24 June – Buzzers

I visited all the river Beats and was surprised to see that the water was still coloured. The heavy rain last week had run off the fields dragging more of the sandy soil into the river. I saw a fish rise at the tail of the Fish Pass and another just below Taylors Bridge but the heat and humidity were unbearable and I decided to fish at Little Bognor. The shade and breeze in the valley would help me concentrate on the fishing.

There were fish rising all over the bottom lake and I thought that it would be fun to try and catch a few using buzzers. I had deliberately switched my focus from buzzers to nymphs a few years ago. I had become bored with fishing static flies. It was too easy. The fish at Little Bognor were very fussy and I was curious  to find out if they would respond to a new approach.

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I sat on the Beech mast behind the wall of ferns and watched several fish taking buzzers within a few feet of the bank. The ferns had grown high enough to completely hide me. I started with a fine tippet and a size 18 black buzzer but the fly was too dark and too small, the fish couldn’t see it. I scaled up to a size 12 black buzzer with white Neoprene breathers. I flicked it into the margin and after only a few seconds, the tippet drew away. I was surprised and lifted too soon. I delayed my reaction on the next take and the first fish was hooked. The floppy rod soaked up the lunges of the Trout and I guided it into the shallows to avoid spooking the other fish. I released it from the landing net and returned to my seat under the Beech trees.

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The next cast produced a take and I repeated the process, releasing the second fish from the landing net in the shallows. I was pleased that the method was producing results, it showed that the fussy Trout could be fooled with a realistic imitation and stealth. The third fish was not so easy, it went on a powerful run down the lake and the drag from over 25 yards of fly line enabled it to escape. It could have been a monster or just foul-hooked. The third fish took very gently and after a short fight, was also released in the shallows. The disturbance finally spooked the fish and they moved away.

I went around the lake and sat on the grass near the brick wall. There is always a fish under the tree beside the outflow and I allowed the breeze to slowly move the line in that direction. The line stopped moving, I lifted the rod and a small fish was hooked. It felt like a wild brownie but as I reached for the landing net the situation changed. It charged away to my right, all the way along the bank and into a small clump of lily leaves. I think the hook had pulled and reconnected with the tail of the Trout. It escaped. I had a couple of takes in the corner of the lake by the stone quarry but didn’t convert them.

I enjoyed the brief session with buzzers. I had proved that even the ultra wary fish could be caught. The black buzzer with white breathers and the light tippet were crucial. I’ll tie a few more for use in emergencies.

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21 June – Summer Solstice

I started Trout fishing on the River Brede around Sedlescombe when I was a teenager. I usually started at one of the bridges and worked my way upstream crawling under bushes and lowering a float fished worm into the pools. The fish were small but I occasionally caught one big enough to eat. On the way home I called at the Silverhill off-licence for a bottle of Watneys Pale Ale to drink with my pan fried Trout and brown bread.

In the Summer of 1975 I went to Weirwood Reservoir at Forest Row for my first proper fly fishing trip. I well remember that first day at Weirwood. My parents dropped me at the fishing lodge and I stood looking at 280 acres of reservoir. I was alone on the gently sloping concrete slipway infront of the fishing lodge surrounded by boats and ropes. It was intimidating and unlike any lake I had fished. It had waves.

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I opened the door to the ticket office and a tall angry looking man scowled at me. He resembled Robert Shaw in ‘Jaws’. Ken Sinfoil, the inventor of Sinfoils Fry, was the water bailiff and he didn’t suffer fools. I explained that I had never fished with a fly and his mood immediately changed. He was friendly and very helpful. He told me to walk across the dam, along the North bank and to fish from the point by the electricity pylon. It was a long walk across the dam and I was exhausted when I reached the gate at the end of the concrete embankment. The North bank was deserted, I was grateful that my first attempt at fly fishing would be unseen.

