23 September – Rotherbridge

The tail of a hurricane was forecast to arrive for the Autumn equinox. Wet and windy weather would colour the water and make it impossible to fish the river. The landscape in the north of the Estate was complemented by a spectacular cloudscape and I paused at Stag Park to admire the scenery. Two Red Kites were messing about in the thermals, their flight was erratic and unbalanced by the wind. The fields had been shorn by the combine and as the shafts of sunlight moved across the slopes, the fields looked like camel coloured corduroy.

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I visited the lakes and took the water temperature which had stabilised at 17 degrees, quite warm for late September. I drove to Rotherbridge and spent a while peering into the water upstream of the bridge. I couldn’t see much until the sun broke through the clouds and cast fishy shadows on the sandy bottom. A shoal of fish hung in the current below clumps of streamer weed. I studied them for a few minutes, undecided whether they were Chub or Trout. Eventually one of the fish rolled over and confirmed its identity. They were Trout. Their position was tricky, below the weeds and close to the overhanging branches of an Alder. Accurate casting would be essential.

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The group of fish would react to my fly either by competing for it or by bolting downstream en masse. I used a long tippet and a size 12 parachute Pheasant Tail. The fly landed softly just upstream of the shoal and within seconds, a good Trout smashed into it and dived into a weed bed. I bent the rod to the butt and forced the fish into midstream. It dashed upstream through several weed beds and fought the rod and a big clump of weed, at my feet. I dragged the fish and the weed into my landing net. Success on the first cast.

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I rested the fish while I changed the fly and took stock. I assumed the shoal had dispersed and was about to move to the New Riffle when a Trout rose further downstream. I floated the fly over the fish which swirled but refused. I recalled the reaction of the Itchen fish and knew I would need to change the pattern. I chose a Quality Street sedge which produced a violent reaction from a Trout but I lifted too soon.

I changed to a size 14 parachute Adams and launched it between the clumps of weed, as far as I could, wind assisted. It floated under the bridge and was taken confidently. I put a lot of pressure on the fish and the small hook pulled out.

Dark clouds gathered over the South Downs and the wind increased. I went to the New Riffle and tried an Adams and a Daddy but I withdrew as the rain made its way up the valley towards Petworth. I sat in the Defender and energised myself with a Red Bull, I wondered if the wipers would work all the way home.

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16 September – Keepers Bridge

I had unfinished business at Keepers Bridge. I’d tied some parachute Adams to avoid the missed takes with the conventional dressing and I wanted to test the design. I visited Little Bognor and Great Springs which delayed my arrival at the river until late afternoon. It would be a short experiment with the new flies.

It was overcast and the breeze was awkward but I expected to find several rising Trout. I walked down to the tree tunnel, fishing a nymph in all the likely places. I couldn’t find any fish despite concentrating and persisting with a variety of nymphs. The slow action of the ‘Chew Valley’ by Bob Southwell helped me relax and present the flies quietly.

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As I made the return journey upstream I had to shelter under the Alder trees on the bend while a misty rain blew over. The light drizzle was hardly enough to dampen the wooden seat and I rested there while waiting for the evening rise. I was puzzled about the absence of rising Trout. The overcast sky and breeze should have encouraged the fish to leave the weed beds and come out from under the trees. Nothing moved, perhaps the Trout were feeding in mid water.

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I felt confident that I would find a rising fish in the short stretch between the bushes above the broken gate. The pool would be the perfect place to try out the parachute Adams. I started at the top of the pool with a nymph but as I had anticipated, a fish rose near the end of the short straight. I shuffled into position, renewed the tippet and tied on the new fly. I tested everything and waited for the fish to rise again. It came up twice in mid-stream beyond the rush fringe. The first few casts were short, I didn’t want to line the Trout. I flicked the fly out lower down and the fish flashed silver, it had seen through the deception. I wondered if it was a Sea Trout.

I rested the fish and changed to a Quality Street sedge. First cast, the Trout rose and grabbed the fly with a bang on the rod. I kept the cane rod at a shallow angle and gave only a little line to avoid the tree roots. The fish went airborne three times and again I wondered if it was a Sea Trout. It was a very pale, silvery fish. The hook dropped out in the landing net and I nursed the fish to ensure its full recovery.

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Black clouds were gathering over Petworth and I decided to leave the river. On the way home I had to use the wipers and the headlights. I realised that the Defenders water temperature gauge climbed only when the headlights were switched on. It was a relief to know that the engine was not at risk.

I listened to Natalie Clein’s interpretation of Elgar’s cello concerto on the way home and pondered my lack of success with my redesign of an old classic fly. A glass of Lagavulin 16 year old single malt resolved the matter.

 

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14 September – Keepers Bridge

There was a full moon last night and a clear sky. The lawn still glistened with moisture at lunch time and in the early afternoon, the temperature climbed into the seventies. The river level gauge  registered 0.041m at Halfway Bridge but I didn’t believe the technology. I visited Rotherbridge to check for myself. The river looked good.

