Sussex Opening Day

Heavy overnight rain was forecast to continue into the afternoon. The traffic on the drive south soon petered out and it was good to be back on quiet country roads through the Sussex countryside. The view towards the South Downs at Stag Park was spectacular and I stopped for a few minutes to watch the dark clouds well up over high ground.

I walked around the lakes watching the coots distribute broken weed stems liberally across the surface. The westerly breeze hardly ruffled the surface and the air was warm. Trout were moving but as I returned to the hut for a cup of tea, heavy rain settled in and it was ninety minutes before I set up my rod.

The new Robjent Special coiled around everything and I regretted not taking the time to comb out the twists and stretch the line. The coiled spring contracted and gradually drew the fly towards me. I persevered on auto-retrieve until I got fed up with the tangles and invested ten minutes untwisting and stretching the line.

I assumed that catching a couple of fish was a formality and didn’t bother to change flies, a size 14 weighted GRHE never fails. After an hour without a take I realised that I would have to up my game. The clouds disappeared and bright sunlight put the fish down. I moved to deeper water and let the fly sink a little deeper.

I had a couple of tweaks on the line which felt like submerged weed. That woke me up and I paid more attention to the tip of the fly line. The breeze picked up allowing the line to drift into a gradual curve which resulted in a solid take. The loose line slid out through the rod rings and a nice trout became airborne. The fish raced back towards me and came off in the weeds.

A shoal of fish were splashing about in the coloured water around the inflow pipe but I preferred to sit in the sun and take a few photos.

It had been an odd afternoon. I enjoyed wandering around with the rod, expecting a fierce take at any moment but I was not disappointed to leave without netting a trout. The season is long and in a couple of days I return to the spate rivers on Dartmoor.

2023 Plans

The strategy is to fish wet weekdays on Dartmoor and glorious, sunny weekends on the Rother. Rain in Devon is welcome, the spates encourage the sea trout and salmon to run the rivers along the western edge of Dartmoor. Rain in Sussex runs off the farmland and brings the fishing to an abrupt muddy end.

My season in Sussex opens on 18 March and I am looking forward to exploring the lakes and river. The heavy rain last November filled the floodplains and will have undercut the banks and toppled trees. The new fish holding areas will need to be discovered.

A new fly line has been loaded onto the Hardy Duchess, new leaders have been purchased and a few essential GRHE nymphs have been tied. I am ready.

February Fill Dyke in Devon has been very dry, only 2mm of rain fell. The high moor is drying out quickly. The bright sunny days and the strong north easterly wind have dried the grass and it is quite firm underfoot. The rocks are starting to warm up and we are slowly sliding into a long hot spring and summer. The rivers and brooks are full but the water levels are dropping. We need a lot of rain in March.

I have found some new Beats on the River Tavy and there are still places to explore on the River Meavy. I will spend more time on Burrator in the early season and return to Siblyback when the beetles are hatching. If the weather is too hot for trout, I will turn to carp-on-the-fly.

My 2022 diary has been formatted and printed, it will soon be with the bookbinders.

The Defender has been sorted during the close season and no longer sulks. It is reliable and I don’t have to worry about getting out of the valleys up the steep rocky tracks.

February Grayling

I hadn’t fished for over three months. The new trout season was thirty days away. I sat in the garden with a cup of tea and watched the clouds of midges buzzing around the hedge. The warm, sunny weather felt like Spring. Perhaps we would drift into Summer, bypassing winter again.

The neglected Defender smoked a bit but a glug of Redex and an Italian tune up sorted it out. The walk beside the river was calming, I hadn’t visited the Beat before. I walked about a mile and sat on a rock fifty feet above the water. The pool below was very deep and although I watched the water for a while, nothing moved.

The following day was also bright and sunny. I thought about grayling fishing. I regarded grayling fishing as an excuse that other people used to continue trout fishing during the close season. I resolved to stop fishing immediately if I caught a trout. The mighty Tamar beckoned.

I had a new Rio line loaded on my little Hardy reel. A visit to Stockbridge for the Fly Culture magazine “Gathering” had provided an opportunity to visit Robjents. I’d planned my shopping trip weeks earlier. Just buy a new line, don’t get bullied into buying a Sage rod, don’t buy another reel. It worked, I had enough credit left for the extortionate hotel bill.

I arrived at the river having ignored many “Road Closed” signs. The river was in good condition, the level was up a bit and the water had a slight green tinge. I started below the salmon croy, working the little Red Tag around the rocks and exploring the seam between the fast water and the back eddy. I’d had several grayling on that fly last year and I was confident of a take.

After an hour without a take my confidence was diminished but I stuck with the leaded fly, I just needed to find the exact location of the shoal.

I moved upstream to the next croy and repeated the process. I thought that the slightly shallower and slower water would produce a fish. An hour later, as I wandered back across the fields, I made the usual excuses, ‘too bright’, ‘too cold’, ‘wrong wind direction’ etc.

It had been good to be out in such beautiful weather, in solitude, concentrating on grayling and not catching a trout !