I had practiced my casting on the lawn for several years and had been tying my own flies for even longer. I’d posted some flies to John Veniard for appraisal and he had been kind enough to write back and complement my early efforts. I had built a rod from a Hardy Jet blank ordered from Jack Frosts in Crawley. It could be described as ‘through actioned’ but it was just floppy. It also had a distinctive set.

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Ken told me to use a black lure but I preferred a white lure made from genuine polar bear fur. I cast as far as I could across the south westerly wind and drew the line back towards me not knowing what to expect. There were several knocks on the line but I assumed it was weed. Eventually a knock resulted in a fish hooking itself and I landed a small rainbow. Success on my first trip. As I unhooked the fish there was a swirl about twenty yards from the bank, a very big fish had moved. I quickly recast as far as my rod would allow, into the flattened water, pulled the line and was shocked when the rod banged over. Chaos ensued, the fine wire Aberdeen hook I’d used to tie the fly kept it’s shape and after a long battle the giant fish was netted. To me it looked huge, it was a brownie about 2lbs.

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I took a photo of the two fish. I didn’t expect to catch another but in the afternoon a small rainbow hung on to the lure taking my tally to three. I went back to the fishing lodge and proudly showed Ken my fish. He was impressed and told me the brownie might be fish of the week. I thought I’d mastered the art of fly fishing. However, despite many return trips to Weirwood that year, I didn’t catch another Trout. The homemade rod served me well but a few years later, after a visit to Bewl Bridge, a friend strapped my rod to the roof of his car for the journey home and crushed the fibre glass. The rod remained untouched for over forty years. A few weeks ago I restored it. The crushed butt section was not as bad as I had thought.

I arrived at Great Springs at lunch time and wandered around with a mug of tea, looking for rising fish. I found a group of Trout feeding on buzzers and cut my tea break short. I assembled the old rod and threaded the green Rio line through the rings. Its colour was the only similarity to the cheap line I had used in 1975. The old Intrepid Gearfly was a very heavy reel and I threw it away years ago. The Hardy looked vaguely similar. I knelt on the grass and flicked a buzzer on a light tippet towards a cruising fish and after a few attempts, a good Trout took hold. I lifted the rod slowly and the fish didn’t react, it was unaware that it had been hooked. Then it woke up and went on several long runs. The floppy rod protected the light tippet. I was desperate to land the fish and played it gently. It was a rainbow about 2lbs and I took a photo just as I had done forty four years ago. I hooked another Trout but it dived into a weedbed and escaped. After a long lunch I caught another fish on a GRHE nymph from Little Springs.

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On the way home I reflected on the floppy old glass rod. How had I managed to cast a white lure twenty yards to a rising fish ? My casting must have been better than I remember. I had poached Trout with brown bread for tea and a Budweiser instead of a Watneys.

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15 June – Fishing with Elgar

Traditional fishermen were preparing for the start of the new coarse fishing season on Sunday but my mind was full of Trout and music. Plus single malt and fruit cake. A refurbished rod and a time capsule from my early childhood were also in the mix. Such a lot to mull over. A relaxing morning at Little Bognor would clear my head. It was a day for messing about. Vintage, slow action split cane and an old Hardy reel were suited to the occasion.

A hundred and one years ago, very early in the morning of 15 June 1918, Sir Edward and Lady Alice had walked through the woods from Brinkwells and had fished for Trout in the lake at Little Bognor. His letters and Lady Alice’s diary, revealed the details of their first trip to the lake with a fishing rod. Last year I celebrated the centenary by catching a fish from the lake and had vowed to return every year. My diary entry had subsequently been published in Fly Culture magazine.

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I tried to listen to Elgar’s cello concerto on the way to Riverhill but the music stopped every time a bump dislodged Fuse 3. Moreover, the rattle of the diesel engine and booming of the aluminium panels spoilt the ambiance. I felt under pressure to catch a Trout. Sir Edward had caught three but he was probably using worms and my reconstruction of his day involved nymphs and dry flies.

