1 April – Little Bognor

The sky was Wedgwood blue, cleared of clouds by a stiff BBC East wind. From the North. As I drove through the country lanes I planned my day. Tea at the hut, a walk around the big lakes and a relaxing afternoon at Little Bognor in the shelter of the valley.

Thousands of small Roach were shoaled on the surface of both lakes at Springs. They were mainly last year’s fry, about three inches long. No Trout moved on either lake but it was good to sit in the sun with a cup of tea and wait for a sign. A Grannom and a lone Olive fluttered past, both evaded my attempts to catch and photograph them.

I knew that Little Bognor had been fished earlier in the day but the clear, spring fed lakes were a better option than the other lakes on the Estate. A member was fishing the bottom lake so I walked up the slope and found a sheltered seat beside the Willow tree. Buzzers were hatching and fish regularly slashed through the ruffled surface to snatch a morsel. The breeze swirled around the top of the valley like the downdraft from a helicopter, disturbing and flattening the water. It continually shifted direction and let me drift the line across different parts of the lake. I caught a small Trout on the third cast, close to the bank. An unweighted black spider worked just under the surface was a good choice.

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The fish continued to feed despite the disturbance from landing the little wriggler and I had several takes, all missed, before they moved to the other side of the lake. I changed fly and rested my arm. Several times. Another member arrived and fished the deep end of the lake. The wary Trout moved towards me and I caught three fish in three casts.ย The fish moved into the centre of the lake and kept rising for buzzers. I swapped to a cut down dry fly that hung under the surface film. I missed a few takes, mainly because I’d lost concentration.

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I decided to have a dabble in the bottom lake before I left. I spent half an hour trying to drift the fly to a fish under the branches of the Chestnut trees. It moved away to the deep water by the stone steps. I crept along the bank and flicked the leader into the margins. The line twitched and I lifted into a small trout that had been caught before. The tip of its nose was marked.

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It had been a relaxing afternoon with no pressure. The Trout had been difficult but not impossible. The weather had been kind to me and as I drove home, I thought about the river. Showers were forecast but it should be in perfect condition for my first visit on Wednesday.

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The unacceptable face of farming. Courgettes under acres plastic sheets, all of which will be sent to landfill when it’s removed from the fields. I drove home behind a giant tractor, third gear from Billingshurst to Clemsfold.

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28 March – Farlows Christening

I’d completed the restoration of the Farlows ‘Holdfast’ months ago but it had not been Christened. The long, lithe loch rod was designed for roll casting before a drifting boat not double-hauling from the bank of a large lake. I planned to fish the moorland lakes and make the most of the Spring sunshine, flicking a nymph into the deep margins would suit the rod.

I left the Defender at Great Springs and wandered through the woods. A woodpecker was rattling a tree and a couple of buzzards were mewing from just under the cloud base. I sat on the newly mown grass and chose a lightly weighted black nymph. The water was slightly cloudy and black seemed a good choice. Roach fry attacked the nymph but moved away when they discovered the deceit. I used the Rio WF line and slowed my action down, the rod would not be hurried.

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I moved around the lake exploring the margins and the shade under the trees. I expected the line to tighten at any moment but it remained slack. I saw a fish rise close to the bank on Lower Figgs and crept across the bracken carefully avoiding clumps of primroses. The water was clearer so I tied on a weighted green nymph and worked it across the breeze. It wasn’t until I reached the bay downwind of the Willow bush that I had a take. Just as I was lifting off. Nevermind.

Several small Trout swirled around the fly as it rose in the water at the end of the casts. Eventually a Trout took hold but came adrift after a few seconds. I rolled the fly downwind parallel to the bank and there was a solid thump on the rod. I kept a shallow bend in the rod and gave line freely. Every twist and lunge of the fish was transmitted up the rod. I released the fish without handling it and walked slowly back to the hut for a celebratory cup of tea.

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My arm ached but I had a few casts at Luffs. The sun was bright and only the Roach fry moved. They dimpled the surface in shoals down the centre of the lake. After a chat, tea and biscuits I felt refreshed and decided to explore Luffs properly. I swapped rods and retrieved the landing net from the roof of the Defender, forgotten during the short drive from the hut.

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As the sun went down the Trout started chasing the fry. Big swirls and waves revealed fast moving fish all over the lake. Showers of tiny fish boiled at the surface as Trout circled around. The tatty green nymph had a long tail and looked like a very small roach. A fish took the fly close to the brickwork and came to the net without much of a struggle. It had Cormorant scars behind its dorsal fin but swam off strongly.

I saw a large bow-wave to my left and dropped the nymph along the cruising line, a couple of yards ahead of the fish. There was a savage yank on the rod and a Trout between four and five pounds became airborne. Three times it leapt. I held on tight during the first reel screeching run. I tightened down on the rim of the reel as the monster tore up the lake. A member at the other end of the lake heard the reel scream and may have heard me curse as the fish escaped.

I moved along the bank to the centre channel and saw a pod of fish. I cast ahead of a Trout, hooked it and after a long scrap, realized I had caught the Cormorant marked fish again. The marks were very distinctive. Having been pecked and caught twice, the fish was not in good shape so I kept it for my dinner. Better me than a Cormorant. I caught another small fish and decided to stop fishing, I’d had sufficient.

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After putting my rod away and while checking the days photos, an earth shaking roar got louder. A Eurofighter screamed overhead, along the line of the National Grid pylons, only a few hundred feet up. As I was recovering from the shock another pilot broke all the rules and roared up the valley along the same line. It was a fitting salute on which to end a great day.

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As I drove away I paused at Stag Park and watched the sun dip down behind a line of clouds over the South Downs. It had been an eventful day.

