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Meon Springs Fishery rewards persistence

January 28, 2015 at 7:41 pm

Driving down the narrow lane overlooking the Meon river valley with friend Peter, we had our day at Meon Springs already planned out, catch our two fish limits in the first hour, a cup of tea in the clubhouse, then down to the catch and release lakes for the rest of the day, where with the pressure off, we could try a few different methods.

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Filtered through the Hampshire chalk hillsides, the waters of the Meon are crystal clear and on this late January morning, fish could be seen moving between the weed beds, through the glass like surface. Not venturing far from the clubhouse, I started the day on the reliable old favourite Blue Flash Damsel lure, fished on a floating line, with a slow figure of eight retrieve.  Peter in contrast went small with a Tiger Buzzer fished static, bumping a fish, that took on the drop, first cast. I also had a short pluck at the lure and it seemed that we would be back for that cup of tea within minutes. Oh, how the mighty fall!

Twenty minutes in I’d only had a couple more plucks, while Peter was on his third fly change and also on the BFD. We made our way up toward the deeper water of the dam, hoping that presenting our lures to fresh fish wood do the trick.

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This worked for Peter and he was soon playing his first of the day, a sub 2lb rainbow, but apart from a few visible follows, I had yet to score. Off came the BFD and on went an ancient hand tied Black Marabou lure, 0ne of my get out of jail tyings, the long soft feather giving life with the minimum of movement.

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First cast in, a take on the drop put a brief bend in the rod, before coming off. Pluck, pluck. The following casts sometimes had two trout in tow, just mouthing the marabou tail. At last the line stretched out and I was into a deep fish, Peter coming over to do the honours with the net, putting a near 3lb fish on the bank.

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Another angler joined us and after he had landed two fish on the trot I went over for a chat, well sign language actually, as he was from Sweden, who, in his own words had “little English”. He was using a sinking line, a short leader and a purple and gold, double hooked salmon fly. It worked well enough, the added attraction for me being his automatic Mitchell Garcia 710 fly reel, the internal clockwork spring giving and taking line with no angler input. I’ve not seen one of these heavyweights for thirty years.

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By now Peter had changed over to a blood worm three feet under a yarn indicator, which bobbed and disappeared several times to be missed on the strike, or dropped seconds later, until finally contact was made and a small rainbow made up his two fish limit. I continued thrashing the water, while Peter went to investigate the catch and release lake, my frustration growing with each tug on the line, that failed to connect. Time to change tactics. As many of my takes had been on the drop, I tied in a short length of bouyant yarn indicator four feet from a bloodworm.

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No sooner had the nymph begun to sink, than the indicator bobbed and skated beneath the surface. Lifting the rod in response, the rod dipped, then sprang back and I knew that the fly would be gone. Rainbows can take at such speed, that even an 8lb leader can snap like cotton. In the next half hour the indicator sank four more times, only for me to miss each strike. They were not just playing with the bloodworm, but my blood pressure too.

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Peter returned from his foray unimpressed, casting his line out close to mine and you guessed it, the indicator went under and he was fighting a good rainbow, banking a fish the same size as mine. Now with three fish, he returned to the clubhouse for tea and a bacon sandwich. Walking with him, I dropped off  where I’d begun two hours before, casting out the bloodworm to more half hearted interest, the indicator, dipping, moving up wind and sometimes even briefly submerging, but to no avail. The bites stopped, they were bored with their new toy. The answer was another move back up the lake 50 yards. A new cast to fresh fish got a positive take. I felt the weight, then it was gone. Peter was returning, I was still on one rainbow. Back on the water, the indicator moved off toward the far side, a steady lift and I was in again. Finally! He came back in time to net my second, a well conditioned 2lb 2oz rainbow.

Peter had packed up already and as we walked back to the clubhouse, I decided to have a few more casts, stopping at the original spot again. Like before the indicator was dithering about, small rings radiating out, then it began to move slowly. I lifted hard, being met by solid resistance and the sight of a big fish struggling to escape, taking line in spurts as it made off across the lake. Keeping the pressure on, this broad backed rainbow was within sight of the net several times, twice it was in the net, but Peter was unable to lift it out, before it straightened and escaped. Finally the net was under it and the monster relaxed into it enough to be lifted out.

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My session had been transformed in the last twenty minutes, all the frustrations of not quite hooking fish were forgotten, with this catch going on the scales at 2lb 12oz, 3lb 2oz and the largest rainbow from the fishery that day of 6lb 2oz being my biggest yet. The weather was kind to us too, the first winter outing to Meon Springs, when we weren’t rained upon, or frozen into submission.

 

Casters find winter carp and rudd

January 19, 2015 at 11:15 pm

Continuing waves of strong winds, rain and snow, followed by brief days of plummeting temperatures, not rising above lower single figures, have kept my outside activities down to the occasional walk to the local supermarket. The route takes me alongside a stream, which for much of it’s length, acts as a rainwater run off for the housing estate through which it runs. To avoid flooding, the council created balance ponds at intervals to act as overflow reservoirs and fortunately for local anglers, a fish rescue at a silted up ancient pond in a nearby nature reserve, resulted in the stocking of these shallow pools with a mixture of mostly rudd, common and crucian carp.

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Days of heavy rain had seen the pond doing it’s job, floodwaters spilling over from the stream to take the level beyond it’s banks close to the rugby field. A few days later it was all change, with the level down and the margins full of cat ice following a hard frost. With worse weather to come, I decided to burn off some Christmas calories, loading up my trolley for the walk down the pond, which lies well away from any road access. In times of flood, the stream enters at one end and flows out of the other, creating a deeper channel in the silt and I set up my pole at 8 metres, with 2 metres to hand, expecting plenty of rudd during the afternoon. Red maggots from my new year outing, were turning to casters, despite chilling in the fridge and I catapulted a couple of pouches out, spraying them over an area beyond my pole. A pint of liquidised bread, mixed with handful of hempseed, also a similar amount of ground bait, was knocked together, formed into balls and scatter gunned out to spread over the baited area. A pole float, set to two feet, was punched out against the head wind and I settled down to wait for a bite. Nothing happened and I lifted out a couple of times to check that my 6 mm pellet of punched bread was still on. Ten minutes in and the float’s silhouette reduced and disappeared, swinging in a welcome rudd.

