Bread punch roach beat the deep freeze.

February 27, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Turning down the exciting prospect of a shopping expedition with my wife in town, I took  another option open to me and went fishing, as negative temperatures overnight had given way to a balmy 4 degrees C at lunch time in the sun. With thermals and a flask of tea to keep out the cold, I figured that a few hours by my local lake waiting for a carp, or two, was to be preferred. One problem. Arriving at the lake car park, I could see a thin layer of ice covering the surface, the only open area being occupied by Canada geese. Time for a plan B. Doubling back, I headed north toward the nearby river, hoping that the usually prolific weir swim was unoccupied, doing a drive by to check before parking up and unloading my gear. It was empty. Only a masochist would volunteer to fish today.

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The river was running clear with a good pace and I took a chance tackling up my 14 ft rod with a 3 No 4 ali stick, which was a bit light for the flow, but with no wind was better for presentation. Being prepared for the lake I’d brought coarse bread crumbs run through the food processor, instead of my usual liquidised feed, while the punch was straight from a loaf.

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I squeezed a couple of egg sized balls and put them down the middle, following down with the float, letting it run through, the float diving out of sight each time it reached the white water, but missing both unmissables. There is an  eddy at the foam, running back to the weir and after adding six inches to the depth, eased the float toward it at half speed, this time the bite developing into a slow slideaway, that resulted in a six ounce roach.

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 More feed and the roach were lining up, every one a netter.

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The bites were now coming higher up the swim, the roach following the feed trail, laying the line down off the rod top to fall through, letting it run, then stopping it dead, bringing a response every time, the bites slow and easy to hit.

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This chub took on the edge of the fast water, taking off downstream flat out and I thought that it was much bigger, bending the rod with the full force of the river, before it turned. Two more small chub followed, then the roach were back.

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The float bobbed a couple of times and zoomed off to give me the surprise of the day, a small perch had taken the 6 mm bread pellet. What this carnivore was doing taking bread I don’t know, but the barbless hook was inside the mouth not in it’s lip. Maybe it was confused, when the bread fluttered up from bottom as I held it back, thinking it was a fish.

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There is a snag on the inside next to the weir, which I was able to pull out of if the float went too far, but I’d also had some fish there, so it was not unexpected, when the float went down and I struck the snag, only for the rod to kick back with a big fish surging across the weir pool, chasing down along the opposite bank under back wind pressure. It turned and began a head shaking fight back upstream, making a bee line for the corner snag, while I pointed the rod out over the river, dragging it away. A last minute dive saw what was a chub of about 3 lb hard under my bank, trying to bury it’s nose under the keep net, while I chased it with the landing net.

A comedy of errors was unfolding, the chub was churning on the surface with the rod line under the keep net and I managed to scoop it up into the landing net on the other side, but although I had released the reel line, the float had become entangled in the keep net, each time I lifted the chub, it was pulled back out of the landing net. I tried to lift the keep net out, but that was caught under the bank too. Time for desperate measures, I slid down the steep bank holding the landing net clear of the water, then dropped the net and grabbed the chub with my left hand. Success. I now reached over the water and unhooked the chub. It flipped, then slid out of my left hand and dropped into the half submerged landing net. Relief turned to dismay, when the chub casually swam over the rim and away before I could lift the net, which was jammed on the bank. Failure.

This frantic episode had exhausted me. I had been inches away from falling into the freezing water, which would not have gone down well at home, that’s if I had been able to climb back out onto this isolated bank. The keep net still needed to be disentangled from the roots, the only positive being that the float rig released complete with hook. Time for a cup of tea, while I pondered my masochistic tendencies.

Twenty minutes of fishing had been lost by the time I was ready to try again and another ten minutes before the float dipped for another quality roach to be pounding away beneath the rod top. They were back over the feed.

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Each time the line was laid on the water, the float allowed to run, then stopped, the float sank out of sight with a good roach, the best of the day eventually coming to the net, after running into the fast water.

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bread 057It was now beginning to get dark and although there were more fish there, it was time to pack up. I’d recovered from my disaster and finished with a respectable net of gleaming roach and chub from this tiny river.

