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Stick float chub and a carp reward optimism

February 22, 2015 at 6:08 pm

With the days counting down to the end of the coarse fishing season on rivers, I was determined in my quest to catch some chub from my local river, the previous week failing on this count, but giving me a respectable net of roach. Two days of rain had kept me inside, but a damp grey morning was giving way to weak sunshine by the afternoon and I decided to play my joker and fish at the Last Chance Saloon, the weir, a mile downstream.

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Driving down the lane, I nearly kept on going, the river, the colour of milky coffee, was lapping the underside of the bridge and spilling onto the roadway on either side, rushing at full speed towards the Thames. Already with a heavy heart, the fishing trolley was loaded and pulled the two hundred yards to toward the weir, which was in full flood, pounding away, draining the town’s treated water, swelled by the recent rain. The force of the river was pushing it’s way to the middle of the weir stream, but there were slacks hard under my bank and on the bend opposite, so all was not lost and I went through the motions of setting up my 14 foot rod, with 5lb line to a 6 No 4 ali stemmed stick float. This was already made up on a winder, with a 3lb hook link to a size 16 barbless hook.

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I had a range of baits with me, sweet corn, hempseed and liquidised bread from the freezer, red worms from the compost heap and red maggots turned to casters from the fridge, that were well past their sell by date. Balls of bread, were dropped two feet from the bank at my feet and I watched them being swept down toward the bush on the corner. Even the slack was pushing through and now the wind had picked up, bringing a light drizzle. What was I doing here? What chances were there of catching a fish in these conditions? Anglers are optimists. We see opportunity in every difficulty.

I set the float a foot over depth, the hook baited with a 6mm bread pellet and eased it down to the bush, held back clear of the tangled branches, where I could see a couple of floats, lost by previous anglers. After a few minutes, my float dipped and held, but I missed the bite, being taken by surprise. Encouraged, I fed another ball and missed the bite, the bread gone. I would only get a bite following a ball of bread, which I missed every time, so changed bait to a small worm. Success! The float sailed away and a good fish was on. Pulling it hard away from the bush, the fish dashed off down the middle against back-wind, then began a head shaking fight back upstream, only to come off unseen. Not amused, I tried several slow trots to the bush to no avail and decided another bait change might work. Deepening up more, I laid on with the worm in the edge, while I rooted through my bait bag for the hemp and casters, feeding the casters at my feet, with the heavier hemp across the slack and flow. The float bobbed and pulled under. I was in again, another fish zooming away downstream, the rod bending round to take the shock, as it made for the white water. This time it stayed on and a nice junior chub came to the net, the worm taken well down.

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The wind and drizzle forgotten, more hemp and casters were fed in and a single caster put on the hook, being dropped just short of the bush and laid on again. The float dipped, then nothing. The caster had been shelled. It happened again. There were fish under that bush, but twenty minutes into the session and I only had one chub to show for it. I shallowed up and let the float run through. It dived, the rod bent over then sprung back, the hook link tangled round the float and I was cursing myself. A bumped fish and now a tangle to be unravelled with cold, wet hands. A few more casters were fed in and soon the sorted rig was lowered in to follow them down, the float sinking out of sight. I lifted and the float stayed down, just long enough to think it was snagged, then pow! The rod was ripped round and I was back-winding furiously, as the line zipped across the weir stream toward the far side. Convinced this was a losing battle, I hung on, not trying to bully the fish across, applying pressure and giving line, when needed. Back on my side of the whitewater, a flash of reddish tail broke surface. A monster roach? A broad flash of gold now had me thinking rudd, then a roll and it was confirmed as a carp. The rolling continued, as I brought the carp against the main current over to my landing net, holding my breath, it slid over the rim. Phew! Didn’t think I’d get this one. Time for a much needed cup of tea.

