19 March – Little Bognor

Heavy snow and a cruel North wind spoilt the chances of most members hoping to fish the opening weekend. The lakes hadn’t frozen but the roads were too risky to venture far. Yesterday afternoon I de-iced the door locks and brushed the snow from the Land Rover but within an hour it was covered again. Browsing the Hardy catalogue over a warming brew was almost a substitute for fishing. I ordered some hooks and copolymer leaders but refrained from viewing the rod section.

I avoided the 9:00am school run and drove South, hoping that the forecast sunshine would reveal itself before I arrived at the lakes. It didn’t. Little Bognor looked like a Christmas card. The snow hid the mud and leaf mould and reflected the watery light like nature’s version of an LED strip. I wandered around the lower lake, keeping off the skyline, watching the Trout rising under the leafless tree branches. They were feeding, not just splashing about. I surprised the Heron as I approached the top lake. There were no fish rising, the water looked cold and lifeless.


I drove to Great Springs and walked around the lake, it was nearly full and looked good, plenty of fishy corners. Lower Figgs also looked good. After a chat and a coffee with fruit cake, I returned to Little Bognor. After my failed attempt at left-hand-casting I was determined to try again. My style was that of a beginner but after a few casts from the platform the line drew away and I hooked a trout. I hadn’t reversed the reel handle and it was therefore not entirely a left-handed-trout.


I returned the Trout and walked up the slope to the top lake. I interrupted the Heron again and found his lunch on a stone, a half dead frog stabbed right through. After ten minutes a fish swirled at my Black Spider. I fished above the Willow tree and a good fish followed the fly but sheared away, looking confused. I lined it with a poor cast and it dived out of sight. I returned to the lower lake but a lady member walking her dog was of the opinion that I was “quite mad“. I had to agree with her and packed up. As I left the sun broke through the overcast. It would have been nice to sit in the sunshine and tempt another fish but I was tired and very cold. After only a few days of catch and release the fish were quite spooky. Over the weekend 21 fish had been returned, none were retained. It’s going to get very difficult if that continues.


17 March – Opening Day

The weeks had ticked by slowly. Finally, the season started on the lakes. The river would have to wait a couple of weeks. Snow had been forecast. Lots of it. I had taken little notice of the previous snow warnings, the BBC always exaggerates bad weather.

Yesterday evening I attended the club’s AGM and had a chat with the other members about the prospects for the new season. The restoration of Lower Figgs and Great Springs had gone well and both lakes had been filled by the February rain. Everyone was in good spirits.

I had planned a training session for my left arm. Developing a good southpaw casting style could take years. It felt as if I was about to start fly fishing all over again. My first proper fly fishing trip had been to Weirwood Reservoir in the early ’70s with a home-made-Hardy. Ken Sinfoil advised me where to fish and I caught three trout, including a 2lb brownie. I thought I had cracked it but I failed to catch another trout for several months.


The morning was extremely cold with a blustery East wind. By 8:00am it was snowing, I was reminded of ice cold water and frozen rod rings on Opening Day at Weirwood. I visited Little Bognor, then drove to Great Springs for a cup of tea and a chat. The fields were bright, lime green and the Downs were dusky blue shadows. The snow storm got heavier and the landscape disappeared in a white out. Little Springs looked uninviting, the wind was driving the snow horizontally. I went back to Little Bognor where I hoped to find shelter. I sat in the Land Rover watching the snow, waiting for it to ease off.


Eventually I tackled up under the old Yew tree and crept along the bank to where several fish were moving. The first cast with my left arm caught in a tree behind me and I lost the entire leader. Not a good start. I swapped the reel and on the second cast, a bush grabbed the nymph. I moved to the open end of the lake where the wind and snow became a problem. The left handed casting lesson ended. I covered a few fish with a GRHE nymph but it was ignored. I tied on an unweighted Partridge and Amber nymph and targeted a group of fish under the bare branches of a Chestnut tree in the corner of the lake. It was taken and I released a small brownie near the outflow. I hooked another fish from the same shoal but it shook itself free. The ice in the rod rings was making it difficult to cast. I tried to take a photo of the ice but my iPhone gave a temperature warning and shut down. That was a message to pack up. As I drove away I put the heater on ‘Full’ but it sulked all the way home. Home made soup warmed me up.


