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Spring cleaning with the CZ452 Varmint HMR

May 1, 2015 at 9:54 am

In my part of the UK, namely the soft South of England, this winter we avoided most of the snow and heavy rain, while  a frosty morning was a thing of rarity, resulting in a burst of  the activity, for which rabbits are famous. Many does are now suckling their second brood, and it was time this week to get down to some serious culling.

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Parking is always a problem with this permission, it is landlocked, with access limited to the tenant only, which means being dropped off by my wife, while she shops in the nearby town, or as in this case, doing a drive-by of the NHS hospital car park looking for a space, or as is usual, there are no spaces and I give it a miss to shoot elsewhere. Today there was a space and with a two hour parking limit, unloaded the van, climbed the stile and began the half mile trek across the public footpath to the twenty acre field, looking straight ahead, as I passed shaggy longhorn cattle and frisky young bullocks, the latter seeming to delight in thundering up behind a walker, stopping just in time to avoid trampling them to death.

The tenant breeds horses on the land, the footpath an ancient droveway that is now a road to nowhere, while it is bordered by blackthorn riddled with rabbit warrens, which over the years I have kept in check, but could see before I’d negotiated the gate, rabbits in all directions, already sitting up waiting for the metallic clang of the latch, as I closed it behind me. The sound was the equivalent of  a starting gun, with rabbits running everywhere back to safety. One made a hundred yard sprint from the open field to stop at the hedge and I got down to the ground, then locked out the rifle bipod, before reaching into my bag for a clip of bullets. Sighting through the telescopic scope, the rabbit was hidden behind long grass, but raising my head he was still there, so in sidewinder snake style, I slid over to the left, until I could just see it’s ears. Another shift to the left would put me in full view, too risky with these spooky rabbits, so I waited, cross hairs on the ears, ready for the next move, which proved fatal for my target, it dropping from vision the instant it raised it’s head and the trigger was squeezed.

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At first I couldn’t find this young buck, thinking that I’d missed, although the CZ HMR is deadly accurate, doubts crept in, when drawing a blank a hundred yards out. Shrugging my shoulders, I walked on down the hedge line toward more visible rabbits in the distance, only to discover the buck another forty yards on, the tiny .17 inch diameter bullet entering just under the left ear.

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Before moving on, I skinned and cleaned my kill ready for the game bag, having the hunch that this might be a busy session, my rifle and kit being heavy enough without surplus weight. The blackthorn gives good cover, growing out into the field in places and allowing grassy bays to grow in others.

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Working my way toward a group of rabbits further down the field, one hopped out just fifty yards away. I pressed back into the hedge, adjusted my scope down and took a chest shot to hand, sending it skyward with a reflex jump.

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Picking this one up, I’d disturbed the group further down, watching them white tail it back to rough ground, where a bramble bush grows over the warren and walked to within a bush a hundred yards, from where I could cover all exits. Having carried out my paunching ritual on number two in the cover of the bush, I settled down to wait for number three. Rabbits are like buses, you wait for ages, then several come along at once. One second the area was empty, then four appeared and began feeding. The first was an easy measured shot, the second a snap shot at the first to stop, after the initial crack of the rifle sent them into a dither, the others retreating back to cover.

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Two fat does from two head shots seconds apart, are testimony to the accuracy of this rifle, dropped without a twitch.

Time was now at a premium, if I was avoid a parking fine and I cleaned these out in record time, only to look up to see another rabbit on the grass, where I’d shot these from. Pest control is the name of the game and he sat patiently in the sun, while I took aim.

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A foregone conclusion, I was back over to sort number five, my bag now weighing me down, working up a sweat as I covered the ground back to the gate. Taking one last look round, there was a grey shape in the shade of the trees on the pathway, another big rabbit was feeding unaware of the danger ninety yards away. I got down prone, the bipod allowing another, what you see is what you get shot, that toppled it over with an expanding bullet through the eye, not a pretty sight on the other side.

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I made it back to the car park with ten minutes to spare, feeling like I’d just competed in the London Marathon, downing a warm half bottle of Lemon Barley Water in the time it takes to say it. This session only covered one side of the field and had barely made a dent in the rabbit population I’d viewed from the gate earlier. Pressure, pressure pressure. This was hard work.

Wild trout switch to the dry fly

April 27, 2015 at 9:26 am

 

Two days after a visit to the prolific urban river 15 miles to the north-east of my home, I was heading the same distance, but to the south-west to my syndicate held river for a comparison, a hot spring day, cooled by a strong breeze, giving way to perfect conditions for a memorable evening rise.

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The river level was down on last week, but plenty of oxygenating water still rushed over the stones. Swarms of black hawthorn flies drifting across the meadow, encouraged me to ignore the water’s edge and cut a diagonal directly to my intended starting point, at the confluence of a smaller stream on a bend of the river. In seasons past, this spot has held some of the better trout, but today the surface was untroubled by rising fish, despite the free offerings drifting downstream. To make a comparison with the urban river, my Black Devil nymph was tied on and prospected throughout the pool to no effect and I moved upstream, where the flow pushes over clean gravel runs.

