23 August – Perryfields

Heavy rain delayed my departure but the weather forecast was reassuring, the afternoon would be fine. I arrived at Taylors Bridge and decided to fish downstream on the north bank as the Sussex cattle had been moved further along the valley. I crossed the bridge but paused at the gate. The south bank was calling to me. I discarded the logic of easy access to the water and the sun in my face, in favour of intuition. An old memory or experience, locked away beyond conscious recall, prompted me to choose the high banks and the shadows of the south side. It was illogical but I went along with my instinct.

I passed all the usual pools until I reached the Monster Pool, it looked so inviting. I rolled a Copper Nymph from under the gnarly old Ash tree for ten minutes but the anticipation dwindled and I moved downstream. I couldn’t resist the deep run on the bend above the Shallow Pool. The wind was against me and I had to wait for a lull and for the Himalayan balsam to stop swaying, before I could side-cast upstream into the run. The nymph sunk quickly and as I drew in line for the next cast, a small wild Trout swirled on the surface. It just missed the fly. Several casts later I decided that the frightened little fish had retired into the streamer weed. I would try again on my return journey.

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I saw a fish on the surface in the pool opposite the big metal gates. It was swimming about aimlessly and might have been a chub. I flicked a Black Spider close to the fish which looked at the fly and disappeared. I spent longer at the pool than I should have, the fish had gone down. I booked an appointment for the Chub/Trout later that evening. I was pleased to see Perryfields Barn. It’s such a lovely place, the old Sussex barn, the mature Oak trees and the fast flowing river. I ate too many blackberries while waiting for the Barn Owls to appear, I hoped to see the newly fledged chicks. I never catch a fish near the bridge, there are too many distractions.

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The series of pools below the bridge, overhung with bushes and trees, were my best chance of a fish. I had caught and released several fish there during the Mayfly season. At the first pool everything went to pieces. Several lost nymphs, tangles and rod wraps forced me to rest and to take stock of the situation. My hat was preventing me from seeing the branches overhead, I took it off. My Polaroids were misting up, I put them in my pocket. I tied on a realistic nymph imitation, which sunk quickly under the bushes along the far bank. Order had been restored and with it, I found new confidence.

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As I arrived at the next pool a fish rose close to the far bank beyond an overhanging branch. A direct cast was impossible but I allowed the nymph to drift to within ten feet of the rise in the hope that the fish was cruising upstream. It wasn’t, the Trout rose again in exactly the same place. I moved below the fish and tried an Olive and an Adams. Both were ignored. The cast was tricky, close to an Alder tree on my left and opposite a bunch of sedge. The Trout was in the main current picking off flies as they drifted downstream. I tied on a parachute Pheasant Tail with a blob of Neoprene foam to help it sit in the surface film. The upstream wind helped me bend the cast round the tree and land the fly gently. After a few casts the fish took the fly confidently and battle commenced. As I was about to net the fish it went on a long run upstream, through the overhanging branches and I had to bully it back downstream. Getting the fish into the landing net was a fiasco and I was glad nobody witnessed my efforts. I returned the fish upstream as another Trout had risen at the bottom of the pool.

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The second fish had probably been put down by the ‘Landing Net Fiasco’ and not surprisingly, didn’t rise to my fly. I fished the other pools along that stretch but didn’t see any rises. It had been over three hours of walking and creeping about but one more cast was in order. The Wide Pool was nearby and I imagined a fish rising next to the sunken tree. As I walked towards the pool the calm surface was dimpled by a delicate rise. I assumed it was a small wild Trout and was confident of a take. I hid beside the half-dead tree and was careful not to backcast into the overhanging branch which had claimed so many of my flies. The third cast was perfect, the Trout rose and gulped down the fly. It was not a small fish. I released it from the landing net upstream of the pool where the bank was lower.

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Two good Trout, caught on an upstream dry fly, was a great result. As I walked back to Taylors Bridge I pondered over my use of nymphs when the Trout were obviously rising. I had been too slow to adapt and the early evening rise clearly required a dry fly. On my return journey the Chub/Trout was hiding and the little fish in the deep run didn’t rise.

I had trusted my instinct and had been rewarded. It had been a long, tiring afternoon but very enjoyable.