I arrived at the lake early, it was just after 10:30am, well before lunchtime. I said ‘hello’ to the gnome effigy of Sir Edward. The stone carving of Lady Alice had been stolen last Autumn. I acknowledged Rex Vicat Cole’s ancient Spanish Chestnut tree which he had sketched over a hundred years ago. It was dead when he drew it and the tree had somehow escaped the foresters chain saw. I wondered if a Tree Preservation Order could be made on a dead tree, probably not.

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Fish were rising everywhere, taking small white flies. I sat quietly behind the fringe of ferns and dropped a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph near several cruising fish. A Trout flashed golden brown and the leader twitched but I was too slow. The breeze got up and made casting from under the Beech trees tricky but the short fly line and 14 foot leader found its way through the letter box of branches and ferns without snagging.

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I changed to a dry fly with a pale yellow body and short hackle. A Trout inspected it carefully and rolled away. A few casts later there was a good take, I lifted into the fish and enticed it into the shallows to avoid scaring the others. The tippet was putting a lot of fish off. I let the fly sink slowly and twitched it to attract attention. The leader moved and a second fish was eventually released from the landing net in the shallows. The pressure to catch a Trout to mark the anniversary had eased but I thought it would be nice to catch three Trout, just like Elgar 101 years earlier.

I swapped rods, used a lighter tippet and moved around the lake covering fresh fish. I missed quite a few good takes, mainly because of distractions. Heavy rain arrived and two fish suddenly seemed sufficient. I called in at Great Springs on the way home, had a chat and some yummy cake. All was well with the world.

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6 June – Beat A

I stopped by the side of the road near Fittleworth to admire the view across the fields. The wheels of the tractors had cut neat pathways through the crops while delivering pesticides and weed killer. The fields were a uniform shade of olive green, no wild flowers were allowed. I thought about having lunch at Duncton Hanger, the cloudscape and patchwork of fields would be spectacular. I found a lone poppy by the side of the lane. Just after I knelt and took its portrait, a gust of wind stripped the petals off leaving just the seed head. Very poignant on the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.

Rather than detour through Duncton, I had lunch at Little Bognor watching the Trout. It was cold and blustery beside the lake. The shade and south-westerly wind were not ideal. During the drive South I’d considered fishing the top of the river. Jungle fishing at its best. Nobody had fished that beat since the start of the season, if I could find a Trout it would be uneducated.

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I parked the Defender under a small Oak at the top of the old railway line and set up my Hardy. Thrashing about in the bushes required a modern rod, not an irreplaceable split cane treasure. While signing the Beat book I had a moment to reconsider my plans, particularly as a Trout rose just below the bridge. I crept through the long grass and sat quietly waiting for the fish to rise again. Unaware of my presence a Moorhen paddled, head jerking, close by. It saw me, turned and fled downstream, its alarm call and splashing trashed the entire pool. I tried a couple of casts but the Trout had long gone. I marked it down for later and walked upstream.

The big pool at Ladymead had been changed by the Winter floods. A large sandbank filled half the pool which made access easier but there was no cover. Kneeling on the warm sand was comfortable but I was in full view of the fish. There were a few Olives hatching but no Mayfly and as I walked further upstream, the water became more coloured. I passed a side stream and the water cleared, I was above the run off. The shallow water and young streamer weed beds didn’t provide much cover for the Trout. They would be concentrated under the trees and bushes along the shaded bank opposite. At every fish holding feature I stopped and watched the river, looking for shadows on the sand or the swirl from a rising Trout. At about 4:00pm the wind dropped and the Mayfly started to hatch. The tree cover along the river provided immediate shelter and most of the Duns would survive the night.

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I came to the pool by the last gate where I had hooked and lost a good fish last season. As I waited for a sign I saw a dimple near the far bank in the shade of a tree. It looked like a Dace or small Chub. I squeezed the water out of my fly in a fold of my trousers, fluffed it up and checked for wind knots in the tippet. I waited for the fish to show again. I knew I would only get one chance, prospecting with a dry fly rarely produces a fish.