Rother Valley

I wanted to see the winter floods along the valley. To see how high the water had risen and which trees had blown down. It was a cold, bright day with an evil North wind. A Big Coat day. The heater in the Land Rover was surprisingly effective and the drive to Petworth was quite comfortable. Except for the condensation dripping from the bare aluminium roof.


The view across the valley over my favourite gate at Riverhill was missing something. The clouds were impressive but the South Downs were obscured by a haze. I climbed back behind the wheel and for the umpteenth time, resolved to fit side steps. I explored the lane leading down to Fittleworth which revealed a spectacular view across the arable fields bordering the foot of the Downs. The clouds were moving fast and the suns rays raced across the fields. I stood in a sheltered corner for about an hour, warmed by the weak sunshine. I took over a hundred photos as the landscape changed from ‘bright green fields’ to ‘dark snow clouds’. It was only 2:30pm but felt like dusk.


I drove to Coultershaw Bridge and was surprised at the river level, the fields around Kilsham were all flooded. I paddled in the water but it was too dangerous, hidden ditches and wheel ruts barred my way to the fish pass. I didn’t need Wellingtons full of icy water. Any late departing sea trout had an easy journey to the estuary.


At Rotherbridge I looked upstream to the West, most of the landscape was under water. Several Alder trees were stacked alongside the river and the debris under the bushes had been washed away. I tried to imagine how the flood would reshape the sandy river bed. I wondered if the newly established Starwort would be ripped out.


I walked slowly towards the New Riffle through the fast flowing water. There were no signs of fish or ducks. I watched the river being cleansed by the floodwater. Branches, plastic bottles and weeds were on their way to the sea.


Rain or snow looked likely and the light was fading. I turned and splashed back to the bridge while I could still see where to tread. I stopped at The Badgers for a pint and to get warm before the journey home. It was reassuring to see the river, I will go again when the water level has dropped.


2018 Plans

It’s good to have some plans or objectives for a new season. My right hand, wrist, arm and shoulder are worn out and painful. This caused me problems while fishing last year. Resting my arm over the winter has not improved matters. I will have to learn to cast with my left arm. I tried it briefly at the start of last season and it was not as difficult as I had imagined. Although tricky casts under bushes or around branches might be an issue. I look upon it as an opportunity to improve my casting style which has always been wayward.


I treated myself to a late Christmas present, a Hardy Duchess reel. I examined the reel a year ago at Peter Cockwill’s shop, Albury Game Angling. Peter let me play with it for a while, there was no hard sell. I reluctantly gave it back to him and said that I would ‘think about it‘. Sadly, in a couple of days Peter is leaving his shop and moving to Hampshire. Happily, he was a having a closing down sale and he gave me a big discount on the reel. I have reversed both pawls so it doesn’t make a noise and I can’t wait to try it out.

I don’t know exactly how many fish I caught last year but it was probably too many. This season I will be more selective and target the bigger fish. When the river season opens in April I will explore the deep pools that usually hold the overwintered fish. This season there is a trial of catch and release at two of the club’s lakes. It will be interesting to see what impact the trial has on catch returns.

On one occasion last season I was forced to fish without a tapered leader. I tangled it around a tree and the fly line parted when I tried to pull it free. I bodged a leader from 6lb Fox Illusion fluorocarbon and subsequently avoided lining several spooky fish. I will continue using straight fluorocarbon this season, it will be particularly good for early season nymphing.