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Another ten minute wait, a lift of the float and I was in again to a matching rudd. At this point, a well wrapped up dog walker squeezed past my tackle box, commenting that the afternoon had turned out better than expected, “more than I can say about the fishing” I’d replied. This called for another spray of ground bait, the float sliding way before it settled on the next cast. The switch was now pulled and rudd followed rudd to my keepnet, taking over thirty in the next hour, most fish hooked well down, not put off by the size 14 hook to 3lb line. These rudd were of a good size, but I changed bait to caster to see if  any better fish were around.

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First chuck in with the caster, the float bobbed and sailed off, the hard fighting fish zooming about unlike a rudd and I got the landing net ready for the first time, only to see a small tench break surface in front of me.

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I’ve yet to catch any tench larger than this from the pond, but whatever their size, they are always welcome. Back to the rudd, the following several fish, a better stamp again.

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I’d seen a few bubbles burst on the surface and dropped the float over one, the float dithering, before a slow sink. I lifted and the surface erupted, with a carp flapping across the surface, then charging across the pond stretching out the elastic. The runs reduced and I shipped the pole back to 2 metres and netted a near pound common.

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Bubbles were now appearing throughout the baited area, the rudd had done a disappearing act and various sized commons and crucian hybrids were on the feed, although the bites were the merest lift, or holds, but the hook was well down every time. The carp’s lower lips were full of silt, a sign that they were almost static, filtering out the bait from the mud. I went back on the punch to improve the bites, but got smaller hybrids, so went back to the caster.

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A group containing two young families, babies in push chairs, with youngsters on scooters and trikes, now came along the narrow path and I got up to make way for them, a wheel over my carbon pole would not go down well. By the time they had scraped and clattered by, the swim had gone dead. My last portion of ground bait went in and I poured myself a long awaited hot cup of tea. I’d not had time before and the bitter wind had steadily chilled my body, but now could feel the refreshing heat working through to my stomach. The float conveniently waited for me to swallow my second cup, before bobbing in warning and then sinking. The carp were back and the elastic was out again. I’d set my time limit to 3:30, but the sun was just visible behind the trees and I’d fished on to land a couple more, when the surface exploded with a the best yet and hung on, following with my pole to ease the pull on the hook. It made a run across the pond towards the tree roots, the red elastic stretching and stretching, the tension forcing the carp to turn in a reducing arc, then run again in surges. The hook hold held, only just, it was in the skin of the lip.

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This was the decider, the cold was creeping in again and my hands were going numb, time to pack up.

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The light was fading fast and flash was needed on this lively net of fish, around 10lb, in two and a half hours on a freezing  winter’s afternoon, better than staying in to do the Times crossword any day.

 

 

Chub and roach on bread flake welcome the new year

January 5, 2015 at 7:06 pm

The Christmas and New Year festivities over, I was suffering from severe cabin fever, having played host to family members over the period, some in varying states of colds and flu, keeping outside activity down to a minimum, while my fishing gear was certainly off limits. A wet New Year’s Day, made way for a glorious sunny morning and the van was loaded ready for a visit to a Thames tributary not far from my home, arriving to find the river fining down, after heavy overnight rain, at midday.urbanfieldsportsman 1084

My intended swim is about half a mile from the road, but having reached a spot where the river takes a sharp left hand bend, I stopped, seeing this swim as if with new eyes. I usually fish the water in early autumn, before the leaves drop and this part is choked with weed, but now it was clear, beckoning me to fish it.

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Opposite, the flow came round along the bank, washing past the remains of a willow, that looked very chubby, while a slower run went down the middle, blending into an eddy on my side. With a tree at my back, I was able to place my tackle box upstream, just out of range of it’s overhanging branches, having decided to set up my fourteen foot float rod to fish bread flake on a size 14 hook under a 6 No. 4, ali stem, bodied stick float. Plumbing the depth, there was over four feet just past middle, which ran almost to the opposite bank. Perfect for trotting a big piece of flake.

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I had some prefrozen slices of white medium bread, from which I tore an inch square and folded it over the hook line and pinched it on, pulling the hook back up into it. Once in the water it fluffs up and is irresistible to chub, roach and bream, especially on a cold day. Despite bright sunshine, the air temperture was about 5 degrees Centigrade, chilled by a steady northwesterly breeze. Feed was to be bread “mash”. When I was a lad, we used to fish this method under a heavy porcupine quill, the mash being created on the bank, by putting scraps of uneaten bread, saved from home, placed in an empty Hacks throat sweet tin (scrounged from the sweet shop), water added and pounded with a stick to break it up. Then the water was squeezed out and thrown into the swim in balls, sinking quickly and releasing a stream of bread along the bottom. The tin came with a screw on lid and with a string through the top sides, could be hung on the handlebars of your push bike. It also did service as a means of transporting live baits for pike fishing.

Today we have food processors, which produce a coarse crumb, ideal for the Mash, but like the old days, stale bread is best and I’d saved left over rolls and French bread to run through the processor, there may have been the odd bit of turkey stuffing in there too. Once on the bank, just enough water was added to allow the mix to hold together, when squeezed, then the ball was thrown upstream of the deep run and I watched the bread breaking off as it fell through.