The Rother always fishes well at the end of the season and the conditions were perfect. I planned an afternoon stroll along the river with a favourite rod and a pocket full of toffees. I sat outside The Badgers with a pint and watched the traffic heading to Goodwood for the Revival.

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We started fishing at 2:30pm, the sky was bright and the river looked lifeless. Nothing stirred. I sat opposite the line of Alders and mulled over a plan. It was too hot for walking and my plan involved a lot of sitting and waiting. I practiced my casting. I explored the tightest gaps in the trees with a GRHE nymph. Everything went well, the fly landed gently, close to the far bank and drifted under the branches. I didn’t lose any flies and I felt confident that I could winkle out a fish or two when they eventually revealed themselves.

A good Trout rose under the last tree in the row, a big powerful, splashy rise. Not the gentle sip of a wild fish. I floated a series of different dry flies towards the Trout which appeared to ignore my offerings. I couldn’t see the reaction of the fish, it was too far downstream. I tied on a Daddy-Long-Legs pattern and flicked it upstream of the Trout which grabbed the fly without hesitation. The fish went on a long run downstream through several beds of streamer weed before the hook pulled. There were two scales impaled on the hook point. The hook hold had failed and caught the side of the fish as it dashed through the weeds.

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I wandered slowly downstream to the seat on the bend but it was uncomfortable in the full glare of the sun and I made my way back upstream, keeping close to the edge of the wood where there was shade. I heard a rise and found a couple of fish near the bushes by the broken gate. I sat behind some cover and hooked a fish on a Quality Street sedge. I released the Trout while watching a rise, upstream under another Alder tree. The fish went down as two people wandered along the far bank on the skyline.

It was a long, tricky cast with a bend to finish under the branches. Occasionally the line drooped over a branch but although the Trout rose a few times, it was not for my fly. Eventually a couple of fish splashed at an Adams but the short, stiff hackle obscured the hook point and I missed both. I moved upstream where I could reach into the fast water along the far bank. A fish took the parachute Pheasant Tail with a bang and despite a well bent rod, dived into the tree roots.

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Sedge patterns were getting a response but there were no naturals hatching. Adult midges were buzzing about under the trees, skittering close to the surface of the water. The evening rise developed as the sun dipped below the horizon. The air cooled and the river came to life. I persisted with small sedge patterns. Small, stiff hackled dry flies were not the answer. If I managed to hook a trout, the tiny hooks would not hold the fish.

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I walked back down to the bend below the bridge and witnessed the capture of a Trout. We resolved to celebrate our success with a pint at The Badgers but I was distracted by a cheeky fish rising in mid-stream right under our feet. It had not been frightened away by the capture and release of it’s companion. One-Last-Cast syndrome took charge. I dropped a parachute Pheasant Tail over the fish and in the fading light, saw the tippet twitch. I lifted into the Trout and bullied it away from the marginal plants. It was in excellent condition but had a slightly deformed tail, a recently introduced fish.

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It had been a very pleasant evening and to celebrate, we sat outside the pub with a cool pint amongst a collection of vintage cars returning from Goodwood. There was a slight chill in the air as I drove back, the full moon glowed orange in the south-eastern sky.

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9 September – Little Bognor

Heavy rain before lunch eased in the early afternoon despite the forecast. I visited Little Bognor and was pleased to see that the lakes looked fresh and clean. The rain had settled the dust and pollen, the colours of the trees and plants were intense. The Trout were rising all over the bottom lake but the top lake was flat calm, there were no signs of fish.

I looked into the river at Rotherbridge, the streamer weed was turning brown and the water looked grey and cool. I peered through the railings on both sides of the bridge for several minutes but no fish revealed themselves. I preferred the shelter of the Beech trees and the rising Trout at Little Bognor.

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I returned to the lakes and felt confident that I could catch a few Trout on buzzers. The fish were rolling over, head-and-tail, in classic buzzer rise forms. I stood under the umbrella of the Beech trees, the ground was too wet to sit behind the ferns. The Beech leaves shed the light rain into the margins of the lake where the Trout were leisurely wandering around sipping buzzers. I tried a black buzzer and a size 18 red buzzer but although the fish saw the flies, they were ignored. There was too much seed and leaf debris for a dry fly, the fish would never have found an Adams.

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Earlier I had seen a bedraggled crane fly in the grass between the lakes. My imitation Daddy seemed large and crude compared with the natural. I flicked it into an area of water relatively free of leaves and waited for a response. A Trout rose under the fly and rejected it, I was not surprised. A few casts later a fish rose, took the fly and went on a long run down the lake. The Trout toured the lake and then became tangled in the twigs under my feet. I dug it out with the landing net and nursed it in the shallows until it swam away. I tried to tempt another fish from under the trees in the corner by the stone quarry but there was no response.