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20 August – Top Beat

The top of the river hadn’t been fished this season. Nobody had fished Beat A. I thought I might find a few fish that hadn’t been caught and released. Easy fish. When I arrived at Taylors Bridge a giant combine harvester with caterpillar tracks was thundering up and down the field leaving a cloud of yellow dust in its wake. It was processing linseed, an unusual crop. The plants looked dead and unlikely to yield much oil. I had lunch while watching the combine and setting up my rod.

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It was warm, humid and overcast. Ideal conditions for fishing. There were no signs of fish around the bridge so I walked to Ladymead and had a few casts under the Oak tree. I was sure that part of the pool held a fish but my Copper Nymph was ignored. The top of the river was shallow, the water level had dropped after recent rain. The streamer weed swirled around in the current and mature trees, mainly Alder and Willow, lined both banks. The water was clear and I could see the ripples in the sandy bottom without Polaroids. The Trout had plenty of places to hide and I concentrated on the deeper stretches near the weed beds and under the trees.

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Every cast I expected the line to draw tight but despite my confidence and concentration, ninety minutes passed without reward. As I was moving upstream looking for another deep run, I saw a good fish rise in midstream and take a fly. I crept towards the edge of the river and waited for the fish to rise again. I waited patiently but the fish didn’t show. I thought it had retreated under an Oak tree downstream from the sandy shallow. I ran a Copper Nymph along the far bank, under the branches and close to the tree roots. I kept casting for a few minutes and then left the fish to rest. I continued my journey upstream, exploring the edges of the weed beds and losing most of my Copper Nymphs in the trees.

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I found a nice pool with a back eddy along the far bank, an overhanging tree and a big bed of streamer weed at the top of the pool. I resolved to stay there and cover every part of the pool methodically and with a variety of flies. Eventually a fish rose, right in the middle of the weed bed. It was impossible to present a fly in the weeds so I reluctantly moved on. I walked to the top boundary then retraced my steps. I was eager to have another attempt at the Trout I had rested.

As soon as I sat down behind the bankside cover the fish rose. It chased a fly, swirled and disappeared in a cloud of sand. I waited for a few minutes and then worked a nymph under the branches of the Oak tree. I was repeating the earlier mistakes and risked putting the fish down. After a long wait the fish rose in midstream. I swapped the nymph for a size 14 Partridge and ginger hackled pattern that I had used on my last trip.

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I waited for the fish to reveal itself but while scanning the water I noticed a shadow on the bottom in midstream. It was a tricky cast between the trees, upstream and across the current. The first cast was short so I lifted off and pushed the fly another yard. The fly landed perfectly, the fish rose as it floated overhead, turned downstream and took the fly positively. I lifted the rod and the fish dashed under the Oak tree. The fly line tangled in the branches but came free as the fish went on a long run down the river. That suited me because the bank was lower downstream and the landing net would reach the water. Unfortunately, as I walked downstream, the fish dashed through sunken Willow branches, the hook pinged out and stuck in a branch. The Trout was about 2lb and I was so pleased to have presented an upstream dry fly perfectly, that the loss of the fish was not important.

It was a nice moment on which to end the afternoons fishing.

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18 August – Taylors Bridge

The top of the river is rarely fished. It’s a long way up the old railway line and access to the water is tricky. The pheasant poults cluttered the track at Keepers Bridge and a long line of swallows decorated the telephone wires at Kilsham Farm. Their early departure is probably due to a lack of flying insects. I picked a few blackberries and had an apple for lunch, very healthy.¬†Each time I visited Taylors Bridge during the last six weeks I crept along the metal bridge and looked for the resident Trout. It was a good fish which disappeared downstream under a raft of rubbish every time it saw me. On a recent visit I hadn’t seen the fish and I wondered if the Black Death had eaten it.

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As I signed the book and set up my rod, there was a big splash directly under the bridge. The fish rose again as I inched my way along the steel mesh floor, making best use of the overhanging Alder tree for cover. It was close to the north bank, hanging in mid water. It was a pale fish, easily seen without Polaroids.