While rummaging around I found three old Cortland 444 WF lines in a drawer of my desk. I was about to throw them away but I wondered if the running line would be of any use. I had another Cortland line on my little Hardy Marquis. It was less than a year old and it hadn’t been used since July when I bought a Rio line. I took the reel into the garden and stripped all the line off it. The last ten yards looked like a pink spring and although I stretched the line, were obviously toast. I chopped off the coils and gave the remaining length an extreme stretch. Twenty yards extended by about a yard. The line looked OK. I stretched it again.

I looked at the line profile on the Cortland website and cut off most of the running line, leaving just ten feet. I fitted a closed cell foam arbour to the spool and reversed the line on the reel. I had a few casts on the lawn and it felt good. On my next trip I used the ‘Weight Backward’ line and I enjoyed it’s delicacy at short range. It felt remarkably like my Rio WF #3 but I preferred the peach colour.  It should be good on the river this season. There is no point in having thirty yards of line on a small river. I won’t throw away the other Cortland lines, they might be reincarnated.


2017 Season

The lakes opened on 11 March. Spring was early, the wild flowers were out and the trees were in bud. The Winter had been mild and without severe floods. Everything pointed towards a productive start to the season.

I promised myself that I would not use a strike indicator when nymphing. It was an experiment to determine whether or not an indicator gave me an unfair advantage.


The weather in March was warm, the South of England raced towards a long hot Summer. The sport at Great Springs was a bit slow but Little Springs fished well.

The season on the river started on 4 April. The weather throughout April was more like summer. The river was low and I had good sport with wild Trout and overwintered stock fish.


The Mayfly started hatching on 1 May which was very appropriate. There were not as many Mayfly as last year but there were very few birds about to eat them. There should be good hatches in 2018. As the months rolled by it became apparent that there was a marked decline in all species of flying insects throughout the country. Very worrying.

I caught my first ever Sea Trout on 1 May, by mistake. It was just a smolt but I was pleased to see the fish and release it carefully. I also caught a much bigger fish which was later identified as an overwintered Sea Trout, a kelt returning to the sea. Perhaps I will meet her again next season.


We had quite a lot of rain during mid May which raised the water level in the river about two feet and put the fishing on hold. The last part of the month was very hot and dry. The water temperature rose to 21 degrees at Great Springs on 30 May and the Trout were not happy. The high water temperature and rapidly growing weed caused wild swings in pH and clogged two of the lakes.

June was very hot. By the middle of the month the river had returned to it’s normal level but then we had a heat wave. At the end of the month there were six consecutive days over 90 degrees. I had five days ‘keepering’ while Andrew was away on holiday, it was interesting to spend quality time by the river and lakes.


In July we went on holiday to Dorset and I returned with a new Rio fly line. Throughout the month the weather was crazy, with strong winds from every direction. It felt more like Autumn. The rain in June had encouraged the Sea Trout to run and after July’s first full moon, they were leaping about everywhere. Something to remember for next season. The first two weeks of August were very wet, the river was high and the harvest was ruined.


I fished Luffs during September while the river was high and I had a great time. I got to know the lake well and caught some big Trout. October brought extreme weather. The tail end of a hurricane,  red dust from the desert and quite a lot of rain. It was a productive month with a lot of takes converted into fish.


The New Riffle appears to have had an immediate effect on the river. There is already a good population of shrimps and the well oxygenated water has been colonised by the chub and the wild Trout. There were lots of Sea Trout smolts below the riffle early in the summer and mature fish in the 4-5lb class later in the year.


I fished the lakes during November and had a couple of fish. The water was clear and they were very shy.

Overall, I got to know the river better. I was able to locate the fish and turn most takes into hooked fish. I was consistent throughout the season.

I didn’t miss the strike indicator when nymphing, most of the takes were very positive. I also avoided the problem of trout rising for the blob of fluorescent putty ! I had a feeling that a couple of fish may have tweaked the nymph while I was fishing the river. Late in the season the fish are ultra-shy and I might have added a few to my tally if I’d used an indicator. The biggest change this season was probably my new Rio fly line, it improved my presentation tremendously.

A lot of restoration work is being done at Lower Figgs and Great Springs during the winter and I’m looking forwards to fishing there again next March.