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Ice cool rabbit cull

February 20, 2016 at 8:55 pm

The coldest night of the year so far, with temperatures down to minus 7 degrees C, did not deter me from keeping my promise to the equestrian centre owner this week, who facing an obvious increase in the rabbit population, called me back to the 80 acre site to continue the cull. On my arrival, the bright sun was deceptive, the north facing hedgerows shading rides that crunched under foot with frost and puddles slippery with ice catching me unawares as I walked.

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The field covered with feeding rabbits last week was bare, doing nothing to beat the chill, my plan to stake out the area from a comfortable corner in need of revision. The owner had passed on areas that had rabbits, when he had done that morning’s rounds, which included a couple of my hot spots, so was not too disheartened, although it would mean a lot of walking. At least I would keep warm.

Approaching the first hot spot along an exposed lane, rabbits were sitting out in the sun, but ran back into the shade of the hedge, long before I was within range. Continuing on, I passed behind the hedge, this ride in full sunshine, where, as I rounded a corner, a dark brown rabbit was feeding on grass at the base of an oak tree.

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With a busy road and houses beyond, the rabbit was ideally placed for a safe shot, the oak tree acting as a back stop. Shooting the Magtech .22 off my bag, the rabbit jumped a foot in the air, then lay still.

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Having bagged this one, I back tracked to the first hot spot, approaching this time from behind the hedge, viewing a rabbit feeding in the shade 30 yards away. Sliding up the bank there was a clear shot, but horses were grazing beyond the line of fire and I waited for them to move, while the unfortunate rabbit continued feeding oblivious of it’s fate.

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With number two in the bag, I set off across the field to the far boundary, where I found as reported, several rabbits grazing twenty yards from the safety of their burrows and ducked down to keep them out of sight below the curve of the ground, only lifting my head to check their position at the last minute. A stout fence post gave me some cover and a support for the rifle, while taking aim on the nearest fifty yards away. The sound of the bullet hitting bone echoed back, as the first one fell forward, another sitting up toppling over seconds later. The remainder sped back to the edge of the copse and I watched their white tails flicker into the undergrowth, but as I got close, the pale shape of a loner stood out in the shade. The ride corner post was conveniently positioned as a rest and I took my time, aiming high on the shoulder, knowing the 70 yard shot would drop into the chest cavity for instant dispatch.

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With these skinned and cleaned, my bag was now heavy and full, but only an hour into the session, I headed back west along the boundary and into the warming sunshine, the ride dropping down and round giving good cover as I stalked the tree lined edge. Three more were came into view and I crawled forward, pushing the bag ahead to act as a rest, watching with satisfaction as target number six crumpled 60 yards away. A snap shot at another missed, reminding myself not to get too greedy.

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The remaining walk was uneventful, apart from the mocking of a flock of green parrots, squawking from tree to tree. In the sunshine it was quite pleasant, but climbing the slope into the back of the wood, the temperature dropped noticeably and I picked up my pace, keen to return to the van, but stopped at the sight of a rabbit silhouetted against the pale sky. Leaning against a tree, I steadied for the 30 yard shot and watched the shape drop from view. Uncertain whether the rabbit had been hit, or had run, I walked over to find another fat doe a yard from where it had been shot.

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With two cleaned rabbits in a carrier bag, I slung the rifle on my shoulder and continued down the path, rounding the next bend to see more rabbits emptying out of the field, to cross the ditch into the wood, more fluffy tails merging into the shadows, before breaking out into the evening sunlight, as they crossed the path in front of me. I unslung the rifle, putting down the bag, watching and waiting. They seemed to be going in all directions, back and forth across the path, some very young kits among them. One stopped long enough for me to chance a 30 yarder as it paused by a tree and I claimed number eight. The Magtech 7002 was one of the cheapest .22 semi automatics on the market when I bought it, but it has settled into a very sweet rifle to carry and use, having paid for itself many times over.

