In this evocative article Ray Stewart recalls his early experiences of the Rother when The Beatles were still going and we still had pounds, shillings and pence !
My first memories of the Rother go back some forty years, in fact I believe it was in 1968 that I first experienced its piscatorial delights. I was in my latter years at school and the first visit was with a school friend, his brother and my father. The trip was an evening one in late summer to the Coultershaw stretch. At the time day tickets could be purchased at The Racehorse Pub (now Badgers) for a couple of shillings or so. The fishing was along the bank in the field behind the pub (the south bank) and the side stream alongside the disused railway station.
We were the only ones fishing the stretch that evening and we had the choice of swims to ourselves. The only other angler we saw was a sea trout man fly fishing the mill pool itself from the opposite bank. Chub were our main quarry, my friend’s brother Chris having heard that the river held some veritable monsters.
After exploring the stretch for likely looking lairs my friend Terry and I settled for the side stream and its junction with the main river, leaving my father and Chris to try the main river upstream. Alas as dusk fell the chub were to remain elusive, and after scaling our end tackle down all we caught that evening were a couple of lively dace and a few gudgeon. But the spell had been cast and those ever so promising looking pools called out for my return!
It was a couple of years later that my next visit took place, as lack of transport dictated that my fishing trips would be to the local gravel pits and canal in pursuit of tench and carp. By this time I had joined a local angling club and made some friends who had had some measure of success fishing the Rother, and a trip to the river was arranged.
The picture is of a younger Ray back in the Sixties.
We set off early morning to fish the Fittleworth stretch. It was mid summer and the river was in good condition when we arrived. There were four in the party, again my father and I being joined by Tony the local tackle shop manager and fellow club member Barry who was to be my tutor for the day. Barry and I fished by the bridge trotting down to the shallows.
I learned an awful lot that morning, feeding the swim and mastering the stick float. Sport was fairly brisk as the sun rose high in the sky, the water was crystal clear and the numerous dace we caught glistened in the current as they caught its rays.
The fish had to be guided through the streamer weed and as we got further down the shoal some care had to be taken with this exercise as we started picking up some very decent specimens.
Apart from the dace we also picked up a few small chub up to just on a couple of pounds, at last I had caught one and my appetite for river angling was whetted.
We fished to around midday and if I remember correctly there were four-dozen fish in my net all dace bar two chub.
My father and Tony who fished further down with static baits in the deeper pools only mustered a handful of gudgeon.After our lunch and a pint or two at the Swan, where we discussed tactics and river craft, the die had been cast and my interest in the carp and tench made way for the pursuit of the specimen Rother chub.
My father and I became regular visitors to the stretches at Fittleworth and Shopham, and it was upstream of Shopham Bridge that I took my best chub a fine fish of 6lb 7ozs, taken on a midweek foray in the opening week of the season. I took this specimen in a fairly shallow run trundling my bait down the edge of the weeds in clear water, the float being superfluous apart from a means of keeping the bait moving through the swim.
I struck the moment my bait disappeared as he moved out from the weed cover. My prize alas was beaten not once but twice in the club specimen competition that season but neither of them broke the 7 lb barrier though. I knew fish this size swam the river and had indeed seen them. One such specimen used to frequent a narrow but deep side stream and more often than not could be tempted out of the cover of the small bridge where I first spied him.
I took Tony to my secret spot one morning and as we lay on our bellies dropping pieces of bread flake under the bridge, his eyes nearly popped out of his head as the monster drifted out from under the bridge, his great length followed by a huge tail, devouring the offering before moving back to his station in the sanctuary of his lair. We both agreed it would be a waste of time to fish a bait down to him as he would be nigh on impossible to land with the copious amount of weed that filled the stream either side of the bridge. But he was swimming testimony to the size of fish that dwelt in the river.
The Rother offers much more to those that have fished it over the years, and we now have some very large barbel to fish for these days. I remember when the then river authority first introduced the species to the river in the early seventies. Although small, the first fish captured came from the Fittleworth stretch I believe. I remember thinking at the time if these fish settle well into their new habitat, there could potentially be some very good barbel angling to be had in years to come on this river.
I moved away from Sussex later in the seventies, spending the subsequent thirty years in Cornwall and later Scotland, mainly pursuing sea trout. Returning to Sussex in 2007, I was very pleased to read the catch reports for the river, confirming my thoughts of some thirty years ago. It would be interesting if any long standing fellow members also remember the initial stocking all those years ago, and the subsequent development that followed.