24 September – Little Bognor

The Autumn equinox brought gales and heavy rain. It was mid-morning when I arrived at Little Bognor. I cleared the outflow of the lower lake and the water gushed over the sluice dragging leaves and grass cuttings out of the lake. At Coultershaw the river was high and a dark grey colour. I looked down into the fast flowing water at Rotherbridge and decided that it was unfishable.  I drove to Stag Park and as I crossed the brow of the hill, I disturbed four Buzzards and a solitary Red Kite. They were sharing a patch of stubble, searching for crane fly larvae.

Little Springs seemed to be coloured which I thought strange as Great Springs was clear. The ditch supplying water to Great Springs was dry. Luffs looked good but I eventually found myself back at Little Bognor. I may have been influenced by the presence of my Southwell rod in the back of the Defender. It suits my style of margin fishing.

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Since I’d cleared the outflow the lower lake had been transformed. There was no dust or tree debris on the surface which was like a mirror in the early afternoon sun. The North wind had helped guide the rubbish towards the sluice. The ground under the Beech trees was a little damp but I ignored that and sat down behind the ferns. My trousers would dry on the way home.

I started with a dry fly but it was immediately obvious that the 4lb bs tippet was a problem. I browsed my fly box looking for inspiration and chose a size 14 Partridge and Amber. It would sink slowly and looked vaguely like a drowned midge. I had a good take on the second cast. The fish stripped most of the fly line off the reel and went deep, leaving a line of bubbles in the centre of the lake. It felt like a three pounder. I allowed the fish to move into the shallows. The Trout surfaced and revealed itself, it wasn’t a monster. It wasn’t foul hooked but put up a spirited fight. As I unhooked it I noticed that it had a deformed left pectoral fin. The fin had split and looked like a pair, I would recognize the fish if I caught it again.

I was about to move along the bank when a fish rose only a rod length away. I covered various fish as they cruised past me in their search for buzzers. I continually teased the fly towards me and shook the rod occasionally to give it life. After an hour a bow wave followed the fly towards the bank. I paused then lifted the rod. The fish was surprised and thrashed about on the surface for too long, frightening its companions away. I drew the fish into the shallows, netted and quickly released it. The disturbance put the fish down and after another fruitless hour chasing spooky fish under the trees, I wandered back to the Defender and packed up. The rod had performed well, it is perfect for short line work.

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17 September – Luffs

The weather was unusual for September, the wind was due south and very warm. It felt like July again. The lakes at Little Bognor had a generous covering of Beech leaves and the river looked lifeless. The bright sun had sent the fish into cover, buried in the streamer weed and under overhanging bushes. It would be hard work on the river until the evening rise.

The high water temperatures had ruined the summer fishing on most of the lakes but the chilly nights, wind and occasional rain had cooled the water. I decided to visit Luffs as the south side of the lake is shaded and the wind would be perfect for drifting a nymph, Arthur Cove style.

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I walked along the north bank and looked for any signs of feeding Trout, there were none. They were probably deep in the centre of the lake. The shade of the Oak trees beside the hut was welcome and it would have been nice to sit and enjoy a glass of Chablis with nibbles. I set up my rod and decided to use a full length line with a 4lb breaking strain tippet. The fish fight hard, run fast and long. I tied on a red buzzer which would suit both the Trout and Roach.

I intended to fish along the south bank, sitting and watching the line arc round. A relaxing and productive method. It didn’t work out like that. As I walked along the road beside the deep end of the lake, a trout rose and I paused to watch. It rose again. I extended line and dropped the little buzzer near the rise. It had only been in the water a few seconds when the fish took with a bang. I played it gently but as it neared the bank, the fish woke up and went on a twenty yard run up the centre of the lake. The fly line was thrumming as it cut through the water and the weight of the line became a problem. The fish dashed about near the surface and I wondered if it was foul hooked. Then the line fell slack, the hook hold had failed.

