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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5 August – Taylors Bridge

The morning was damp but the forecast was for sunshine with a strong south westerly wind. I drove south along Stane Street and stopped in Pulborough for some essential supplies; pies and chocolate muffins. I visited Little Bognor and saw a fish rise on the lower lake but I was not inspired and decided to fish the river. The water level gauge at Halfway Bridge had gone mad again and I ignored the reading. As I crossed Coultershaw Bridge I glanced to my right, the river looked beautiful with a slight green tint and was at its normal summer level.

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The fields had been stripped of their crops, a sandy brown desert had been left behind. Devoid of all wildlife. The cereal had been ferried away and the bales of straw built into stacks the size of small houses. The stacks looked traditional, they were part of the rural landscape. The rows of black plastic bales along the old railway line were alien. The contrast was marked, the plastic spoilt the rural idyll.

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I signed in at Taylors Bridge at 2:00pm and stood in the centre of the bridge looking for Trout. The river was shallow and very clear. It was also devoid of any fish. The wind was very strong and I decided to fish from the south bank. Shadows would be a problem but casting would be easier. I walked down to the Monster Pool and sat among the balsam and nettles watching the water for signs of a Trout. My confidence was high. I’d had two six pounders there early in my first season on the river, hence my name for the pool. I always had high expectations of that pool. I rolled the nymph into every corner but there was no response and after thirty minutes, I wandered downstream to the iron gate.

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I systematically explored the shaded water under the trees along the far bank. The wind was tricky, occasionally it helped guide the fly under the branches but more often I caught the twigs. The tree tunnel above Perryfields looked good, I took risks exploring its depths and eventually lost a fly in the trees. The pools below Perryfields were unusually shallow, a lot of the water had been extracted to water the crops north of Ladymead.

I found a deep pool and worked the weighted nymph for about twenty minutes but the trout were not impressed. I returned to Taylors Bridge and watched the water again, tiny Dace were feeding on midges but the Trout were not. The hot sun and strong wind were too much for me and I left the river earlier than planned. I should have arrived in the evening.

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29 July – Taylors Bridge

A strong southerly wind and partial cloud cover was a pleasant change from the hot and humid weather last week. The record temperatures mid week had kept me off the water and I was keen to fish. The light rain over the weekend had soaked into the sandy soil of the Rother valley and the river level was normal, 0.03m at Halfway Bridge.

Heavy rain had been forecast for Glorious Goodwood and I knew I would have to wait another week before the conditions were right again. I would have to make the most of the day. I imagined creeping through the long grass, searching for a lone fish above Taylors Bridge. Below Rotherbridge was also an option, it was lightly fished and the tree cover would give me plenty to explore. I considered each option as I drove towards Coultershaw Bridge and settled on the top Beat.

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I crept to the middle of Taylors Bridge using the overhanging Alder tree as cover. I spent a long time looking for the Trout that lives below the bridge but it must have seen me and hidden in the tree roots. I planned to search the entire Beat for a fish and assumed that I would only get one chance.

I stood and watched the pool under the first tree tunnel and was surprised to see a fish rise just upstream of a sunken tree trunk. The fish rose again and then moved down the pool into midstream. The trees overhanging the river, the stinging nettles and bushes behind me restricted my cast. There was only a narrow slot through which I could present the fly.

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I lost a GRHE nymph in the tree. The fish rose again and I decided to switch to a dry fly. The fish swirled at the parachute Pheasant Tail a couple of times and eventually grabbed hold. Negotiating the head high nettles was tricky but I steered the fish downstream and netted it in shallow water on the third or fourth attempt. It was a wild fish about 1lb and in excellent condition, fin perfect and silvery with little colour. It reminded me of the wild fish I caught on my last trip. Too late for a Sea Trout smolt and too small for a returning fish.

I fished the pool at Ladymead for half and hour, convinced that I would get a take but there was no response. I made my way upstream and worked a couple of pools but the southerly wind was against me. I returned to the bridge and paused to look for the resident Trout. It rose in open water and I couldn’t resist one last cast. The fish seized the fly and fought hard, it was another wild fish. It looked completely different to the first fish, perfect fins but brightly coloured. No hint of a Sea Trout.

I had fished for less than two hours, it had been difficult. Casting in such a restricted area had been demanding but very satisfying. The top Beat does not produce many fish but it is the most rewarding.

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The God of Fishermen

A few weeks ago I bought an old Japanese rod, a time capsule from my early childhood. I bought it on a whim with no intention of using the rod. I paid more than I should but it was not an investment, it was a reminder of days beside the River Brede.