This method gets me excited every time, as big fish are the target and bites are not fussy. I set the float to fish about a foot off the bottom and cast it in behind the bread ball, checking the float every foot to allow the bait to swing up, then letting it run again. Half way down the trot, the float gave a couple of sudden jabs as I held it back, then sank when released. I paused to allow the big bait to be taken in and in that moment the  orange float top popped back into the sunlight, slanted over and then dived. My strike was more in shock than planned and my rod bent over into solid juddering resistance. There was an initial downstream run, which was countered with a backwind, then the pounding fight of a good roach, but no match for the 14 foot rod with 5lb main line to a 3lb hook link.

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That was quick, a quality roach in the net first cast. Next time in, the float carried further down the swim before again scything off towards the opposite bank. Keen to get into another fish, I lifted too soon and felt brief contact as I bumped it. On another trot, the float pulled down as I held back. I was in again, this time the zig zag run was longer, making for branches along the far bank, collecting a washing line of sunken weed stems, as it searched out the water’s edge. The white mouth and black back of a chub surfaced for seconds, before another surging run, using the pull from the shallower water at the tail of the swim to kite across to my side. With the odds of landing this fish now in my favour, I took my time netting it, being aware of a pair of dog walkers, who had stopped on the path to watch the action.

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Not big by chub standards, but rewarding on a cold day and the first “big” fish, that my onlookers had seen any fisherman take from the river. Once settled after the chat, I continued with no more bites, so chanced another small ball at the top of the swim and set the float 18 inches deeper to bounce the bait along the bottom, also pinching on a smaller piece of flake. The response was immediate, holding back hard, just inching the float down, gentle dips of the tip resulted in a slow submerge and another prime roach sliding into the net.

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A roving approach is the ideal of fishing the Mash, where it tends to seek out the bigger fish, moving on to likely lies without fear of overfeeding the swim, but I was settled on my tackle box for two, or three hours and needed to keep fish feeding for as long as possible. With another couple of roach in the net, the bites dried up again. Shallowing up and trotting down to the weedbed produced only one missed bite in ten minutes, even casting across to the bay opposite and letting the float skirt the dead willow drew a blank. I’d not fed any more since the chub and decided another slight change of tactics was required. Clipping on a bait dropper, the bowl was filled with more crumb, then lowered into the swim to give a couple of light feeds, while the bread punches were brought out to scale down the bait.

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Punching out a 7 mm pellet, I tried running through again and fishing over depth with no results, so the last resort was to go 2 feet over depth and pull the shirt button spread of shot down to bulk, 2 feet from the hook with a No.4 and a No.8 on the tail. Resting the rod with 10 feet of line to the float, I then sat it out to wait for a bite. There were still fish in the swim and a bite developed, then stopped. The bait was gone. On about the third attempt I hooked another roach. Ah well, I’d only been there for an hour, the sun was still warm, when it appeared from the scudding clouds and I had nothing else to do. I kept picking up the odd roach. I tried red worm and red maggot. The worm got trotted all over the river with no bites, which was surprising, as the river was teaming with gudgeon and perch earlier in the year. They must have gone dormant in the cold water. After two hours all the bites had stopped and with nothing to lose, put away my float rod and made up a link leger block feeder rig.

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I had a quiver tip rod with me and was on the verge of packing up anyway, so thought the five minutes spent making up the rod was worth while, tying on a size 16 hook to a three foot tail to scale down again. The bay opposite was my first target, the feeder filled with more crumb and a 7 mm pellet of bread pinched on, settling beneath the roots. Watching the tip, it pulled round half an inch and flicked back. A strike and yes, a fish, another roach of a few ounces, not the big chub I expected. Nothing else came from there. I rang the changes with bait and placed the feeder in several likely looking spots, but nothing. Time to go. I’d been there for under three hours, but it seemed a lot longer. With that thought in my mind, the rod top bent round steadily and I was playing a fish. A worm tail had done it’s job. A perch? No, another nice roach had swallowed the worm, hooking it’self.

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This was the last fish of the day, another fat roach, the payoff for persistence. The river was now clear, having lost the brown tinge of earlier, maybe the cause of the slowdown in bites. As I pulled out my keep net, it was full of silt to prove a point.

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A lone chub among a respectable net of roach was the outcome of a crisp, bright winter’s day, when it was a joy to be on the bank, a group of mallards benefiting from my surplus bread, while the highlight was to witness a sparrow hawk tumbling through a whirling flock of sparrows, as it tried in vain to catch one. By the time my trolley was loaded, the sun was behind the trees and there was a chilling wind gusting through the bare branches. Perfect timing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CZ452 HMR Festive rabbit hunt ends with a damp squib.

January 2, 2015 at 8:16 pm

 

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With the rivers flooded and lakes frozen, fishing had to take a back seat as the days were counting down to Christmas, heading 30 miles  north into South Buckinghamshire to a farm neglected by me this year, not having visited since the spring. Although totaling 90 acres, over the years of shooting, I’ve managed to restrict the rabbit population to a small copse that borders the land. Each year the rabbits spread along the hedge line, only for my .17 HMR to knock them back into the woods, where I have no access. In days past, there were several large warrens and it was worth the fuel money to harvest the abundant rabbits on regular visits, a neighbouring property owner once complaining that it sounded like the Wild West whenever I turned up, but these days, courtesy visits are the name of the game.

Driving into the yard, I parked up and waited in the van, as the three farm dogs came rushing round the corner; there is a mild natured German Shepherd, but the other two are black hounds of mixed heritage with severe social problems, one of which caused me to make a hospital visit for a few stitches, a couple of years back. The farmer emerged from the pig shed and called the dogs off, coming over for a chat, while I unloaded the rifle, saying that he’d seen a dozen rabbits in the top field, plus a previously cleared area now had a few bobbing about. I apologised for the lack of attention to his land and promised to start at the top, then drive over to the other side to have a look at the other area.

