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

March 27, 2015 at 1:32 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CZ 452 HMR Varmint long range accuracy cannot be eclipsed

March 23, 2015 at 6:50 pm

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Success and failure on the stick float.

March 19, 2015 at 1:14 am

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memories of the Sowerbutts roach pole

March 5, 2015 at 8:16 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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




Chub on bread punch dominate

March 5, 2015 at 11:43 am

Tipped off that the Basingstoke Canal was coming back on form following an indifferent winter, I resolved to take the fifteen mile drive to one of the more productive areas and plunder the  roach and skimmer bream shoals. Ready with a white loaf liquidised and some slices ready for the punch, I began loading the van with tackle. It was bitterly cold with a gusting wind, but the Basi is forgiving on that count, running through wooded banks, where a protected area can always be found and facing south, the sun can be warming, even on the frostiest day.

Reverse gear was selected and as I moved off, a cursory glance at my wife’s car revealed a flat rear tyre. On the rim, it was a puncture, a shiny screw head visible between the treads. Park the van, raise the car on the jack and take the wheel off. Her car has one of those space saver tyres for emergencies, but there is no way, that she would ever drive with it fitted. There was nothing for it, but to squeeze the tyre in among the tackle and drive the van to the tyre centre in town. Fortunately the tyre could be repaired within 30 minutes. Precious fishing time! For something to do, I walked the two hundred yards, to where the main feeder stream of my local river runs under the road. Last week it was roaring through and heavily coloured, today it ran clear, babbling over the stones. A change of venue was decided upon. I could make up the lost time by only taking the two mile drive back to the weir pool visited the previous week.

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The river was running at half the pace of last week, having dropped by eight inches and looked a much better prospect. Last week I had a whole range of baits, but prepared for the canal, only had bread and a few red worms, but this wasn’t a challenge, as this swim is usually chock full of big roach, while chub and other species are always present. The main problem here can be running out of bread feed, if the fish come on strong, but as I was hoping for a similar situation on the canal, that one was covered.

The same rig as last week come out, a 6 No 4 Ali stick float to 5 lb line and a 16 hook to 3lb. This is ideal for trotting through the swim, then holding back at the edge of the weir stream, while for later on, it has the weight to be held back in the full force of the white water. Due to the flow, I opted to use rolled strips for the punch, which do not get washed off the hook. To start, three egg sized balls were put in, enough to kill a canal swim, but here just a starter for ten, one inside, down the middle and the other towards the far bank, just upstream. I could see the balls sink and break, still being carried at a fair pace, so dropped the float in close and let the float run through. It dragged under. On the bottom? No, the rod bent into a hard running fish, that dived for the base of the bush, but the 14 foot Browning rod has a lot of backbone and soon had the white gaping mouth of a chub sliding across to the net.

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First cast, first fish, a 6oz chub, the 6mm bread pellet still on the hook. Next trot I shallowed up six inches and the same pellet accounted for a slightly larger chub.

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This is how it went for the following half hour, sometimes the float would reach the white water, at others it would sink out of sight the moment it hit the river. I’d been putting in big pinches of bread every cast, which was drawing the chub out of the fast water into the shallow river. The chub were in the 4 to 8 oz range, good fun to catch, but I was hankering after a change. It was time to top up the bread crumb.

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Adding 6 inches to the depth, I threw a couple more balls, just short of the white water in the hope of drawing some bigger fish up from the stream, guessing that the small chub were hoovering up the crumb before it got there. Casting to the edge and holding back,  the float disappeared in seconds and the pounding fight let me know it was a roach, before the float reappeared. This is not an easy swim to fish, the high bank allows good control of fish, but it is also a bit of a birdcage, with branches overhead, which make contact with the rod top, when bringing them to the net. The answer is to bend over and lean out to net all fish, while keeping the butt close the ground, not ideal, but it works.

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A nice roach made a change, then more small chub. I made a longer cast into the fast water, just easing the float down, holding the tip clear of the foam. It went under and I struck into a bright red rudd. They are supposed to live in placid lakes and rivers, but this one certainly hadn’t read the rule book.

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Another few chub and the gudgeon had moved onto the feed, every put into the hotspot at the edge, resulted in the deep hard fight from the bottom feeders.

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With nothing to lose, I piled in a few more egg sized balls, smacking into another six ounce chub. Next trot to the edge, the float glided under the foam and I felt the weight of a very good fish, which stood and fought, before sweeping down stream, as I backwound to cushion the load. It hugged the inside, taking line round the corner, bending the rod double against the force of the flow, the float briefly appeared, then swept up stream. It was making for the bush on my side, as I pushed the rod out in front of me, while reeling back to gain line. A black tail and the light bronze flash of a big chub broke surface, as it turned towards me, rolling, then diving for the bank beneath the bush. In seconds it snagged me, transferring the hook to a root. All went solid. I pulled for a beak, the line going at the hook.

It took me a couple of minutes to whip another hook to the line by hand, my float following more balls of bread feed. Bang, another roach was battling away, the best of three that afternoon. I had expected more, but there was still time.

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A magic triangle had formed, where I could not fail to hook a fish. This is how it can get on the bread punch, the feed coating the bottom and drifting down, while unlike maggots, the fish don’t get overfed so easily, but frantically search mopping up the feed. Another rudd took the bread, dashing all over the river, using it’s deep flanks to glance off the current.

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The next bite rattled the rod top and I lifted into another heavy fish, which dived and came off, the line pinging back in a tangle round the float.

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I’d been fighting a vicious wind all afternoon, my hands were freezing and the thought of struggling to unravel this one was too much, although it was tempting, as it seemed as though the better fish had finally moved in. The sun was now low and I’d been in shadow for a while; it could only get colder. A last cup of tea and I was ready to pack up.

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Around six pounds of fish from a busy hundred and fifty minutes, all taken on the bread punch for a cost of less than 50 pence. The bonus for me was to arrive home to a warm kitchen and the spicy aroma of bread pudding, laced with blue berries, the byproduct of the dicarded crusts, when the bread was liquidised.



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.


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.