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 was no sign of any 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 a 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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2 September – Keepers Bridge

The second day of Autumn started with a beautiful sunny morning, high wispy clouds and still air. I’d caught no Trout during August, just four big Tench. I felt that I’d lost the plot, I needed to up my game before fishing the Itchen later in the week.

Deciding where to fish is part of the adventure. Dragging memories from a fuddled brain, imagining river conditions and gut feelings all play a part. I visited Great Springs, the water temperature was 20 degrees and there was no sign of any Trout. By the time I arrived at Keepers Bridge the wind had shifted to north-west and would be against me all afternoon. I was glad of the breeze, it replaced the hot and humid weather of the last few days. I sat on the grass near the bend above the bridge so that I could watch the river upstream and down. I was comfortable on the short grass and sandy soil.

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The dark clouds gathered over Petworth and the bright Autumnal light, made the landscape along the river valley even more memorable. After twenty minutes of waiting a fish rose in the usual place under the big Alder tree. I slid down the bank on my backside and sat behind a convenient clump of rushes. I chose my go-to dry fly, a parachute Pheasant Tail. While knotting on the fly and checking the tippet, I was confused by several rises in random lies across the entire pool. I waited until I could be sure of the Trouts position and put the fly about a yard above the fish. The headwind was a great help, it put a nice upstream bend in the tippet. The Trout came up, swirled under the fly and disappeared. I was surprised, the presentation was good and the fly a proven pattern. I swapped the fly for a size smaller but there was no reaction.

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I rested the fish while browsing through my fly box. I chose a small Adams-ish looking fly and waited for the Trout to show itself. There was a rise directly opposite me, then another in mid-stream below me and finally, in the previous lie under the branches. I assumed that the fish was dashing around picking off emerging buzzers. My target rose directly under the fly, examined it carefully and quietly sipped it down. I played the fish gently but it released itself a few moments before entering the landing net. I was happy to have deceived the Trout and to have seen its golden flanks.

I was about to leave the pool and walk upstream to the Old Riffle but as I was organising my pockets, I was surprised to see another Trout rise a few yards further downstream. I sat and waited, undecided what to do. The fish rose again and I put a black dry fly over it. The fish examined the fly several times but was not convinced. A slow sinking black buzzer with a chopped hackle was more successful. The tippet twitched and I lifted into a very spirited fish that I bullied around a clump of midstream weed and into the net.

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I was content with one fish. An hours concentration and attention to detail had paid off. Once again, as I was about to move upstream, a fish rose and I resumed my seat. I saw the fish clearly, it was not either of the two I had hooked. It flashed under a GRHE nymph then ignored it but grabbed a size 14 black spider. I released the second fish and decided to leave the river. My bones were aching from having sat still on damp grass for ninety minutes. A very large fish launched itself clear of the water and crashed back into the centre of the pool. It was a pale fish but not silvery like a Sea Trout. I could hardly leave after such an invitation. I drifted the black spider to the end of the pool and as I twitched it prior to lifting off, there was a solid take but the fish immediately came adrift.

It was difficult getting to my feet and walking back to the Defender. Two caught, two lost. This was not a shoal of newly stocked fish, the river had not been stocked for 3 weeks. The Trout were feeding in the shelter of the Alders and I happened to be at the right place at the right time. Or was it memories and gut feeling ?

 

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23 August – Rotherbridge

A roasting hot Bank Holiday Friday was not an ideal time to visit the river but I was bored and hadn’t flicked a fly line for 18 days. The river level had dropped back to the normal Summer level and I thought that exploring the deeper pools at dusk might produce a fish or two. I’d tied some heavy nymphs to experiment with prior to my day on the Itchen and I wanted to try them out on familiar water.

The Ultimate Driving Machine let me down for the second time in a week and it was 5:30pm before the more reliable Defender clambered through the potholes along the lane at Rotherbridge.

I looked upstream through the bridge railings and scanned the sandy bottom between the clumps of streamer weed. Nothing moved. The sand was dimpled where the shoals of tiny Dace had been feeding.

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I turned and looked downstream, careful not to throw a shadow. A Trout about 2lbs was hanging close to the bottom below a few straggly fronds of streamer weed. I could see a Cormorant mark on its shoulder. A much darker fish was moving around, changing its position in the current and obviously feeding about a yard above a Willow bush. Both fish were out of casting range, hidden behind the bridge and overhanging bushes. It was a sign that fish were in the area and I decided to spend the evening on that stretch of river.

I settled down on the lush grass in a position where I could cover a pool fringed with weed. It looked promising and as I was choosing a fly, a Trout rose about ten yards downstream. I dropped a GRHE along the line of the rise and extended the cast until the fly was positioned correctly. There was a big swirl under the fly but no take. I was a bit miffed; a gentle cast, no drag and a trusted pattern had failed. I swapped to a dry fly but the fish had gone down, deep in the weed. I decided to try it again later.

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I walked up to the New Riffle and fished hard with a nymph for half an hour but the water was very shallow and the surface was only broken by tiddlers. As I walked back to the bridge I saw a huge fish rise in the middle of an overhanging Alder tree. It was deep in the trailing branches and I thought it might be a Carp. I sat behind the balsam and watched the river. A Trout rose in a gap between the two large Alder trees. The gap was about a yard wide and went deep under the trees. An impossible cast. I fired a Parachute Pheasant Tail hard and low across the river. After two or three attempts it found the target but landed with such an impact that it frightened the fish which didn’t rise again.

I had a few casts above and below the bridge but there was no sign of fish and I left the river. A chilled bottle of wine was calling to me.

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