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It’s a half mile, uphill walk to the top field, the farm cresting the Chiltern Hills and I made a bee-line for the highest point, which gives a clear view over 300 yards of the hedgerow, crawling the last 50 yards to keep my outline low on the horizon. Setting the tripod on the rifle, a quick scan through the scope revealed at least six rabbits feeding on the lush grass at the base of the trees, while more were almost invisible in the dead grass. I readied my spare five shot magazine, as once I began shooting, even at over a hundred yards away, the rabbits would soon get the message, that it was not going to be too healthy to stick around.

The first couple toppled over two seconds apart, the third lifted it’s head into the cross hairs and jumped three feet vertically, running in the air. I brought the sights onto the fourth and “click-pop”, the bullet had misfired. Smoke was coming from the breech, but not from the muzzle. I withdrew the bolt to reveal the cartridge case, still partly full of powder. Taking out the bolt, the bullet was still in the bore. Game over. In the field there is no way of knocking the bullet out. This was going to be embarrassing, having happened on one of my recent visits to this very farm. These tiny .17 bullets are notorious for this, the necking down process on the .22 magnum case to .17 causing work hardening and splitting of the cases at that point. The crack allows damp to enter the cartridge and so causes a misfire, hence the term damp squibs. I’d changed from Remington bullets due to misfires and two bullets stuck in the bores and was now using Hornady, which in the previous few hundred rounds had fired perfectly, although cracks had been visible on some cases, after they had been fired.

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Making short work of  gathering up and cleaning the rabbits. I headed back to be met with “You were quick. Run out of bullets?” When I told him the problem, I got “Again! You want to get a new rifle mate!” These farmers are a hard bunch. With tail firmly between my legs, I drove over to the other side of the farm to observe another half dozen rabbits feeding undisturbed, where there were none last year. Big slap on the wrist. Must do better. The butcher was happy to take these three, even at Christmas, people like to have a different dish on the table, wild rabbit has been promoted from humble to exotic fare these days.

The next morning was spent in my shed knocking the bullet out through the barrel, it only having travelled two inches up the bore. Using plenty of gun oil down the bore, I have three lengths of 5/32 dia brass rod, which I protect with PTFE tape to avoid any damage. Fortunately my shed houses a well equipped workshop, with a kitchen worktop bench and a good quality vice to cover most needs. This was a simple case of sitting down cradling the rifle and taking my time, the bullet only moving about 0.010 of an inch per tap. I have a radio and a heater, what is there to rush over.

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A couple of hours later it was out, fortunately the boat tail blunt end resisted any spreading.

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 The split can be clearly seen on the right hand spent case, while the unfired cartridge on the left has a hair line crack from the bullet to the neck.

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This has been a blow to my confidence in using the original Hornady .17 HMR bullets and will inspect all rounds for cracks, before I take them out in the field. Having checked twenty fired cartridge cases in my shooting jacket, three had cracks, that totals to 15%, unacceptable in a commercial product, that has been in use for over ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meon Springs winter warmer.

December 8, 2014 at 7:18 pm

I was counting the layers of my clothing, while waiting for friend Peter to collect me for some long awaited trout fishing at Meon Springs this week. The forecast had been dry two days before, but now those isobars were shifting and the temperature was  down to 5 C, with blustery showers due at lunchtime, so for me it was thermals, a woolly shirt, polo shirt and a dense hoody beneath my quilted fishing waistcoat, with a wax cotton jacket to follow, if things got really bad. In contrast Peter looked his usual dapper self in moleskin trousers and checked cotton shirt, assuring me that he would be perfectly warm in his thin waterproofs. As we drove down into the Meon Valley, the morning mist was lifting and the lake was bathed in golden sunlight to welcome us; it looked like Peter’s clothing choice was the right one.

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Tackling up on the clubhouse verandah, we could see the lake was like glass, without a ripple down to the dam and were going to be the first to break it’s surface that morning. Our previous visits had seen us both get our two fish limit within the opening twenty minutes and on this occasion took our time to drink coffee, followed by a stroll along the banks before fishing. Plenty of rainbows were visible in the crystal clear, chalk fed waters, although most seemed stationary, not searching for food.

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Peter started off with his current fovourite method, an Orange Blob on a leader greased to within two feet of the lure, fished static, while I began with a bloodworm fished two feet beneath a floss indicator, the method that had proved successful at Meon Springs before. We were both casting to seen fish and the feeling of panic was beginning to set in after twenty minutes of twitching the fly to no response. I broke first, tying on a Blue Flash Damsel lure, which I retrieved with a slow figure of eight. At least now I could see fish move towards it and follow, but they were just plucking at the tail, or lightly holding it. A left hand pull made contact a few times, but it took another ten minutes, before the line held long enough for the rod to set the hook firmly into a fish. At last! A two pound rainbow exploded on the surface, then began the head shaking fight associated with a lightly hooked fish, but it stayed on and was soon on the bank.

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A typical stockie, that fought well on my 9 ft 6 in Greys 7/8 rod, the BFD just in the front of the bottom lip. This was the first outing with this rod, bequeathed to me by Peter, as compensation for accidentally shutting my 30 year old hand built rod in the boot lid of his car last time out. I must say this piece of modern technology was a joy to use, light weight and powerful, an improvement over my old Normark blank. Maybe it’s time to start looking at a new fly line? Mind you the current one, a Cortland bought at the factory in New York state, has permanent kinks, that give an early warning of a take, when they straighten.

The Blob was now gone from Peter’s leader, to be replaced by a bloodworm on a very slow retrieve and an instant take resulted in a lost fly. Tying on another, he was soon playing his first rainbow of the morning, a 2 lb fish. Frustrated by the will they, won’t they takes on the Damsel, I too decided to give the bloodworm another go, still tying on the fly, when Peter landed a 2 lb 8 oz rainbow minutes after the first. By now a cold wind had picked up, driving those predicted showers down the valley and Peter retreated to the comfort of the clubhouse to warm up, leaving me to battle the elements. The bloodworm worked with plenty of short takes, but having suffered two dropped trout, I went back to the BFD and was rewarded with a slightly fatter fish.