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The only way to fish this section is in the water, searching out the deeper pockets, many trout lying hard under the banks. Getting down into the river, I made repeated casts along a deep run, increasing the range a yard at a time, bumping the nymph along the bottom, where it was seized with a jerk forward of the leader, the strike sending a powerful little wild brown cartwheeling across the surface, that ran full tilt past me, before being netted.

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Only yards upstream  a smaller brown darted from the cover of a weed clump to hook it’self in a boil of spray. The river was waking up. Pausing to look upstream, there was a rise, then another. Fish were mopping up the hawthorns, while grannoms and a few tan olives were lifting off. Nowhere near the activity of the urban river, but activity with a small “a”. Sticking with flies that have worked for me so far this year, the Black Devil came off and a Tan Emerger went on, the leader greased close to the hook, while the floatant was rubbed into the body of the fly for extra bouyancy in the riffle.

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This is a fast and furious form of flyfishing, casting and recasting to actual fish, or to likely looking holding areas, often takes coming out of the blue, the trout missing the fly as many times as I failed to make contact. Rises were increasing, but only three remained on the hook long enough to be swung in, and as they say, were mostly small stuff.

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Above this fast flowing beat, the river slows over flatter ground and has become silted, changing it’s character and once again rising fish were absent, so I continued up to the next set of shallows, where once again there were the tell tale rings of rising fish.

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Back in the river, I waded within casting range of the slowly spreading rings, a fish obliging first cast, tumbling back toward me on the strike, confusing it’s silver flanks with those of a dace as it rolled on the surface.

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Another measured cast toward a dimpling rise did produce a dace, that caused as much commotion as the previous silver trout and once again confusion reined, until the fish was safely netted.

urbanfieldsportsman 012Despite the disturbance, fish continued to rise and I took another three before I’d put them down, the best fighting all over the river like a rainbow before it slowed down enough to net.

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Further up at the mouth of the pool, I could see the steady rises from two larger fish and eased my way closer, but they had stopped once in casting range. I presented the emerger in all the likely places and up among the tree roots, but was unable to tempt anything into taking. I considered changing to a Hares Ear nymph, or a shock tactic larger dry fly, but felt that I’d had a rewarding couple of hours and would leave these fish for other members to catch.

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Walking back, past another fast gravel run, fish were rising along it’s length, as eagerly as on the urban river and I could not resist a cast, or two, hooking another hard fighting silver brown from the middle of the river.

urbanfieldsportsman 009I have yet to tempt the much larger trout to my offerings, but hope that as the season progresses, the mayfly will bring a few out of their hiding places. By now it was well past tea time, but at least I’d missed the queues of the rush hour and would have an easy drive home.

Evening trout rise on urban river

April 24, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Following slow sport on my local Hampshire syndicate chalk stream, I fought through heavy rush hour traffic to see how an evening fishing for the wild trout on a true urban river would compare, parking the van in a residential street just after 6 pm. Walking down toward the river, I was met by a large banner asking to save the meadow which borders the stream, housing development being planned on the last strip of greenery along it’s length for miles, factories and housing already encroaching on it’s banks.

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Opposite the meadow, the river runs 10 yards from a busy road and pathway, which make casting difficult from the bank and I usually prefer to wade, but as this was a scouting mission intending to visit on another day, the waders stayed in the van, as did my 7 ft rod, bankside obstructions forcing the use of a nine footer. Walking to the lower end of the beat,  several small trout were rising and I tied on a Tan Emerger. A gusting wind was blowing across the meadow, dragging the fly across the surface and on cue to change to a nymph, the fly snagged in the welcoming branches of  a tree, which resulted in the tying in of a new tippet for the leader.

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My Black Devil nymph usually works well  in bright sunshine, especially on this clear shallow river and punches into a head wind, as it carries a bit of weight, the leader greased to within the top two feet, keeping the fly close to the surface. Increasing the distance of my casts, up and across the flow, the leader darted forward from an upstream swirl and I was playing my first fish, that tumbled all over the surface, reaching out with my long handled net to lift it to the bank.

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This was the first of several wild browns hooked, some of which tumbled off, as I worked my way upstream, the surface coming alive with the sinking of the sun, although casting to these fish was a challenge, the bankside trees claiming more flies, testing my patience.

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The wind was still strong, so elected to remain on a nymph, but pinched some floatant grease into the body of  a gold ribbed Hares Ear to allow it to fish in the surface film, deciding to walk further upstream, where the bank is clear and factories close to the bank would block the gusts, although with trees overhanging from the opposite side, casting is still a problem. Trout were rising in the gaps and I managed a few more, the best spending more time on the surface than below it, a beautifully marked fish.

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As I netted this wild brown trout, a car pulled up at the road side, the driver calling me over. This a common occurrence along this busy road, from drivers unaware of the fish this river holds. The conversation was no different this time, the highlight being that the driver was from Colorado in the US, working in the UK. Being a keen flyfisherman back home, he had not thought to bring his rods with him. With the light failing, I made my way back to the van, hoping that the next visit to the syndicate water would be as productive.

