Cider making time again

October 23, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Being known as a cider maker, offers of apples have been coming in from all quarters this year, while wild trees growing on council land near my home have been weighed down with a variety of the fruit. Boxes and bags of apples were soon covering the floor of the garden shed and it was now a matter choosing a day.

With storms driving across the country bringing sunshine and showers at regular intervals, the forecast was for a cold, dry day, as one storm was banished to the North Sea aiming for the Netherlands, while another was sweeping in over Ireland. Using no specialised equipment, my wife and I set out our cider making production line.

This looks like disorganised chaos, but there is method in the apparent madness. The apples are dunked in a bucket of water to clean off dirt, any bruising is cut out, before being chopped into pieces and dropped into the garden shredder, which mashes the fruit, the resulting pulp falling into a bowl. This is my wife’s side of the process, which in between cups of tea and lunch, keeps her busy for at least four hours.

My side of the process is equally busy, the bowl of pulp constantly filling. The pulp is scooped into an old ice cream tub, in which doubled over window netting has been laid. This creates a parcel of pulp, which oozes juice before being presented to the press.

The press is a 4 x 2 screwed and glued wooden frame held in a Workmate. In the base of the frame fits an old stove enameled baking tray, into which two pieces of pine shelving sit. The pulp parcel is placed on the lower piece and the second piece set on the top of these. Juice will already flowing out of the parcel into the baking tray, before a block and a bottle jack are used to compress the pulp. The result is juice in the baking tray and a dry slab of compressed apple cake as a by product. The jack and plattens are then placed on the wallpapering table, while the baking tray is emptied into a covered six gallon plastic bucket. Each year I consider fitting a drainage system to the baking tray, but it only takes seconds to empty each time, so it has yet to be done. The apple cake is placed into another bucket, before being tipped onto the compost heap, where it is soon covered with red worms.

That is basically all there is to start the cider making process. I always wait for cold weather in October, as it is unlikely that any wild yeasts will be in the air to contaminate the juice. Yeast from the apples can be seen forming in the tray as it is pressed, but I use a sachet of cider yeast sprinkled over the bucket to kickstart the fermentation, stirring this in and leaving covered for twenty to thirty minutes, while I get demijohns ready to receive the juice. Using a jug, I scoop the juice from the bucket, to fill the demijohns through a funnel to within two inches of the neck, then create a wick of cotton wool pushed into the neck. This will allow gases from the fermentation out, while excluding any unwanted organisms from the juice.

Just a few hours in the warmth of the kitchen, sees the fermentation starting in earnest, the newspaper a wise precaution against spillage. Another few hours a month of racking and bottling before Christmas, will see about 50 bottles of golden cider set aside to mature.

Silvers fill in for missing crucians

October 13, 2017 at 10:56 am

Having returned from a short cruise, there was much unpacking and washing to do, so my wife suggested that I get out of her hair and go fishing. The morning had been clear and bright with chill in the air and an afternoon fishing seemed a good idea. I checked the freezer and found a half used bag of liquidised bread, plus some frozen quarters of punch bread, certainly enough for a few hours on the pole somewhere. I had been told of a little fished pond beyond the next town, with a good head of crucian carp and tench and decided to look it up on Google maps, Streetview helping to locate the secluded entrance off a well worn lane.

It was a bit of a trek getting there, but the pond looked well tended and I chose a swim close to the carpark, these often being fished more, than those further away, with more fish. Fishing near bridges on canals is usually better for the same reason. Setting out my stall, I noticed that the water was crystal clear, with no surface activity. Not a good sign.

Plumbing the depth revealed a 3 ft maximum at 6 metres and I mixed up enough crumb and ground carp pellets for half a dozen sloppy balls of feed, that would spread, but sink quickly. I put in three balls in a line out in front of me, then dropped the float beyond the middle of the feed, with a 6 mm pellet of bread on the size 18 barbless hook. The float sank immediately and a small roach came to hand, the hook well down its throat.

There was no messing about, these roach really wanted the bread and I decided to bash through them, until the better fish moved onto the feed. They kept taking the bait, despite putting on a heavier float with the shot bulked down, some roach so small it was a wonder how they got the bait in their mouths. Several fish were stunted, with large heads and short bodies. Usually crucians will have found the feed in that first hour, their tiny bubbles always a giveaway, but not on this pond today, my only hope being a lucky tench, or even a cruising common carp.

I put in the last of my ground bait in the hope of feeding the small roach off, while attracting in a few better specimens. Nothing else showed, and with the cold wind now blowing hard in my face, I decided to cut and run, before rush hour traffic had a chance to build.

Maybe this 4 lb net was a good bag on the day. There was no chance of getting bored, but the occasional decent crucian would have been appreciated. My early getaway had no effect either, a crunch on the motorway causing traffic jams where ever I drove.

River Blackwater chub, dace and roach stickfloat workout

October 4, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Within ten miles of my home is a free stretch of the fast flowing river Blackwater, that meanders through wild, tree lined banks for half a mile, creating shallows and deep runs at every turn. A proper river in my book, much like the Colne of my youth, where the stickfloat was king.

It is two years since my last visit and much had changed, trees had fallen in creating new eddies, while other swims were now full of streamer weed. The river suits the roving specimen hunter, able to flick a bait beneath overhanging bushes, but I was looking for a long run with somewhere to park my tackle box and room to cast a 14 foot rod.

With an average depth of only 30 inches and the bottom visible across the river, it appears fishless, but looks can be deceiving. Today I was armed with half a pint of maggots, this being enough for the four hours I intended fishing, where little and often is the rule.  I set up a 6 No 4 ali stemmed stick float, with most of the weight bulked beneath the float, a single No 4 and a No 8 on the 2 lb hook link down the line, a size 18 barbless for a single maggot completing the rig.

