Bread punch roach line up for the stick

November 21, 2015 at 8:47 pm

While friends were enjoying the sunshine in Lanzarote, I was patiently waiting for a gap in the continuous stormy weather, strong winds, rain and more rain, keeping my face pressed to the window like a bored child. The westerly winds abated, soon to be replaced by a gusting northeasterly and the threat of snow. With no idea of the conditions awaiting me, I set off to the small Thames tributary less than two miles away, prepared to return home, if it looked unfishable. Getting out of the van, the river was coloured and pushing, but a tidemark on the trees along the bank indicated a level 9 inches higher the day before. The fishing trolley was trundled along the riverside lane to the hot swim, where the river takes a sharp left turn round the end of the local football pitch and is joined by the outfall from the town water treatment works. Urban fishing at it’s best!

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This swim has been monopolised by a pair of  other locals so far this year, being in residence each time I’d driven by intending to fish, but today it was empty, although fresh boot prints on the bank and recent tree surgery were evidence of their prolonged occupation.

With liquidised bread as feed and some steamed, rolled slices for the punch, I was looking forward to catching a few roach, as I set up my 14 ft float rod with a 3 No 4 Middy ali stemmed stick float, the 5 lb main line attached to a size 16 hook to 3 lb line, strong enough to handle most of the larger fish likely to put in an appearance. Following an egg sized ball of crumb down the swim, the float shot under first cast and I lifted into a good fish that ran down into the foaming weir stream. The float had been set shallow to start, expecting opportunistic chub to be first on the scene, but no, a good roach rolled in the fast water, before being brought under control, then to the landing net.

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Next cast the float slid sideways, the strike being met by a charging run, this time following the  script as a small chub made off with the 6 mm pellet of bread, taking full advantage of the current, but soon on the surface and swung to hand.

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A second ball of crumb brought another roach and more small chub, before I added another foot to the depth, this time the bait just tripping bottom. The roach were down there, my next cast bringing another quality fish to the net, this one having the parasite responsible for flecking the scales and fins with black spots.

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I’d begun fishing at 11 am and was settling in for a good session with half a dozen respectable roach in the keepnet, when a rustle through the bushes behind me, announced the arrival of one of the resident anglers, expecting to fish. We had chatted before, when he had been occupying the swim and now showed me pictures on his phone of a 4 lb common carp, that he had caught the day before from this flooded river. It sounded like he never fished anywhere else nowadays, feeling comfortable in this spot and although he had checked out a few other stretches of this river upstream, that I had suggested, he had not wetted a line yet. Hopefully he left to try one of the new swims.

With my visitor gone, I got back to the job in hand, catching roach, although in fact the next fish was a healthy rudd, which took on the edge of the foam, the bright float visible for one second and gone the next, the fish hooking itself.

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Now putting in a grape sized  squeezed ball every other cast, the roach were lined up for the bread, an imaginary triangle with it’s base lined by the foam, holding the shoal of mature fish, the float sinking from sight every time it entered the area. The fish just seemed to get bigger each cast, an initial bob of the float being followed by an unmissable  sail away. My best roach of the season so far pulled the rod top round as it took line, me lifting and backwinding in the same motion. Again I thought a chub, or maybe a small carp had taken, but a deep flash of silver and the unmistakable raised orange dorsal fin of  the big roach well downstream, got my attention and I played the fish back at it’s pace, the extra few ounces making all the difference all the way to the net.

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A 12 oz roach any day of the week, this fish never stopped jumping, even in the landing net, being lucky to get this photo. Measured against my rod it went 11 inches.

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Even after I had run out of bread feed, the roach kept coming, but now the bitter north wind was beginning to tell on my frozen fingers, the sky had cleared, but the sun was low behind me in the trees and I decided to pack up before my set time of 3 pm, the last of the day being another clonker.

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Once again I’m convinced that the bread punch had found and kept feeding fish, that would not have fallen to other methods from this hard fished spot, most being in pristine condition, the bonus being 10 lb of prime roach for a bait cost of 30 pence.

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Back to basics on autumn pond

November 12, 2015 at 1:30 am

Heavy showers of rain had forced me to abandon any thoughts of fishing last week, even with breaks in the clouds occasionally, there was not enough time to devote to a decent session. My one visit to a small river new to me, only resulted in a brief reconnoiter, it’s usually clear flow, transformed into a turgid rush of brown water and I returned home without taking the tackle out of the van. With regular storm fronts sweeping through, the weather forecasts have been erratic, but today’s seemed reasonable with just light showers forecast, and I rattled around at home getting my gear together, to visit a small lake fished this time last year.