I sat behind the dying weeds on the fringe of the pool and watched the fish, it was only a few feet away and it was testing each piece of leaf debris in the main current. I lowered a Copper Nymph into the water but got no response. I changed to an amber sedge but the fish rejected it after a prolonged examination. I think the hook was too big and shiny. A Black Spider was also rejected. I rested the fish and went for a walk to the big pool at Ladymead. The campers were making a noise and the wind was against me so I didn’t stay long.

On my return the fish rose and examined an Alder leaf. I decided to switch to a dry fly. The strong current and 4lb tippet would be a problem so I dapped a size 14 shrimp imitation which held the Trout’s attention for a few seconds before it sunk. I browsed the fly box and chose a size 14 Partridge and ginger hackled nymph which I hoped would sit in the surface film. The fly floated down the current, was examined very closely for ten seconds and then gently taken. I paused, lifted the rod and the fish seemed genuinely surprised to be hooked. I released two pounds of annoyed Trout back into the pool and wondered if I would see the fish again during the Autumn. The fine wire, small black hook had helped the fly float and was less obvious to the fish.

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As I walked downstream I heard several ‘rises’ under the Oak trees. It took a while before I realised it was acorns not Trout. I lost several Copper Nymphs in the bushes but I was not concerned, the hooks I had used were too big and ugly. The weight of the nymphs enabled me to explore a few deep runs that I usually ignored. I hoped for another fish in the Shallow Pool but before I got there, I was distracted by a small, deep hole under my bank between the Oak and Alder trees. I had fished that hole many times and never had a take. I cast to the far bank and let the fly settle back towards me. I wasn’t concentrating when the line drew tight and the rod bent into a circle. I put a lot of pressure on the fish to keep it away from the tree roots. It was a fat, wild Trout about a pound, it fought well above its weight. The hook fell out in the net and as I went to release it, the fish jumped out of the landing net and skipped upstream through the streamer weed.

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The little fish was immaculate and might have been preparing for migration to the sea. It had the look of a potential sea trout smolt.

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I lost another nymph in the bushes and abandoned my journey to the Shallow Pool, two fish from a slightly swollen and coloured river was enough. On the way back to the main road I stopped at Keepers Bridge for a chat with another member. As we held a post mortem on the afternoons sport, a fish rose under one of the Alder trees. I foolishly decided to spend an hour walking upstream to Perryfields. I chased a couple of rising fish and enjoyed the walk but after a couple of hours I was exhausted.

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13 August – Rotherbridge

I had lots of chores and it wasn’t until 2:00pm that I arrived at Rotherbridge. There was no plan, I just had a hunch that I would catch a Trout there. The water was a little coloured but I could see the Dace flashing silver on the sand below the bridge and I was confident that my flies would be seen. I decided to start on the north bank and then work my way up to the New Riffle on the south side. I walked across the bridge towards the farm and through the field to the first pool below the bridge.

I stood behind a shoulder high wall of nettles which hid me perfectly. I had the sun in my face and didn’t have to worry about shadows. The wind was downstream but the bushes around the bridge sheltered my cast. As I was choosing a fly a fish swirled in midstream in the shadow of the bushes. I started with an amber spider but after half an hour with no response I swapped to a black spider. Then I tried a small shrimp imitation. The fish rose again but it was not impressed with my carefully chosen flies. I was running out of ideas. The fish was returning to the river bed after each rise, I needed a heavier nymph. I tied on a copper nymph and a couple of casts later the leader drew slowly away from me. It was nice to catch a Trout on a fly that I had designed after reading an article on Frank Sawyer.

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The wide sandy stretch below the Alder tree looked inviting. The grass had been cut short but I stood next to the tree, behind some Himalayan Balsam which I thought preferable to stinging nettles. I fished down and across with the copper nymph, running it close to the sparse bunches of streamer weed. I saw a flash of gold where the fly should be but the leader didn’t move. I raised the rod gently which induced another golden flash so I continued to tighten the line and the fish was hooked. It was a much larger Trout and I was glad to see it slide over the rim of the landing net.

I crossed back over the bridge and trundled the nymph down the margin into the shade of the bushes. I expected a take any second but the wind upstream of the bridge made controlling the line tricky, the fly was moving too fast.

