Mayfly slow to hatch on the River Whitewater

May 27, 2021 at 2:29 pm

Cold winds and torrential rain have kept the brakes on the annual Mayfly Hatch on the River Whitewater this year, but with the promise of warmer weather to come, prospects could change for the better by the weekend. Getting down to the river on the first decent afternoon for weeks, I stood on the road bridge looking upstream hoping to see a few Mayflies hatching, or fish rising, but was disappointed. The river was still slightly coloured and it looked like more rain was on the way.

This was only my second visit since a cold windy open day in April and had tied on a small yellow Mayfly pattern in my optimism. At this time last year, the Hatch was in full flow and I set off upstream in search of rises. A few hundred yards on, the unmistakeable splashy rise of a decent trout, then another further up got my heart racing and I managed to get down into the shallows to wade the last few yards. On the waiting list for a new knee, this was an effort, having to make do with wellies instead of waders.

There was a strong downstream wind adding to the line drag and I needed an accurate cast to reach the first fish under the left hand bank. My back cast caught in the alders above my head and I lost the fly. By the time that I had tied on a replacement fly, the short hatch of a dozen flies was over and my imitation was ignored.

Continuing upstream small yellow mayfly were fluttering across the river and another trout was feeding close to a sunken branch. From the high bank I could see a wild brown of about 12 oz and measured my casts, the first few ignored, while the trout continued to feed as a steady supply drifted down. On my next cast, the trout moved toward the fly, then turned to the right to slurp in one closer, before darting to the left to scoop up mine. It was on! Initially diving beneath the branch, I pulled it out, only for it to start tumbling on the surface, coming close to my bank and the shallows. I had no control and reached forward with my already extended landing net, while the the trout continued to thrash on the surface. It came off and darted back to safety. Not a big fish, but it would have broken my duck.

This part of the river was always a good nursery for juvenile trout, while holding a few rod benders, that only come out from their deep pools, when the Mayfly are on the water. There were still a few crayfish nets secreted along the banks and it is hoped that the reduced number of crays will result in more surviving wild fish.

I continued upstream to the weir, but with no sign of rising fish, I tried my luck with my Blackdevil nymph, casting to likely holding areas and runs.

Casting up between the post of a berm, the line arced round into the eddy as it passed, but I lifted into thin air, the weighted nymph flying back. Too late, or too early? A missed fish all the same.

I saw one more crashing rise on the way back, plenty of fly life of all sizes, but few mayfly. Crossing the road, I entered the next beat, seeing another member Steve wading up to his waist, casting up under the bridge, where fish were rising. He reported netting a 2 lb fish above the bridge at the weekend, which was encouraging news. I continued down to the next pool, seeing several rises among a hatch of small white Mayfly. Removing the nymph, I tied on a bodied Mayfly and cast among the rising fish, only for the fly to be attacked by a small fish, which I missed. A few more tries and a small chub of six inches took a flying lesson before falling off. Move on.

More Mayfly were now in the air and I watched a big trout sucking them in from an eddy among the safety of roots and a fallen tree. If I could get the fly in there, it was unlikely that I would be able to get it out. The sound of another fish rising further down saw me enter the river again, almost falling in, when I used a dead tree for support, it crumbling in my hands as I gripped it. Fortunately I avoided a soaking, my heavy aluminium extendable landing net coming to my aid as I stumbled.

I have had many fine trout from this pool in the past and as I waded through the shallows, a good fish rose among the roots on the left at the top end. Keeping close to the edge, I cast to the area. The fly sat for only seconds before it was engulfed and I was playing a hard fighting trout, that was charging toward the roots. I have been lulled by catching chub lately, this was no chub, the power of a trout is up several levels. It turned and rushed back, rolling in the shallows, before another long run. With a dark back and silvery sides, I was reminded of a seatrout as it rolled again. Tightening down the line, it fought in diminishing circles, until it turned on its side and drifted back to my net.

A sleek wild brown trout of about a pound and a half, that rewarded persistence, a beautiful fish that my camera could not do justice to. The barbless size 12 fell out once the pressure was off and I held the trout facing upstream, until it swam back out of the landing net. Another member Richard had stopped, while I waited for the trout to recover and he extended a welcome hand to pull me up the bank to save my aching knee. My cancelled operation would have been a few days before, so good came of it in the end, as I would not have been able to catch this fine fish, if it had gone ahead.

CZ452 Varmint .17 HMR back at the rabbit warren

May 13, 2021 at 6:51 pm

Making my third visit to a local farm in a week, my tally was at seven rabbits and the population of a massive warren were already showing signs of getting skittish, diving for cover as I approached, some running down to a ditch lined with willow at the end of the field. I decided to bide my time waiting from a vantage point in the cover of the warren to see if anything would venture out.

