1 June – Keepers Bridge

I had tied some detached body Mayflies. The ultra fussy Trout I had encountered on my last two trips meant that I had to up my game. Too many fish had risen to the fly, inspected it and turned away in contempt. I could imagine the mixture of fishy disgust and hilarity at my crude imitations. Presentation had also been an issue, the tippet was visible in the surface film which was thick with pollen and dust. In a slow moving river the Trout do not hold a position facing upstream, they wander around and approach a dry fly from any direction. A finer tippet was not the answer, it would not hold a 2lb+ Trout away from the tree roots and streamer weed. I went armed with a pot of degreaser so that I wouldn’t have to scrabble around for dock leaves or mud.

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The afternoon started with a beer at The Badgers, the map was spread and a plan agreed. I walked along the South bank upstream from Keeper’s Bridge looking for rising fish. I stepped over the electric fence into the shade of the first Alder tree and in the absence of any surface activity, flicked a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph across the river. I twitched it back in an arc, just avoiding a bit of streamer weed. I was convinced the deep shade held a fish. Sure enough, a fish rose to my left, upstream, behind the tree. I changed to one of my prototype Mayfly, cast up and across and allowed the fly to drift along the far bank. The fish rose vertically and gulped but missed the fly. It looked suspiciously like a Chub.

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I slowly made my way upstream to the Old Riffle, expecting to find a fish in the pool above the fast water but the surface was undisturbed and the wind was against me. I moved on. The Wide Pool looked lifeless, I left it for the return journey. The water meadows came alive in the late afternoon sun. The high wispy clouds cast a bright but hazy light. Just like old fashioned net curtains. It was hot and humid and every flying biting insect was active. The Jungle Formula failed to do what it said on the tin.

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I drifted a Mayfly under the branches below the Cow drink, nothing. I wondered if the monster Trout was still in the shallow run below the bridge at Perryfields. I stood in the middle of the bridge peering down into the green, cloudy water. I studied a wavering shadow for a while, reluctantly deciding it was just a fish shaped weed frond. On the return journey down the North bank I had the advantage of the breeze behind me and the sun in my face. A few Spinners formed a cloud near an Alder tree and the breeze began to fade.

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A fish dimpled the surface of the cow drink, under the branch that divides the pool. I chose an extended body Mayfly and presented it without getting tangled, in midstream well above the rise. The fly drifted under the branch and swung in towards the near bank. I glanced across the river, selecting a gap in the trees for my next cast. As I looked back, ready to lift the line, I saw a rise where the fly had been and tightened into an unlucky Trout. If I had been paying attention, I probably would have tightened too soon. It felt like a wild fish but as it came into the shallows, it woke up and went on a long run downstream. The tiny hook which had caught in the corner of its mouth, in the scissors, was easily removed and the fish sped off towards the deeper water.

I saw another member downstream, on my bank, so I left his water alone. As I was passing unseen, I bade him ‘Good evening‘. Surprised, he turned to reply and missed a take. Oops. It was nearly 6:00pm and I made my way back towards Keeper’s Bridge to swap beats and to have a rest.

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After a glass of water I shed my waistcoat, the heat was unbearable and I already felt tired and dehydrated. The bluebell wood was cool and the smell of wild garlic was very strong. When I returned to the river I was surprised to see several fish rising under the line of Alder trees, they were gulping down Duns and flashing under the surface, taking Mayfly nymphs. I had a toffee, tied on a new fly and cast it gently into the swirls. It was immediately taken and while battling with the Trout, fish continued to rise under the trees.

I returned the lively fish and moved downstream a few yards. For the next hour I chased Trout, moving up and down the stretch from the bridge to the first bend, casting and missing. I rested that stretch and moved to a bend above the Tree Tunnel. The group of fish I had found on my previous trip were still there, rising for Duns. As I sat checking the tippet and tying on another new fly, the herd of Sussex cattle walked along the edge of far bank and stood watching me. The Trout disappeared. I degreased the tippet and waited ten minutes. A fish rose, I cast, there was a big swirl but the fly was rejected. Several times I saw fish rise or flash under the fly but they were not fooled into taking.

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I went back to the bridge and watched three swans flap and paddle the water for a hundred yards. It was like the deck of an aircraft carrier except they didn’t get airborne. That trashed the entire stretch of river. I had to wait a long time for the Trout to recover, the rises were intermittent. I dibbled a Mayfly over a bush, high sticking to keep the tippet off the water. A small Trout tried to grab the fly but I lifted too soon.

