the Midlands by courier totally unprotected. Imagine the Royal Mail . . .  No, it’s too horrible to contemplate. I was so shocked that I just mumbled something and shut the door. I should have hugged her and tipped her £10. In my dressing gown? Perhaps not.

I feverishly felt the rod bag for breakages, splinters and sharp bits of cane. It felt OK so I untied the ribbon and revealed the rod. It was perfection. The Holy Grail of English split cane. A very rare and collectable fly rod by Bob Southwell. Famous for his carp rods. Supplier to the great Richard Walker and B James. Moreover, if I had specified a custom build it would be fast action, ten feet and no frills. Exactly like the rod in my hands.

I examined it carefully. It bore all the hallmarks associated with Southwell. Dark cane, pressed nodes and a steely feel in the hand. Plus a label with the name of his father’s tackle business, J W Southwell. I felt privileged to hold a rod by the great man that was probably made around the time I was born.

I had a busy schedule and it was late evening before I could play with the rod. What to do? Should I use it? What line would suit the rod? Was it too heavy? I had a glass of wine and loaded up the rod with my favourite Hardy reel and modified Cortland 444. My first tentative cast on the damp lawn was surprising. The rod had a natural feel and curled out a straight line. It wouldn’t be hurried. Slow and accurate. It had the backbone for a longer cast but I ran out of lawn. I had another glass of wine and imagined a perfect evening on the river, with a perfect rod.

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The following day I loaded my tackle into the back of the Defender and drove towards Petworth. The roads were full of fast cars heading to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed. I visited the big Chub under the streamer weed at the Fish Pass and decided to leave it for another day. As I looked into the water below Rotherbridge a trout rose and disappeared back under the raft of rubbish collected by the Willow tree. On the other side of the bridge a nice Trout was finning alongside a small tuft of streamer weed. A shoal of good size Dace were feeding on a patch of sand. The Wealden Hunt were due to pass through Rotherbridge and the water loving pack of hounds would disturb the Trout. I headed towards Keepers Bridge.

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By the time I had set the rod up it was lunch time and the temperature was close to thirty degrees. I sat on the grass opposite the first Alder tree and curled a short line across the current. The action of the rod was slow but the length allowed me to delay the forward cast without catching the bushes. Lengthening the line helped balance the rod, it was best at about one river width which was very convenient. Over the next two hours I moved downstream, mainly casting with my left arm, exploring the weed beds and under the trees. I was happy with the rod and hoped to christen it with a Trout but the leader remained undisturbed. The sun was too bright. Nevermind, I enjoyed myself.

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12 July – Taylors Bridge

The weather had changed, the morning was overcast and the wind was cool. Perfect conditions for fishing. I didn’t want to leave the house, I was impatiently awaiting the delivery of a Very Important Parcel. I dragged myself away to visit the lakes and river Beats. I found a big grey shadow under a clump of streamer weed below the Fish Pass and a huge Trout at Rotherbridge. I eventually arrived at Keepers Bridge about 2:00pm. I had the river to myself and hoped for a relaxing stroll along the river without the pressure of catching a big Trout. A small one would be fine.

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I sat on the grass opposite the first Alder tree and watched the river. It wasn’t long before a fish rose under the tree. I crept towards the fringe of nettles and gently cast upstream of the ripples. I gradually extended the length of my casts and after a few minutes the fish swirled and was hooked. It fought long and hard, up and down the pool. I released it from the net and wondered which way to go, upstream or down ?

I had a toffee and decided to walk upstream but as I was about to leave, another fish took an olive or damsel fly off the surface under a nearby Alder tree. I didn’t have to crawl far. I checked the tippet and hook before flicking a thickly hackled fly into midstream. With each cast I extended the line a little, the Trout came up but I failed to connect. I quickly flicked the fly out again incase the fish was circling, looking for a missed meal. It rose again but I missed. I rested the fish for ten minutes and trimmed the stiff hackle on the underside of the fly. On the next rise he was firmly hooked and dashed downstream into the weeds on my side of the river. The Trout kept going, pulling the line through the overhanging plants and I was forced to follow. After much rod bending and untangling the line came free and the fish dashed back upstream to where we started and where I had left the landing net. The fish took a while to recover but eventually swam away, back into the weeds.

