16 April – River Tavy

I spent the morning doing boring admin and after lunch I felt that I had earned a few hours fishing. The gentle south-westerly breeze would be funnelled up the river valley and I took a Barbour jacket to keep warm. This time last year the country was locked down during a long, dry heatwave. I chose to fish the Tavy because the stunning scenery would compensate for a lack of Trout. The water level was good but the crystal clear river was too cold for the fish to move around and I would have too put a fly on the nose of a fish to get a take.

I had a new Rio line to christen. I had stretched the line and glued a 7lb tapered leader to the braid core. The short head would load the rod on narrow streams and help with tricky casts.

When I arrived at the river a couple of young lads were chucking rocks into the top of the Beat. We’ve all done it. I wandered downstream and chose a run below a big riffle to swing a nymph down-and-across. The line worked very well even with an upstream breeze. It suited my fast and low casting style.

I covered a series of pools and enjoyed the sunshine. The noise of the river was a comfort. A few flies hatched, mainly Grannom and Olives but the fish didn’t rise. I eventually reached the big deep pool below the fisherman’s shelter and sat on a rock working the nymph along the seams in the current and the clefts in the rock. There was no response despite my concentration but I was not disappointed, I knew at the outset that it would be difficult to find a feeding fish.

It had been a relaxing afternoon. The sun was warm and the mossy banks were dry. I saw a couple of buzzards performing aerobatics and a mother Mallard with two ducklings. I forgot to take the temperature of the water but with the weather forecast of high pressure and sunshine, the water temperature should soon rise and get the fish moving.

9 April – River Rother

I was inspired by tales of Grannom hatches and clear water, patience and water craft. Sitting beside a favourite river, watching and waiting. My patience ran out at 2:30pm and I fired up the Defender which signalled the start of the adventure. The plan was simple. The last two days of warm weather should produce an evening rise. I would up my game and catch an overwintered fish.

Three days earlier I’d spent an hour taking photos at the lakes. It was extremely cold and windy and although I took a rod, I put little effort into fishing and consequently had no takes. The recent change in the weather boosted my confidence and I expected success.

There were two cars at the Fish Pass and another two at Keeper’s Bridge so I headed for the top of the river along the old railway line. I wanted to fish alone, sharing a Beat would be a distraction. The river looked bleak, the bankside trees had been blasted by the winter floods and barren sand lined the bends. The water level had dropped a little since my last visit but the green, grey tint persisted. Drab flies would be hard to see. I chose a black and silver fly and wandered upstream to the pool at Ladymead. Sand had been washed into the pool and the bar down the centre extended further into midstream. It was difficult to cover the deep water along the far bank and after a few casts I returned to the bridge.

The raft of tree debris along the near bank had gone. I drifted the fly under the branches beside the tree roots but there was nobody at home. I worked the deep run below the sunken tree stump,  alongside streamer weed shoots and anticipated a take but the line failed to tighten.

The Wide Pool looked good, there is usually a Trout in the centre. A log deflected the current and funnelled the water into midstream. I spent a long time searching but despite my concentration I couldn’t get a response. The Monster Pool surely held a fish. I swung a fly down and across in the head of the pool and explored the deepest part, between the trees, with upstream casts. Nothing.

I sat at the head of the Long Pool, below the skyline, making myself comfortable on the dry sand and short grass. I spent thirty minutes drifting a variety of flies down the seams in the flow and was puzzled at the lack of action. Further downstream the Island Pool had been devastated. The Willow trees on the island had been knocked over and a heap of tree debris had been snagged on them. It looked a mess but a deep channel had been scoured out under the near bank and a long sand bar extended the island. I dropped a black and red spider into the run and worked it along the side of the sand bar. After a couple of casts I had a solid take and a strong fish dashed off downstream.

The fish failed to escape despite my amateurish attempts at netting it. The Trout was very silver and looked like a Sea Trout smolt in the final stages of transformation on it’s way to the estuary. I rested the fish in the landing net, the hook dropped out of it’s jaw and I lowered the rim of the net so it could swim away. The grey shadow disappeared and would soon be in salt water.

I was a good start to my season on the Rother. I had caught only one small fish but I had enjoyed the walk and the sunshine.

3 April – A Cold Day

I last visited the Rother on 29 September 2020, six months ago. I marked the end of last season with an exceptional fish and it would be nice to start the new season with an overwintered monster. The morning was cold, grey and windy but bright sunshine was forecast. A sunny Bank Holiday Saturday is not the best day on which to open a new season but I hoped to find a quiet corner and winkle out a Trout, one fish would be sufficient.

Flies had been sorted out, new leaders and tippet purchased, everything was in order. It was not a day for messing about, I wanted to catch something. I stopped at the Fish Pass and was surprised to see that the water was well above its normal level, slightly coloured but fishable.  I worked a black spider around the slacks, expecting a solid pull at any moment. I moved above the weir and fished down the long straight and into the bend but had no response. The wind was cruel and I decided to drive to Rotherbridge, I thought the slower shallow water would help the fish see the fly.

restored New Riffle

I fished the pool above the bridge but the New Riffle was calling me and I lost concentration. The width of the riffle had been reduced and the speed of the current increased. The water was clear and the pool deeper, the restoration had achieved the desired effect. I worked the pool carefully and after about thirty minutes, a good fish rose and took a terrestrial fly blown onto the water. It rose again a few yards downstream, the strong wind was creating a hatch. I switched to a dry fly, then a GRHE, followed by a series of different imitations. The fish had disappeared, I may have lined it.