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Everything from now on was going to be a bonus and next trot down I was playing a 6 oz chub, which fought well in the fast water, this to be the last from the bush. I fed the casters further out into the flow and began feeding a few pieces of sweet corn over to the opposite bank with a view to fishing the slower water on the bend. More shelled casters and an on-off, persuaded me to switch lines, adding depth to fish the heavier sweet corn, the fourteen foot rod lifting the line clear of the fast running river, giving good control to the float, as it fished the crease of the bend. Half way down, the tip angled over and skated sideways; a chub had hooked it’self. Not a big fish again, but a spirited fight, the hook neatly in the top lip.

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The sweet corn was working well, taking another four small chub, but time and the light were against me and I called it a day at 5pm, the two hours giving me plenty of action and food for thought on a grey February afternoon, when apart from that carp, nothing else, but chub were interested in feeding.

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Unusual net fellows, this little river runs through several lakes on it’s way to this point and often has a surprise, or two in store for the few in the know local anglers, who take the time to search out some of it’s secrets.

 

Bread punch roach on the stick float, stand in for chub.

February 13, 2015 at 6:52 pm

Discovering some ageing red maggots, that had mostly turned to casters in my fishing fridge, sparked the idea of trying for chub on the small urban river running through my local park. In past years, each session with bread punch had begun with a brief flurry of small chub, before the roach moved onto the liquidized bread groundbait, but this year they had been absent.

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Casters over a bed of hemp in one of the more chubby swims might just do the trick, so that was the plan with punched bread as a back-up, setting off early after lunch, on a dull and dismal afternoon. Parking up the van, events took a turn, when the seat belt wedged in the door, preventing it from shutting. Tucking the belt back quickly, I slammed the door again and ouch! I’d managed to shut my little finger in the door! I had to open it again to get my finger out and saw blood oozing from a nasty cut. What now? Go back home? Wrapping a tissue round the finger, I jumped back in the van and headed up the road to a nearby petrol station, where I bound the wound with the heavy blue tissue provided at the pump, than fitted a couple of the complimentary polythene gloves over the top. It stung like hell, but at least I could still go fishing.

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In this swim, the flow from right to left cuts across a bend, pushing along the nearside, where on a previous visit, I had several chub, the best being over two pounds, trotting bread punch into the base of the fir tree. This is how I started off, a couple of balls of bread thrown to the middle downstream, which could be seen breaking into a cloud to drift in towards the bank. The 3 No. 4 ali stick was cast down to follow the cloud and the line mended to stay behind the float. The float had only drifted a few feet, when tell tale rings radiated out from the tip, it bobbed and sank, the size 16 hook setting into a nice roach. A chub would have dived away with the float.

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Without feeding more, the roach were queueing up to be caught, but still no chub, although I was happy with these little thumpers, until the gudgeon moved in, three gudgeon to a roach in ratio, just keeping me satisfied.

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Half an hour in, I baited the fished area with four pouches of hemp and a couple of dozen casters and as I picked up my rod baited with a caster, a fish rose to suck in a floater. Casting down to the spot, the float disappeared immediately and I struck into a solid fish that skated across to the opposite bank, swimming hard upstream. Surely a chub? Nope, the deep golden flash of a rudd could be seen battling away in the clear water, before skimming across to the net.

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It was pot luck as to what was on the hook each time the float sank and after more caster feed, their mouths were spewing red maggot juice. This was my last ditch attempt to persuade any chub in the swim to feed, but to no avail. If they had been there, the chub would have bullied their way to the front of the queue, instead the bites were getting fussy and the casters shelled on the hook, as a gudgeon feeding frenzy took hold. Without more feed, I swapped back to a 5mm pellet of bread on the hook, cast down beyond the feed and watched the float dither and sink.

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Another fine roach came to the net. The river runs below a pathway and the fishing demonstration garnered many comments from passers by, plus the unwelcome attention of curious dogs, one of which leapt into the icy waters upstream of me, it’s apologetic female owner using some very inappropriate language in her attempts to drag the white coated animal up the muddy bankside. No doubt an early bath needed, when they got home.

