Big crucian carp tops short break at Hitcham Ponds

October 22, 2020 at 10:59 am

I always try to fish Hitcham Round Pond in the Autumn before the leaves fall, arriving at noon to see the last of the sunshine, as dark clouds were being driven by a strengthening breeze. I was hoping for a few crucians and common carp, plus a skimmer bream on the bread punch from the Intertype AS water, taking advantage of the exchange ticket offered to my own Old Windsor AC.

I had not fished this swim before and found it shallower than expected at only 30 inches with no drop off. Unusually there was no surface activity, such as roach topping, or carp rolling, even the surface was devoid of bubbles from feeding fish. The weather last week had been cold and wet, but today the southern breeze had brought a pleasant rise in the temperature. The water had a bright green tinge.

With no noticeable shelf to aim at, I made up a sloppy mix of coarse liquidised bread, ground carp pellets and ground hemp, while keeping my eye on my 4 x 16 antenna float. It did not move, the 6 mm pellet of bread on the size 16 barbless hook ignored by the many small roach that fill this pond. Not a good sign, but I fed an area straight out in front between six and eight metres out, dropping the float in to the side of the nearest feed. Still no bites, so I went down to the 5 mm punch, the smallest for a size 16 hook, the shot strung out to allow the bread to fall through. Finally a bite, with the bait just off bottom. The float tip dithered and slowly sank;  not the crucian that I had expected, but a small roach.

It had taken time to catch this fish, but now the shoal had woken up and moved over the feed, each fish getting smaller, so more balls of feed went in on both lines to feed them off. Over the eight metre line a lift bite brought a palm sized skimmer bream, which raised my hope of better things to come.

Hope springs eternal and I continued working through the small stuff, both roach and small skimmers. The bites were still difficult to read and hard to hit, some better silver fish bouncing off against my heavy elastic. My next tray of feed was heavier and I went back deeper toward the bottom on the eight metre line, being rewarded by the sight of clusters of bubbles bursting on the surface. Still very small roach and skimmers, until I went up to a 7 mm punch, when the float lifted and bobbed before purposely submerging. The elastic was out following an initial run, then a classic rolling fight as a big crucian carp fought in circles. Breaking the pole down to the top three, the elastic did its job of wearing out the crucian, the golden scaled flanks visible each time it rolled beneath my feet, the landing net ready when the carp popped up on the surface.

I was lucky to land this crucian, the hook being in the very tip of the nose, falling out in the net. I had caught a 3 lb 8 oz crucian from the pond last year and this one was slightly smaller, a couple of ounces short of 3 lb, but it fought to the max.

I lobbed out a couple more balls onto the eight metre line and poured myself a cup of tea, letting the feed settle before casting over again. The surface was disturbed by the movements of a large fish and I waited, the float wavering in the boil, then slowly sinking out of sight. I lifted into the fish, which exploded into life as it powered toward the island stripping out the elastic, while I countered the run by raising the pole and turning to my right, the 35 year old carbon Shakespeare pole creaking under pressure, but again the 12 -18 red elastic did its job, slowing the carp and forcing it to curve back to my bank. As the pressure eased, so the common carp sped up again, heading along in front of me, while I broke the pole down to the top three sections to stay in contact, it passing at top speed heading for the lily bed on my right, with the elastic following. I turned the top three to the left taking the strain and crack, the bottom section split and folded half way up. The carp kept going and I was effectively now on a hand line with no control, watching the elastic disappear into the lilies as the common boiled on the other side. The hook came free, and I was left with a dead pole.

Time for another cup of tea and a think. I have another top three kit for this pole with a lighter elastic fitted at home, which can be swapped over to the heavy elastic, so it is not the end of this pole. It was still only 1:30, too early to go pack up. Back at the van was, my 14 foot Browning rod, so the pole was packed away and returned to the van and I walked back across the field with the holdall.  At the swim I set up the Browning with a fine antenna waggler rig. Probably an hour had elapsed since the bust up, the wind had changed to in my face, drifting the leaves that had been piled up in the corner round to my side of the pond. The light rig kept hanging up on the floating leaves, while the wind drifted the float away from the eight metre line, where bubbles were still rising. I managed to drop a small crucian and four ounce roach, probably due to too much bow in the line. The pole allows a positive upward strike. The fish were just nibbling at the bait and my success rate of hits to missed bites had quadrupled in a negative direction.

