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Meon Springs winter warmer.

December 8, 2014 at 7:18 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stickfloat perch brightens a dull winter’s day.

December 4, 2014 at 3:14 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Rustic rabbit pie with cider

November 30, 2014 at 2:29 pm

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

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

Method

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

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

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

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

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

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Magtech .22 succeeds on a woodland rabbit hunt

November 18, 2014 at 8:04 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Breadpunch and red worm fishing the autumn pond.

November 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bread punch selects crucian carp.

October 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Magtech .22 seeks out rabbits around the farm

October 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

What a difference a year makes. Last autumn I was called to a small farm owned by a couple in their 80’s, who were at the end of their tether, due to the land being overrun by rabbits. As we had talked on that first meeting in the garden of their house, bunnies were hopping around, through hedges, in the flower beds and digging up the lawn, while further afield, the owners had given up on their vegetable garden, the surrounding area dotted with feeding rabbits. Twice weekly visits with my Magtech .22 semi auto and CZ 452 .17 HMR, soon got the numbers under control, down to the day that I went home empty handed.  Since then, an occasional visit with the HMR had kept the hedgerows in check, but today it was time for a scout round the outbuildings with the Magtech, arriving at dusk.

Due to the age of it’s owners and a son unwilling to take on the farm, the outbuildings are in a sad state of disrepair, while offering plenty of hiding places for burrowing rabbits, that seem to delight in a game of Hide and Seek. This yard was no different and white tails were melting into the undergrowth, as I rounded the corner, unable to get a clear shot among the rubbish dump. Stalking through, a thump to my right highlighted a big buck stamping a warning, as it turned between a gap in the fence. Swinging the rifle round, it’s shoulders were in the cross hairs for that moment, the barrel spat and the rabbit fell forward without a twitch. At 15 yards, the RWS 40 grain hollow point subsonic bullet had passed straight through, stopping the buck instantly, the report from the silencer being quieter than my air rifle.

At the boundary of the yard, I waited for more movement, shielded by the shed and a tree, being able to view back down toward the far fence. Within minutes I could make out a rabbit picking it’s way through brambles from the lane adjacent to the yard. I had time to wrap the rifle sling round my are left arm, which would help steady the shot, when it came. The rabbit passed in and out of view, as it made it’s way through to the fresh grass 40 yards ahead of me. It appeared from behind a pile of logs into a space, I fired the instant it stepped forward and missed. The bullet rattled through the brambles, startling the rabbit, which turned and ran toward me. I squeezed the trigger and missed again, but it continued on it’s path running into the next one seconds later, a perfect head shot tumbling it over. Two in ten minutes, good going, the Magtech being light weight and a semi automatic, proving the right tool for the job.

With no more signs, I gathered up and made my way down the path towards the barn. Opening the gate, I looked up to see rabbit number three sitting staring at me twenty yards away. In slow motion, I eased the rifle up, but watched it spring away, through the next gate to stop briefly, then bound off behind the barn. Continuing round, to appear at the other end of the barn, there it was again, sitting waiting for me. This was a fifty yard standing shot. I needed to get closer and rest the rifle on the wooden fence. Ducking down, screened by brambles, I reached the fence and peered over. Gone again.

This was cat and mouse time. I decided to move on and stake out an area bordering a stream, where old straw bales provide the ideal spot for lying out in wait. With the scope adjusted to the edge of the brambles along the bank, 40 yards away, I reflected on last year, when I shot seven rabbits from this very vantage point. The light was fading fast, when a brown smudge popped up among the brambles. The farmer’s cat? The scope illuminated a rabbit. Aiming at the white bib of it’s chest, my shot flipped it over backwards down the bank. I couldn’t wait to see if any more were coming out to play, I needed to pick this one up and get on my way. My heart slumped, when I saw where the rabbit had ended up. It was in the stream beneath brambles. Sliding head first down the bank, I could just get my hand past the the scratching thorns, my finger tips able to get a grip on a back leg and drag it back up. Then I had to get out. Madness.

Walking back, the barn rabbit’s ears were on show, could I get a shot? Not from here. I walked back round to the gate and there he was ten yards away. I raised the rifle. Boing! He was gone again. No time now. Better luck next time.

 

 

 

Cider making

October 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Last year I was overwhelmed with offers of apples for cider making, resulting in two fermentations and a surplus of bottles relative to my consumption, but this year was different story, a cold wet spring and shortage of bees resulting in many bare apple trees this autumn. Of late, a ready supply of Cox’s and Bramley’s, mixed with a third locally gathered sour crab apples, has resulted in a medium dry cider of around 7% alcohol content, that has livened up many a BBQ.