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The hatch stopped at about 9:00pm and we adjourned to The Badgers to rehydrate and to celebrate our score, two fish each. Unfortunately, in the UEFA Champions League Cup Final, Spurs couldn’t match our success.

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27 May – Evening Rise

I saw a Trout upstream of the bridge and a small shoal of Dace flashing silver on the sand between the beds of streamer weed. Rotherbridge was exposed to the strong prevailing wind and it looked like casting was going to be hard work.

I walked up to the New Riffle and crept to the top of the pool under the trees. The flow had increased and the river was a transparent shade of jade green. A few Olives and Mayfly fought against the wind but inevitably crash landed on the ripples. I worked a copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph down the deep channel and just as I was off-balance, shuffling through the nettles, there was a rattle on the rod. I cursed my bad luck and steadied myself. The next cast across the channel ended with a take from a fat little wild Trout. It was in good condition and had obviously been feeding well on the shrimps and nymphs in the riffle.

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I moved upstream to the big bend above the cattle drink and sat in the sun for a while admiring the soft light on the water meadows and trees. I fished the deep water on the outside of the bend without a response. I walked further up the river, past the long straight, through the tree tunnel and rested opposite an Alder tree where a fish had risen.

The trout ignored a series of nymphs and I decided to swap to a dry fly. If only I had remembered to put the box in my pocket. I scoured the nymph box and found an emerger that had a hackle. The Trout looked at it a few times but was not fooled. It wanted newly hatched Duns and had plenty of naturals to chose from. The fish was moving around the pool, it didn’t have a patrol route or station. At first glance it looked like a group of fish. Eventually it tired of my casting and went down.

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The wind dropped and a good hatch further upstream encouraged several fish to rise. Three or four small fish and one better Trout were rising together, picking off Duns before they could free themselves from the surface film. I tried the emerger Mayfly with a short hackle. It was rejected because the tippet was too visible. I swapped to a pale yellow nymph with a short grizzle hackle. I had a couple of violent takes but missed both.

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I watched the Duns float downstream and dropped my fly under the tree next to one. The biggest Trout took the fly and I connected for a second. That put the fish down and I made my way back to Rotherbridge.

I fired a long cast across the river to the far bank where I had earlier seen a Trout. It rose immediately and surprised me. I missed. It was cold and the light was failing. I had a pint at The Badgers before driving home through the deserted lanes.

Would a proper dry fly have made a difference ? I doubt it, the tippet was visible and the Trout had plenty of natural Mayfly.

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25 May – A Wey day

The day started with proper tea in a country garden. From a proper tea pot. Very civilised. Only the bumbles bees and song birds broke the silence. The drive to the river along familiar Surrey roads bought back memories of too many hours at work behind the steering wheel. The river was not as I had imagined. On my last visit to the Wey I had been introduced to a chalk stream. Shallow crystal clear water, the narrow stream clogged with Ranunculus. This was a big, wide mature river running through a nature reserve. It looked beautiful, wild and timeless.

Hundreds of black headed gulls were swooping and diving along the river, feasting on Mayfly. Their attack was relentless. As we walked upstream the gulls moved away from us to continue harvesting the hatching Duns on another stretch of river. They silently dipped onto the surface like enormous white swallows. It was reminiscent of seagulls chasing whitebait but without the noise.

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We retraced our steps and explored downstream. The river meandered through the water meadows channeling the steady stream of hatching flies to the outside of each bend. I elected to fish upstream where I had seen lots of Trout holding features that cried out for a nymph. Each bend, willow bush and weed bed offered new challenges. I used the Mayfly nymph that had deceived my last Trout at Little Springs, I had confidence in the imitation.

It was very bright with occasional high cloud cover and a gentle downstream breeze. I fished hard, expecting a swirl or bump on the rod but my concentration eventually lapsed and I had a Red Bull lunch in the shade of a group of Alder trees. A newly hatched Dun landed on my arm and I carefully transferred it to the tree trunk where it would be safe. It flew away towards the gulls. Over lunch we chatted and agreed to swap beats.

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The gulls continued to massacre the Duns but in late afternoon they switched their attention to a fall of Spinners. I stood between two Willow trees and drew a nymph from deep water back towards me over a sand bank. Nothing. I drifted the nymph under a tree on the far bank, convinced there was a Trout under the raft of weed and twigs. Cast, twitch, repeat. Nothing. The air was thick with Spinners, two came to rest on my arm as I was casting. I took that as a sign to stop and rethink.