Before the pole break it seemed that the bigger fish had taken over the swim, but now I was back on the small stuff and decided to pack up. Usually by now bursts of bubbles from the numerous common carp in the pond would have been coming up over the feed, but today was not usual.

 

Blackwater chub saves the day

October 16, 2020 at 9:12 pm

I was optimistic for my first visit in a few months to Farnborough and District’s River Blackwater. Recent heavy rain had caused flooding, but I now expected the river to be fining down with a decent bit of colour; just right for some autumn roach fishing. As I walked over the bridge, I was disappointed to see the bottom right across. It was crystal clear and lower than I have ever seen it, but undeterred I pressed on upstream to one of the few swims where fishing the stick float is possible from the bank. Stopping at the swim, I realised that I had left my landing net pole back at the van. Being on the Blackwater Valley public path, there was no way that I was going to leave my trolley unattended, so it was back to the van again, then back upstream to the swim.

Three quarters of a mile walked and half an hour of wasted fishing time. I placed my box in the only gap in the trees. It had greatly reduced in a year and my first retrieve saw the rod top line get caught in the overhang. I would have to be more careful next time. First fish, a gudgeon, was safely steered through the gap, but later as I leaned out to net a roach, the rod top got caught again, leaving the roach jiggling about on the line until it fell off, springing the line up into the branch, causing a tangle. I managed to snag the line and float with my landing net and pulled it free, but the float broke in half. Another broken float.

I decided to load up the trolley again and to walk back downstream to a swim past the bridge that has no trees. When I got there, it was occupied by another angler. What next? Go home? Getting back to the bridge, I decided to fish above it. I had caught roach here before until a pike had turned up. It was worth a try.

I am not one to chop and change swims, but was not too happy with this one either, as from the high bank, I could see right across the bottom. Attaching another float from a winder, I trotted through, finding the depth was under two feet, but with no wind, float control was easy from the top of the high bank. I fed  liquidised bread, mixed with ground hemp, damped to allow small balls to be squeezed up. The idea was to let the feed carry down the swim toward the bridge, where I assumed the roach would be holed up. About the fourth trot, the float dipped then sank and a big gudgeon was swung in.

This was taken about half way to the bridge, and following down another ball of feed, the float went again in the same spot as the rod bent into another gudgeon. Encouraged, I repeated the process, again another bite in the same spot, but missed it. There must be a hollow there, holding the feed and fish. Another missed bite and I scaled down from a 6 mm punch of bread to a 5 mm. That’s better! The lightweight Hardy bent round, the flash of a roach clearly visible as I struck, taking my time to bring the fish back upstream against the strong flow. I guessed that the weir half a mile upstream was fully open to run off the overnight rain. From the high bank, I had to lean over with the landing net to get the net near the roach, the angle to the water too steep for comfort, but I guided it over the rim and scooped it up.

A fussy bite and another gudgeon followed, but the next cast the float passed the hot spot, drifting round to a side eddy where the float sank. I struck, the rod bent, then dead weight as I reeled back a stick. Another trot that passed through into the eddy brought back another twig. I now cast out to the middle, allowing the float to swing round to fish six feet further out, the float taking its time to reach the bridge, where I could just see it. Suddenly it was gone and I struck as the line stretched tight. Wham, the rod bent double as a long silver fish rolled on the surface and ran downstream, while I backwound the ABU 501. This was a reasonable chub, which was now searching for snags along the side of the bridge. It rolled again in a foot of water alongside the wall, thankfully heading out to the middle away from the snag filled eddy, while I held, then reeled to keep contact. Ten yards downstream, the chub’s white mouth was clear of the water and I steered it toward the net, again having trouble getting it stay in, lifting the pole with my foot to finally secure it.

A sigh of relief and time for a cup of tea and a sandwich. I fed a couple more balls out and down, followed by the float. Another bite in the same place, I paused and struck. Nothing. The bread was gone. A chub would have run with it. The float again travelled all the way to the bridge without a touch, then a dip and a dive. Another monster gudgeon was bending the rod again. They fight hard for their size. I tried back over the hollow. A couple of dips, but no proper bites. I think the fish could see the float in the shallow water and were wary of the bait.