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I wasn’t annoyed, I normally lose the first fish at Luffs. I was about to leave the end of the lake and find a shaded seat, when another fish rose. It took a pond skater. There were thousands of them in the calm water close to the bank. I remembered the imitations I had tied for Little Bognor, it would be an ideal time to try them out properly. Full of confidence I dropped the pond skater fly close to a cruising fish, it was ignored. Several times. There were so many naturals on the surface that it was pointless imitating one. I swapped to an Amber Nymph, a Black Spider and a shrimp pattern but all were ignored. My black and silver spider produced an immediate response, a fish followed, examined it carefully and took. It was about 1lb 8ozs, one of the smaller fish.

Now that the water has cooled and the fish are feeding, I must explore the other lakes.

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15 September – Keepers Bridge

It was a perfect Autumn morning. Blue sky, a cool wind and fluffy white clouds. I loaded my tackle into the Defender, stopped for diesel and essential supplies before heading towards Petworth. It was a lovely drive with only occasional knocks and bangs from the suspension and a slightly bent trackrod.

Lunch beside the lake at Little Bognor was peaceful, the trout were feeding and the Beech trees were starting to show signs of the shorter days. I was spoilt for choice about where to fish. I felt drawn to Luffs which looked tranquil but I would not be able to release any fish. I had conquered Little Bognor and needed a change. The river was calling. Again.

I saw the big fish below the Fish Pass but I think it saw me first. It buried itself deep in a rotting clump of streamer weed and wouldn’t come out. I stood on the bridge at Rotherbridge, the river looked great but there were no signs of Trout. I visited Taylors Bridge and decided to leave it to another member. I tackled up at Keepers Bridge and chose the Hardy Duchess. The short Cortland 444 would be ideal around the bushes below the bridge. The wind was strong and the extra weight in the tip, over the Rio, would help on most of the pools.

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I started just below the bridge with a heavily weighted black and silver spider. Within fifteen minutes a fish rose up behind the fly and gulped it down. I lifted the fly back out of it’s mouth. Not a good start but I was confident that I would have other opportunities. The plan was to walk to the New Riffle and fish the pools on the way back when the sun was lower. The pool on the bend with the big Alder tree was a distraction, I couldn’t walk past without a look under the branches. As I got to the bend in the river a fish swirled below the tree.

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I looked over the edge of the bank and saw a fish close to the tree roots. It was a couple of feet down, just a shadow. I chose a dry sedge which had been successful two days earlier. It was difficult to get the fly above the fish, the wind kept blowing it to my right. Eventually the fish rose, inspected the fly and took. It went on a reel screeching run upstream through the trailing branches but I was in control and encouraged it back downstream well below the bush. While landing and returning the fish, which was about a pound and a half, I saw another fish under the bush. I marked it for my return journey.

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I walked down to the tree tunnel and heard a fish rise. I normally ignore any fish along that stretch because the trees are so dense. A lot of the brambles and balsam had withered and I could see a good fish in midstream. I thought I would have a go. The fish was deep so I tied on a weighted silver and black spider. The fish swirled around the fly first cast and grabbed the fly on the second. The Trout sprinted upstream and across to the far bank. Luckily the bank stopped it going further. The thick wire hook was secure and knowing I couldn’t move along the bank, I pressured the fish. The telescopic handled net was just long enough to secure the fish at the second attempt. It was about two pounds and recovered quickly.

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The New Riffle was not how I remembered. The water was shallow and there were clumps of streamer weed across most of it. I tried the big pool with the sandy cattle drink and the bend above it but couldn’t find a Trout. I went back to the first bush and saw a fish under the trailing branches. The wind was very strong, it was difficult to push the fly out. Ironically that worked in my favour. I cast and the wind blew the leader into the bush. The sedge was left dangling in the water, the leader and tippet were hanging in the branches. The wind blew the branches which animated the fly, it looked very lifelike. The Trout inspected the fly very carefully but was not convinced. I twitched the fly causing micro vibrations on the surface. The fish quickly returned and checked the fly but would not take. I swapped to a nymph and repeated the trick for about twenty minutes but the fish was not interested. I swapped to a spider and had a swirl in midstream first cast but nothing after that. The Trout are very well educated.