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Having walked over a mile, carrying an increasing weight in rabbits, plus removing the skins, I was physically pooped, dealing with this doe in quick time to get on my way, even ignoring a naive juvenile, which sat in front of me, until I was only yards away. The owner was busy burning a pile of branches, as I passed by carrying the fruits of my afternoon’s labour, even breaking into a rare smile, to say well done! Fifteen in two visits will only make a small dent in the current population, but with two thirds of those milky does, it will go a long way towards getting the numbers back under control.

Rabbit loin, smokey bacon and vegetable pie

February 16, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Following the success of my cottage pie using rabbit and bacon loins, this is an easy to prepare pastry pie variation, which allows any number to be made up to suit the family, or individual, which can be frozen for a later date if required.

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500g of Rabbit Loins, removed from either side of the spine. Cut across the loin in bite sized chunks.

250g of Smoked Bacon Loins, sliced into lardons, then rough cut into 20 mm pieces.

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1 tbsp Rapeseed Oil

1 Large Onion, coarsely chopped

2 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped, or crushed

50g Frozen Peas

50g Frozen Sweet Corn

50g Frozen Chopped Green Beans

2 tbsp Plain Flour

1 Cup of Water

2 tbsp Cre’me Fraiche, or Double Cream

1 500g pack Short Crust Pastry

1 Egg


Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions and garlic until softened. Remove from the pan and introduce the mixed meat, increasing the heat to release the bacon fat, turning, but not browning the mix, while cooking through. Now add the cooked and frozen vegetables, then sprinkle over a tbsp of flour, adding water, stirring as you go. Bring to a boil, until the sauce begins to thicken, then mix in the cre’me fraiche, covering the contents and allow to cool.

Taking the easy way out, I use a pack of ready made short crust pastry. The quantities above will fill two 200 mm pie dishes, each enough for four adults. Start by cutting the pack in half, then dust the work top with a little flour, before rolling out the pastry to about 4 mm thick and laying it over the dish. Trim to the edges. Repeat for pie 2. Equally fill each dish with the cooled mixture, then roll out the remaining pastry to form the lids. Beat the egg in a dish and brush round the rim of the pie, before covering with the lid. Using a fork, pinch the edges of the pie together, then pierce the top to allow steam to escape. Finally brush the top of the lid with the beaten egg.

To cook, place in the oven at 200C for 30 minutes, or until brown.

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Magtech 7022 spring surprise

February 13, 2016 at 1:31 pm

Weeks of storms had kept my rifles undisturbed in the gun safe, while my most recent outing in January had been abandoned, following an hour slipping and sliding across flooded fields. This week a frosty start heralded a bright day with light fluffy clouds drifting idly across the sky, a bit early, but spring was in the air as I headed off toward the equestrian centre with it’s well drained rides, taking my Magtech .22 semi auto rimfire.

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Unloading my gear at the stables, the owner came over for a chat, saying that rabbits were appearing back in  their old haunts. A month ago on a tour of the 80 acres, he had been lucky to see half a dozen rabbits, but in recent weeks their numbers had gone up four fold, which was his way of saying “get your finger out and shoot a few”. He was off to set up some jumps at the training ground, with me following 25 yards behind, when he spooked a rabbit that ran across the lane in front. He turned and pointed. “Get on with it”

Just past the training ground I couldn’t believe my eyes, several rabbits were spread across the field ahead of me and I selected the nearest about 50 yards away. Resting on a fence to steady the shot, I heard the thwack as the bullet struck between the shoulders, then panned round for another target before they all made for the exits, but the low sun filled my scope. Breaking cover, I retrieved the first of the day in full view of the owner, who gave me the thumbs up. “Now get some more!”

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It is several years since I’d seen that many rabbits on this field, the mild winter the culprit and it would not take long for them to start burrowing out onto the rides, creating a hazard to the horse riders. I was called in to this permission originally, after a young female rider fell and broke her back, when her horse put it’s foot down a rabbit hole.

I decided to circle round to come back through the wood, to where the white tails had run, keeping close to the cover of the ride as I walked, spotting a big buck sitting out in the sunshine about 70 yards away. Out of sight, I edged ten yards closer, then got down prone, resting the Magtech on my bag. Often just the act of moving into cover can warn a rabbit, but this one was still there, staring ahead into the sun. Zeroed to 50 yards, this was a sure shot aimed high on the shoulder, the quarry toppling over with the impact.