I was given my rod in the 1960s as a Christmas or birthday present, I can’t remember which. The five pieces could be assembled in different combinations and I spent hours switching the sections around and dreaming of monsters. I always fished with the rod in its longest configuration, the fly rod, because a long rod looked more impressive.

I caught roach and eels from the Haven and Crucian carp from a small pond across the fields. The rod was smashed around the brickwork of Brede Bridge while battling with a giant pike. I didn’t know about giving line and the slipping clutch knob was locked down tight. The rod was replaced with a bright yellow, hollow glass rod which was equally abused but survived to be given away many decades later.

My ‘new’ rod was made in the 1960s by the Ebisu Company Ltd, which was established on 10 August 1954 in Japan. In Japanese mythology Ebisu is one of the seven Gods of Fortune. He is said to be the God of fishermen, working men and good luck, a great combination.

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Sapporo Breweries Ltd. was founded in 1876 and is based in Ebisu, Tokyo. The God of fishermen is also the company logo. Ebisu’s festival is celebrated each year on 20 October and it seems fitting to use the rod on Tuesday 20 October and drink a cold Sapporo beer. How lucky can I get ?

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22 July – Keepers Bridge

Monday was the start of a heatwave. The BBC had announced that temperatures would increase steadily throughout the week. I visited Rotherbridge at lunchtime and watched the water for twenty minutes, the fish were hiding. A few Spurwing were hatching amongst the buzzers. The water was coloured a mahogany brown but I thought that might be an advantage in the bright sunlight, natures Raybans.

The river at Keepers Bridge looked beautiful but lifeless. The balsam, cow parsley and ragwort added splashes of colour along the margins. The only flying insects were the biting or stinging varieties. I went to The Badgers for a pint and for an hour, watched a buzzard perched on the top branch of a long dead tree. Like a vulture surveying the desert. It flew an occasional circuit over the dusty stubble and finally retired to the shade of the woods. At 3:30pm I returned to Keepers Bridge and decided to walk downstream for a few hours before an early evening halftime break. I took a few GRHE nymphs and a small box of dry flies. The sky was heavy with dark grey clouds and it was very humid, thunderstorm conditions. The warm breeze was downstream but I was grateful for every puff of wind, the temperature was about 30 degrees in the shade.

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I practiced casting through a narrow gap in the Alder trees, firing the nymph low and holding the line back to turn over the leader. My target was the tangle of tree roots under the far bank. I heard a small splash and saw the ripples radiating out from under the trailing branches of the last Alder in the row. It sounded and looked like a catkin had fallen into the water so I ignored it. Five minutes later it happened again. Not a catkin, a fish had risen. I crept along the bank and watched from well below the rise. Nothing happened and I spent fives minutes deciding whether to use a dry fly or a nymph.

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I chose a parachute Pheasant Tail with a Neoprene tag. I lengthened the line along the grass, measuring the amount I would need, then flicked the fly up and across. It landed a little short but the fly was immediately taken and I lifted into a wild fish. It was in perfect condition with a big tail and swam away strongly when I released it from the landing net. That boosted my confidence and took the pressure off the rest of the afternoon.

The grey clouds dispersed, the breeze died away and the temperature increased. It was too hot to sit in the sun and I confined my fishing to the pools with shade for both myself and the Trout. The last Alder before the tree tunnel looked inviting, I had caught many good fish from its roots. The current deflected under the branches and it was a straightforward cast to the far bank. I let the line drift downstream and wrap around a small clump of streamer weed then lifted slowly and wiggled the rod to give the nymph life. The induced take worked and the rod was thumped by an angry fish. It was about 1lb 8ozs and looked angrily at me as I released it. A fish with attitude, probably annoyed at being deceived.

It was 5:30pm and I needed a break to rehydrate. Just before I reached the Defender, in the First Pool, I saw a good fish snatch at a couple of damsel flies flitting about close to the surface. It was attempting to grab the flies out of the air as they visited the fronds of streamer weed to deposit their eggs. I positioned a nymph near the far bank so that it would swing across in the current to where the Trout had risen. Within seconds there was a golden flash as the fish seized the fly and then turned away. It took a long time to quieten the Trout and guide it along the weed beds into the net. Three fish by half time was a great result.

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After a luxurious late afternoon tea of pork pie and Red Bull, I walked upstream to Perryfields. I saw no fish. There were no rises. Although it was 8:30pm it was too bright, the setting sun threw my shadow across the river and I stood no chance of surprising a Trout. The mist rose from the warm grass in the water meadows, completely hiding the herd of Sussex cattle. As I walked up the slope away from the river I turned and watched the sunset. On the river, nothing moved.

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