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With my two fish in the fridge, I sat down with a hot drink and a sandwich by the club’s log fire, while Peter walked down to the catch and release lake for some more punishment, where I met up with him 30 minutes later. In that time he’d put two very nice fish on the bank, an estimated 7 lb rainbow and 2lb brown trout in good condition.

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Using only barbless hooks on this lake, the fish were returned with the minimum of damage, both having taken the bloodworm. Another angler joined us shortly after, fishing the deep water by the dam and hooking into another monster rainbow, struggling to get the fish in the net, but finally managing to get the barrel shaped brood fish on the bank.

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This tank of a rainbow weighed 7 lb 4oz and was full of eggs, spraying them all over the grass, when lifted back into the water.

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As the weather worsened,  with icy rain now lashing down, it was up to me to follow the Lord Mayor’s Show, when my Blue Flash Damsel was taken by a very ragged looking brown trout, netting this fish as soon as I could, before beating a retreat back to the dry haven of the fishing lodge.

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In just three hours, the changeable English weather had transformed this quiet part of Hampshire and we were happy to leave the lake to the stewardship of the swans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stickfloat perch brightens a dull winter’s day.

December 4, 2014 at 3:14 pm

A planned autumn visit, before the leaves dropped, to my small local river, was thwarted by constant rain and flooding, that saw surging brown water covering the banks for over a week, but as the temperature fell, so did the water level and I arrived on the 1st December to find a pacey, clear stream running within it’s banks. Those banks were covered in mud, as I carefully picked my way through to my chosen swim, a weak midday sun fighting a losing battle with grey scudding clouds. With a busy town road one side and a crowded housing estate on the other, this is a ribbon of wilderness among an urban sprawl.

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Upstream gravel shallows channel the flow along the opposite bank, where I expected to find a few chub to start the session and threw a couple of squeezed balls of liquidised bread beneath the tree roots in anticipation of the next few hours fishing. The river here is only 30 inches deep and a light approach is required, setting up my 12 foot Hardy Match rod with a 3 No. 4 Middy Ali stickfloat on 2.6 lb line to a size 16 barbless hook on a 2 lb link. Bait was a 5 mm pellet of punched bread.

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First cast in, the float never settled, sliding off towards the bank, before sinking from view. I braced and swept the rod back upstream, watching the rod bend in an arc to the pull of a fish. A flash of silver deep in the river said roach, not chub, the steady pounding of the roach, not the hoped for explosive run of a chub.

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A solid healthy roach nonetheless and a good start to the session, which was repeated on every put in for the next twenty minutes. I tried another ball of bread further downstream towards an overhanging branch and cast to follow it down. The float sped away downstream, a firm strike and bang, solid resistance. A chub? At first I thought it was, as the fish made a beeline for the the snag in a straight line run, before turning across the river, then dashing back, hugging the far bank, boring deep. Getting the landing net ready, when it drew near, I lifted the rod to see, not the big white mouth of a chub, but the bright red fins and deep body of a decent rudd.

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I now settled into a steady rhythm of fish catching, the bread punch selecting smaller roach, the occasional rudd, or skimmer bream and gudgeon, including some clonkers.

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Bringing a small roach back along the far bank, there was a swirl and as I lifted the roach clear, the pale green, striped back of a big perch broke the surface. The bread had attracted more than just small fish and next cast I hooked a small gudgeon, drawing it slowly back, dabbling it on the surface to tempt the predator. Like a ghost, the perch came up behind the offering, hovered and took. I gave slack line, as the gudgeon was seized, only for the small fish to appear on the surface again, rejected. I reeled in a foot of line and the perch was back with avengeance, this time turning, taking line downstream. A count of ten and I lifted the rod to meet the full force of a fish determined to escape. I can’t recount the time that it took to beat it, countering run after run in the shallow water, waiting for the gudgeon to be spat out at any time. Eventually it made a long run upstream, but ended up wallowing in the gravelly shallows and I drew it back on the surface into the net. Phew! Made it. How many perch have I lost in the past at the lip of the landing net?

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Lifting the perch out of the net, the gudgeon was clearly visible, the tiny hook holding the bigger fish, having passed through the gudgeon’s lip into the edge of the gaping mouth. Removing the hook from  the perch, the gudgeon was lifted out alive and swam off, when released. Not wanting the aggressive predator in my keepnet, that too was returned to the shallows, where it remained for a minute, or two, then was gone in a puff of mud.

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At 15 inches long, I estimated it’s weight to be around two pounds, but this being my biggest perch ever, I remembered after I’d released it, that I had my lightweight scales with me and could have recorded an accurate figure. All the same, it was an impressive fish to land on such a small hook. A sit down with a hot cup of tea from my flask was needed, before sorting myself out to continue. Looking in my bait tray, over a hundred pellets of bread had been made, each one a fish in the preceding two and a half hours.

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With perch in mind, I now switched baits to red worm and brandlings from my home compost heap, hoping for a few more stripeys, before the light went, but first trot down was another big gudgeon.

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Casting back in with the same worm, the float gave a couple of dips, then buried. Again not a perch, but a hard fighting roach, the change of bait must have shocked this one into taking.

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Perch did take the worms, but none more than a few ounces, enough to put a bend in the rod all the same, each cast taking pot luck on the species hooked. By 3 pm, the light was fading fast and I called a halt to my fishing, finishing my last cup of tea, while reflecting on a rewarding few hours spent on a truly urban river, bypassed by most local anglers heading out of town to fish.

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Constant action helped keep out the cold, putting over six pounds on the scales, which was a good result without the bonus monster perch.