 

 

Brown trout reward late visit

April 20, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Warmed by spring sunshine, each visit to the river at this time of year reveals  the rapid greening of the banks, while flylife increases daily and subtle changes in the river bottom create new fish holding areas, while old favourites lose their charm.

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A change of plans resulted in time for a late afternoon visit to my syndicate river this week, where I was hoping to find the trout had switched onto the fresh appearance of Hawthorn flies dancing on the breeze, but studying the surface, these black flies were being ignored as they drifted downstream. With a dry fly not an option, I tied on a tiny size 18 rubber legged Hares Ear, with a heavy gold rib and gold head, ideal for fishing under the banks and bushes, where the trout seem to be at the moment.

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Wading upstream, flicking the nymph just short of the undergrowth, there was soon a response and a small brown lifted out of the water in front of me, to fall off the hook seconds later. Further up, the force of the stream had hollowed out a deep pocket beneath a bush and I tried several casts to get the nymph to fall right without hooking the overhanging branches. More by luck than judgement, it curved round behind the bush, sinking into the pool and held. A downstream strike hit solid resistance, the rod bent round and stayed there. My heart slumped, then pumped as the line quivered, the suspected snag had come to life, a trout was shaking it’s head trying to lose the hook three feet below the surface. Seconds later the river erupted with the sight of the gold flanked brownie cartwheeling over the shallow gravel, when it burst out of it’s hideaway, big red spots clearly visible, as it powered past me searching for deeper water. My reel squealed, as the slack was taken up and I raised the rod to cushion the frenzied fight, watching it swim from left to right in the rapid flow, clearly visible, a deep trout about 15 inches long. Forgetting the small hook, I took up the fight and paid the price, when it shook free. We all know that hollow feeling, when a good fish is lost, something that doesn’t lessen with experience. That trout could have made my season.

Back on the bank, I made my way downstream, meeting a pair of fellow members, who had finished for the day, telling me of small fish rising further down. I enjoy catching on the surface, whatever the size and true to their word, the river was dimpled by rises over a 20 yard stretch.

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Lowering myself in below them, I tied on a size 18 elk hair emerger and cast to the nearest beneath an over hanging tree. The fish were not maintaining station and the first fish hooked confirmed my hunch that they were a shoal of  dace patrolling the tail of a deep pool.

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Beyond the shoal, a larger fish was rising steadily, probably a trout and I began to work my way toward it. At this point I turned to see a big cob swan was behind me, chasing the current love of his life upstream, the pen getting airborne with feet and wings flailing and stepped back to allow the pair to pass, watching them crash land at the head of the pool. This was the cue to make my way back to the van, but a noisy rise in a pool as I passed, caused me to back track.

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Wading upstream, the fish rose twice more just above the riffle, to what, I couldn’t see, but the small emerger was worth a try, measuring the distance, then moving up ten feet to make the cast. The air was still and the fly fell softly to the surface to be aggressively taken with a plop. A lift of the rod and I was in, the fish running forward to the safety of the pool, while I stripped back line, wading to the tail. The fish remained deep, running round the pool, while I tried to steer it away from the bank side roots, a desperate leap finally confirming that I’d hooked a respectable trout, not ready to give up, until the last bit of energy had been expelled. With the earlier lost trout in mind, I took my time, letting it go, when it wanted to, netting it as it made a break for the shallows.

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Measuring 13 inches, this is my best trout from the river this year, which despite a prolonged fight, soon recovered, when held facing upstream, kicking free from my hands to swim back to the pool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small river brown trout begin to take the fly.

April 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Each new season brings out the optimism in flyfishermen, who rely on many natural factors coming together to provide their sport. With a flood free winter, fingers are firmly crossed on my little syndicate chalk stream, for the warm weather to continue, awakening the trout, ready to feed on the nymphs as they rise from their gravel beds to hatch.

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This is a favourite stretch of  the river, where a cattle drink had created fishless shallows, but working alongside the farmer with fencing and the planting of a willow hedge by members, has resulted in a sharp turn, that runs deep along the willow. Having said all that, I have yet to catch a decent fish here, being the case again this week, when an hour spent wading, searching out the deeper pockets and runs with the Black Devil, resulted in a couple of  dace and a 5 inch trout, with no rising fish seen.  It is early days yet, the larger trout are yet to move out of their holes, down onto the gravel runs. Hope springs eternal!

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 No excuses for another view of the river in early spring.

I retraced my steps, crossing the road down to the farm bridge, where a long deep pool always holds promise and I had caught rising dace the previous week.

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Peering into the pool as I passed, fish were dimpling the surface and climbed down into the water for a wade up to the tail. I couldn’t see what the fish were taking, they were even nudging the bubbles drifting down and with the Black Devil still attached, greased the leader close to the hook, to fish it near the surface, swirling and hooking a decent sized dace.