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25 March – Little Bognor

I was a glorious Spring morning. The bright blue sky held a few fluffy white clouds encouraged along by a chilly north-westerly breeze. I wanted to sit in the sun, watch the water and absorb the atmosphere at Little Bognor. If a Trout or two interrupted my afternoon that would be a bonus.

I visited the river at Rotherbridge and smiled when I first saw the water. It looked perfect. A slight green tint couldn’t quite hide the starwort in the slack water near the bank. Fresh debris hung in the trailing Willow branches giving over-wintered fish somewhere to hide. The high pressure system settled over the country for the next few days should ensure a couple of days on the river before my trip to Cumbria.

Little Bognor was deserted except for a Woodpecker and a serial pigeon killer banging away with a 12 bore in the woods above the old stone quarry. The sun illuminated the steep bank under the Beech trees and for once I knew exactly where to fish.

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Trout were occasionally rising to buzzers and a few Grannom were fluttering across the surface and along the bank. I tied on a skimpy Pheasant Tail nymph with extra copper wire which I thought was a good compromise. I could swing it round in the breeze and search along the bank in the deep water under the trees.

On the second cast the line tightened and a fish raced out into the middle of the lake. As I readied the landing net it shook the hook. Nevermind, it was time to rest the water and relax in the sun. The beech mast was crunchy and in thin trousers, was slightly uncomfortable to sit on. I slumped to my left and lay on the moss while watching the water under the trees.

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I waited patiently until a fish rose within easy casting range. I flicked the nymph upwind of the rise and let it blow round. As the line swung close to the bank the tip hesitated and I slowly lifted into a fish which gave a good imitation of a waterlogged branch. The Trout was unaware of the situation but eventually woke up. It was a plump little fish that shot away from the net, lesson learnt. A lot of Grannom were skittering across the lake so I changed the fly to a weighted, shaggy green nymph that I had tied for the Derwent.

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I moved along the steep bank to the stone steps and hooked two large twigs in successive casts. Dragging them from the water ruined the chances of another fish and I moved to the southern end of the lake. I cast parallel to the bank and let the fly sink while I took a few photos. Lifting the fly vertically close to the stonework produced a confident take. I repeated the process along the wall and caught three lively trout. They all swam strongly away from the net having returned the barbless hook to me. As the sun dropped behind the Beech wood on the western side of the lake, the air temperature and light levels plummeted and the fish stopped rising.

It had been a very relaxing and enjoyable couple of hours.

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22 March – Little Springs

Beer, pizza and a shop full of expensive fishing tackle. Excellent. The launch of the Fly Culture magazine Spring issue at Farlows had drawn fly fishers from far and wide. I met an angler turned author, an author who’d become an angler and lots of other friendly people. It was a great atmosphere and the evening passed too quickly. I resisted the temptation of a Sage 10′ 6″ #3, I’d already bought myself too many birthday presents.

The train journeyย  from Dorking to Victoria had not been a good start to the evening. It brought back memories of a decade of commuting. Four hours a day wasted. Time I would never get back. Arriving in London Europe was depressing and by the time the black cab arrived at Farlows I needed a beer. Farlows was an oasis of calm, a portal to the real world.

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I learnt a lot about the many different people in the Fly Culture family and their motivation for this wacky, left field publication to succeed. The journey home had been slightly more bearable because the south London landscape was hidden in darkness. The Working Dead zombies, condemned to the infinite loop of commuting, had lurched off the train and disappeared. A Chinese meal at our local restaurant had earthed the high tension of the return journey and helped me sleep.

I’d planned a relaxing trip to Petworth and when I woke at the crack of 9:30am, I was pleased to see a grey overcast and no wind. The radio and clock in the Defender stopped working before I’d left the village and I entered a timeless, news free world. I tried to remember the colour coding of the wires behind the dashboard and which fuse would need cleaning but gave up at Billingshurst, resolving to fix it over the weekend.

I met a couple of members at the fishing hut and took up too much of their time chatting. Little Springs had lost some colour since my last visit and as I was enjoying a cup of tea, I saw a fish chasing roach fry near the first point.

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I set up the 3oz Hardy 10′ as my arm hadn’t recovered from the previous trip with the 10oz Sharpes ‘Aberdeen’. I tied on a black spider with a yellow tag and wandered down to the seat on the point. Occasionally I saw faint shadows. I was not convinced they were Trout but I flicked a fly towards them just incase. I short-lined with my left arm and watched the tip of the fly line. A fish moved, I covered it and a few seconds later the line tightened. It dropped the hook in the net and I released it unharmed. As I moved around the lake I saw a distressed fish on the surface, Cormorants or bad handling ?

After an hour wandering around, taking photos and chatting I was cold and hungry. I drove home and celebrated the end of a very memorable week with a bottle of Yalumba ‘The Cigar’ Cabernet Sauvignon. Perfection.

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A bit of Culture

Last year I wrote about Elgar’s first fishing trip to Little Bognor on 15 June 1918. I commemorated the centenary of Elgar’s visit by catching a Trout at Little Bognor on 15 June 2018. I enjoyed researching and writing about his life and music. His cello concerto and enigma variations are a fitting accompaniment on my regular visits to Petworth.

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Fly Culture magazine is a new, upmarket publication about fly fishing around the world. It’s all content, no adverts or product placement. It’s about ‘why’ we fish. No regurgitated articles about killer fly patterns or the latest ‘tactical’ fly tying scissors. It’s a good read. The Editor, Pete Tyjas, liked my piece about Elgar and published it in the Spring 2019 edition.

I’m looking forward to celebrating Elgar Day again this year. A friend suggested that a lakeside vintage picnic with a gramophone would be fun. I’m not sure about that.

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