The evening sun was low over the field and the wind was from right to left, not ideal for the HMR with its lightweight 17 grain bullet, but there were no targets yet. A slight movement got my attention, the scope picking out a pair of ears behind undergrowth, stopping, disappearing, then reappearing further along. I could have chanced a shot to where the rabbit’s head should be, but wanted a clear shot. It hopped out into long grass raising it’s head and I aimed at the snout, allowing for the wind and squeezed the trigger. Crack! The report from the rifle echoed back as the rabbit stood up clawing the air, then dropped out of sight. I was sure that I had killed it, but settled back, working the bolt to clear the chamber and pushing it forward to load another bullet from the magazine, picking up the ejected brass case and putting it in my pocket.

Another 15 minutes and there was more movement. A pair of rabbits emerged from beneath the willow ahead and began trotting back toward the warren. Aiming for the one on the left, I let it run into the crosshairs and fired, tumbling it. The second rabbit swerved away and I snatched a shot, but missed. Working the bolt, I fired again, the rabbit crouching as the bullet passed close by, then speeding to safety further down the warren.

With no action ahead among the willows, I got up and walked forward to look for the first rabbit, finding that I had shot it through the back of the head side on, the wind having blown the bullet four inches to the left. The second rabbit had no apparent wounds. I carried them back and began taking the loins and back legs, while scouting down to the far end of the warren for movement. I spotted a rabbit close to the end of the warren, but could not see it through the scope due to the nettles and grass, waiting for it to move into a clearer area, but in got lost amongst the greenery.

The CZ Varmint hangs on the tripod V, conveniently ready for a shot.

The odd head popped up gopher style, but they were not visible through the prone scope. I had my new shooting tripod with me and lowered it with the legs out to a comfortable kneeling position and scoped the area. From the extra height I could now see the original rabbit and two others moving about and feeding. I fitted a full five shot magazine and adjusted the scope parallax to 130 yards on 12 magnification. There was still a slight breeze in my face and I aimed at the narrow rear outline of one sitting up, holding the tripod grip for stability, but then another rabbit moved close to it side on and I aimed high on its chest, breathing out and squeezing the trigger. It slumped forward. At that range with the breeze, there would have been no crack from the bullet and the other two continued about their business. I was pleased with the shot and scoped round to the one on the right sitting up. I fired and missed, and it moved forward a yard by which time I had reloaded. Aiming between the ears again it dropped into the long grass around the burrow. I now swung round to the third, but it had made a quick exit down a hole.

After another ten minutes, I picked my way carefully through the maze of burrows down to the target area and found the still warm bunnies, a buck and a pregnant doe.

The light was now going and I still had a trek back to the van, bagging up these two, thankful that I had cleaned and quartered the other pair, reducing the weight to carry. With rain forecast for most of next week, I’ll rest the warren before I hit it again.

Bread punch carp and crucians worth the wait.

May 12, 2021 at 8:32 pm

Following a morning of sunshine and showers, I took a chance of better weather for a few hours on my local pond this week. It’s only a short walk from my home, ideal if time is limited, intending to be on my way back by 6 pm. Travelling light with just the basics, bait was an 8 oz premixed bag of liquidised bread and ground carp pellets, with a slice of Warburtons medium white for the hook.

The surface was alive with small rudd as I wet down my feed, throwing out half a dozen sloppy balls in an area 8 metres out toward the lily bed on my right. With 8 metres of pole and my waggler set to two feet deep and the line to hand from the top two sections, I could cover the line of feed with a 7 mm double punch of bread on a size 16 hook.

The first dozen casts saw the float sail away with small rudd that had formed a barrier close to the surface, rapidly pushing the pole back through the bushes behind to reach the top two, then swinging the rudd to hand. All good exercise on a warm afternoon.

These rudd were all fat with spawn and their fry will provide fodder for the visiting herons and kingfishers to this shallow pond.

For once the float did not zoom away, when a series of bobs of the yellow tip indicated something better. A slow sink was responded to with a sharp upward lift of the pole and the elastic streaked out toward the lilies, until the strain stopped the fish, which churned up black mud, before heading back in the opposite direction. This was my cue to retrieve the pole, passing it back as fast as possible to keep tension on, seeing the red elastic stretching out into the pond. Down to the top two again, I was in control as the unseen fish battled through the mud toward the landing net and lifting it clear.

A very nice crucian carp, my target fish. There were once many common carp of around the two pound mark in this pond, but they are few and far between these days, there being no anti poaching controls in existence on this public water.

For the next half hour I was back to catching rudd again, although they were half the size of those on my previous visit.

The elastic was out again with another powerful fish running off to the lilies. The slow faltering bite belied by the explosion of power once the barbless hook was set.

A smaller crucian followed before the elastic was tested again by another quality fish that fought shy of the landing net, diving under it twice, third time being lucky for me.

Bubbles were now bursting all over the fed area and I varied where I placed the bait, the fish obliging with an eventual sinking of the float.

This barrel shaped crucian was heavy with spawn, but it fought to the last.

An angler on the opposite bank called out “Got another one? You’re catching a fish every three minutes” I wasn’t counting, but they were definitely on the feed now, this tench reaching the lilies before I dragged it back, rolling and diving in one sliding motion all the way to the net.

I stopped for a cup of tea after the tench, its unpredictable fight keeping me busy steering its head out of the roots at my feet and I needed a rest.