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Another dace and a few tweeks of the leader later, a better fish rose close to the bridge and I changed to a woolly nymph, that floats in the film like an emerger, and disappointingly, hooked another dace straight away. Making a longer cast to fall just under the opening, a fish torpedoed up to the surface and took the fly, exploding into action, dashing about the pool, leaping clear, even into the undergrowth at the edges, but eventually into my net.

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Not a monster, but 9 inches of wild beauty, this fish another example of the blue-silver strain of trout in the river. Returned, this brown swam away strongly with the minimum of revival time.

False casting to dry off the nymph, it started to rain, getting heavier by the minute, something not forecast, wearing only a shirt under my waistcoat.

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Preparing to go, there was a dimpling rise to the right of the bridge and and I made a cast ahead of it, a pair of bubbles indicating, where the nymph had been sucked down, lifting into a solid fish that dived deep under the bridge. The fight continued around the pool, twisting and turning, back to the shallows at the tail, where still splashing, I raised it’s head for the net, to be surprised to see the white mouth of a chub, that had fought as hard as any trout of it’s size.

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Fat with spawn, this chub showed evidence of a painful past, having encountered a heron, mink, or a pike and recovered. The rain persisted, stopping play, cutting short, what was turning into an interesting session.

Wild brown trout hard won on opening day

April 3, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Whatever the weather, I was determined to fish my local syndicate trout stream on opening day, having spent the previous week in preparation and anticipation of the day, but I needn’t have worried, by lunch time the damp start had given way to weak sunshine and I arrived to the sound of a blackbird singing, while a woodpecker drummed away in the distant woods. The river was low and clear, despite the rains of late.

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I did not expect to see any rising fish so early in the year and tied on my Black Devil nymph, which has proved a successful season opener for me on so many occasions, it’s copper windings allowing it to fish near the bottom, where it may be mistaken for a caddis.

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Whatever it looks like to the fish it doesn’t matter, because third cast in along the bank, the leader shot forward and I was playing my first trout of the 2015 season, a pristine, perfect brown of about ten inches long, that dashed around the river, leaping clear of the surface twice, before sliding over the net.

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This picture does not do the trout justice, it’s red spots standing out bright against the green bronze of it’s body. The Black Devil is firmly in the scissors of it’s jaw, the barbless hook slipping out easily and the brownie returned in seconds.

My aim was to walk down to to where a smaller river joins, but could not resist a few casts at a cattle drink on the way down, but found it occupied by a big cob swan, that puffed it’self up, cruising up and down, claiming it’s territory.

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I was in no hurry to fish this spot and continued down and saw a fish rise in a channel of the gravel run off from the cattle drink. There were a few tan olives lifting off, but waded in to cast the Black Devil up to the riffle, seeing the rise again and casting well above it. There was a boil and the line darted forward as a small dace took the fly to tumble of the hook at my feet.

Next stop was at a small broken down weir, where the river creates a variety of small pools and runs. Wading out to the middle of the tail, I was able to cover most of the area, casting up under the lip, letting the nymph drift across fast and slack water. Watching the line, as it made it’s way past the resident tree, it arced upstream and I was into a better fish, that burst out of the river in a tail walking spray, frantically traversing the pool from  side to side, until as often happens on this shallow river, it bow waved past me to the run below, creating a slack line, which made full contact again with another shower of spray. The hook held and the trout began a zig-zag fight back to me, to lie on it’s side at my feet, a photo opportunity. While lining up the camera with my left hand, the trout got second wind, running up stream again and I snatched a shot.

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Lesson learned, I stuffed the camera back in my pocket and brought the brownie back under control, waiting for it to stop powering away upstream, allowing the 12 oz trout to drift back to my net.

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This was another fin perfect brown trout, these silver flanked fish a common variation on the Hampshire chalk stream.

I now made the five hundred yard walk down to where the feeder stream comes in, noting it’s coloured water being pushed to the far side by the clear flow from our river, the eddies and slacks looking like they held many trout, but the Black Devil was ignored, until a cast up and along the far bank in the dirty water, saw the line dart to one side. I was in again, the gold flash of another brown through the mirk indicated a 6 oz fish, which spiralled round then came of as it dropped back downstream.

Already satisfied with my afternoon, I made my way back, taking occasional casts from the bank, missing a few lightning takes, which I put down to dace, but also failing to get any response from a few of the deeper banker pools, putting on a heavier Gold Head Hares Ear at the last in an attempt to change my luck, but nothing.

Not far from the van, I spotted fish rising below the farm bridge and back tracked to get down into the river, wading up within casting distance of the rises and dropped the nymph in among them. It was taken on the drop, but I missed. The next cast must have dropped on it’s nose, as a bulge on the surface resulted in a hooked fish, a small dace.

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There were still rises below the bridge, all dace, two more hooked and one dropped called an end to it and my afternoon’s fishing. This is just the start of a what I hope will be a good season, the previous two were dogged by floods, but the two trout taken today were already plump, well mended fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new trout fishing season awaits. I’m ready.