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I was pleased to have tied an imitation Daddy, to have noticed the natural in the grass and to have had the opportunity to catch a Trout on a new pattern. I will have to tie a few more but I will make them smaller.

 

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5 September – River Itchen

I had been anxiously looking forward to my day on the Itchen. Years ago I had fished the river for Grayling during the late Autumn but not on the Trout Beats. I’d found the river intimidating, the depth and speed were beyond my experience. On each trip I had caught many good Grayling, some over three pounds. On my last visit a pike over twenty pounds had snatched a big fish at the rim of the landing net. In the crystal clear water I could see every tiny scale fluttering downstream as the monster repeatedly chomped it’s lunch before snapping the line. Scary.

The weather forecast was perfect and my only concern was the Ultimate Driving Machine, would it get me there ? The satnav sulked and my memory of the journey was fuzzy. I had plenty of time to recollect while cruising the 50mph contraflow between Portsmouth and Southampton.

The lower river looked stunning. I drove up the track very slowly, remembering the pools and admiring the trees. The Poplars and Willows had matured and the river was enclosed, sheltered from the breeze. The top Beats made me smile. English water meadows and a pristine chalk stream fringed with mature Willows reminiscent of a Constable painting.

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I took three small boxes of dry flies and a pocket full of toffees to the bridge at the bottom of my Beat where I watched two large Trout finning under a tree. Further upstream I found a group of fish on the shallows. One solitary dark fish took my fancy. The gusty wind was downstream but it put a nice bend in the tippet. I learnt a lot about presentation. The fly had to drift from a yard upstream, directly over the fish. With my initial wayward casts I caught a couple of Graying on a parachute Pheasant Tail. My target Trout ignored the fly.

Eventually another Trout turned, chased the fly downstream and was hooked. It was about 3lbs and when released, dived away from the landing net back into the weeds. I relaxed, the pressure was off, I had caught a good Trout on an upstream dry fly from an iconic chalkstream.

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I thought I’d ‘cracked it’ but the other fish in the area were spooky and slid away from my fly. I changed to a size 14 Adams-ish which floated well and was visible but two hooked Trout came adrift. The small hook couldn’t hold them. I moved upstream to an open pool and had three more fish, including a wild brownie, on a size 12 parachute Pheasant Tail.

I sat in the sun at the fishing hut and had lunch. I recalled the lessons learnt; accurate casting was essential, once a fish had rejected a fly the entire shoal would avoid it, changing the fly pattern renewed the Trouts interest and I needed more toffees.

After lunch I returned to the dark coloured Trout and presented a selection of flies, all of which were ignored. I caught a cheeky Grayling which fought its way down past my target fish. After releasing the Grayling I was surprised to see that the Trout had maintained its station. I flicked a parachute Black Gnat into its window and it took confidently. By the time I had returned the fish, another Trout had taken over the lie beside the weedbed.

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I went upstream to the footbridge at the top of the Beat, crossed the river and walked back downstream to the long pool below the overhanging Willow. The sun on my left shoulder illuminated a group of Trout, casting their shadows on the bare chalk. I started at the downstream end of the run and although the Trout were rising, they ignored my fly. I chose a Size 12 Walkers Sedge which immediately resulted in a take, the Trout chased it downstream and grabbed it.

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I moved up the run a few yards, caught a Trout and returned it. Six times. I had a long chat with the Keeper and rested the fish. After about an hour I resumed my seat on the grass at the bottom of the run and flicked the fly upstream towards a better fish. It took the Sedge and battled in the deep water. I put a bend in the rod that I normally reserve for tree roots and the monster finally slid into the landing net. It was about 4lbs, a coloured male with a hooked lower jaw. The scales, fins and tail were perfect. I was pleased to release him, it would have been sacrilege to kill such a magnificent specimen.

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I caught another good fish from the run and then wandered back to the bottom of the Beat. The weather had changed, clouds were building and the wind was a little stronger. I was weary and had made up my mind to leave. One last cast. I looked in the pool above the footbridge and saw a Trout finning close to my bank. I hid behind a tree trunk and dropped a sedge fly into the water. I kept the tippet off the water and twitched the fly to induce a take. The effect was very realistic. The fish approached the fly several times and examined it. I was convinced the Trout would take but it grew tired of my attempts and slid away into the weeds.

I flicked the fly above an overhanging Willow on the opposite bank and a Trout took it without a second glance. My final fish was returned upstream on the shallows where I wished it well. It had been a superb day.

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I sat on the bench at the fishing hut and relaxed with a Red Bull, I needed the energy for the drive home. The scenery was beautiful, it was quiet and I had not been disturbed. A few small upwing flies had hatched throughout the day and the fishing had been challenging. The tally had not been easily won. I took a short cut on the way back to avoid the contra flow and the traffic around Chichester. I became lost near Liphook and toured Hampshire before finding the Midhurst road. Another lesson re-learnt.

 

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