 

 

 

 

 

Rustic rabbit pie with cider

November 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm

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There are many ways to cook rabbit, some exotic and some plain, but you can’t beat the old country recipes, when it comes to a rabbit pie. Long before supermarkets and freezers, a rabbit would be brought home to be cooked up with whatever was in the larder, or garden that day, then baked in a pie for consumption at a later time. Arriving home with a big buck rabbit from my most recent outing, this was the theme for my rustic pie, my favourites, chorizo and garlic being banished from this dish.

In the larder were potatoes, a swede, carrots, onions, celery and few of the last tomatoes ripening in a dish, while a small tin of butter beans languished on the shelf. A pair of streaky bacon rashers from the fridge completed the list of ingredients, these to add a bit of fat and extra flavour. From the garden came a couple of rosemary sprigs, plus two bay leaves. Bringing these ingredients together would be a pint bottle of my home made dry cider to help tenderise the meat.

Method

Skin and joint the rabbit, discarding the pelvic triangle, while cutting the back and shoulders into three, to allow the meat to be left overnight in a pot to soak in water sprinkled with a dessert spoon of salt. This will leach out any remaining blood. The buck weighed about a kg and had enough meat for two 8 inch pies. Each one serving four people.

Select 200 grams of each of the vegetables, peel and chop into cm cubes, cutting the celery into 5 mm slices, while roughly dividing the tomatoes. The butter beans will be added later, along with a tablespoon of tomato ketchup.

Dry off the rabbit pieces. Heat a large frying pan, adding a tablespoon of cooking oil. Cut the bacon into 25  mm squares and lightly fry to brown on both sides, to bring out the fat, before browning off the rabbit to seal the meat. Remove from the pan and place in a casserole dish, covering the meat with the bacon. Now add the onions to the pan, turning until softened, removing and again covering the meat. Lightly pan fry the remaining vegetables,  again turning to bring out the juice. Now add half of the cider, continuing to stir, until boiling for a few minutes. Remove from the heat and pour over the meat, deglazing the pan. Empty the bottle of cider into the dish and drop in the rosemary sprigs and the bay leaves. A pinch of salt and a good dusting of ground black pepper is needed before the lid is put on and the dish is put in the hot oven at 150 C.

After about 90 minutes, test the meat for tenderness, a large rabbit like this one will take at least two hours before the meat is falling from the bone. At this stage carefully take out the pieces with two forks onto a shallow dish and pull the meat from the bones with the forks, shredding the meat, making sure no small bits of rib, etc escape. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves before tipping the meat back into the casserole dish. Drain off the butter beans and add in, then stir in the tablespoon of ketchup. This will sweeten up the sauce and add a bit of colour. I have also added Worcester Sauce in the same measure in the past, while a few frozen peas, or sweet corn can also be thrown in for good measure. There are no real hard and fast rules with this pie.

Place back in the oven, stirring every half hour, until the sauce has thickened and the vegetables softened. If you can resist eating the dish there and then, allow to cool, before making the pastry. In this instance, 500 g of shop bought short crust pastry was used, rolling out 5 mm thick discs to suit two 8 inch deep pie dishes. Lay the first layer of pastry into the dish and trim off to the edges, then put in the filling, topping it with a knob of butter, before covering with with the upper layer. The butter will melt down through the mix, adding a richness to the sauce. Trim and pinch to seal at the edges. An egg wash can be used to seal the top if required. It’s all down to time and presentation. Pierce the top with a fork and the pie is ready for cooking later at 200 C for 30 minutes, or freezing.

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Magtech .22 succeeds on a woodland rabbit hunt

November 18, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Much of my shooting these days seems to fit in with my wife’s desire to shop and with the countdown to Christmas ticking away, a request to visit our previous home town for a few hours browsing, had me weighing up the pros and cons of my various shooting permissions in the area. As I used to live within a mile of these various pieces of land, the days of a good bag of rabbits are long gone, but the need to keep my face in with the owners is important, whether I find anything to shoot , or not. I opted for the equestrian centre, where I can park by the stables and be on the path in minutes.

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Morning rain had given way to bursts of low sunshine, bringing out the colours of the autumn leaves, as I surveyed the fields at the start of my patrol of likely rabbit haunts. The parkland is divided off into pasture and rides bordering woodland, which give plenty of cover for hunter and hunted. When I began shooting this old country estate, rabbits were everywhere and an hour walk round with my Webley Viper .22 air rifle, would often account for a dozen naive bunnies. Times have changed, the Webley stays in the gun cabinet and my weapon of choice is now the Magtech 7022 .22 semi auto, the scarce quarry often being beyond air rifle range, while the 40 grain hollow point RWS bullet provides instant stopping power.

This is true hunting territory requiring all the senses, with a slow approach, checking out small clearings and under bushes along the way, lifting feet, then placing them ahead, instead of striding along. The first few hundred yards had drawn a blank, not even a flock of feeding pigeons; they were all in the trees overhead, hidden from view, until they clattered out of the branches, sweeping low across the fields.

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The path turned and entered a wood, where I stopped at an area of disturbed ground. Something larger than a squirrel had very recently been digging up the grass, possibly a badger, or rabbit. Scanning the undergrowth, the sound of a small animal moving away through the leaf litter, gave me a brief sighting of a rabbit twenty yards away, before it disappeared again. Moving forward, I rested against a tree and waited for movement. More rustling of leaves and a large buck trotted out into the clearing, halting long enough for me to get the cross hairs on it’s head and squeeze the trigger. With a half jump forward, it toppled over motionless.