March 27, 2015 at 1:32 pm

April 1st may be All Fools Day, but it is also the first day of  river trout fishing in my neck of the woods, an event that gets the heart beating that bit faster, with anticipation of balmy days to come, watching trout rise on a pristine river. The reality of that first day is usually at odds with the dream, March Winds combining with those inevitable April Showers to sting eyes and numb fingers, while trying to present a fly to a wary trout, from a bank stripped bare of cover by winter frosts. It is also the day that ice cold water seeps into waders, that were dry, when hung up in September.

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While going shooting the other day, I detoured for a look at my favourite urban river, where it runs between factories and a recreation ground. Trucks thunder by on one side, while cyclists, dog walkers and kite flyers go about their preoccupation unaware, that, despite the annual encroachment of more housing and industrial development, this little chalk stream continues to provide free trout fishing on a par with many exclusive syndicate waters. Wading this 200 yard stretch on a late spring evening, has never failed to enchant me, the hard fighting wild brown trout a bonus to be savoured.

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Appetite whetted, it was time to check out my river fly fishing gear, knowing that I would be looking at a six month time warp since it was hung up and abandoned. I’d had many good intentions over the period, but despite a perfectly adequate heater, bench and light in my shed, there was always something else more important to distract my attention. An easy job is cleaning the fly line, which of course should have been done on my return from fishing, but like the rest of my gear, it had been ignored and I was looking at a tan line, stained grey by the swollen river of my last visit. At least I still had some cleaning gel left and heated the container with boiling water to melt it back to a fine liquid state. As the cleaning process was started, the line run round the back of two seats to keep it off the ground, a tissue moistened with the fluid, worked over it, I was reminded why I hadn’t bothered with it before. The plastic coating was cracked and picking up tissue, the coils now a series of flats. When asked about Christmas presents, a fly line was not on my list. New shirts and underwear cannot compensate for a state of the art line.

Next on my list was a browse through my various fly boxes, including a round plastic container with a secure flip top, carried in my fishing waistcoat, which became a deposit box. Successful flies were snipped off and dropped in to join many others, often wet and coated in mouth slime. Over time this became a ball of entangled hooks, only to be unravelled, when stocks were running low of the current favourite fly. This did not look good and mildew had set in. More hot water, a dessert bowl and some washing up liquid soon separated the sticky mass and individuals could be picked out and left to dry on some tissue, the dry flies among them will need retreating with floatant. Saddest sight of all was my Mayfly box, left closed for nine months, it was just a collection of hooks with the odd bit of fur, and feather. There was no sign of the mites, that had gorged on these once beautiful creations, while locked in their metal prison.

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It was time to get the fly tying box out, to replace flies lost to trees and rocks, while others were chewed, but repairable. I’ve given up tying winged dry flies, such as mayflies, but most nymphs are within my scope, and have found that variations of Pheasant Tail, Hares Ear (using rabbit fur) and my own Black Devil, weighted and unweighted are all I need for the season. The only dry fly I do tie, is a Deer Hair Emerger on various coloured dubbed bodies, which again works year round. Like most anglers, I have too many flies, having been tempted by internet offers over the years and doubt that I will ever need to buy another Klinkhammer. My basic flies do work and was grateful for a couple of wet mornings to replenish my stocks.

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This wild brown could not resist a Black Devil on a cold early season afternoon.

Through the wonders of the Internet, a fresh range of pretty mayflies were installed in a long forgotten fly box, found while searching through my pike fishing gear, my reel was greased,  ready to accept a reasonably priced No 5 weight floating line, that was on special offer and the flies were reorganised into groups. I’m ready.

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CZ 452 HMR Varmint long range accuracy cannot be eclipsed

March 23, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Breakfast in the garden watching the solar eclipse was abandoned, when thick clouds blanketed out any view of the sun, until once the moon had passed on it’s inevitable orbit, the skies cleared to reveal blue skies again. Like so many in the South of  England, who felt cheated by the weather gods from viewing this rare event, I was determined to do something to compensate. That something involved a 25 miles drive to my most northern shooting permission, high in the Chiltern Hills, where without a visit for nine months, I expected a rabbit bonanza, having already warned the butcher to clear a space in his cold room.

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Disappointment number two was waiting for me, when informed by Phil the cattle farmer, that my precious rabbits had been gassed by his arable farming neighbour bordering the land. High petrol prices and nearer permissions had kept me from my pest control duties here and young oil seed rape plants had proved too tempting for the rabbits. Four, or five visits a year were all it took to keep the numbers in check and now I had paid the price too. Given time they will be back and so will I. All was not lost, as there is a warren at the other end of the farm. This I had decimated years ago, but fresh grass and ideal burrowing ground retained a small rabbit population, of which I now pinned my hopes of avoiding a wasted journey.