The wind and sun were tiring and I was dehydrated. It had been great fun trying out minor tactics, usually reserved for Carp fishing, even if the trick hadn’t quite worked. I will try again when conditions are suitable.

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13 September – Perryfields

It was an early start, I arrived at Great Springs at exactly 9:00am as planned. The night had been cold and there had been a frost, the first of the Autumn. Mist was rising from the lakes and several fish were swirling. They had been stocked the day before, it was nice to see life in the lakes after such a punishing Summer when the Trout were wiped out.

I had breakfast and wandered around the lakes leaving a trail of green footprints in the white grass. The sky was clear blue and as the sun moved above the trees, the air temperature quickly rose. There was a big cloud of midges under the trees and by next week the Trout will be taking buzzers.

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As I drove away from Great Springs the telephone cables were lined with hundreds of House Martins warming themselves in the sun. They poured away, left and right, across the fields as I drove past, reforming on the wires after I had moved on. There were several Red Kite on the stubble at Stag Park, searching for leather jackets. They looked like tall, scrawny chicken at a distance and were too hungry to fly away as I rumbled along the estate road. The massive fields at Little Bognor had been rolled and harrowed, it looked like a desert landscape.

I planned to fish upstream from Keepers Bridge, mainly around Perryfields, which had been very productive for me. Most members don’t venture up there because it is a long walk and it is difficult to access the river. I had developed a series of heavy flies so that I could explore the deep pools more efficiently. They were based on the Copper Nymph but I had exaggerated every aspect. The size 10 heavy hook and thick wire ribbing would send the fly straight to the bottom of most pools.

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I had a few casts in the First Pool, walked on and had a fish follow the fly twice in the Sandy Pool. That was encouraging. I walked slowly up to the Old Riffle, pausing occasionally to look and listen for Trout rising. I watched the water above the riffle for a few minutes and a fish revealed itself. I tried the copper version, then silver and red. The silver fly attracted most attention but the fish, more than one, sheered away at the last moment. They were educated Trout, not fooled by such an obvious deceit.

I found a good fish rising upstream of the Cow Drink and dropped the silver version around a branch, close to the ripples. A few casts later the fish took the fly and fought very hard. I bullied it away from snags, confident that the heavy hook would hold. It swam away quickly from the landing net.

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As I walked towards the bridge I saw a fish rise below the Four Alders and wondered if it was the fish I failed to catch a few weeks ago, it was in the same position. I crossed the bridge and walked along the tree line. I peeped from behind one of the four tree trunks but the fish was not where I expected. I eventually saw it in midstream below a clump of dying streamer weed. It was about a foot below the surface and holding position in the main current. It was just a pale shadow, not the fish I had seen before which was very dark. The cast was impossible. The Alder branches were low, the dead bankside plants were high and the river was narrowed by a bush on the opposite bank. It was a challenge. After a number of failed attempts, tangles and curses I managed to get a parachute Hares Ear in the water. The fish rose, inspected the fly and sunk back to its holding position. I tried an Adams and a Black Gnat with the same result. Only one in four casts actually resulted in a successful drift and I was running out of patience. I tied on a sedge pattern, a bit like a Walker’s Sedge only smaller, which landed perfectly first attempt. The fish rose, took the fly and bolted off downstream around the bend. The fly pulled out. I had to smile, it was a very well educated fish that deserved to get away.

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While I had been sitting under the Four Alders plotting the Trout’s downfall, I’d heard another fish rising upstream. I walked back towards the barn and found a fish rising opposite the stile, under a tree branch close to the far bank. There was a line of thick bushes on my side so I re-crossed the bridge and sat on the wet grass to watch the fish. It had moved into midstream a couple of yards below another branch trailing in the water. I tried casting both sides of the branch but the fish would not move upstream for the fly. I thought a cast well past the branch, upstream of the trailing twigs might work. I launched a long cast, the leader drifted onto the branch and the fly swung across the current. To my surprise the fish swirled and took the fly. I hurried the fish through the branches and into clear water. For once everything had gone to plan.