There was brief respite, while I waited for the next bite to develope and I was in again as an even fatter crucian ploughed through the bottom mud, creating a washing line of debris. Once again the size 16 barbless hook hung on.

There was no fussy bite from this common carp, the float just vanished and kept going to my right. Reaching the lily bed it turned in toward my bank, rolling under the bushes. Pushing the pole out into the pond, it responded to the pressure and turned back to the centre, the elastic cutting through the surface film at speed. It was now safe, there being no snags apart from the other bed opposite and it was now slowing down, time for me to keep up the pressure, feeding the pole back behind into the bushes. When I detached the top two sections, I thought that I had been too hasty, as this was a cue for the carp to renew the fight, but the 12 – 18 strength elastic did its work and the common was in the net.

I had netted a smaller common and a few big gudgeon, when red finned crucians moved onto the feed. It was now at my cut off time of 6 pm and time to pack up with one more.

As if I didn’t need any encouragement to walk away from a swim that was still producing, the heavens opened without warning, dousing everything in sight, myself rushing round to put the stuff away, then stopping as suddenly as it began. While others sprayed pellets and sweet corn into their swims, good old bread punch did the business for me yet again.

Travelling light has its advantages in that it does not take long to pack up, the last thing to do being to take a pic of the net of fish, a wide mix of species.

As I put away my net, my fellow angler from the opposite side of the pond was already making his way over to my swim. He was welcome to give it a go.

CZ452 Varmint HMR begins post Covid catch up

May 6, 2021 at 10:26 am

Covid restrictions meant only a few visits to most of my shooting permissions last year, and now into May it is time to begin catching up on lost time. One of my first targets of the year has always been to clear a large warren of  rabbits, before the farmer puts out his cattle to graze. My time limit is the end of April, when he runs over the area with a small excavator filling in the burrows, but unfortunately his untimely death has meant all at the farm was on hold for months. His daughter has now taken over and called me in to do what I can to clear the rabbits, which have multiplied unchecked, digging fresh burrows deep enough to snap a cow, or horse’s leg.

Heading north toward the farm, I could see a massive black cloud creeping over the land in my direction, driven by a bitterly cold wind. I was quick to unload my gear, climbing a pair of gates before I could reach the field, the warren sitting in the middle surrounded by stinging nettles.

This is just a snapshot of the area, 50 yards by 300 yards long, with some interlinked burrows having collapsed leaving 3 foot deep craters. As I approached a rabbit emerged from the ground, ran ten yards and stopped when it saw me. It was about 60 yards away, an easy shot with the HMR normally, but a gusting side wind was blowing the rifle off target on the bi-pod sticks and even a body shot missed. I could see heavy rain advancing across the adjacent field in my direction and just made the lee side of an oak in time.

I stood and watched a rainbow glow in the sky, before it faded when the rain eased, using my time to scan the area with the scope. Rabbits don’t like rain, or cold winds and I had both in Spades. There was nothing about until the wind dropped and the low evening sun came out. A head appeared, then ducked down, another bounded like a gazelle from one burrow, then ran a 100 yards to disappear again.

I decided to invest my time on a raised area of burrows, with a clear view down the bottom half of the warren, having caught sight of movement among the nettles. Extending the legs on the HMR’s Harris bipod, I got myself comfortable, pulling up the hood of my jacket over my cap to keep out the still gusting wind plucking at my body. The movement was increasing, with flashes of fur, or twitching ears, but nothing worth a shot. Increasing my scope to 12 magnification, I saw that a rabbit had left the sanctuary of the nettles to feed on the nearby grass. The rifle was already in my shoulder, the cross hairs were on and the rabbit jumped clear of the ground as the .17 ” bullet struck home. One down. With the wind almost directly behind, the shot was spot on.

15 minutes later a pair ran out of cover close to the first about 130 yards away and I easily tracked them through the scope, but they would not stop trotting around. One of them turned back to cover. It was now or never, taking the shot as it turned toward me. Number two crumpled.

The other rabbit turned to join it’s friend, pausing to sniff the air, the impact causing it to jump clear of the ground. I waited for twenty minutes, but there were no more positive shots and I went down to collect my prizes, scattering another unseen pair as I concentrated on my footing, burrows being everywhere.

Walking back, another black cloud was beginning to block out the sun. I had intended staying until dusk, but more rain was in the air and I bagged up the rifle, making my way back to the van, only to see a sitter in my path, but maybe next time.

Th following day the rabbits were quartered to two loin backstraps and a pair of back legs each, ready to join the freezer as bunny burgers.

Chopped red onion, apricots and garlic were placed in a pan and lightly browned, then added to the minced rabbit, chorizo and pork lardons, liberally dusted with mixed herbs and a couple of tablespoons of Worcester Sauce. A couple of  slices of ground seeded brown bread with a beaten egg to bind and I was ready to fold it all together. The last job was to get out the burger press, laying out 14 on trays for overnight freezing.

The best part of rabbit pest control. Tasty food. Click on the Recipes page of this blog for more.