As the month of October approached, I was on the lookout for donor trees in the area, following a visit to a farm, where last year the owner was pleading with me to take away bags of apples, while now he had none. I usually make at least 5  gallons of cider a year, which at 20 lb of apples per gallon means a good reliable supply is needed. A wooded bank behind my house had only yielded 25 lb from three different trees varying sour to sweet, way down on expected, the trend continued where ever I looked. My last shot was to return to a green lane close to my old village, which runs through farmland on the way to a  long closed schoolhouse, where a variety of feral apple trees have grown amongst the hedgerows, no doubt seeded from domestic apple cores discarded by pupils in days past. As a road to nowhere, the lane has almost returned to nature, kept open by the occasional walker and deer, but for my wife and I, it provided us with an untapped source of apples. The fruit was hard won, brambles having taken over much of the lane since our last visit, but the remembered variety was still there, some almost good enough to grace the supermarket shelf, while others were small, hard and tart, gathering about 40 lb in total. Picking another 10 lb of sweet red Royal Gala from our own trees, we were ready to start.

As can be seen from this picture, a wide mix of apples is to be preferred, if actual bitter/sweet cider apples are unavailable. Two vital items needed for cider making are a press and a means of reducing the apples to a pulp. A garden shredder is my pulp provider, while a bolted and glued frame of 4 x 2 inch hard wood provides the basis of the press, a bottle jack from the garage being the crushing power. My wife roughly chops the apples, cutting out any bruising and other nasties, before dropping them in the shredder. The pulp drops into a plastic bowl, which I collect in an ice cream carton lined with a window net mesh, folding the mesh to trap the pulp, then placing the parcel between two plattens of on old pine shelf on the press. The jack pushes the plattens together, forcing the juice out into a stove enameled oven tray, this is then emptied into a six gallon plastic bucket. It is important to use plastic and non-metallic utensils and buckets, as the apple juice is acidic and will introduce corroded elements to the juice otherwise.

Cider making should be a social event and after four hours, which included cups of tea and lunch, the juice was ready to receive a sachet of cider yeast scattered over the surface, to start the fermentation process. A stir after twenty minutes and the juice was transferred into demijohns, working out exactly at three gallons. Into the top of each demijohn, a swab of cotton wool keeps out unwanted microbes, while allowing the ferment to breath out, as the yeast beings to multiply, causing bubbles to rise to the surface, along with dead, used up yeast, as the sugar is converted to alcohol.

The following morning, at the base of these demijohns, the yeast can be seen, while at the neck, the dead yeast is forcing the cotton wool swabs up. As good house keeping, it is OK to remove the swab and hook out the dead yeast with the back of a spoon, replacing the swab with a fresh dry one. The dead yeast will continue to grow for a few days, until the ferment slows down as the sugar is converted. This will be the time to finally clean the neck and put an air lock in place, leaving the demijohns in an out of the way place, that is not too cold, to begin the maturing process. I keep mine in a corner of the kitchen.

Depending on the cider you wish to produce, there are several phases, that can be followed. The cider can be left as it’s in the demijohns for up six weeks before siphoning (racking) off into a clean demijohn, leaving the lees behind. At this stage the cider should taste sweet and can be left in a cool place to settle and clear, then bottled in strong bottles to mature further. If the cider is too dry at this stage, racking should take place again and sugar syrup added to taste, then bottled. This will produce a still cider of around 5%.

I prefer a slightly sparkling, stronger cider and rack off when the fermentation has almost stopped, after about three weeks, bringing just a squirt of yeast through into a clean demijohn, while adding 4 oz of white sugar dissolved in hot water. The air lock is put back on and the cider will start to gently work again on the sugar, increasing the strength, the cider being slightly hazy. Leave until fermentation stops after another 7 – 10 days, racking for the last time into a clean demijohn, bringing through just a squirt of yeast again. At this stage I taste again, it will be quite dry and tangy. If you prefer dry cider, add one tea spoon of sugar to the pint bottle before filling and capping, sweeter, add two tea spoons. Once capped shake the bottle to mix. If you have a demijohn bung, then you can mix in that, by shaking it before bottling. I use old “Spitfire” beer bottles and have not burst one yet, using a simple capping tool to seal the bottle tops. I store my cider on shelves in my garage, where over the winter, the liquid will fine down to a clear golden colour. When the cap is popped, there should be a pleasing hiss and a sign of vapour in the neck. There will be just a trace of lees in the base of the bottle, which should be poured carefully to avoid introducing it into the glass, as it is bitter, wasting about half an inch. The poured cider should be clear with just a hint of effervescence. Enjoy.

 

 

Mink raid trout stocks.

October 2, 2014 at 9:02 pm

There were only days left of the 2014 trout fishing season and decided on a last visit to my syndicate’s Hampshire chalkstream, hoping that recent much needed rain, would liven up the wild brown trout population enough to provide a few hours sport.

The deeper pools, once offering rewarding fishing, now appear devoid of trout and I made my way to faster water, where experience told me I should find some feeding trout. The rain had brought a riffle to the surface and I worked a small gold head nymph among the pockets formed among the gravel runs. The leader straightened long enough for quick upward lift of the rod and I was playing a hard fighting six ounce brown that zig zagged upstream, before dropping back into the net.