Back over to the middle and the float worked its way down and under the bridge. It disappeared with line following and I swept the rod back. A definite fish, not a gudgeon, but a roach by the feel of it, as it tapped the rod top on the return. For safety, I leaned out with the landing net and brought it in.

This was my last fish landed, a smaller chub did manage to reach the snags in the eddy, depositing the hook in a branch. I let the line go slack for the chub to swim out, which it did leaving my hook behind.

All in all it had been a frustrating session, I couldn’t be bothered to untangle the hook link with cold hands and the light was going, so I packed up, the saving grace being the chub in my net, my personal best for this part of the Blackwater.

Bread punch commons and crucian carp late call at Allsmoor

October 9, 2020 at 6:08 pm

It has been a week of showers and sunshine. Every sunny day I had previous commitments that stopped me fishing, the others it rained. Then after a morning of heavy rain, the TV forecaster was talking of a glorious sunset, as the clouds would melt away. It was still raining at 2 pm with a strong wind and I gave up on the idea of fishing and got on with something else, but a patch of blue in the sky was creeping closer, giving me hope of that promised golden sunset. I gathered up my gear and loaded the trolley for the only fishing option available at short notice, the walk down to Allsmoor pond not far from home. The blue sky passed quickly, driven by a chill wind; not too welcoming for my arrival at 4 pm.

My preferred swim would keep the wind at my back and the sun out of my eyes, but when I got there some kind soul, or souls had launched a Tesco trolley into the water, too far from the bank to reach. What logic was behind this act of vandalism? Tesco is about half a mile away and the last 300 yards is over a rough path. There are some strange people about.

Back to the fishing. I continued round to a swim opposite and mixed up my ground bait, bread crumb, ground carp pellets, ground hemp and hempseed, putting four balls in 7 to 8 metres out. I then set up my pole with a small waggler rig swinging it out over the feed. The float sank immediately and a small rudd came in.

These rudd are an occupational hazard in this pond, you have to wade through them before the better fish move in over the feed. I often catch a few decent rudd, but this time they were all small.

I scraped up more groundbait into balls, hoping to feed off the rudd, but they just kept pulling the float down.

Then a good sign, pin hole bubbles bursting over the feed, while the float went in and did not disappear immediately. It sat, then lifted, before sinking to the surface and cruising off. Lifting into the strike, the heavy elastic came out as the hook was set, the fish unaware for a second that it had been hooked. It steamed off to the right toward a bed of lilies, unchecked by the 12-18 elastic, causing me to react by pulling back against it, a risky move that could have pulled the size 16 barbless hook free, but the carp turned broadside on and headed out into the pond, where I knew it could be beaten.

If it had turned into my bank I’m sure it would have been lost among the many snags. Like the shopping trolley opposite, someone has thrown the recent council tree trimmings into the water, my swim needing to be cleared with the landing net before I could put my net in, even then I had to leave a large ten foot bough in the water, it being too heavy to lift. I got the impression that one of the locals is anti fishing.

It was now apparent that the rudd had cleared off, as again the float just sat unmolested, until a series of dips and bobs of the tip indicated a crucian carp bite, as it sucked the punched bread between its lips. A slow submerge and I was playing a nice crucian that stirred up the mud with its rolling fight.

As can be seen, this otherwise perfect crucian had a badly ripped mouth, victim of a large barbed hook. Back out again, I cast to the middle of a burst of bubbles. No dithering this time and the float sank away as another crucian made off with the bread.

So much for that golden sunset, a black cloud was now moving in from the west, blocking out the last remaining rays and I was having trouble seeing the slot in my punch. It was only 5:15 and sunset was not due for another hour, but the sullen gloom crept closer.

The next fish ran like a carp, but was one of the colourful crucians that inhabit the pond.

Bubbles were steadily rising now and a bite was certain each cast, this time it was another common carp that that fought all the way to the net.

That dark cloud was now overhead and a heavy drizzle began to hiss on the surface and I pulled my waterproof jacket over my head, not having time to put it on, as the float was gone again.

These small crucians had taken over, the poor light creating strange colours from my camera.

