Bread punch selects crucian carp.

October 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



Magtech .22 seeks out rabbits around the farm

October 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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




Cider making

October 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Mink raid trout stocks.

October 2, 2014 at 9:02 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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