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I sought the more sheltered pools but despite working hard and concentrating on the tip of the line, I didn’t get any takes. I was sure the fish were feeding but the wind made presentation too difficult. When my tippet wrapped around a branch I decided to leave. It had been an enjoyable couple of hours.

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9 August – Keepers Bridge

The weather had changed to a grey sky, drizzle and no wind. It was the sort of weather that fooled me into thinking that I didn’t need a coat. I took a lightweight jacket. The river had not risen according to the gauge and I was keen to fish the evening rise.

On my last visit I had marked down a couple of good Trout at Taylors Bridge and I was curious to see if they were still there. I expected to have the upstream Beats to myself all evening. As I parked and switched off the Land Rover, the sun broke through and brightened up the landscape. I paused in the middle of the bridge and looked for the resident Trout. Either it had found another pool or my approach, with the sun behind me, had scared it deep into the tree roots.

The pool by the cricket bat willows looked good. A week ago I had hooked and lost a big fish close to the north bank. A big bed of streamer weed had been hidden by the high, coloured water. The fish must have been hiding among the fronds and risen up from between them to take my fly. It was no longer in residence, the big, fat black Cormorant had probably eaten it. I shouldered my landing net handle and swung it across the birds path, it was not impressed by my improvised shotgun. The Cormorant was in easy range of a 12 bore and 30g of lead would have resolved the matter.

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I was annoyed and hot. The air had been cleansed by the rain and the early evening sun was powerful. I returned to the Land Rover, took off my jacket and suddenly had the urge to fish elsewhere. I had lost confidence in the top Beats. I drove to Keepers Bridge and was relieved to see that no other members had arrived. I planned to walk downstream to the New Riffle and fish the evening rise on my return journey. I got as far as the first bend. There was something about the current, the colour of the water and the overhanging Alder tree that made me pause and watch the pool. I was convinced that a Trout was hiding under the branches. Where else would a fish wait for darkness ?

Earlier that morning I had tied a fresh batch of black spiders, ribbed with copper wire. I had used heavier hooks, unable to get any fine wire Tiemco 103bl hooks because of a problem at the factory. The fly sunk slowly and curved across the current. While I watched the leader a Trout appeared and hung just under the surface. The leader hadn’t moved but I guessed the fish had taken the fly and lifted the rod. I was correct. It dashed a long way downstream and I was glad that I had chosen a full length fly line and replaced the tippet. The fish paused and then ran further downstream, around the bend. Despite wrapping the fly line around a small bunch of streamer weed I managed to bully the fish back upstream and into the landing net. It was about 3lbs and had an enormous tail. I was relieved to have broken my long series of lost Trout. If I hadn’t been wearing polaroids I would not have seen the Trout in the glare of the low evening sun.

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I was happy, all thoughts of Cormorants and lost fish had disappeared. As I sat on the damp grass and checked my tippet I looked back upstream at another Alder on the far bank. Nothing had risen as I had wandered downstream but the tree was calling to me. I crept back along the bank and sat directly opposite the Alder. I used a side cast to curl the fly under the branches. The second cast was perfect and the fly landed just short of the far bank, above the sunken tree roots. The leader tightened and my second Trout of the evening was hooked. I released the fish from the net and it dived into the current none the worse for it’s brief visit to the bank.

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The weather changed, a rain cloud appeared over Midhurst and the wind strengthened. I continued my journey, stopping at all the usual places for a few casts. A lot of the rafts of rubbish had been washed away by the winter floods. The downstream wind prevented me from exploring one of the pools, it was too strong for my light rod and line. I had a fish swirl twice but it wouldn’t take despite several changes of fly. When I arrived at the New Riffle a couple of small fish were rising in the slack water and a good fish swirled and bow waved downstream into deeper water. I was confident of a fish but after a couple of casts it was evident that I had put them down. My approach had been careless and the fish in that pool were very spooky.

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Dark rain clouds gathered as I walked back towards Keepers Bridge and I could see the rain falling a couple of miles away. The wind got stronger and it was impossible to cast. The tops of the trees were crashing about and bits of straw were swirling around me. As I had forsaken my jacket I decided to return to the Land Rover. Catching two fish was sufficient. I drove home in heavy rain, most of the storm missed Coultershaw.

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