Darker still, the camera was struggling without the flash. I could still see the float though and netted another.

The flash was on for this last crucian. It was still raining and I had to pack up as it was getting darker by the minute. It was just after 6 pm, that golden sunset would have given me another half hour of fishing.

      

A short but sweet session from a small local pond that never fails to fill my net. This a free fishery under the control of the council, which is unfortunately open to abuse by the mindless few.

 

 

Homespun cider making made easy

October 4, 2020 at 7:00 pm

It is cider making time again, the temperature has dropped and apples are abundant, either to be scrounged, scrumped, or gathered from the wild. Over the past few weeks we have gradually accumulated over 60 lb of several varieties of donated garden windfalls, both cookers and eaters along with feral apples gathered from local hedge rows. It was time to literally dust off the cobwebs from the “equipment” stored each year in the shed and begin on a cool, dry late September morning.

A typical mix of apples in the washing bin, ready to be processed.

Here is the production line that I have used over the years to extract the juice from the apples ready for fermenting. Don’t laugh, yes it looks crude and very basic, but don’t forget that people have been making cider for hundreds of years with very rustic equipment, mashing the apples with heavy poles and pouring the rough juice into barrels and leaving it to ferment from the natural yeasts in the air and the apples themselves. My two pieces of modern equipment are a garden shredder, for creating the mash and a car hydraulic bottle jack for compressing the juice on my home made wooden frame, which is screwed and glued together using 4 x 2 rough timber. As can be seen, the frame is held in an old Workmate.

This is a two person line. My wife cuts the apples into pieces that will fit into the shredder, removing any rotten fruit as she goes, while I collect the mash from the bowl beneath the shredder.

Note that much of the mash is already juice. The mash is ladled into an old ice cream container, which has netting, or muslin draped over it. The netting is then folded tight over the mash, forming a parcel of mash, squeezing out some of the juice along the way into the container. The parcel is lifted out, the container emptied into the 5 gallon bin holding the squeezed juice. Without a press, just wringing out the mash parcel would produce about 75% of the juice on its own.

The parcel is then placed on the press platen, the secondary platen placed on top then a block, followed by the jack, which is pumped to squeeze the remaining juice out.

This image shows the roasting tray around which the press was made, with the pine platen, part of an old shelf, in place and the parcel ready to squeeze. The tray can be lifted out easily to drain the juice. I considered fitting a drain plug at one time, but this takes only seconds to lift and pour out the juice, so why complicate matters? Due to the tannin in the juice, it soon turns brown, but a test taste proves it to be pleasantly sweet. Sweetness means sugar and sugar ferments into alcohol. Floating a hydrometer into the juice gave a Specific Gravity (SG) of 106, enough for around 6 % alcohol, when fully fermented. Enough for a pint, or two around a summer BBQ.

This image shows the press at full squish, with the juice flowing into the tray. Another platen and parcel would speed up the whole juicing process, but this system and rig produced 3 gallons of juice from 6o lb of apples in 2 hours. We started with a cup of coffee at 11 am and finished with a toasted cheese sandwich at 1 pm for lunch. Perfect timing. I used to make 6 gallons of cider each year, with a break for lunch, but you were very ready for that cup of tea at 3 pm.

A useful byproduct of cider pressing is the left over apple cakes. Once these would have been fed to the family pig, but the worms like them just as much, boosting the working of the garden compost heap and giving a ready supply for fishing.

We now have a bin full of juice, what next? When I made my first cider, I lived in a rural setting with my own trees and hedgerows full of crab apples a hundred yards down the lane. I wanted to be as traditional as possible, deciding to only use the wild yeast from the apples, that formed as a light foam on the top of the juice. Stirring in the foam, I then poured the juice into demi jons, put on air locks and left the cider to get on with fermenting in my kitchen. I racked them off before Christmas and did a taste test. Each demi jon had a different flavour, one very harsh and dry, two very bland and one perfect with a sweet dryness. From then on I used shop bought sachets of wine, champagne, or cider yeast, sprinkled over the juice, all giving good consistent results.

This year I have gone one step further, stirring in a sachet of nutrient twenty minutes before adding the yeast, which I started off in 100ml of warm water at 30 C degrees. According to the blurb, the fermenting time will be reduced, which will result in a happier wife, who gets fed up with cleaning around the demi jons.