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Returning to the wood, the rustle of dead leaves 10 yards away grabbed my attention, as two more adult rabbits dodged between the trees and dived beneath a gorse bush. I’d cleared that warren years ago, this pair could be the start of something big, if I don’t do something about it soon. I already had two rabbits in my bag, but these were keeping their heads down, so moved on to a point where the path turns left through the wood, or enters another ride bordering the corner of yet another field. Looking left I had a good view down the wooded path, but glancing ahead, I could see a rabbit on the ride 80 yards away. Keeping in line with an oak tree, I settled down on the bank next to it, looking out to spot another rabbit running down the ride toward the first, the pair doing a soft shoe shuffle, before the first hopped into the undergrowth. The second now stood bolt upright looking down the drive, another 60 – 70 yard shot. Aiming high on it’s back, the bullet found it’s mark and the big buck jumped, then lay still.

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Looking down the path, another big rabbit was feeding in the middle of the path about 50 yards away and I swivelled round to get a bead on this one. Pop, it was dead. Leaving it there, I got up and walked out onto the ride to retrieve number four, observing another small group at one of my banker warrens a hundred yards away. They will have to wait for another day. Returning to the wood, yet another rabbit was out along the ride in the opposite direction, but beyond safe range, so began working my way forward in cover, getting down for a rested shot at 60 yards, just as it moved behind a fence post. Still waiting, another bunny hopped out only 30 yards away, stopped and dropped, while the other one retreated sharpish. Picking this one up, I crossed the ditch into the wood, my eye catching a movement in the trees, seeing twitching ears in the shadows through the scope, the 25 yard shot to hand claiming number six. Again big full grown rabbits, I carried these back to make up another two brace.

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They were skinned and cleaned next to a badger set, a free feast for the black and white carnivores, after which I was ready to go, my bag full and heavy. A hundred yards on, a rabbit ran out and up the path, ducking back into the undergrowth, only to reappear seconds later and stop. Too good a shot to miss at twenty 20 yards to hand, number seven was in the bag.

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By the time I’d reached the stables I was sweating, it had been a busy two hours. Meeting the crusty natured owner again, he was impressed with the haul, but commanded “Come back soon!” Next week is already pencilled in, but wonder what I will find at my other permissions.



Winter roach play hard to get

February 5, 2016 at 11:41 pm

The remnants of the latest Atlantic weather system to sweep the UK was blowing it’self out over the Western Isles, producing wind speeds of 90 mph, while storm Henry blew sleet and snow from the North West toward the South of England. Lured out by bright sunshine, I’d decided to continue the exploration of my local river, even though an overnight frost and single figure air temperatures diminished my prospects of a decent net of fish.

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Driving over a small bridge, I could see a channel running beneath an overhanging tree, which looked like it might hold a few chub, a fish that will feed in the coldest of conditions, the swim conveniently placed close to a parking space in the narrow lane. Setting up on the exposed bank, I soon had doubts about my choice of swim, the wind blowing across the football field opposite, directly into my face. As I tackled up, the river changed to a sandy colour, evidence of the ground works of a new housing estate a mile upstream, the river being used a drain for the run off and hoped that the fishing would not even harder than expected.

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Following a couple of balls of liquidised bread along the far bank with my 3 No 4 stick float, another bad choice came to light. The strong headwind was putting a bow in the, blowing the lightweight float back to my side of the river, away from the overhanging branches. To mend the line properly, I needed my 14 foot Browning match rod, but had set up the 12 foot Hardy. Unable to control the trot, I compensated with a risky cast under the tree and had a bite immediately, not the expected smash and grab of a chub, but the gentle tap, tap of a gudgeon. The strike said other though, when a small chub ran hard back under the far bank, before burying itself among the dead reeds at my feet, another testament to the wrong rod being too short and soft to bully the fish away from the obstacle.