I plumbed the depth across the width, finding a channel midway at 30 inches deep, shallowing up to two feet along sunken branches on the opposite bank, setting my float to run through along the far side. A dozen maggots broadcast upstream across the swim could be seen drifting back down in the bright sunlight and cast the float among them for my first trot through. Third cast, at the end of the trot, the float held under, but I missed the strike, the red maggot sucked hollow. A few more maggots in and the float held under again, this time the rod bent round on contact as the fish rushed off downstream, before zig-zagging toward the snags along the far side. Pressure brought a chub’s white mouth to the surface and I steered the fish over to my landing net, aware of the strong pull from the current close to my bank.

This was a good start. The following cast, the float sank immediately, a solid fight and a small perch was swinging to hand.

Straight in and the float sank again to be met by a different fight, the bounce, bounce of a roach giving the game away.

Three fish in three casts, the fourth unbelievably resulting in a different fight again, as a dace tumbled and flashed in the sunshine along the far side.

The Blackwater is full of hard fighting dace of good size, this one taking a white maggot. I always add Termeric powder to my maggots, it gives them a touch of spice, that I am sure is attractive to the fish.

 

Alternating between far bank and middle with white and red maggots, while feeding 3 to 4 maggots a cast upstream of me kept the fish coming every cast, a decent perch taking right under my feet.

Although I could not see them against the gravel bottom, these fish were snapping up the maggots when they hit the water. A cast to the far side, upstream to where I had thrown the next batch of maggots, saw the float slide sideways and the rod bend over into another chub.

After two hours the bites began to slow, with fish coming further down the swim, deepening up and holding the float back in stages giving some rod thumping bites, never knowing what would take the bait, even some big gudgeon getting in on the act.

Stopping for a sandwich and some tea, I continued to feed the swim, finding better roach had moved into the middle of the trot.

If the float got through there was usually a perch, chub, or a good dace waiting further downstream. Some dace like the one below being around 8 oz, would explode on the surface when hooked, the tail of the swim shallower and faster than in front of me.

Constantly ringing the changes, over depth holding back, shallow running through, inside, middle and far bank, heavy and light feed, kept putting fish in my keepnet. It was repetitive work, the landing net seeming to get heavier with each fish. I was aiming to continue for a full four hours, but as the bites trailed away again, I thought of the long walk back to the carpark and hoped for a fish to end the day on. It came in the shape of a 10 oz roach, that ran to the far bank snags like a chub, then fought up and down the swim, before finally getting its head clear of the surface, praying that the size 18 barbless hook would keep hold long enough to slide it into the landing net.

What a session, one of my best on the Blackwater, certainly my best on the maggot, only bettered by a  preblog winter day, when I found a shoal of big roach and dace holed up in a deep eddy, taking well into double figures on the bread punch, the weight boosted by a couple of 2 lb chub.

Eight and a half pounds of pristine, quality fish taken in four hours, when for once the pike stayed away.

Quality roach fail to disappoint at Jeanes Pond

October 2, 2017 at 11:07 pm

A day clearing the garden ready for winter had been planned for today, but a text from my friend Peter inviting me to join him for a few hours fishing at the Braybrooke club’s Jeanes Pond could not be ignored and I arrived to find him already tackling up in his favourite swim, peg 13. I had fished the peg on a stormy afternoon a few weeks ago, netting 10 lb of roach with a bonus 3 lb 8oz tench, all on the bread punch and was interested to see how Peter would get on with his maggot bait.

Winds from hurricane Maria had blown across the Atlantic to exhaust themselves on the English countryside, however set in a hollow, Jeanes pond is immune from all, but a howling south westerly and it was like a mild spring morning, when I set up in peg 18. This swim was new to me, and I set about plumbing the depth, finding 4 feet in the right hand corner and only 3 feet to my left, this old brick clay pit varying in depth from 2 to 6 feet depending on the peg.

Putting in a small ball of liquidised bread to my right on the 3 metre line, I followed with the float and watched it cock and sink slowly out of sight. A lift and a rudd was swinging to hand.

Many of the golden rudd have this tatty look about their scales, while the silver ones are pristine. I was not complaining, they all fight as well. With the pole at 3 metres, I was catching under my feet out to 4 metres, a 6 mm pellet of punch bread on a size 16 hook accounting for fish after fish, the occasional small ball of crumb, keeping them coming steadily, including this roach.

Peter’s maggots were also taking quality roach, along with small perch, but the maggots could not match the speed of the bread punch for hooking fish, the float cocking and sinking in one movement.

 

I even caught a small perch, that had seized the bread on the drop. It was pot luck, what size each fish was, the 6 mm pellet even being swallowed by 3 inch roach in a second. Below is the best roach of the morning.

Like a switch the bites stopped and I saw the culprit, a flash of green in my swim being a pike, as it chased a fish. A patch of bubbles suddenly erupted from the baited area, when it swooped on a roach I had hooked, the fish splashing on the surface in panic before I could lift it out.

I cast away from the baited area to my left, another small ball of bread bringing instant bites again, but the pike moved to the new area, snatching a small roach from the hook. The bites had slowed again and my final roach jumped clear of the water with the pike inches behind it.

This perfect roach survived a mauling and my decision to pack up coincided with Peter getting his float snagged in an overhanging branch, breaking the line. For us it had been a social event, catching up on our news, while also putting a few fish in the net, Peter finishing with 3 lb and 6 lb on the scales for myself.

The bread punch perch is visible top right.