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I continued to cast well downstream and the roach got bigger, two or three hugging my bank on the way back, snagging small branches along the way, hanging like presents on a Christmas tree, as I lifted the tangle over the rim of the net.urbanfieldsportsman 1158

This was my last and best fish of the afternoon, the light was almost gone and the cold was getting uncomfortable, the hemp and caster had held the roach, but it was the bread punch that had selected them.

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Pulling up the keepnet, that welcome deep sploshing sound indicated a decent bag, my new digital scales indicating just over 8lbs of fish in three hours of fishing. Without that lost half hour, it may have been nearer 10lb. Nonetheless an impressive haul from such a small river.

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I don’t know where the chub have gone, but with a month of the coarse fishing season left, I hope to find out.

 

 

 

Magtech 7022 shines in the winter sun

February 10, 2015 at 5:45 pm

A bright afternoon tempted me out, removing the .22 Magtech semi auto rifle from the gun cabinet for the first time this year and taking me back to the equestrian centre I’d visited just before Christmas, where three big rabbits had filled my game bag.

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Weeks of storms and snow had left the ground sodden, making it heavy going as I trudged to my first rabbit hot spot, an uneven patch of ground pockmarked by burrows, bits of blue glazed plates and broken pottery jars, revealed by the burrowers, evidence of past use as a Victorian rubbish dump. Settling down at the base of an ivy clad oak tree, I lay prone with the rifle rested on my bag and set the scope zoom to the centre burrows 40 yards away, expecting one of the occupiers to hop out into the sunshine at any moment. I was in the shade and the north easterly breeze was slowly chilling my bones. Waiting for rabbits to emerge, is an investment in time and after fifteen minutes without a show, I was ready to move on, but the thought that one could pop up at any time kept me there longer.

The sound of clattering wings drew my eye skyward, to see several wood pigeons gliding in to settle high in my tree. I was obviously masked from their keen eyes by the ivy reaching into the upper branches and did a slow motion roll onto my back, raising the Magtech vertical to find a target. At this point I expected an explosion of wings, as I was spotted, but the cross hairs found the illuminated outline of a fat woodie and I gently applied pressure to the trigger. The hollow “knock” of bullet on feather, a couple of flaps and the pigeon was spinning to the ground, to hit with a thump only feet away, it’s brethren scattering to pastures new.

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Giving up on the rabbits, I broke cover to de-breast the plump bird, turning it on it’s back, pulling the skin away from the breast to reveal the dark rich meat, which was soon cleanly removed by following the breast bone with my knife, the two steaks wrapped and bagged. Moving further into the wood, the low sun was casting long shadows among the tree trunks, warming the air a few more degrees, encouraging snow drops to come out above the leaf litter.

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Turning off the track into the sun, a rustle through the leaves to my right, brought the rifle to my shoulder, as the deep russet coat of a fox became visible through the undergrowth and crossed my path ten yards away. Fox are off limits on this land and I am reluctant to shoot them at any time, so was happy to watch it glide effortlessly on it’s way, it’s full brush of a tail extending straight out behind it, disappearing among the rhododendrons. Maybe he’d got to my rabbit warren first, hence the no-show.

Rounding a corner, I was unaware of a rabbit sitting twenty yards away, perfectly camouflaged, until it moved and turned to slip unmolested into a tangle of dead brambles. I’d just broken a rule of hunting. Assume there is something around every corner and lead with your rifle raised and ready to fire. The spring like afternoon had dulled my senses and I’d paid the price. Fifty yards on the path takes another turn and I was ready to see a rabbit, or two basking on the grassy bank, pushing the rifle ahead round a holly bush to see four grazing pigeons, hitting one square between the shoulders, before they could flinch.

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With breast number two in the bag, I was eager to add a rabbit, or another pigeon, but it didn’t happen, a wait beneath another sitty tree not being rewarded and the only other rabbit seen, made a quick getaway before I’d got within 80 yards. I thought that the early sunshine would have brought them out in numbers, feeding, or gathering nesting materials, but that’s how it goes sometimes, so it was back to the van before the evening rush hour snarl across town began.

 

 

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, one 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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