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I returned to the pool above the riffle and saw a fish rise between two clumps of rushes near the far bank. I put the sedge fly down in the gap and the fish immediately swirled but refused. It rose and refused on three more occasions. The fly was tatty so I changed it for a fresh one, the fish rose and took the fly in a big gulp but I lifted too soon. A fish splashed a few yards upstream. I crept behind some weeds and put the fly over the Trout which was not at all fussy and took with a bang. After landing and releasing the fish I crept back to the fussy fish. I flicked the line into the water at my feet and as I was lifting off to cast across the river, a fish rose to the fly with a big splash and disappeared towards the lip of the riffle scared but not hooked. I was tired from walking and my nerves were shattered from an evening full of elation and disappointment. It was a good time to leave the river. It had been an exceptionally good day.

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10 September – Little Bognor

I fancied a relaxing day beside a lake, walking miles in the early Autumn sun would be too much after a tiring weekend. I visited Little Bognor in the morning and it looked good, there were lots of fish rising on the lower lake. By the time I had visited the other lakes and river Beats, collated the catch returns and had lunch, it was 2:30pm. The south westerly wind had an edge. It had blown all the dust and leaf debris to the shallow end of the lake. Fish were rising everywhere, picking off emerging buzzers where the surface was clean and also among the floating Beech leaves.

I would be fishing at close range and therefore chose the Bob Southwell cane rod. It’s slow action is great for flicking out flies under the trees and roll casting. The ten feet of tempered cane helps me reach over the ferns and avoid most of the snaggy twigs in the margins. The weight of the rod is not an issue as I spend most of the time watching and waiting for the Trout to come within range.

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I started behind the ferns, sitting on the warm crunchy Beech mast. A constant rain of acorns and Beech leaves dropped into the lake and I quickly learnt to ignore the splashes. A sizeable branch crashed to the ground close on my left. Fish were cruising past just under the surface. I tied on a small black dry fly with a white hackle. A Trout ignored it but then turned, rose quickly and grabbed the fly. I didn’t allow for the momentum of the heavy rod as I lifted into the fish and it escaped.

Normally, after losing a fish, I move further up the bank. However, another fish appeared. It took a fly off the surface and moved away, unimpressed by my imitation. Trout wandered into range every few minutes but as usual, the tippet was putting them off. I changed to a black buzzer with a sparse white hackle so that it would sink slowly. At first it floated but the fly became waterlogged and hung about a foot below the surface. I twitched it occasionally and as it neared the bank, there was a swirl and a good fish was on. It ran under the trees and I lowered the rod to keep the line out of the branches. It moved into the middle of the lake, then into the shallows. I thought it was foul hooked. After a long fight I drew it into the net, it was about 2lbs and fairly hooked in the upper jaw. I nursed it in the landing net and watched it recover. I lowered the rim of the net and the fish escaped, back into the brown stained water.

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I was about to move but once again, a fish swirled so I resumed my seat behind the ferns. I used the same fly and after a few casts the line moved away and I was into another Trout. It was a smaller fish but spirited. When I eventually got it in the landing net I was surprised how small it was. It might have been a wild fish. None of its fins were deformed.

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I moved up the bank and sat on the mossy hump at the top of the stone steps. A Trout was rising under the branches. I flicked the fly out several times but it was ignored. I lengthened the line and stupidly cast the fly into the branches. I tugged the line and a dead branch crashed into the water. I laughed but was annoyed. I walked around the lake and had a few casts in the corner near the old stone quarry.

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A fish rose under the trees and I crept back among the Beeches below Rex’s dead Chestnut tree. I lost a fly in the margins, snagged the back cast, tangled the line in a small Holly tree and generally messed things up. When I managed to get the fly in the lake a Trout grabbed it without any warning. I held the rod low to my left as the fish ran up the lake into the shallows, it must have gone twenty yards. It was a long drawn out fight because it was foul hooked in the dorsal fin. I released the fish and as a party of other fishermen had arrived, decided to leave the lakes and head home. It had been a relaxing afternoon, a nice change from the river.

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