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I walked up to the Old Riffle and saw a fish swirl. The current in the smooth water above the riffle was strong and a dry fly dragged within seconds. I changed to a black spider and hooked a good fish close to the lip of the riffle but it shook the hook. I moved upstream to the Wide Pool hoping to avoid the embarrassment of hooking the tree. I had a few preparatory casts into the middle of the pool without hooking a tree and then had the confidence to cast upstream under the bushes. A wild fish about 6ozs took the nymph and was quickly returned. I wandered upstream but I couldn’t find a rising fish. I returned to the Old Riffle. There were several fish rising to olives so I switched to a size 16 Olive and allowed the leader to drop loosely to minimize drag. A fish looked at the fly but rejected it. I changed back to a black spider and hooked a fish which charged all over the pool, seeking out the tree roots on the far side and then dashing into the weeds under my feet. I bullied it into the net and released it carefully. It was about 2lb and in very good condition.

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I had enjoyed the afternoon and ambled back towards Keepers Bridge. The pub was calling but as I walked towards the bridge, I saw several fish rising. The rise forms were aggressive. The fish were attacking thousands of damsel flies hovering just above the surface and settling on the weed fronds. I couldn’t ignore the rises. I tied on a small black dry fly and flicked it into midstream. It was taken immediately but the tiny hook failed to hold the fish. I caught a Trout on an Adams and then another on the fly I had trimmed earlier. The last fish took all of my fly line and pointed me. I had to run along the bank to avoid a break. It was about 1lb 8ozs and was foul hooked under the jaw. If I had lost the fish, it would have weighed at least 3lbs.

It had been a very enjoyable afternoon. When I got home the Very Important Parcel had not arrived.

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10 July – Evening on Beat B

It had been three weeks since my last visit to the river. Our holiday in Rye had been an opportunity to visit Romney marsh and kindle some old fishing memories. Since fishing the Puddledock and the White Kemp as a lad, the marsh had been drained and these once great waterways were choked with pond weed and reeds. The irony is that sprinklers were drawing water from small reservoirs to irrigate the potato plants that have replaced the sheep. Madness.

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The roasting hot weather on Monday had moderated to a mere 25 degrees with a north wind and occasional cloud cover. I planned an evening visit to the river and as the broken Land Rover had returned from it’s expensive holiday at the local garage, I had access to the top beats. The river around Taylors Bridge had not been fished for at least a month and the bankside trees gave the fish shelter from the sun.

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I arrived at 4:00pm and decided to fish a few pools on my walk downstream towards Perryfields Barn. I ignored the shallow runs and pools, concentrating on the big beds of streamer weed and the shade under the Oak trees. I trundled a black spider, lightly weighted with copper wire, down the edge of the weed beds. At the pool below the gateway in the hedge there was a combination of thick weed beds and the shade of a large tree on my side of the river. The current was strong and it looked ideal. I gradually extended the cast so that the fly drifted back towards me, under the branches and deep alongside a weed bed. I kept extending the cast, taking a risk with the branches and allowing the fly to sink deeper. The line tightened, I lifted the rod and connected with a wild fish about 8ozs which I quickly unhooked and released. An hours fishing, one take and one fish. The plan was working.

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I explored the weed beds in the Shallow Pool and rolled out a fly under the trees at the Monster Pool. The horse flies were like F-35 stealth fighters armed with Novichok, they drove me from under the trees and along the open bank towards Perryfields.

I walked past the barn on the south bank where the openings in the tree line gave access to a series of holding pools. I had the river to myself and I hoped to fish all the usual places, downstream as far as the Old Riffle. The sun was low and directly behind me, I had to crawl towards the pools using the bankside ribbon of nettles and balsam for cover.

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I saw a fish swirl in midstream, it had attempted to snatch a damsel fly skimming the surface. Having found a good fish I was determined to stay at the pool and catch it. After several casts down and across the line drew away from me and I tightened into a good fish. The Trout jumped and skittered across the surface towards the tree on my right and into the roots. I staggered to my feet and wound down to the snag expecting the fish to shoot out into open water but the fly returned garnished with a twig. It’s always a surprise to me that a fish can shed a hook so easily.

