8 October – Great Springs

The Autumn gales and heavy rain had subsided and the countryside looked beautiful, clean and uplifting. The leaves on the trees were just starting to turn and there was a liberal scattering of acorns and conkers everywhere. The North River was high and coloured, there was no point in visiting the Rother, it would be unfishable.

I was hoping for a peaceful day in the sunshine, a leisurely lunch and not too many showers. The freshly washed sheep at Stag Park were nibbling the close cropped grass and hundreds of crows tumbled in the breeze as the Defender rolled down the track towards Great Springs. I’d forgotten about the Tuesday Club, a long line of parked cars and a smoking barbeque changed my expectations. I toured the lakes looking for signs of fish but although the distant lakes offered peace and quiet, they looked barren.

After a cup of tea, a chat and a hot sausage sandwich, it was time to wet a fly. The wind was flukey and a bank of clouds in the south west threatened rain. A few fish were moving in the corner of Great Springs, I expected great things. Twenty minutes later, working a nymph around the edges of the weed beds, I was just going-through-the-motions. Another cuppa and a biscuit renewed my enthusiasm and I returned to the lake. Around the corner, beside a recently toppled Willow Tree, I found a group of Trout aimlessly finning about.


A roll cast or two moved the fish further out into the lake. The overhanging Oak tree claimed three flies before I rested the fish. A little later the shoal moved closer and I finally had a chasing take. The line screeched off the reel and then stopped, I assumed the turns were jammed. Not so, I had chosen my Hardy Duchess with the ‘Weight Backward’ river line. It was only fifteen yards long, I’d run out of line. One more worrying tug and the fish came towards me, knocking the tippet. A sure sign of a foul hooked fish. The hook had pulled and re-hooked near the Trouts tail.

A shower of rain and a rest on the bench interrupted the afternoon. I renewed the tippet and presented a black spider to several fish in the opposite corner of the lake by the big fir tree. I hooked two fish, briefly. The Trout wandered around, ignoring my offering, not even glancing at the fly.

A heavy shower was the last straw and I drove away. I’d caught a fish in difficult circumstances but I felt that I hadn’t made the most of the day.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.