21 May – Perryfields

I arrived at Keeper’s Bridge at 2:00pm and had the choice of both Beats. All the fish from the river had been caught at Rotherbridge, Beat D, but I had checked it earlier and it looked barren. There were no fish rising and looking down from the centre of the bridge, I couldn’t see any signs of life. The weather was hot and humid, thunder rumbled and the clouds were grey. I had driven through a swarm of honey bees at Kilsham Farm. It was the sort of weather that heralded flying ants.

I walked upstream keeping well away from the river, using the bushes and the fringe of nettles to hide from the fish. I didn’t cast until I reached the cow drink above the old riffle. I used a weighted size 14 GRHE nymph and worked it around the pool but had no response. Several times I heard a rise, like the sound of a bubble bursting, but I couldn’t see the ripples. Mayfly were launching themselves out of the current and fluttering into the trees. There were no swallows or chaffinches to snap them up, just a solitary wood pigeon disturbing the peace.


I swapped the nymph for an unleaded, straw coloured size 12 GRHE which would be more visible and nearer the size of a hatching Mayfly. I fished down and across drifting the fly alongside an overhanging bush. Eventually I saw a flash of silver in midstream and lifted into a very spirited Trout. It fought hard and was difficult to keep out of the tree roots. The bank was high and the nettles hid a steep drop into the water. I extended the landing net handle and directed it at the fish. The top section slid out of the handle. In a rush to net the fish I hadn’t tightened the screw properly. I laughed and nearly fell in the river as I rescued the top section from sliding into the pool. The fish waited patiently while I messed about. It was a wild fish about 12ozs and very silver, probably in the throws of migrating downstream as a sea trout smolt.


I decided to walk to the bridge at Perryfields and return on the opposite bank. I rarely fish that side of the river as the herd of Sussex cows, very docile creatures, are a constant distraction. As I ambled towards the bridge I saw a fish rise under a tree on the opposite bank. It was upstream of an overhanging branch, tight into the bank. It was taking Mayfly so I swapped to an imitation incorporating a rubber band. I don’t remember tying that fly. It had a Teal wing, perhaps it was a prototype.


The cast was almost impossible. The first attempts were short and below the fish, the downstream side of the branch. The fish continued to feed. I summoned up the courage to launch the fly in a last ditch attempt to reach the Trout. Miraculously the leader curled around the branch and the fly landed perfectly. The fish grabbed the fly and became entangled in several low hanging twigs. I pulled it free and battle commenced. It was a beautiful fish, black on top with gold flanks and was about a pound and a half. It swam away strongly, back under the trees.

I walked to Perryfields, stopped in the middle of the bridge and leant on the hand rail. The pool directly above the bridge had changed, it was wider and deeper. It looked very fishy. I went downstream to a rising fish that I had marked earlier. I met another member, pointed out the rise and left him to it.

As I walked away another fish rose, lower down, under the far bank. The bank I had just fished. Trout are always feeding underneath the far bank, never on my side. The path leading to the cow drink was overgrown and provided perfect cover. I sat in a ditch underneath an Alder bush and considered my tactics. The Trout was holding station about a foot from the far bank and the gap in the overhanging branches was about the same width. The fly would only drift over the fish for a few seconds. I was full of confidence having just caught a difficult fish from a similar position.

I measured the distance with a couple of trial casts upstream. With the rod at an angle under the bush, I attempted to reach the fish. The first cast was accurate but too short. I tried again and didn’t hold back. The fly landed nicely but drifted under the branches, past the fish and out of the target area. That enabled me to lift the line and cast again without disturbing the Trout which continued to rise. I threw caution to the wind and the fired the fly across the river. It went so far under the branches I couldn’t see it. The fish rose, I lifted the rod and connected. I bullied it out into open water and was congratulating myself when the fish dived into tree roots on my side and wriggled off the hook. It was another wild Trout about a pound in weight.


The wide pool looked good, it usually produces a fish. The fallen tree in midstream had been shifted by the winter floods and a curved bough poked through the surface. As I watched the river there was a splashy rise at the top of the pool. I flicked the fly into the ripples and it was immediately taken by a very small but brightly coloured Trout. I returned the fish and continued downstream.

I came to the stretch of river that I usually fish from the south bank, between the gaps in the trees. From the north bank all of the river is open, casting is easier. I sat on the gently sloping bank behind the fringe of nettles and balsam left by the Keeper. I relaxed on the newly mown grass and wondered how to fish that part of the river. I thought a GRHE nymph would work but before I could change the fly, a fish rose beside a bush just upstream from my hiding place. Again I measured the length of the fly line and full of confidence, fired the Mayfly at the Trout. Unfortunately I fired the fly too confidently. It hit the water with a splash and put the fish down. I waited for the fish to recover from my amateur casting but it had gone down until dawn.

I walked slowly back to Keeper’s Bridge but the Mayfly hatch was dwindling and I saw no further signs of activity. The fish had been feeding confidently, I had kept well hidden and my casting was accurate. Not many afternoons on the river go according to plan but it is very satisfying when everything clicks into place. On the way home the storm broke. Thunder, lightning and summer rain cleared the air. A memorable day.