I moved downstream to the next gap in the trees. A cast down and across then held, allowed the fly to swing in under the Alder tree on my right. I felt a little tap on the line and thought it was a wild fish. Several casts later the end of the fly line moved and I hooked a fish that stayed very deep and swam upstream. Just like a carp or barbel. It kept away from the snags and I eventually slid the Trout into the landing net. It had pulled well above it’s weight which was about 1lb 8ozs.

The pool was trashed so I moved downstream and in a similar pool, had a trout follow the fly but swirl away at the last moment. I found a fish rising at the top of the Wide Pool but after a couple of casts into the Alder tree behind me, it departed, unimpressed by my casting and my shadow on the water. I saw a couple of members working upstream towards me from Keepers Bridge and decided to retrace my steps. I tied on a dry fly and walked slowly back upstream hoping that the evening rise would start. I saw a few olives hatch but there was no response from the fish. I should have arrived later and stayed until dusk.

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18 June – Keepers Bridge

The river looked lovely. The caramel brown colour of the water, caused by fine sediment from run off, had been replaced with a green tinge. The streamer weed was just visible but was not fully developed, it’s growth had been suppressed by the cold Spring and muddy water. There were good channels between the immature weed beds which I wanted to explore with a nymph. I only had a couple of hours before a meeting at Great Springs and I therefore decided to focus my attention on the stretch above Keepers Bridge. Just as I arrived at the waters edge I saw a fish rise in midstream under the Alder tree. It was the type of rise that gives me confidence, not the splashy rise of a Sea Trout. It was a little swirl with a soft pop as the Trout took a fly. The fish did not rise again but I resolved to stay at the pool until I caught it, there was no point in moving.

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I used a lightly weighted Black Spider as I felt that the fish would be fairly deep. I worked the fly down and across, covering the water methodically. After half an hour I was starting to lose confidence so I shuffled along the bank a couple of yards and started another pattern of casting, covering water slightly further downstream. The take was very positive, the fish was strong and it was quite a while before I could draw it over the net. It was hooked in the scissors and weighed 2lb, a plump well conditioned Trout.

I ran the fly down the channels in the streamer weed growing on the shallows opposite the footpath. There is always a fish there and I was surprised not to get a take. The position of the sun was awkward, over my left shoulder. The blustery wind was downstream which didn’t help but at least the ripples hid the leader. I explored the shadows under several trees but the Trout were not interested. I was content with one fish and left the river to attend the Committee meeting. It was a short session but rewarding, the river was in good shape and had been kind to me.

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16 June – Little Springs

While having lunch at the clubhouse I chatted to another member about the fish in Little Springs and how to catch them. The Trout were no longer gulping down Mayflies, they were patrolling the margins looking for buzzers and emerging damsel flies. Yesterday I saw a small wild Trout leap vertically out of the water and snap at a hovering damsel fly. It missed. The fish was waiting close to the bank and jumped for another damsel a few minutes later. It missed again. My advice was to approach the water quietly, stay hidden and target passing fish with a small dry fly or black nymph. Continual casting scares the fish and they move away into the centre of the lake.

While drinking a cup of tea and munching on chocolate biscuits, I sat in the sunshine and thought about what I had said. I’d described a method of fishing which I had used to catch a few fish from several lakes. It worked for me. It’s easy to give advice but I thought I should validate my suggestions.

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I started with a long leader and a size 14 black spider and sat on the newly mown grass behind a screen of cow parsley and rushes. Several fish were cruising around the shallows on my left but the wind was blustery and it was difficult to see through the ripples even with polaroids. A Trout about 2lbs swam past and I dropped the fly about a yard upwind. It was ignored. I sat quietly and fish came close every few minutes. Some reacted to the fly by changing direction towards it but they all refused. I swapped to a lightly weighted black spider with a red hackle. That produced a response, the fish departed.

I moved around the lake to the opposite corner and found several large fish. They moved towards a size 14 Black and Peacock Spider and followed it but turned away at the last moment. I crept along the bank and sat  down well back from the water. I watched a procession of fish swimming past about a yard from the bank. Some showed interest in the fly, most ignored my offering. I crouched behind some tall rushes and looked along the margin, a fast moving fish was swimming straight towards me. I flicked the fly ahead of the fish and it was taken without hesitation.

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After a short but frantic tussle I netted the fish and returned to the clubhouse satisfied that my advice was valid. The wind was getting stronger, rain threatened and I decided to leave. It had been a pleasure to fish open water without overhanging trees.

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