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Leaves were falling like confetti, the wind driving them round the pond in rafts, in contrast to last year, when the surface had been clear of obstructions. Like then, I only had two very basic baits with me, bread punch and a few worms taken from the compost heap that morning. It was already past midday, as I plumbed up my rig, a long wire stemmed pole float, which should cut through the heavy surface drag to keep the bait stable near the bottom. The depth was a level 3 ft and I set about mixing up some liquidised bread with a propriety goundbait to add a bit of extra attraction, putting in half a dozen eggsized balls 6-7 metres out, hooking a 7 mm bread pellet to the size 14 barbless.

As expected, the first few fish were tiny roach, knocking at the bait, often stripping it without getting hooked, the first positive bite being a scrapping rudd.

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A couple of balls later, the float lifted and sank away slowly and I lifted into an energetic skimmer bream, the landing net coming out for the first time.

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Bubbles were now beginning to burst among the leaves, the trick being to drop the bait on top without snagging them. The float sank away again, this time the elastic coming out and staying there, a better bream hugging the bottom.

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Another ball of feed went in and I dropped the float right over to follow it down. The float slid away without cocking and I lifted expecting a small roach, but the elastic chased the float across the surface, a much bigger fish had taken on the drop. For several minutes I had no clue what it was, as it powered back and forth through the swim, until pulling hard against the elastic, it surfaced. A bream of maybe 2 lb was flapping on the top, the hook in the gill cover allowing it swim forward, while I had no leverage to turn it’s head back toward me. Eventually the bream tired enough for me to start bringing it back to the landing net, only for it to spurt away again, swimming in a circle. The bream rolled on the surface in front of the net and came off. That was a good fish. The punch had proved it’self again though.

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Putting in another two balls, it was obvious that the swim had been disrupted, the bites had stopped, along with the bubbles. Time for a change. Putting on a brandling fresh from the compost heap, I was confident that this lively, smelly worm would entice something to take. It did in minutes, the float sinking out of sight, but I struck too soon and missed the fish, forgetting that it takes time to suck in a two inch worm. Dropping it back to the same spot, the float followed the hook down, the line speeding in pursuit. A carp had taken it, running hard away from the bank. I had two more pole joints made up, pushing them on quickly to slow down the charge, trying to keep the fish out of the baited area.

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The fight was over in a few minutes and the 2 lb common carp lay in the net. Another worm was soon selected and on the hook, the float dipping and sliding a way again, a smaller fish this time, the roach giving a good impression of a crucian carp.

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Another cast and the worm found a small common, that took as long to net as it’s bigger brother, the fish being very slim, but dashing all over the swim.

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The next two fish were  small skimmer bream and despite bites on the worm, switched back to the bread punch. Pin prick bubbles were bursting on the surface and my first cast back on the punch saw a bobbing take, that developed into a glide under and an 8 oz crucian carp bouncing on the end.

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By 3 pm the bites were tailing off again, more skimmers, rudd and crucians had fallen for the bread. I was considering a switch back to the worm, when the sky blackened, as rain, drizzle at first, then stair rods made up my mind to pack up. Of course, once the pole had been put back in the bag, it stopped raining, but it was time to go anyway, the light fades rapidly at this time of year and I still needed to be able to see the tumblers of the two combination locks to get out of the fishery.

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The big bream lost, would have made a difference to this bag, but 7 lb in three hours was a respectable pleasure fishing weight, which resulted in most members of the carp family.



Sloe gin making. A taste of Christmas.

November 3, 2015 at 8:14 pm

For many, their first taste of alcohol, was a sip of sweet sloe gin at Christmas, offered in my case by a kindly aunt to a curious nephew, much to the amusement of the other grown ups, who laughed at my initial shuddering response to the magic potion. The smooth, warming afterglow had me badgering for more, but the liqueur was considered too precious to waste on a mere child, although in reality, they were probably more concerned with the alcoholic effects on an eight year old.

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Sloes are the hard won fruit of the blackthorn, the spiky staple planting of English hedgerows, an effective barrier to grazing animals and humans alike. Collecting is always a painful activity, thorn proof trousers and jacket a must, the fruits in clusters surrounded by the sharpest of thorns, that nature can muster. Why they are so well protected is hard to understand, as anyone who had bitten into even the most ripe looking fruits will agree, you will only do it once. The immediate bitter flavour is followed by an intense astringency brought on by the tannin in the fruit, drying out the mouth.

Unrefined gin was once the only spirit available to the lower classes of England, brought over from Holland by soldiers returning from the Thirty Years War, it had provided “Dutch Courage” during the winter campaigns. Juniper berries were used to improve the flavour and no doubt sloe berries, readily available to the common man, were added by a few enterprising souls, the alcohol drawing out the natural sugars of the fruit.

