Fishing is not just about catching fish. It is also about the beauty of the countryside and the wildlife. A relaxing day sitting beside the water, watching the clouds and listening to the birds might be interrupted by a trout or two but that’s not essential.
Sitting quietly under a tree, an angler goes unnoticed by the animals and birds. The Bible and Isaak Walton in the Complete Angler, proclaimed ‘Study to be quiet’. Advice repeated by BB in the title of his book ‘Be Quiet and Go a Angling’. Deer, foxes and even a badger might approach while an angler waits quietly for dusk and the evening rise.
Club members are fortunate in having access to unspoilt countryside that is protected and managed for the benefit of the wildlife. The Rother valley is a Site of Nature Conservation Importance and the river flows mainly through the South Downs National Park which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The club’s lakes are within parts of the Leconfield Estate to which the public has no access and the fauna is therefore undisturbed. The Estate is a haven of peace and tranquility.
Walking and frequent casting puts the trout down and also scares the wildlife. Waiting quietly and watching the water usually reveals a rising trout. If not, the buzzards circling just under the cloud base or the bright, blue blur of a kingfisher whizzing past are just as rewarding.
The water meadows in the river valley are grazed by mahogany red Sussex Cattle. They have been bred at Petworth since 1782 and were originally used for hauling carts and logs. They thrive on marshland and their grazing provides a habitat for ground nesting birds and wild flowers.
Owl boxes have been positioned around the Estate and they are all occupied. The water meadows are good hunting grounds and during the evening, owls are often seen by anglers on the river.
The hottest part of the day is a good time to sit in the shade of an alder or willow tree and have lunch. At that time the trout are usually hiding in the tree roots or under the streamer weed and are hard to tempt. Although the fishing is slow, there is much to see. Swallows skim the water looking for mayfly and olives. Chaffinches sit in the bushes and wait for their lunch to flutter past. Traditional farming practices have enabled terrestrial insects to flourish and there is a wide variety of butterflies amongst the long grasses.
The path from the clubhouse at Great Springs, past Little Springs and through the woods to Lower Figgs is like a nature trail. A buzzard sits in the tops of the trees beside Little Springs and pheasants scurry away into the bushes. A heron leaps into the air from the rushes where it has been feasting on frogs and toads. Yellow wagtails sit in the sun on the dam wall at Luffs and a kestrel hovers over the nearby moorland.
In the spring the woods along the sides of the river valley and around the lakes, are carpeted with bluebells, violets and wild garlic. The pungent smell of the wild garlic eventually overpowers the fragrant bluebells. In the water meadows there is a wide variety of wild flowers, particularly orchids.
In July the days are long and hot and the trout become lethargic. They stay in the deepest part of the lakes and shelter under the bushes that have been allowed to remain by the river. Early morning and late evening are the most productive fishing times but there is plenty to see at midday. A honeybee collecting nectar from the Himalayan Balsam. A fox startled from it’s siesta at Ladymead. Perhaps a sighting of a hobby as it catches dragon flies in the sunshine.
The South Downs cause the prevailing south westerly winds to rise and clouds to form over the Rother valley. Anglers may have waited several hours for the evening rise but if the trout are fussy and things don’t go to plan, there’s always the consolation of a spectacular cloudburst sunset.
The wonder of the world
The beauty and the power
The shapes of things,
Their colours, light and shades
These I saw,
Look ye also while life lasts
. . . Denys Watkins-Pitchford ‘BB’