Parking in the folds of a small river valley, I climbed the gate and began to ascend the grassy downland towards the warren that abuts the hedgeline of the field, seeing the outlines of several rabbits as I breasted the top of the hill. Exposed against the skyline, I watched white tails flash in the sunlight, as one by one the rabbits melted back behind the hedge and the safety of a corner 250 yards away, well out of range of the HMR. Keeping low, I closed the gap, slowly sinking to the ground, when another rabbit came through the fence closer to me and began feeding. Slipping the rifle from it’s bag, while lying flat, I sprung the bi-pod back into position and clipped a 5 shot magazine up into the breech, cocking the bolt.

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Raising up to scan through the scope, I could now see three rabbits shuffling about feeding a 100 yards away and took a bead on the nearest. The supersonic crack from the muzzle broke the silence of the hillside, as the tiny .17 inch diameter bullet hit home, the rabbit flipping over with a reflex leap, disturbing the other two. One ran, but the other only it made as far as the fence, before another headshot tumbled it over the wire. Scanning the hedge line there was no other movement and after a 10 minute wait, got in position in it’s shadow, with a clear view to the corner and beyond.

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The late afternoon sun was still warm, considering it was the last official day of winter, but the shadows were already stretching out as I lay waiting for movement in the corner 120 yards away, where the rabbits had earlier filed out of the field. A pair of pheasants stuck their heads through the brambles and strutted off with straight backs, heads raised towards the opposite hedge to be followed by the rare sight of a guinea fowl wandering out into the sunlight.

As I considered getting up to retrieve the brace of rabbits, something passed behind the fence, sighting my scope on another rabbit, which hopped out into view, but stopped to feed with it’s back to me. Without a clear shot at it’s head, a body shot would ruin the meat and I waited for it to work round, only to be dismayed, when it raised up and went back where it came from, before I could take a shot. They usually oblige by stopping at the edge for a last look round, which ironically it normally is, but this one just kept on going. More minutes and a rabbit ran out from the corner on my side, stopped, then turned towards me. Again no good, a head on shot can pass right through the animal with very destructive consequences. Silent pleading from me and it turned it’s head to the left for long enough, the trigger was squeezed and the rabbit flopped over, before the report could echo back to me.

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A fifteen minute wait without any more coming out to play and I got up to collect these three, taking them back to my bag to paunch, ready for the butcher on the way home. All was packed away ready to go and I stood up for one last look around to see a brown smudge against the green of the field 150 yards away. Another rabbit had come out further round the corner. Getting back down, the rifle was uncased, loaded and cocked ready for one last shot. With hold over, I have shot rabbits at 200 yards on a windless day like this, using the HMR and with confidence I raised the rifle on the bi-pod to sight in line with the eye at the top of it’s head to allow for bullet drop. At that range, the delay between the crack of the bullet and it hitting home is only parts of a second, but it seemed an age before the rabbit jumped forward to remain motionless.

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What a shot, the CZ 452 .17 HMR is a heavy old rifle with the 16 inch Varmint barrel, but it just keeps pumping out the bullets with laser like accuracy on a still day. Packing everything away again, I was pleased to see nothing on view and relieved that it was down hill all the way back to the van, with approaching 10lb in weight of rabbits, plus that again of the rifle. The next task was to negotiate two large towns through the back roads, during the Friday rush hour, to deliver my bounty before the butcher’s shop closed it’s doors for the day, fewer than was expected, but he was happy.

 

Success and failure on the stick float.

March 19, 2015 at 1:14 am

Spoilt for choice on the last morning of the coarse fishing season, I fancied catching dace on the stick float and headed out after breakfast to a clear fast, flowing river an easy drive from home, having stopped off for fresh red maggots along the way. The local tackle dealer suggested an area new to me and having had it all a bit too easy of late, took up the challenge of the unknown stretch of water.

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Although crystal clear, there was a fair pace to the river, running over a gravel bottom, from shallows to a deep run between trees and I felt that tingle of excitement, as I tackled up my 14 foot trotting rod, the swim looking very chubby. A 9 No.4 John Dean stick float was brought out of retirement, the shot, shirt buttoned down, spreading towards the hook to give control to the float, while allowing the overdepth rig to skip and lift over the bottom, as it was trotted down.

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I’d added a few shakes of Haldi termeric to the maggots, which aid sinking and also in my view to add an extra flavour, which might bring a few fish up into the swim, having scattered a few handfuls upstream, while getting ready. The wind was in my favour, blowing steadily from the north, allowing the line to billow out behind the float, as it was swept down the swim, but being mid March, it also brought a wind chill with it, that soon persuaded me to pull the hood of my jacket up over my cap.

Those first few trots are to suss out the lie of the bottom and I wasn’t surprised when the float dragged under. A casual lift, saw the rod top bend over as if the float was snagged on a weed, but then it bounced and pulled over as a decent fish fought back, then ran across the stream. At first I didn’t recognise the fight, a slow pounding, that gave way to a skating glide, then another deep pounding, someway between a roach and a bream. It stayed down, until close, then glided to the surface for a second, to reveal the grey flank and massive red dorsal fin of a grayling, before diving again. Knowing what a soft mouth they have and aware of the small size 16 barbless hook, I treated the grayling with kid gloves, applying the minimum of pressure, using the current to do the fighting for me, until the pound fish was lying on it’s side ready for the net.