Today London gin is a prized product, offering subtle flavours from several well known distillers and there is a wide choice to use as a base. I tend to keep an eye out for supermarket offers through the year, I do not drink gin, whiskey being my tipple, buying solely for sloe gin production.

Traditionally sloes were not picked, until after the first frosts of autumn, the cold bringing out the sugars. Once gathered, the skins had to be pricked with a thorn from the bush, or a silver pin. An old wive’s tale probably, but having picked your fruit and ended up with sore fingers from the inevitable snagging of the thorns, you added to the misery by pricking them all over again with a thorn, or pin. I have done it the hard way and it is impossible not to stab yourself, when faced with hundreds of sloes. These rules added to the mystique of sloe gin, making it a valued drink by it’s followers, masking the simplicity of it’s preparation.

We now have freezers, an overnight stint being enough to split the sloe skins on thawing. Once thawed, the berries should half fill an air tight jar, or bottle, castor sugar added, topped up by the gin, then left for at least three months. That is it, nothing fancy. The ratio of sugar is up to the taste of the producer, many adding a couple of tablespoons to start the process, topping up to taste, after straining off the fruit. What was passed down to me was half, and half. Half a Kilner jar of fruit, add half the fruit in sugar, then pour over the gin, the gin filling the gaps and dissolving the sugar. The jar should be kept in a cupboard and turned daily to distribute the sugar among the fruit, this should continue for a month, then at weekly intervals. The gin will gradually turn pink, then deep red. If begun in late October, or early November, the almond like flavour will have leeched out of the stones to give a pleasing, warming Christmas drink.

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Over the years I have built up a backlog of sloe gin and aim to strain off the liquid a year after I have made it, conveniently starting a new batch in last year’s jars. Strain through a muslin cloth, or coffee filters if preferred, into a dark glassed, screw top wine bottle and identify with the date to avoid mix ups later. The longer you can leave it, the richer the flavour.



CZ 452 HMR explores new permission

November 2, 2015 at 10:33 am

Autumn colours greeted me on my return to the new permission this week, making a fleeting visit at dusk to check out the far end, where it climbs into scrub land.

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A few rabbits became visible in the far right hand corner of the field, as I walked down on the left, the curve of the land and the long grass keeping them hidden apart from the tops of their heads, until they were aware of my presence, then bounding to safety among the brambles. Once among the trees, I was able to find some cover, viewing through the branches a rabbit sitting out on top of a mound a hundred yards away. All I needed was to get into a position for a clear shot without being spotted. With nettles and bushes masking the rabbit for a prone bipod shot, I crept forward looking for a branch to rest on with no leaves in the way. The rabbit was still lying out on it’s mound, when I found the ideal rifle rest, a branch growing out close to the trunk of a bush, with a vertical offshoot. Ideal yes, but only two feet off the ground. I had to kneel and crouch down to look through the scope, by which time the rabbit had got wind of me and gone. Painful in more ways than one. I kneeled and waited, a movement in the nettles next to the mound giving away the rabbit, all I needed to place the cross hairs on it’s head and fire. Success, it fell back into the greenery with a thwack.

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I was now King of the Castle and took up position behind the top of the mound, from where there was a clear view of a quarter of the field, although once again it was awkward to sight through the scope, my knees taking a battering from the rough ground.

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It wasn’t long before my next target appeared, as is the way with rabbits, they sit in cover, then when confident all is well, they hop out and begin feeding immediately. At 60 yards, with minimal breeze, this was an easy shot for the HMR, although the rabbit had it’s back to me and I needed it to raise, or turn it’s head, hitting it anywhere else with this powerful rifle would ruin the meat. This position was uncomfortable and I could not wait for movement. Time for a fatal squeak, sucking in air between pursed lips, the high pitched sound would be inaudible to a human at twenty yards, but the rabbit turned it’s head on cue and died instantly.

Ten minutes later, two more broke cover to feed, but before I could sight on them, the black shape of the landlord’s dog streaked across toward them from the house. The game was up, the dog had been let out to play by the owner and I got up from my hidden location, to show I was there. Having been bitten by farm dogs in the past, the owner needs to see you, before the dog does. The landowner had come home and seen my van, but was unable to spot me, assuming that I was further up the hill, so let the dog out for a run to chase rabbits.

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These two rabbits were promised to a friend, so had done what I’d come for, although a little longer and I would have doubled my money. Any rabbits likely to feed would now stay put for another half hour, by which time the light would be gone. Apologies were gracefully accepted, as I’m sure that I would not be happy to have a virtual stranger wandering my land with a lethal weapon.