Certainly the initial rapid fermentation that takes place within the first few days has been accelerated, the demijons below very active after only 18 hours.

I used a jug to remove the rough juice from the 5 gallon bin, then pour through a fine mesh, or sieve in to the demijons. I then use rolled up newspaper to stop the rapid fermentation from bubbling over as the yeast eats up the sugar, producing a thick brown scum of dead yeast, which will be removed after a few days.

After three days the cider had settled down and I cleaned the necks of messy debris, then fitted air locks, seeing bubbles blowing through the air locks immediately.

The lees and settled out yeast can be seen in the bottom of the cleaned demijons. These will be left for another two to four weeks, until fermentation has slowed down and the cider has changed to a slightly hazy golden colour. At this stage the cider should be racked off into a clean demijon. Racking is the process of syphoning off the cider from the lees using a tube, which is placed into the demijon with the clean container at a lower point. I put the full demijon on the kitchen worksurface, with the clean one on a chair below, sucking through the tube to draw the cider through and down into the empty one, watching the tube as it empties the demijon, allowing the tube to draw off a small amount of yeast into the new container, making it hazy again. Top up with water and refit the air lock. The emptied demijon will contain about 20 mm of yeast, which can be washed out ready to repeat for the next one.

A TIP HERE. To avoid the syphon sucking up too much yeast at this point, a small piece of cane can be tied to the tube with, say 25 mm (depending on the depth of yeast)  protruding from the end of the tube, which will prevent the syphon from getting too close to the yeast.

If a still dry cider is required, then move the demijon to a cold place like a garage, until the cider has cleared, usually about two weeks. All fermentation should have stopped. There will be a slight film of lees at the bottom of the demijon, which should be racked into a  clean one, avoiding the lees. The cider can now be bottled, pouring into a jug, then through a funnel into bottles. I use old pint beer bottles. Tasting it at this stage, the cider will be dry and acidic, but will mature enough after 4 to 6 weeks to be drunk, when left in a cool place off the ground. The longer the better.

A medium sweet still cider can be produced at this this time, after the cooling, by adding 4 oz of sugar, dissolved in hot water as a syrup to the racked off clear cider, when cooled, sealing the top of the demijon and giving it a good shake to mix the sugar, before bottling.

Obviously, the more cider that has reached this stage, the more experiments can be carried out.

For a dry sparkling cider, after the second racking, having brought some yeast through, keep the cider in the kitchen, until the lees have settled and fermentation should have stopped, usually another week, or two. Rack again, drawing through a small amount of yeast. The cider will be slightly hazy and can be bottled, adding a level teaspoon of white sugar to each bottle. Store in a cool place. The cider will clear leaving a paint of hardened lees in the bottom of the bottle, although care should be taken when pouring to avoid them, as they are quite bitter. I am told that the lees contain some valuable vitamins, but I’ll take their word for that. The beer bottles will contain any pressure generated, while a heaped teaspoon will result in a slightly sweeter cider. I don’t advise two full teaspoons for more sweetness, as a champagne style outpouring from the bottle, including the lees, will occur.

I prefer a strong, dry, sparkling cider and add 4 oz of dissolved white sugar after the first racking and top up with water. A slight, fresh fermentation will take place, when most of the yeast will be used up after another week, or two. Rack off again, drawing off a small amount of yeast, continuing as above.

I do not advise plastic caps for the bottles, as they can lift off, allowing air in, which will ruin the cider. Compressed bottle caps are the answer. When I first started bottling, I used a hand held swaging tool. The cap was placed over the mouth of bottle, the tool placed over it and tapped down with a hammer. Each year I tragically lost a few bottles this way and the precious liquid inside and eventually bought a much more efficient, safe alternative.

The original swaging tool is at the bottom.

I store my cider on a rack on the north side of the garage to avoid possible over heating in the summer. My usual output of 50, or more pints a year, resulted in a surplus, which has built up and am currently working my way through four year old cider. Three month old cider is drinkable, but it definitely improves with age.

I hope that this has persuaded you to have a go at cider making. There are many varieties of cider sitting on the supermarket shelf, but the satisfaction of making and drinking your own cannot be beaten.

Cheers!