Sussex Diary: 16 September 2023
A diary of my visits to my club's section of river, somewhere in deepest, darkest Sussex.
Last month I received an email from Kyle, a fellow South African who'd recently made Sussex his home. Kyle wanted some ideas about where he might find trout in running water before the approaching close of the season. I delivered the bad news first. Unusually for Britain, finding river-dwelling trout in Sussex is about as rare as finding a four-leaf clover.
I was able to point Kyle in the direction of a fly fishing club near his home. This particular club has a stretch of river not too dissimilar to my club's water, meandering banks cut deep into the soft Sussex ground, channeling silty water south to the sea. He is now on a waiting list to join.
All that remained was to give Kyle his first taste of trout fishing in Sussex, so I arranged for him to visit my club's water. Kyle could only spare half a day on top of the one hour drive each way. Anticipating hot weather and bright sunshine, I suggested that we meet at 8.30am whilst it was still cool, and fish for four hours.
After meeting Kyle we turned our attention to a fish rising in the pool downstream of the road. This is the most substantial pool under the club's control but the water in it barely seemed to be flowing. I apologised to Kyle that it was perhaps the lowest I'd ever seen this river. In spite of this we gazed longingly at the trout which cruised lazily in a clockwise pattern, lifting at irregular intervals to eat items from the flotsam on the water's surface. I'd never fished this pool before. The Chairman when showing me the water for the very first time had said this pool tended to be left by the fit and active to the eldest members. A clever way to put it, perhaps the most certain of procuring obedience from those who cling against the mounting evidence to being fit and active! It had worked until now.
With no other members present, a large, feeding trout in plain view, and a guest to make happy, today was to be a first. I remained high on the right bank to act as a spotter whilst Kyle circled downriver and approached the trout from the rear.
Kyle is more familiar with fishing for trout in the rocky rivers of the Western Cape, quite successfully too by all accounts having participated at provincial level in competition fishing. It was quite delightful to once again this season host an accomplished angler (like my friend Nick in July) and to observe his response to trout fishing in a completely foreign setting.
When Kyle was in place I warned him that if this trout happened to take his fly he should wait a full second or two before striking. The trout might then close its mouth and fully commit to the fly. Kyle sent out a beautiful cast which deposited his small dry fly upon the water as gently as a dandelion's pappus. The fly held static in the stagnant water and we waited, the trout momentarily unseen. 'I can see the trout!' I exclaimed. 'It's coming for your fly!' The trout glided purposefully to the fly and scrutinised it briefly, and then opened its mouth to consume it. As it did so the tip of its snout broke the water's surface. At this gentle commotion Kyle struck with the energy of a suppressed spring coil, before the trout had even closed its mouth! His fly was pulled away.
Kyle was clearly used to the lightning speed takes of the lively trout of the Cape mountains. From my own visits there I recalled the rattlesnake reflexes needed to catch trout from the boisterous pockets and runs of the Cape rivers. Kyle's first lesson from Sussex was to learn to incant 'God save the King' before striking!
There is a pleasant and sumptuous - almost soft - edge to fishing the serpentine rivers of the south of England. The trout respond to the lazy flows of these lowland rivers with a sluggishly commensurate speed. The reverse is that they grow to become exacting and this became evident when the trout, now more wary, came to inspect and ignore every one of Kyle's follow-up patterns.
We moved upriver to water I was more familiar with. I expected to find trout sitting in the oxygenated water of pool inflows but they were not there. As I walked beside the very last pool of the Huts beat I stopped dead in my tracks. I was high on the bank and shielded from the water by a still verdant autumnal growth. Between green fronds of balsam I had spotted a large fish lying in a mere two feet of water near the tail of the pool. As I watched, a second trout ventured downstream, turned beside the other, and disappeared back upstream.
We decided that an unweighted nymph would provide the best possibility of a take in thin water that might lend itself to a cast or two at most. Kyle managed to wade into casting range without spooking the trout with the bow waves he sent racing upstream. I remained on the bank, acting as spotter. Kyle's cast was again flawless and his nymph began an interminably slow downstream drift. The trout took the fly unquestioningly and I yelled 'strike'! Kyle complied and for perhaps four or five seconds as I clutched for the net clipped to my back, the calm morning air was shattered by the splashing histrionics of an angry trout. Sadly, the hook's grip dislodged and Kyle was a little crestfallen. Of the other trout in the pool there was now no sign.
|Kyle in battle with trout #2|
Kyle graciously offered me a chance to fish but I declined. I was keen that he might catch a fish on his first outing. We walked up into the Yurts beat, almost to the end, where peering down from the cover of trees, I spotted the silhouette of a large trout in the instant when it swam through a small patch of sunlight.
We knew there was another much larger fish in this pool, and when Kyle sent his flies to the main current which swept along a bend in the left bank, his dry fly was violently dragged under by a fish taking his nymph. He lifted into the fish which then ploughed unimpeded to the bank of tree roots, where the tension in the line ceased to pulsate and became eerily constant. We knew what this likely meant, a fact confirmed when Kyle reached his arm into the depths and removed his hook from the grip of the roots. A trout had done the same to Nick in July. There is sometimes no stopping them.
|Kyle in battle with trout #3|
Noon had passed and it was time for Kyle to leave. He has a young son of a similar age to mine, so I empathised with his need to leave on time, even if I did try to tempt him with one last spot where I knew a trout was likely to hide. I rather enjoyed being a fishing guide for the morning.