We met again under the Alder trees and I was placed in pole position on the inside of a bend above a long straight. I sat among the rushes and nettles waiting for the evening rise. I sat on my landing net. The pole fitting broke. The sun began to sink, the temperature dropped and the light changed. The soft evening light gave the clouds a silver halo and the river sparkled. The gulls thinned out and I thought about where they came from, how they knew about the Mayflies and where they were going to roost.

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Eventually a couple of tiny rises along the far margin stirred me into action. I tied on a size 12 long shank green nymph and cast upstream. The line twitched but I was too slow. There were hundreds of Spinners drifting in the current along the far bank so I swapped to a dry Mayfly and covered several rises. The fish inspected the fly but swirled underneath it to convey their contempt. As I reeled in to change the fly a good fish made a couple of grabs at it but in the confusion, missed its target. The irony struck me; a well presented, drag free imitation had been rejected but a fast moving dry fly with a wake had provoked a take.

Two or three fish were cruising around the pool taking the little black sailing ships that stood out clearly on the calm water. It was 8:00pm and all the gulls had departed. I tried various Mayfly patterns, some of which were closely inspected but most were ignored. There were so many natural flies on the slow moving water that the fish were swimming around at random, there was food everywhere they went. I tied on my reliable squirrel hair Spinner and waited.

A good fish rose twice going upstream close to the far bank.  I dropped the fly two yards ahead of it and the fish took with a thump. The Trout shot off downstream and after it had gone twenty yards, I decided to follow. I left the pole and tucked the net frame under my arm as I stumbled through the nettles and small bushes. The fish jumped well clear of the water, it was a rainbow about 2lbs. By the time I drew level with the fish it had found a weedbed. I tightened slightly and the hook pinged out. I was not disappointed as landing an angry rainbow with a pole-less net was always going to end badly.

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I walked back upstream and found a couple of fish rising only a yard from the bank. There lots of swirls but no takes. It became too dark for my tired eyes to see the fly. It had been a lovely day. Long, hot and demanding but very memorable. Quite unlike any other river fishing I had experienced. The river had not been stocked, we had been chasing overwintered rainbows and wild brown Trout.

On the way home my mind was a swirl of Mayflies, fussy Trout and gulls. I listened to Elgar’s cello concerto in the car and finished the day in my armchair with a cold beer. Excellent.

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23 May – Springs

It was good to have the Defender back. My fishing bag and rod case were at home beside the tools and hydraulic fluids. I filled the picnic hamper on the way to Petworth, the chocolate didn’t make it to the fishing hut.

The lakes looked both beautiful and relaxing. The flat calm was occasionally disturbed by a slight breeze. I walked around Great Springs and looked through the crystal clear water at the roots of the water plants spreading over the clay. The lake had benefitted from being partly drained over the winter. The plants, insects and algae were in balance.

I sat behind the yellow iris watching the Trout cruise past. They were feeding on mayfly nymphs, hundreds of Duns were popping up through the surface film holding the leaf debris and pollen dust. I used a light tippet and a size 12 copper ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph. A fish took the fly on my first cast but I was too quick. I flicked the fly back and the same fish took again. I missed. The next two hours were a repetition of that process. To quick and the Trout had not turned, too late and the fly had been rejected. I sat on the bench for half an hour and had several takes on a nymph fished deep alongside the wall.

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I had a leisurely lunch by the hut and was joined by a tired Spinner. I thought it ironic that instead of chasing the Mayfly with my camera, a perfect specimen had landed next to me and posed for a photo. The dark colour, very long tails and clasper at the end of its body confirmed it was a male. After a brief rest it flew away to join the cloud of Spinners between the lakes.

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I watched Little Springs while finishing my beer, most of the activity was at the southern end of the lake. The grass was dry and warm and I sat twenty feet back from the waters edge to watch the fish. They were head-and-tailing for nymphs, there were not many Duns on the surface. I tied on an imitation of a Mayfly nymph on a size 12 long shanked hook. I squashed the barb and worked it along the margin with only the leader on the surface. As I dibbled the nymph at the end of a cast, a Trout shot across from my left and grabbed the fly. It was only a yard from the bank when hooked and went on a long run out into the lake. The hook dropped out in the landing net and the fish swam away probably puzzled by the nymph that bit back.