The cold north east wind increased and it became difficult to cast, it was time to visit Little Bognor and sit in the sun. The lakes were deserted and I sat on the moss under my favourite tree. Rex Vicat Cole’s old Spanish Chestnut had been tilted by the winter storms. I flicked a GRHE nymph into the margins and after a few casts, the tip of the fly line snaked away. I lifted into a spirited brownie and eventually released it from the landing net. My first Trout for six months. I had a couple of casts and was planning to move further along the bank when another fish grabbed the fly as I was about to lift off. It was a bigger fish which raced off down the margins to my left and transformed itself into a stick. I released the stick which was neatly hooked in the middle. How do fish do that?

I wandered around the shaded side of the lake casting randomly and became uncomfortably cold. It was time to leave. One fish was sufficient. I will return to the New Riffle when it’s warmer.

Southwell IV

Although the season on the Devon rivers started weeks ago, my tackle had been marooned in lockdown at the other end of the country. Finally able to travel, I zoomed up the motorway to be reunited with precious cane and gently purring reels.

The following day was glorious, the sun shone and a gentle, warm southerly breeze wafted through the trees. I was anxious not to be late for a very special meeting and allowed an extra hour for travel gremlins. Google maps refused to talk to me but silently guided me through road closures and diversions until I reached my destination under the South Downs just five minutes early.

I had given up hope of buying the unique, custom built Southwell fly rod that came to light a year ago. I had pleaded my case but it was in vain. Then, out of the blue, I was offered the rod and we arranged to meet. The rules allowed us to chat in the garden with tea and an exquisite collection of rare expensive split cane. The custom made Southwell rods and highly desirable cane fettled by Edward Barder sent my head spinning. The quality of the rods was stunning.

When I grasped the brown cotton rod bag I could tell that it’s contents were special. The rod felt light, even dainty. I examined the nodes and checked the seams before fitting the rod sections together. It came alive with that tell tale steely feeling of Bob Southwell’s rods. It had been ordered from the shop in Station Road, Croydon as a custom build. The Pezon et Michel fittings were not standard but suited the 9′ of lithe cane. The rod had no signature but the provenance was exceptional, without the back story this rod would not attract much attention.

The glorious afternoon continued, much chatting was interrupted by a surprise. The gift of another rod. I was too overcome to show my gratitude. The ancient rod bag label said Pezon & Michel, a strange coincidence. I had been curious about the French rods since reading Charles Ritz’s book and waggling a guest’s Parabolic beside the Rother. The rod was a restoration project that would keep me busy for many months.

Two rods acquired during one glorious Spring afternoon! I drove home the long way round, relaxed and smiling. I took Southwell IV to the lakes the following day but serial incompetence meant that although I hooked a few Trout they all escaped. The rod behaved impeccably but I was very rusty.

2021 Plans

It appears that restrictions on our freedom will be gradually lifted in time for the start of the Trout fishing season, just like last year. I have over a month to prepare. Lockdown caught me in the latter stages of moving house. I left all my rods and reels behind, 250 miles away, safe and secure while furniture was delivered and much decorating took place. Although the season opens on 15 March it will be early April before I can retrieve my gear and flick a nymph about.

The weather is distinctly warmer and I feel that a short Spring will merge seamlessly into a long hot Summer. In Devon the Winter has been wet and mild, the rivers are full and Dartmoor is saturated. Most days I look over the parapet of the 13th century bridge into the crystal clear water but there are no little fish darting about. Where do they hide during the spates? There is no gravel under the old bridge, the bedrock is exposed and the weeds have all been ripped out by the January spates. Perhaps the little Trout have all been washed downstream into the estuary.

A walk beside the river is almost as good as fishing. In fact, sometimes it’s nicer without the distraction of choosing a fly and trying to flick it into an impossible gap under the overhanging branches. Yesterday I walked slowly along the banks of the River Walkham, my local river. The spates had left lines of driftwood on the short, green grass. The river had been cleaned out. The gravel and rocks had been polished and some of the pockets had become pools. It was quiet, even the birds were silent. The trees in the valley were not in bud and the Spring flowers were hiding under the bracken debris.

Today I chose to explore the River Meavy. I have walked the Beat many times but never with a rod. The scenery is stunning and it is a privilege to walk up the valley between primeval Oaks dripping with lichen and ferns. Huge granite slabs the size of cars are scattered around the Dewerstone side of valley amongst the trees. Little springs emerge from the peat and trickle down a hundred feet into the river. The sunlight slanting through the trees catches the white water in the riffles and illuminates the crystal clear water. There’s so much to see. A few small upwing flies hatch and midges buzz around the swampy patches of waterlogged peat.

This year I plan to use my fishing time carefully. I intend to keep in touch with both the waters in Sussex and Devon, a tricky balancing act. The Mayfly season on the Rother in Sussex is not to be missed. To watch a 3lb brownie appear under the fly and gently sip it down is a rare thing, memories are made that way. I will visit Little Bognor and celebrate Elgar Day on 15 June. The Trout in the moorland streams won’t become active until the water warms up in May. I’ll need to start training for the long hike across the moor, lockdown pounds must be lost.

I haven’t tied any flies or bought a supply of leaders and my only spool of tippet material is half empty. My reel needs cleaning and the silk line ought to have a dressing of Red Mucilin. I must get organised.