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The rabbit was paunched where it fell, to lighten the load in my game bag, before continuing down the path. Rounding a laurel bush, a pair of rabbits were feeding at the wood edge about sixty yards away, partially shielded by young trees and tried to use the trunk of a tree as cover to get closer for a better shot. Peering out from behind the trunk, they were gone. Back into the wood. This time there was no second chance. I could have taken a shot from sixty yards, but a miss, or worse, a wounded animal may have been the result. I already had a large rabbit in the bag and wasn’t desperate for another. Further on through, where another path joins the main one, I eased the rifle round the corner and viewed another feeding rabbit unaware of my presence, taking my time to line up for a chest shot. The near silent report from the moderator was drowned out by the thud of the bullet striking home and number two was in the bag.

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The ground here is pock marked by rabbit holes, being one of my banker areas on a blank day. If I waited around for twenty minutes, another would pop out from the hedge, but I see my job as pest control, not eradication. The path now came out of the wood, skirting the boundary edge and apart from a rabbit that came out onto the ride forty yards ahead, then dived back before the rifle could be raised, I saw no more. Getting half way round the circuit, cutting across to where the ride passes through an ancient sunken, tree filled lane, I approached another of my banker areas. At the edge of the trees is a grass lined bank, with a view over the brow, down the grassy ride. Pressing hard into the undergrowth, I belly crawled up the bank to see a rabbit head down facing me. As I moved out from the edge to take the prone, thirty yard shot, it raised it’s head, only to flip over in shock as the bullet struck home.

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Getting up to collect this one, flashing white tails bobbing down the ride meant more work to be done, but not today and on the half mile walk back to the stables, a couple more distant sightings proved to me, that more visits are required before Christmas. Reaching the stables, the owner’s wife was busy sorting out tack, but had time for a chat, happily accepting a fresh rabbit for the pot, while confirming that the shooting was exclusively mine, as long as I wanted it. Music to my ears.

 

 

 

Breadpunch and red worm fishing the autumn pond.

November 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm

An Indian summer had brought record 20C temperatures for October and I had a new pond in mind to fish, but as happens, other priorities such as clearing the garden ready for winter and days out driving my classic MG, or motorbike rides, had pushed fishing further down the list. Now with temperatures back down to seasonal levels, the weatherman forecast a bright dry day and I set off in sunshine, after the morning rush hour, for a hoped for full day of catching fish. The pond lies in a valley and and as I crested the hill, the sun faded from view due to a heavy mist shrouding the area and damping down my optimism. My mood was not helped by the crunch of ground frost underfoot, while crossing the open field towards the tree lined water.

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Negative thought number three came with my first sight of the surface. It was bright green with a film of algae. Despite all of this, fish were moving and I set up my pole with a heavy elastic, as the pond has a reputation for some decent carp, but my target fish were the also the reputed crucian carp, so a compromise was needed. A rig used on my last outing to my local pond was clipped on, 5lb line through to a size 14 hook on a 3lb link and a light weight 0.2 g float. Plumbing the depth, a 2 ft shelf gave way to 3 ft deep, 4 metres out, which continued out to 6 metres. Not deep, but deep enough to avoid being affected by the frosty conditions.

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With liquidized bread and punch slices from the freezer as my main bait, I’d raided my compost heap for some red worms before setting off, to give an alternative. Mixing up some bread based groundbait, I put in several egg sized balls along the 5 metre line to carpet the bottom. My first put in saw the float stay flat, as a fish took on the drop, then slide beneath the green surface. A lift of the pole and a thumping, hand sized rudd was pounding away, before being swung in.

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Small roach and rudd queued to get on the hook for the next fifteen minutes, but bubbles bursting in the surface film indicated better fish moving onto the feed and the bites changed to dithering dips, followed by a slow sink. A crucian?A strike was met by a soft bounce, as a skimmer bream skated beneath the surface, before being skimmed across the top into the landing net.

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Where did this come from? A lone fish? I hadn’t heard of  bream in this half acre pond before. Next cast an identical bite was met by more resistance and a deep thudding fight as a much larger bream fought in the dark green gloom of the pond, guessing the species long before I saw it to slide over the net rim.

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More skimmers followed and the net was beginning to fill, as the local church bell struck noon to bring with it warming sunshine, burning off the morning mist.

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The air warmed immediately, as the sun worked it’s way round to my shaded spot. Up to now it had felt more like winter, the water from my wet landing net, soon soaking my legs and chilling me through. Travelling light due to the walk to the pond, I’d only taken the bare basics to fish and with a dry afternoon in the forecast, the waterproofs were first to go. With the sun, the bites changed again, fast bobs and jabs of the float telling me that crucians were now around, the juddering fight confirming my suspicion, before guiding a chunky 8 oz carp into the net.

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A few more crucians and skimmers were in the net, then the bites slowed down, the bread punch pellets being sucked off the hook without developing into anything hittable. A drop in punch size from 7mm to 5mm got me catching again, but still the bites were slow and I reached into the bait box for one of my red worms.

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The float had barely settled, before it dipped and lifted slightly, then moved steadily towards deeper water and sank out of sight. I lifted into it and watched the elastic drawing out of the pole tip. This was much bigger, the slow movement against the tension and the lazy bottom hugging fight saying proper bream. It turned and began churning up bubbles from the bottom in the baited area, pulling it away to the side, where it rolled on the surface a few times, before giving up and lying on it’s side, the deep bronze of it’s flanks glinting in the sun. With a foot to go to the landing net, it did a surface flip and the hook flew from the skin of it’s lip. I made a lunge with the net, but only caught the tail section of the wallowing bream, before it was engulfed by the green water.

The still intact worm was recast and sank away within a minute. I struck and felt the weight of another decent bream for a moment, before it too came off. I’d been giving more time on the strike than the bread, but not enough. With two good fish lost, I rested the swim as I mixed up some more feed, putting in three balls. Feeding the swim is always a gamble once colder days come, it’s so easy to overfeed the fish. With bread going in, I switched back to the punch.