As the trout had flashed from side to side, I’d seen marks on both it’s flanks, but was sickened when I saw the V shape of a mink’s teeth had almost severed the brown’s tail and wondered how the fish had managed to escape from such a firm grip. Escape it had and I did my best to release the wildie with the minimum of fuss, holding it facing upstream, before the trout darted from my grip against the flow to disappear among the gravel. I’ve had many coarse fish escape the jaws of pike and survive, the pike’s teeth being like tiny razors, while the mink have larger crushing teeth, which in this case had caused severe damage.

We have two mink traps and several crayfish nets on this part of the river, all of which have taken their toll on the amphibious predators, but they are still out there feeding their young on anything they can get their teeth into, be it covered in fur, feather, or scales. For me, the absence of fish in the deeper pools is down to these mink having room to maneuver, while in the shallower runs, the odds are more in favour of the trout. The Animal Rights movement, that released thousands of mink from farms decades ago, have to be condemned for their efforts, which has resulted in some small rivers being stripped of wildlife.

Ten yards upstream the rod bent over again and another wild brown trout was splashing towards the net, this one being fin perfect and unmarked, lifting my mood to a more optimistic level.

This plump brownie turned out to be my last trout of the season, one that had started with much optimism, despite the failure of the Hawthorns to appear, the Mayfly had made up for this with many better size browns coming out to feed. How the mink problem can be countered I do not know and if the river is restocked, will we be giving these voracious animals reason to stick around.

Stick float nets a mixed bag from the weir.

September 15, 2014 at 9:41 pm

Left over red maggots in my fridge were beginning to turn to casters and with my mother’s words, “Waste not, want not” ringing in my ears, I took some equally left over cooked hemp seed from the freezer and drove the two miles down to my urban river. Usually a winter venue for me, where big roach and chub are the target, I was interested to see what the warm weather would bring.

The river flows left to right into the fast flowing outfall from the town water treatment works, the plan being to feed heavily with the maggots and hemp, with the occasional introduction of sweetcorn, in an attempt to attract the carp, that are known to inhabit the stream, although I had yet to catch one.

I set up my 14 ft match rod with a 5lb main line loaded ABU 501, the 4 No. 4 ali stick having a 3lb hook link to a size 14 barbless, more than enough to cope with any sudden runs I thought. The depth is only about 30 inches and I fed out in front of me, aiming to create a hot spot at the crease, where the fast weir water meets the slower river.

First cast in and the float zoomed away as a plump rudd took the two red maggots. A good start, that was followed by three more, then a brief rod bending run from another species, a perch disappearing down the weir stream at speed.

I swung in the rudd, but the landing net was needed for this battler, the hook dropping out in the net. The rudd lined up to take, just where the float entered the foam, watching the line movement for a strike, when again another species charged off with the maggots, this time a six ounce chub seeking out the fast water.

From now on the chub got smaller, crowding out the better fish. Initially I returned the tiny chub, but decided the only way was to speed fish my way through them, while still feeding every cast. A change to sweetcorn on the hook put me back in touch with the rudd, although the invasion of mini chub were not immune to the larger bait. As the chublet threat subsided, gudgeon took their place, when I bulked the shot and laid on over depth, although many put a bend in the rod, as they hugged the bottom.

The pace was hectic, as fish after fish dropped into the net, the hot spot almost glowing, there must have been hundreds of fish down there frantically rooting out the maggots from the bottom. The float sank and my rod wrapped round in an instant, as a much more determined fish hooked it’self and ran across the faster water towards the trees, while I back wound my reel furiously to save a break. Running upstream along the far side of the weir, the fish was making for a tangle of branches and I held the rod out across the river, keeping on the pressure, until it dropped back down, around the bend, requiring another quick change of rod angle. Bringing it back upstream on my side, a flash of golden brown scales indicated my waited for carp, but it was not finished yet and made straight for a bush on the corner of the weir, where it managed briefly to loop the line over a sunken branch. A hard pull towards the slack water and the net, claimed the fifth species of the afternoon, a crucian carp, which on reflection was another feral goldfish, my second from the river this season.

This crucian had taken maggots, but I swapped back to sweet corn in the hope of another, only to be straight into the rudd again, trotting it down the run, holding back hard, they were sinking the float with abandon. Now out of the fridge, the red maggots had begun to turn to casters rapidly and thought that a couple on the hook were worth a try in the hot spot. Bang. A good roach was pulling hard in the flow, species number six.

The hemp and maggot/caster mix continued to go in, every cast was a fish of some sort, I was like a robot, working hard to empty the river. Twice more I hit into immoveable objects, that turned tail and made for the sanctury of the opposite side of the weir pool at impossible speeds, twice my 3lb hook line parted like cotton, despite an instant back wind of the reel. The compensation would be another roach, rudd, or perch next cast and I kept at it until the maggot box was empty, a look at my watch indicating under four hours of fishing, that had passed in a blur.

A true mixed bag from a small river not given a second glance by most who drive by, on this occasion spinning the dial on the scales beyond 11lb, before being slipped back into the water.