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I haven’t caught a grayling for years and having taken out the hook, held it up for the camera, trying to hold the dorsal erect with my thumb. There was still plenty of fight left in this camera shy Lady of the Stream and it bucked in my hand, flipping over the rim of my landing net, to return with a plop to the river. No picture. It was a beautiful fish.

Ah well, that was the first hurdle over, there were some fish in the swim. All the experience in the world cannot overcome that doubt, when faced with a new water, will I catch here? The brain says that it looks right, but not until that float goes down and a fish is on, do you settle down from just drowning maggots, to catching fish.

The maggots went in, half a dozen every cast, thrown left handed upstream, the float dipped, but carried, bobbed and held, then up again. Held back, it pulled under, banging the tip. Missed it, the red maggots reduced to smashed pink skins. Dace, or chub? More tippy bites. Too much feed.  I tried a line closer to my bank and the float disappeared at an angle. Whoa, another good fish, that ran, twisted and turned unseen as it hugged the bottom. Keeping the rod high, I followed it’s every move, a roll and a long bar of silver said rainbow, the fish working it’s way back upstream, remaining deep, until a kiped mouth broke surface to be propelled by the current toward my net. It was a trout sure enough, but not a rainbow, a silvery wild brown trout making it two in thirty minutes.

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There were coarse fish in this swim, the taps and bobs indicating dace, but I couldn’t zero in on them. I tried shallowing up and running through chasing the maggot feed, single and double maggot on the hook, bites but no fish. A change was needed, the float was pulled up another two feet, the shot bulked two thirds down with just a couple of No. 4 on the tail, the lot cast underhand down into the killing zone and held back hard, slowly inched down the swim. Approaching the trees, the float went, followed by line. Sweeping the rod back, the hard rattling fight of a good dace was felt for a few seconds, then it came off. One of the double maggots was smashed. A repeat with a single maggot and the float went again, letting the line run for a second before the strike. That was better, I was in again, but not a dace, as the fish made for the tangle of roots across the river. It was not  large and the run was stopped with a slow backwind, that revealed a chub of around 8oz, when it breeched, before cutting back to the main flow, to begin a head shaking fight to the net, it’s white mouth lifting clear of the rim, as it was scooped up.

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The back of this chub’s throat, was full of crushed red maggots, a sign that the bait was getting down to the fish and I cast back in with confidence, keeping my cool, ignoring the first few dips of the float, letting it run, then holding back again. Down it went, I paused and struck, this time definitely a big dace tumbling over and over in it’s static fight, rattling the rod top,  slowly retrieving against the flow. As I readied the landing net, everything went solid. A pike had taken the dace, slowly moving across to the opposite side of the channel, bending the rod double, as I attempted to pull my hook free, feeling the slow shake of the pike’s head, while it turned with the current and drifted downstream. With a 5lb main line and 3lb link, I stood a chance of landing it, if the pike didn’t wake up, but a sudden spurt put paid to that idea, the float pinging back in a tangle minus it’s hook link.

I seem to be cursed by pike on these rivers, especially when catching dace, which form up in tight shoals, but are normally too quick and translucent under water to be crept up on by these big predators. When hooked, dace roll and tumble on the spot presenting a visible target, losing their natural advantages.

Tying on a fresh hook link, it was ten minutes before the dace returned to the feed and fifteen before a confident take saw another dace struggling to escape. Briefly, the line slackened, when the dace skated to the surface pursued by the pike, only to be grabbed in a boil of green spotted water, the orange variegated tail flapping on the surface, before powering away again with it’s spoils. The pike cruised upstream and paused to turn the dace, while I pulled for a break, the line parting on the razor sharp teeth. It was time for a sandwich, washed down with hot tea from the flask, while another link was tied on and I pondered on what to do next.

A bend in the river downstream appeared inviting, but on walking down for a look, snags on both sides of the banks, also seemed likely to hold pike, so I returned to my swim for another go, effectively starting all over again. The dace were long gone and after slogging away for twenty minutes, a trot below the trees produced another small chub, that initially felt like a much bigger fish, but it gave up before being drawn half way back, skimming along on the surface, mouth wide open to the net.

I stuck it out for twenty minutes without another fish. By then it was time to pack up, walking back to the van thinking of the other places I could have tried on the last day, but also grateful that I’d had some excitement, the high point being the grayling, the low, another session ruined by a pike. You win some and you lose some.

Memories of the Sowerbutts roach pole

March 5, 2015 at 8:16 pm

Sitting having a pint the other night, I was tapped on the shoulder by a stranger, who enquired about my long lost youth. Had I lived in a certain place  and been a member of the village fishing club? Taken aback, I stared hard at the craggy face opposite, before agreeing that I had, but not recognizing his name, when offered and feeling ashamed, when he knew mine. Unfazed, Ray went on to recall long forgotten members of the club and trips that we had been on in hired coaches, Eddie playing his mouth organ as we travelled, a few humming along to the tunes, while puffing on Old Holborn roll-ups. It was when he mentioned the stopping point on our way back from these early matches, the Five Horse Shoes pub on Remenham Hill, that the memories returned, of piping hot home made pasties, games of darts and being allowed an under aged half pint of brown ale, that the scales fell from my eyes, Ray being revealed as a skinny ginger kid, one of my rivals for the Junior Cup. That red mop was now bald, my black hair grey, but for ten minutes we were lads again.