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I needn’t have worried about over feeding, the float sinking away as it followed the last ball and I was into another of the better sized skimmers, taking care not to bully this one to the net, another lost bream could take the shoal with it.

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A smaller bream and a few roach on the punch saw me reach in the box for another worm. This time the float dithered around for a few seconds, then moved off with purpose. Giving plenty of time for the fish to take the worm, the float was gone with the line following, when I gave a firm lift of the pole. The straight line run that followed, with the elastic zooming after it said one thing, carp and the next five minutes were spent countering runs, adding and removing pole lengths as it made full use of the open water. A flash of gold, as it rolled on the surface, told me that the fight was won and I slipped the net under a 2 lb common carp.

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Clouds were now scudding across the sky, it seemed like the weatherman had got it wrong again, but the bubbles were still rising from the baited area and the worm was working well, with another crucian and more skimmers going into the keep net, being well on the way to my best catch this year.

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The church clock had barely rung out the second hour of the afternoon, when droplets of rain began to patter down, a passing shower I hoped and pulled the hood of my jacket over my cap. I looked back and couldn’t see my float, studying the surface long enough to see the line straightening. A lift of the pole had the elastic out again, this time arcing round to the left. At first I thought it was another carp, but the soft thudding bounce on the end said another bream, which was giving a good account of it’self, skating all over the surface like a much smaller fish.

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By the time I had netted this fish, the rain was lashing down and the light was going, as a black cloud swept overhead with a rolling clap of thunder. With my bait tray already awash, I didn’t need persuading to pack up as quickly as possible, everything was  soaked in the ensuing deluge, another thunder clap much closer this time spurring me on, the carbon pole the ideal lightening conductor.

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It was so dark by 2:30 pm, that I needed flash to take this picture of the 9 lb 8 oz net of fish, the session cut short by two hours with me beating a hasty retreat through the wood and across an open field with the elements from the freak unforecast storm, forcing me home to a welcome early bath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread punch selects crucian carp.

October 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

A return trip to a river visited in the summer had been planned for this week, in the hope of catching some decent sized chub and roach on the stick float, before the leaves drop from the trees, but constant heavy showers had put paid to that idea. A forecast of a warm day without rain, saw me take the easy option; loading up my fishing trolley, after lunch, for the short walk to my local pond. On the way down, I could hear the feeder stream before I saw it and wondered what state the pond would be in, when I arrived. It was up a few inches and very coloured, but fish were moving, being optimistic of a good afternoon session catching crucian and common carp.

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The pond is only 30 inches at it’s deepest point and while full of small fish, it is also home to some carp up to double figures, which, when hooked only have one option …. run! The Catch 22 of this water is that light tackle is needed, just to see a bite, but a relatively heavy line and elastic are required to hang onto the better fish, if hooked.

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My choice of rig was a 0.2g carbon stemmed float on 5lb main line to a size 14 barbless on a 4lb hook link, a single No6 needed to cock the float, almost freelining. Due to the number of small fish expected, I set the line at 3 metres to hand, to swing them in, while giving control when netting better fish. Once again the freezer had been raided for bait, the last of my Kennet hemp was dragged out for the fourth time, by now less than half a pint remaining. It was the same story for the liquidised bread, accompanied by some squares for the punch, if needed. A good handful of sweetcorn was added to these left-overs and mixed with ground down carp pellets to make a coarse ground bait, that went into the swim in a line 7-8 metres out, while I tackled up.

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First cast, the sweetcorn was taken by an eager rudd, which neatly swung to hand, the first of many to come in the opening hour, the corn attracting the better quality fish, plus a lone baby tench, that zoomed off with the bait.

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Over my baited area, fine bubbles were beginning to rise to the surface, a sure sign of carp moving in to feed, pushing the rudd out, but now the bites were growing fussy, the float lifting and dithering, as the bait had it’s soft juices sucked out.

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This fine rudd was the only hitable bite in ten minutes and with the water now fizzing with bubbles, I reached into my tackle box for the bread punches and unwrapped the first square of bread. The softer bait might be the answer.

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Proof of the pudding was a lifting, dithering, bite which progressed to to a slow sink and a strike sinking the hook into a brightly coloured crucian carp. Earlier on I’d worried that I would run out of sweet corn, but now I couldn’t care less, as fish began to fill my net again, mostly small crucians and common hybrids.

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I began targeting individual groups of bubbles, the pole allowing me to gently lay the float on the surface, with the 7 mm pellet of bread gently falling through to the fish below. Bites varied from a lift of the float tip, to slow movement across and down. Each bite could be a 4 oz crucian, or something a lot bigger.

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This common ran into the lilly pads opposite, taking out the heavy pole elastic in one charge, while I added pole joints frantically to the full length of 11 metres, the steady pressure extracting the struggling carp from the pads, only for it to begin a slow arcing run away to my left, out of sight behind a bush. Once it began to roll on the surface, I knew that the worst was over, but didn’t relax until it was in the net, only then did the hook drop out of it’s mouth.

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Each punch of bread caught a fish, patience being needed as the bite developed, but the end result was reliably the same, solid resistance, followed by a furious fight.

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While waiting for one such bite to develope, a kingfisher darted across in front of me to settle on a branch to my right. I kept glancing over and watched it dive into the pond at it’s feet, returning with small fish. As I watched the kingfisher flick the fish to stun and turn it, I felt pressure against my leg. A fish had run off with the bait and hooked it’self, pulling the pole round to my left. I lifted and made contact, the surging run indicating a common carp, the kingfisher reminding me of it’s presence with a shrill call, as it sped back along the pond in a flash of torquois.

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The light was already fading fast as I dropped this pound common into the keep net and I allowed myself another few fish, before my self imposed halt to the afternoon, four and a half hours of constant action bringing me a net weighing in at a lucky 13 lb.

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A rewarding sight for any fisherman, a decent picture a near impossibility of this flapping, writhing net full.