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Struggling on against the conditions, two more small chub followed from half a dozen indecisive bites, possibly due to my poor presentation of the 5 mm bread punch pellet, each time managing to pull the fish away from the tangle at my feet. Unhooking the last, the wind had picked up again, as the sky went black with an icy shower of frozen rain and I retreated back to the van, where the downpour rattled on the roof, then stopped as suddenly as it had started. In my desperation to stay dry, I’d abandoned half a pint of liquidised bread in the bait box, which now resembled thin porridge.  With everything soaked, I was prepared to pack up, but decided on a last effort, scattering the sloppy contents of the bait box out across the river, briefly turning it white. Going up to a 7 mm punch on the size 16 barbless, the float had barely cocked before it sank out of sight and a better chub was putting a bend in the rod, running off downstream, then hugging the far bank, it’s mouth clear of the water as  I drew it over to my side, this one a few ounces heavier than the others.

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My next cast fell short, blown back by the wind, but I let it run anyway. Six feet further on, the float zoomed away, taking line with it, not stopping until it was bending the rod. I was playing a good fish that ran off down beyond the tree, as I backwound to ease the pressure on the hook hold, keeping the rod flat to avoid the overhanging branches. Twenty yards downstream, the white lips of a chub broke surface briefly, then it was gone again, searching out the riverside snags. It got stuck, came free, then was gone again, fighting deep down the middle of the river, surfacing among the sunken reeds, a pound plus fish, which as I tried to pull it toward the landing net, dived again and transferred the hook to the reeds. Once again a longer rod would have given me better control, but as I’d intended fishing further down under trees, had only brought the Hardy.

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The sun was now long gone behind grey scudding clouds, while the gusting wind was now interspersed with stinging rain, but with the memory of that lost chub burning into my soul, I could not pack up yet. Refilling the bait box with fresh dry crumb, I dropped a couple of balls on the middle line and trotted through to no response. Again nothing under the tree. Back to the middle, I added 6 inches to the depth and inched it down the swim, checking and releasing the float. A tell tale ring radiated from the tip, then it half held down. Strike! A big gudgeon battled its way upstream to be swung in. Another ball went in, closely followed by the float, which 5 yards away dipped beneath a ripple, then held up, before dipping again. I struck and missed. Maybe the punch was too big? Back down to the 5 mm. This time the float dithered and submerged, the rod bending into a 6 oz roach, as it skated across the flow.bread 025

A fat roach in perfect condition, but affected with Neodiplostmum cuticola black spot parasite, as are many of the chub in the river. Bites were very slow affairs, not helped by the wind lifting the line, despite sinking my rod top, each trot showing signs of fish without results. Dropping in a small ball of bread ahead of the float brought a more positive reaction and more roach.

bread 028They seemed to be getting bigger too, every other trot producing hard fighting roach of around 8 oz, although the elements were beginning to tell on me, I even put on my bait apron to give an extra layer against the cold and spurts of rain. More feed produced better bites among the ripples, the float failing to reappear invoking a strike and often another rod bending roach.

bread 030The next roach was bigger still, about 10 oz, fighting all the way to the net, but causing a disaster, when the butt of the rod swept my camera off the right hand tray of the tackle box, as I brought the fish to the landing net. I heard a plop and turned to see the camera sink into the keep net. Fishing it out, the camera was covered in scales and silt, game over for any more pics of what could be a bumper haul of quality roach.

I had only prepared half a loaf of liquidised bread, losing much of it in the downpour, the little and often approach to feed was getting through the bait, hooking and landing a 12 oz roach with the last ball. Another punishing rain shower brought me to my senses. What I considered to be tenacity, could have been interpreted to be insanity by any normal non angler, the many drivers passing down the lane, viewing the hooded figure hunched over his fishing rod, must have wondered what was my motivation. A sunny day got me there and the challenge of a new swim kept me fishing, but it was the robin feeding from my bait tray, long tailed tits, flitting from branch to branch across the river and a swift sparrow hawk scouting the brambles, that helped make my day, not forgetting my favourite fish the roach.

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I used my phone for the last shot of the day, this blurred image not doing these fish justice, my hands too cold to bother stripping and cleaning it on the bank. The drowned camera has been stripped and cleaned and awaits reassembly.