We joined the village fishing club, chaired by a wheezy trade unionist, Bob, who ran a tight ship, whom even the senior members were afraid of, but who was probably the club’s best angler. Meetings were a serious affair and we juniors were expected to keep our opinions to ourselves, until “Any other Business?” was declared and then only when Bob gave us the nod. The club was affiliated to the London Anglers Association, which was also run along trade union lines, but being democratic, gave even the smallest group a crack at some of the best waters along the Thames, including the many gravel pits. It was on one of these pits, that Bob demonstrated his Sowerbutts 16 foot, 8 section, cane roach pole, which had a split cane top joint, to which was whipped a metal crook, with a knicker elastic shock absorber attached. This was a heavy bit of kit, with polished brass ferrules, which he rested sideways across his lap, the bottom section being about 2 inches in diameter, acting as a counter balance. Bob was fishing squares of bread crust in about 8 feet of water, with a crow quill float. As if they had been trained, once the float settled, the roach would steadily make off with the bait. Bob would thump the end of the pole over his lap, setting off a spring reaction, that carried along the pole to the tip, hooking the roach, the elastic stretching down into the water. He would then bring the pole back, unshipping the quick release sections as he did, until he could net the fish. A master of a lost art. He invariably won the matches, roach on bread, or hemp being his speciality. Matches in those days were size limit, which meant all those roach weighed in, had to be a minimum 8 inches long.

roach pole

This was Bob’s treasured possession, being kept in a velvet bag, the brass fittings wiped with tallow to allow the joints to slide freely. We   shared a punt with him, moored across the Thames weir stream at Windsor, Ray at one end and myself at the other, while the maestro sat on his heavily varnished home made box, complete with draws and a padded, lift up lid, where all his secrets were hidden. A continental tackle box before the name was invented. We sat on our canvas covered efgeeco boxes, me with my ultra modern 12 foot Appollo Taperflash, tubular steel rod and Ray with his 12 foot Richard Walker split cane float rod, both of us using Aerial centrepin reels. Bob carefully withdrew each section of his Sowerbutts from it’s bag and placed them in order, resting on a towel against the gunwale of the punt, like a surgeon preparing for an operation. We were all a rush, banging about on the wooden boards, being restrained in our enthusiasm by a drawn out “Shuussh!” and a chesty cough from Bob.

Float rigs kept on winders were the norm then and we were soon ready to fish, once our mentor had plumbed the depth, giving us the nod of approval. Following by example, we dropped a handful of hemp each over the back of the punt to drift down in to the swim, scattering a few seeds in front to draw fish up. Ray and I trotted down and were soon missing bites from dace, while with a wide brimmed sun hat concentrating his gaze, Bob hunched over his pole waiting for a movement. Occasionally Bob dropped another handful of hemp behind the boat, silently ignoring our youthful chatter, as we swung in small dace, sitting like a heron poised for action. Thump! The pole bent over as the elastic bounced and he shipped back, swinging in a 6 oz roach, acknowledging the fact with a wry smile. Relighting his roll-up for a few puffs, then hitting into another roach, his bait resting just on the bottom, where a shoal of his target fish, roach, were beginning to gather in numbers.

The event was the club’s annual punt match, with members in five punts and I’m sure the old timer was not happy with the draw, having to share with us two whippersnappers, but he was now putting some sizeable fish in his net, most of our dace not meeting the required seven inches. Being nearest to the bank, I had slower water in front of me and set my float over depth, resting the rod across the punt to eat a sandwich. The float bobbed and sank, my first roach soon to be hustled aboard. The measuring stick said nine inches, well within the size limit and it joined the few dace in my net. When roach get the smell of hemp seed, the bites become unmissable and as more began to fill the net, respect for my elders diminished, Bob was still pulling them in, while I was getting more, trotting my float further down the flow, holding back the cork Avon float. Exited I began to feed out in front of me, taking the fish further down out of reach of the Sowerbutts, while I could inch the float towards them. Bob cursed me, blaming me for ruining his swim. He was right of course, fed correctly there were roach for all, but I got carried away with my success, did it all wrong and won the match, more by luck than judgement. As Bob knew, fishing over depth with a near stationary bait was the answer, I needed to eat a sandwich to realise it.

What a host of memories Ray brought back, he had joined the Navy and left the area, returning to his roots many years later. He still has that rod in the loft, as I do the Taperflash. I got it down a few years ago, giving it a wave about and wondered how I ever managed to catch anything with it. Ray would like to take up fishing again, email addresses have been exchanged, so watch this space.