17 May – Keepers Bridge

It was a beautiful morning, bright sunshine with the remains of a light frost. The breeze from the north was unusual but welcome. I visited Little Bognor and took time to soak up the atmosphere. It was peaceful and the Trout were feeding. Very tempting but I had other plans. I drove to the top of the old railway line at Coultershaw and walked upstream to have a look at the pool at Ladymead. The pool had been transformed by the winter floods. A hill of sand had been deposited in the centre and the current split around it leaving two pools below each of the old sluices. I sat and watched the pool but didn’t see any fish. I checked the river around Keepers Bridge, the level had dropped and the water was less coloured. Rotherbridge looked good, the bright green clumps of Starwort had survived the floods. I visited all the lakes in the north of the Estate and was surprised to see that several were coloured. The ripples had been washing against the banks of exposed clay.


After a yummy lunch of hot pasty at Great Springs I drove back to Keepers Bridge and set off upstream full of confidence. I worked a Black Spider along the near bank, beside the sparse weed beds and under all the bushes. I fished hard all the way to the wide pool below the barn without a take. I didn’t see any signs of a fish. In the early afternoon Mayfly started to hatch in good numbers. There was also a good hatch of Olives. Millions of midges buzzed around under the trees. There was no shortage of fly life but the Chub, Dace and Trout were nowhere to be seen.


As the afternoon morphed into evening I went back to the Land Rover for a drink and a pork pie that I had saved from lunch. I was tempted to leave the river and spend an hour at Little Bognor but I wanted to see if there would be an evening rise at Keepers Bridge. I sat on the grass opposite the Alder trees. I like it there because there is lots of cover and I can watch about two hundred yards of river.


I waited patiently for any signs of a rise but although the Mayfly continued to hatch there was no fishy activity. My next visit to the river ought to start in the evening. The weather is settled and the river should be in good condition for an evening session next week.



15 May – A Long Day

I was determined to catch a Trout from the river and set off for Petworth just after the school run. I’d fitted a new leader and tippet and made a picnic lunch before I left. I parked at Keepers Bridge and checked the signing in book, the Beats hadn’t been fished for a couple of days. I put a good selection of nymphs in my waistcoat pockets and walked down the farm track to check on the condition of the river. The level had dropped slightly and I could see the subtle changes in colour where the sandy bottom caught the sun. I started fishing the pool by the broken gate, full of confidence that I would get a take. Nothing. I moved upstream fishing all the usual fish-holding places. I expected a fish to grab the fly in the fast shallow stretch by the gap in the trees but there was no response. I concentrated and fished hard under the trees and bushes on both sides of the river but I couldn’t entice a Trout. I didn’t see any signs of fish. It was very odd, the river seemed empty.

The New Riffle was calling me. I retraced my steps to Keepers Bridge and continued downstream. The areas of scrub below the bridge had been cleared giving more room for a backcast. I spent an hour at the riffle and the run below it, but had no takes. I thought that had been my best chance of a fish and trudged wearily back to the Land Rover to consider Plan B. The midday sun was bright and the wind was downstream, not ideal conditions. I decided to have lunch at the lakes and to return to the river in the evening when the Trout might be feeding.


I had a good lunch and spent a long time chatting. The sun dropped behind the trees and the breeze created a nice ripple on the surface of Little Springs. A few fish were rising and everything looked positive. I knelt on the wet grass on the sunny side of the lake and cast across the ripple so that the nymph would cover a wide area at an even depth. A variety of flies produced only one take which I missed. I switched to a dry fly and had a take from a Roach which was a sign I was on the right track. Then things went quiet, the fish disappeared. I returned to the clubhouse, had a cup of tea and another long chat.

At 5:30pm I thought about returning to the river but I was too tired and decided to spend an hour at the lakes instead. There were no fish rising at Great Springs but while I was wandering around, I noticed a couple of fish rising under the trees at the shallow end of Little Springs. I shuffled towards the water on my knees and was careful not to cast a shadow, I stayed well back from the edge of the lake. The fish were taking something very small so I tied on a 2lb tippet and a size 14 dry fly with a palmered ginger hackle and a tag of foam to keep it afloat.


I sat and waited for a fish to show itself but despite my patience the surface of the water remained unbroken. There were no flies hatching which made a rise unlikely. I thought I might induce a take by drifting the fly under the trees. I cast so that only the leader and tippet floated on the water, the fly line rested on the grass. A Roach nudged the fly. I placed the fly to my right so that the breeze from behind me would swing it around infront of me. As I was about to reposition the fly again a Trout swirled, I lifted into the fish and battle commenced. It was a long time before I could ease the fish into the landing net, I couldn’t bully it with only a 2lb tippet. It weighed 1lb 12oz and was in perfect condition. Walking for hours in the sun had left me tired and dehydrated, I drove away anticipating a glass of wine at the end of my journey.