Sussex – End of Season

The river trout season in Sussex ends on 31 October. I could fish the club’s lakes until 30 November but I only had a week before I was due to return to Devon.

River Rother

The morning was overcast and warm, ideal conditions for my final day on the river. I looked forwards to seeing the river again. However, as I drove over the North River at Billingshurst I saw that the Rother tributary was slightly up and muddy. As I walked slowly down the slope at Keepers Bridge some of my enthusiasm evaporated, the river swirled around the bushes and looked almost unfishable.

I was determined to catch a trout and started at the known holding lies around the bridge and alder trees. I cast into the trees, hooked bankside vegetation and generally messed things up. My spirits fell and the mistakes grew.

Mid-afternoon the sun broke through the overcast and I decided to fish into the sun along the north bank, to avoid throwing shadows. The highlight of the afternoon was a buzzard hunting inexperienced, young pheasants and a daylight owl calling from the dense woodland. The fish were deep in coloured water and were not interested in my nymphs and spiders.

I fished upstream to the Sandy Pool and downstream as far as the first bend. More tangles, poor casting and lost flies knocked my concentration and I found myself just going through the motions. Time to pack up. I collected a hat full of plump, sweet chestnuts, some to plant amongst a new hedgerow on the farm and the rest for the fireside in Devon.


A couple of days later I drove to Little Bognor via Bedham, along the lane through the magic trees past Brinkwells. Countryside unchanged in hundreds of years. Autumn in the sheltered valleys at Little Bognor was retarded, most of the beech and chestnut trees were still green.

The early afternoon sun burnt through the morning overcast intensifying the colours of the leaf litter. Fungi grew everywhere, close to the trunks of the trees, some in fairy circles. I tackled up and decided to start in my favourite place, under the beech and chestnut trees on the east bank. I chose my most realistic imitation of a buzzer and added it to the end of a long tippet.

I crept along the bank and flicked the buzzer into the margins over a fringe of ferns. A good fish bolted from under the bank, upset by the movement of my rod. The sunlight probably flashed on the varnish. I stood still for a few minutes and noticed a dark shadow moving very slowly to my right, well within casting range. I dropped the fly ahead of the trout and to my surprise it took the slow sinking buzzer without hesitation. It was a good fish, about two pounds. I gently coaxed it to my right and released it in the shallows.

The buzzer has a black neoprene body and white closed cell breathers. It sinks very slowly and in my opinion is a very good imitation of the trout’s main food item. The clear water from the spring at the top of the lake enabled me to see the shadows moving past. I cast to another fish and landed the middle of the tippet on a floating leaf, the buzzer hung about a foot below the surface and was again taken confidently. Minor tactics or cheating ?

Fish three and four fell to the same tactics. I missed a couple of takes and the trout drifted away to my left under the canopy formed by the overhanging chestnut trees. I crept along the bank and flicked the buzzer into the deep margins. I gradually extended the cast until it reached the fringe of the tree cover and a cruising fish engulfed the buzzer. Neatly hooked in the upper jaw.

My self-imposed limit of four trout had already been exceeded. I had been fishing for only an hour and it would be six months before I could fish again. I decided to carry on. I moved to the corner by the old quarry and cast without restriction, towards the overhanging branches. I hadn’t disturbed the fish and the tippet soon moved. I missed and smiled. It’s the take that counts.

After resting the fish, I fired a fast, low cast far under the branches and the buzzer was taken before I had time to tidy the fly line in my hands. It was a small dark fish which departed at speed when released from the landing net. On my way back to the car I couldn’t resist a couple of casts. I hooked two fish but they came adrift after a few seconds.

Greedy ? Probably but it had been a great way to end the 2022 trout season. What a contrast between the two days; a disaster on the river and a very satisfying afternoon at Little Bognor.

The End.

29 September – End of Devon Season

Heavy overnight rain promised a rise in the level of the Dartmoor rivers. I wanted to end the season on my favourite river, the Plym. The autumn scenery in the valley would be beautiful, catching a trout was not important.

As I crossed the bridge I was surprised to see that the river had not risen, if anything it had dropped. I started in the bridge pool with a few practice casts. After retrieving my leader from a tree and replacing the fly I made my way upstream.

I heard noisy children and dogs upstream. At every pool I checked the sand for paw prints and coloured water. The river appeared to be undisturbed. The scenery was a distraction, I spent more time wandering through the woods than fishing. Young pheasants scurried through the undergrowth ahead of me, it felt like a day beating rather than fishing.

I reached the middle of the Beat without troubling any trout and decided to press on until I reached familiar territory below the next road bridge. I scrambled over rock outcrops and around riverside trees looking for grey shadows in the deeper water but the sea trout had continued their journey upstream to the spawning grounds. A young buzzard landed in the top of an oak tree directly above me, scanned the ground, saw nothing and moved on.

I eventually reached a clearing in the woods that I recognised. The silica on the coarse sandy beach sparkled in the sunlight, paw marks and footprints were everywhere. I broke my rod down and walked slowly back downstream. I’d had a lovely walk in the autumn sunshine which I would remember through the long winter evenings.