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I dropped the nymph into the deep water around the second point but it was ignored. The fish had switched on to the spent flies. I covered a lot of rising fish with a variety of patterns and eventually hooked a fish close to the Potamageton weedbed at the end of the last point. After a long fight the hook pulled out but I was not disappointed. Deceiving the Trout was sufficient.

I was tired and decided to leave. As I was walking back to the hut I thought ‘one last cast’. A big blue Trout was cruising towards me in the centre of the lake, its path was clear. I gently dropped the fly about a yard ahead. The fish rose, took the fly and turned down. I was surprised to connect and panicked when the fish shot away. The line was tangled on the reel, the rod pointed and the fish became airborne. Miraculously, after several long runs, I guided the fish into my landing net, helpfully wielded by another member. A great way to end a very memorable day.

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20 May – Another Southwell

Manchester City 6 – Watford 0. I’m not a football person. I only watch the Cup Final. However, the game was compelling and I completely forgot about a very important appointment. I’d had a tip off about another Southwell fly rod. It wasn’t hiding, it had worldwide exposure and I was expecting to be outbid. As the clock ticked down through the final twenty seconds of the auction I increased my bid and awaited the usual flurry of activity from snipers. There was none, perhaps the collectors were all Man City fans out on the beer.

I collected the rod and examined it in detail, it was 9′ 3″ and whipped with scarlet silk. The colour of the silk had been preserved with dope before the varnish was applied, a sure sign of a professional rod builder. The rod was named ‘Chew Valley’ in Indian ink just above the handle. The reel fitting, ferrule and rod rings were correct. The nodes in the cane alternated and were hot pressed. The rod tip felt steely and the quality of the dark coloured split cane was obvious.

I had a brief meeting in Petworth and then drove to the northern part of the Estate to christen the rod. It was a beautiful afternoon and the Mayfly were hatching all over the lakes. Clouds of male Spinners fluttered under the trees and over the short grass between Great Springs and Little Springs. Duns were hatching around the edge of Little Springs and the surface of the water was covered with crippled Duns, shucks and spent Spinners. The fish were wandering around, leisurely sipping in tasty morsels. A Trout even picked off a couple of nymphs under the Potamageton leaves just a rod length from the bank.

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I threaded the Rio # 3 line through the rod rings and gave the rod a waggle. It felt floppy but with reserves of power. I chose a Mayfly with a quill body and olive hackle point wings. It was a convincing imitation of a crippled Dun. I kept low and presented the fly to a passing fish which ignored it. A few casts later a fast moving Trout rose and grabbed the fly. It seemed surprised by the hook. I watched the rod as the fish took line, lots of line. The rod had a tip action, I wondered if it had a compound taper. I felt every thump of the fish through the cane. I released the Trout from the landing net and left the fly sticking in my trousers to dry while I paused for thought.

The action of the rod was unique. It was slow and graceful but when the rod unloaded at the end of the cast, it gave a little kick. Just like a Mk IV Carp. When the fly had dried I covered a couple of cruising fish both of which took the fly but came unstuck. I eventually hooked and landed a second Trout which fought long and hard, almost making it to the opposite bank. I presented a selection of Mayflies to the feeding Trout but the fish rose then sheered away. Educated fish.

I moved around the lake to the shallows between the two trees and caught a third fish from under the tree on my left. It took a teal winged imitation of a Spinner. I crept further along the bank towards the big Oak tree and swapped to a French Partridge imitation of an emerging Dun. I had two aggressive takes and missed both, I was so surprised by the Trout that I lifted the rod too soon.

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Having put the fish down I walked back around the top of the lake to the second point and found a good fish feeding on nymphs. It followed them vertically to the surface and grabbed the nymphs just before they could hatch. I dropped a Hare’s Ear nymph weighted with fine copper wire into the deep water close to the rushes. The leader twitched and I lifted. I felt a good fish tweak the line and it was gone. I cast a little further from the bank and watched the leader, it drew away from me and I hooked my fourth fish. I landed the Trout and caught a fifth from the last point.

I’d caught three Trout on Mayflies and two on a nymph and although I had the lake to myself and the fish were still feeding, I’d had enough.

I was very pleased with the rod. Its action is completely different to my other cane rods. I fished for nearly four hours, both right and left handed, without any pain. The latest addition to my small collection will surely become my favourite cane rod.

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