11 May – River and Lakes

We started the day at the Fish Pass. The water level had dropped but the colour hadn’t changed much, it was a pale muddy brown. Like Yorkshire tea with milk. I could see the beds of Starwort close to the bank upstream of Rotherbridge but there was no streamer weed in midstream. The constantly coloured water had suppressed its growth. The river was just fishable. I started well above the weir pool, at the stretch where the bankside trees form a tunnel. I concentrated on presentation and explored under the bushes with a Black Spider. I expected a wrench on the rod at any second but there was no sign of a Trout. My left-hand casting was quite accurate at short range. I moved down the river fishing under the trees and bushes from both the upstream side and the downstream side. The wind was warm and blustery. Thankfully, it was upstream which helped with casting and controlling the fly. Each time I came to a productive stretch my hopes raised but eventually I arrived back at the weir pool fishless. I had neither seen a rise nor had a take. We agreed to have lunch at Great Springs and to fish the lakes in the afternoon.


After a sandwich and a cup of tea I felt energised. I crept around the far side of Little Springs looking for feeding Trout. There were many. Some jumping but most of the fish were porpoising. Classic dorsal fin and tail rollovers as they sipped buzzers and nymphs. Mayfly were hatching and the large, green flies were fluttering into the tops of the Oak trees. A solitary Grey Wagtail gave chase vertically but most of the Mayfly made it to safety. There were clouds of Spinners rising and falling along the grass verges.


I started fishing with a Black Neoprene Spider. I sat on the damp grass and waited for a fish to cruise past. A fish came into range and I positioned the fly just ahead of it. The Trout inspected the fly but turned away. It came back and took the fly but I was watching a newly hatched Mayfly and missed the take. I changed the fly to a small Mayfly imitation but the fish didn’t like the look of it. Several passed underneath but ignored my creation. A pale fish about 4lbs, possibly a blue Trout, drifted into view. I put a parachute emerger a couple of feet infront of the fish which turned towards the fly, rose up and took it. In my excitement I lifted the rod too soon and the fish departed at speed. I missed several similar takes from smaller fish but connected with a fast moving fish almost under the rod tip. It was probably the smallest Trout in the lake. Nevermind, it had been a lovely afternoon. Warm sunshine and a cooling wind with lots of feeding fish.

As I drove back I thought about the weeks fishing. Monday Trout, Wednesday Carp with my Grandsons, Thursday traditional Carp fishing and Friday more Trout fishing. Excellent.


7 May – Luffs

I was keen to fish the river. The level was dropping quickly and the colour was gradually disappearing as the fine silt from the lettuce fields settled. I visited Little Bognor on the way, it was sultry, quite oppressive. There were fish moving under the Beech trees but I’d had my fill of margin fishing.

At the river another member had already signed in for the Beat that I intended to fish. The stretch below the Fish Pass looked inviting but I thought Rotherbridge might be more productive. I could see the riverbed from the centre of the bridge or was it my imagination ? The streamer weed was visible in the shallower water along the edge of the river but the main flow looked barren. The weed was probably uprooted during the winter floods.


After discussing the weeks catch returns I headed North, Petworth was clogged with tourists but the Defender soon cleared a path. I had a leisurely lunch at the fishing hut and sat in the sun listening to the Cuckoo and watching the trees move in the gentle breeze. The air was hardly moving and seemed to change direction every few minutes. The temperature was 82 F and there were no clouds to interrupt the suns rays. Thankfully, I’d stopped at Pulborough earlier and bought some factor 20. I parked under the tree at Luffs and walked to the far side of the lake, the overhanging trees provide cover and shelter for the fish. The breeze ruffled the surface of the water and occasionally a Trout rose to snatch something off the surface, probably tadpoles. I started at the shallow end but there were no signs of fish, it was too exposed. I moved along the bank and fished close to an overhanging  Oak tree. The tree was cover for some nice Roach which chased my fly but wouldn’t take it.


I moved down the bank a bit further and fished beside the Willow tree. Fish were moving in the centre of the lake, way out of range. I walked around the lake to the dam end and stood in the shade of a big tree. The breeze was blowing towards me and the margins were covered with bits of algae and tiny leaves. A fish moved on my right, just within range. It was circling around, rising every few minutes.

Several casts later the leader twitched and started to move. I lifted into a fish which skittered around half heartedly and felt small. I encouraged it towards the net while wondering if it might be a big Roach. Then the fish woke up, it went on a screaming run up the centre of the lake. A Trout, no doubt about that. It fought long and hard back towards the landing net. It spooked again and shot away from me. I let the reel spin freely until there was a sickening tug. I thought the line had jammed. Not so, I had reached the end of the fly line. I thought that was the end but held tight and luckily the fish turned. It made several more long runs before I saw it clearly, it looked about 3lb.

I weighed it at the hut, it was 2lb 12ozs. A beautiful looking fish, all muscle. I poached it gently with a little lemon juice and ate it with thinly sliced brown bread accompanied by a glass of beer. A meal that brought back memories of trout suppers at my Grandparents.