There was a good rise, five yards downstream immediately below a clump of Cow Parsley. My first cast hooked a flower head but miraculously came free without disturbance. Similarly, the second cast was wayward. I calmed down and presented the fly amongst the buzzing midge cloud, exactly where I had intended. The Trout rose confidently, was hooked, did two somersaults and unhooked itself. I was not too bothered. The presentation of the fly in a tricky position and deception of the Trout with a realistic imitation of a Mayfly was sufficient.

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I walked to the top of the Beat searching for another rise but found nothing. As I walked back to the bridge Spinners started to form small clouds in the lee of the bigger trees. I had a few casts in the Cow Drink on Beat B. The Trout in the pool below Taylor’s Bridge didn’t respond to my last cast. There would probably be an evening rise but I’d had enough. Besides, I had a pie left over from lunch.

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I had used only one fly all afternoon which must be some sort of record in the jungle. The raffia in the detached body Mayfly soaks up water but having to pause after several casts and dry the fly is no hardship. It gives me time to gather my thoughts and regroup.

There was one stretch on the Beat that I liked in particular. The river divides around a small island. The shallow threads of water and the overhanging bushes reminded me of the upper Brede at Sedlescombe where I caught my first Trout, crawling through the undergrowth. I will return to Beat A in a few weeks and fish in the evening when the Trout might venture out from under the trees.

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3 June – Keepers Bridge

It was a morning made for fishing. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds and a breeze to moderate the heat. By the time I arrived at the lakes the sky had darkened and the breeze had increased to a wind. I walked slowly around Little Springs with a large mug of tea, watching the Trout and looking for Mayfly. The gusty wind was knocking the Duns into the reeds and rushes around the margins. The cow parsley was covered in bees and various beetles.

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I found a newly hatched female Dun sheltering on the window ledge of the fishing hut, it flew away after resting for a few minutes. Martins were swooping over the surface of the lake and a cheeky Chaffinch sat high up in a young Oak waiting for the mayfly to arrive. A Wagtail perched on the little seat, flicking its tail up and down. Wagging.

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There were lots of black winged damsel flies, Banded Demoiselle, along the river but only a few Mayfly managed to get airborne. The wind had increased and the river valley channeled it downstream, not good for presentation. I watched the water at Keepers Bridge for a while, a couple of Trout rose in the usual places and that made up my mind. I would start there and if the fish were difficult, I would move to Taylors Bridge.

A fish picked off the odd Dun hatching beside a Willow bush at the head of the run by the farm track. I sat and watched, it was a tricky cast between an Alder and the Willow even in still air. The branches were waving about so I waited for a lull in the wind. To my surprise the first few casts into the wind were on target but the fish didn’t rise. I walked down to the bridge crossed over and sat under the Alder with the wind behind me. I dapped a plastic winged Mayfly into the fast water by the trailing Willow branches convinced that Trout number one was a formality. The presentation was perfect but the fish had retreated under the bush. I marked it down for later.

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I walked upstream a hundred yards to look for the Trout-that-rises-vertically. I checked the tippet and tied on a new fly, a detached body Dun with dirty olive hackle point wings. I sat behind a wall of young rushes and allowed the fly to drift downstream close to my bank. An open mouth appeared under the fly and the fish rose cautiously to inhale the convincing imitation. I lifted too soon. Why did I do that ? I knew that would happen. I would return later.

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I crossed to the South bank, dangled the Mayfly over the bushes and lost a few flies in the process. Casting into the wind was making presentation very difficult and the line was blowing into the overhanging branches when I lifted off. I walked down to the bend that I had fished on the last two trips. There were no bushes to eat my flies.

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The waves sunk the fly and made it skate across the river. Hopeless. I returned to the fish I had marked down but they were waiting for dusk, three hours later. I adjourned to The Badgers and sat in the sun with a pint.

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