Thursday, 17 July 2014

Summer Events

Just a quick extra slice of blog for me as I prepare for the CLA Game Fair, which I'll be attending on Saturday and Sunday with Turrall. Really looking forward to this, as it's always such a great event to meet fellow anglers. I'll be tying flies for coarse species and trying to keep the real ale to a minimum. Do Stop by and say hello if you're about.

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I'm also excited to confirm some events for the summer. The Wye is very much on my mind and chub, like the five pound beastie above taken on a large dry caddis, are especially prolific and very willing to take a fly. The place always gives me a little shiver of anticipation- and barbel will also be on the menu. If it runs low, fly fishing is possible for the species, but even if it's high other methods will work. I'll be co-hosting two-day sessions with none other than Bob James, who remains an absolute maestro when it comes to river fishing (just watching him trot with a centre pin is a joy). The events will be for small groups of four to six anglers, with enough beautiful swims and time for everyone to enjoy some of the very best river fishing and try their hand at various methods. I can't wait.
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In other news, I'll also be running summer sessions closer to home for local youngsters on both West Pitt Farm (Near Tiverton, 21/22 Aug) and South View Farm (Near Exeter, 28/29 Aug). The idea here is to run fun, affordable half day trips, where young anglers can learn key fishing skills and enjoy catching fish in a friendly environment (and yes, I'm also fully trained, first aid and CRB checked- I take my coaching seriously). More info to follow, but for more info or to book either of the above, just drop me a line ( 07804 240986).

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

New steps and old favourites

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Oh dear. I'm looking at the blog and have just realised it has been ages. July has rapidly flown past and I'm going to have to cram a fair bit into this update. Brace yourselves!
One major step for me has been to join a syndicate this summer. This is something I've never done before in my life, but I found the draw of a quiet and very traditional looking lake quite irresistible. And as you can see above, part of the joy is just having access to somewhere private, enjoying nature, some fish spotting and maybe even catching the odd beastie without the hurly-burley of a day ticket fishery. Those who have done it themselves will realise it's not always cheap. But I figured it could be now or never: I thought if the offer came in five years time I might easily be lacking funds and wonder why I missed my chance before.

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While most anglers will join syndicates for species like carp though, I've been just as interested in the rudd that an old, secretive lake might produce. I've had great sport so far and some of the fish have been as vividly coloured as any rudd I've ever landed. They're all worth catching as far as I'm concerned, but I would dearly love to catch a two-pounder on the fly from here. So far so enjoyable though- and with some good ones sighted I've been stepping up to large size 10-12 spiders. This one is the king so far, at around a pound and a half as you can tell from the size of the reel:
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Just as agreeable as the fishing though, is the way that the handful of members are really civilised anglers who are refreshingly lacking in the tunnel vision that can afflict carp angling. Although they like to gently take the Mickey, they've also taken great pleasure in borrowing my fly rods to successfully catch rudd- which is great to see. Equally though, the learning process works the other way and I just love the crafty ideas carp heads get cooking with. It's going to be a lot of fun.

In fact, contrary to expectations, I've come much closer to banking carp on artificial flies than on bait so far. I've taken carp on things like bloodworms and floating snails previously, but I get the feeling these wily syndicate fish will be a challenge. They're certainly eating natural food though- so who knows? I came painfully close with a fish that looked every ounce of twenty pounds at close quarters, for example. After several refusals with a damsel, I watched a bigger fish turn and have a look. With the fly settling gently on the weed I held my breath- and watched as lips opened and sucked the lot in! A rod-wrenching battle ensued, but the fish got mired up in the weed. Try as I might I could't free it- and by the time I'd literally got in position to reach under the bank I'd lost her. Frustratingly, I literally had the net ready and even touched the beast's tail. So close to what would have been my best ever fly caught carp, and not a dog biscuit copy in sight! A nine weight outfit is the next logical step, with extra strong leaders- because fish of this size in this much weed take no prisoners.

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Crazily enough, my other notable capture has been a fly caught gudgeon (above), fluked on a carp pattern. Perhaps I should come clean: my phone had gone off (don't you hate that when you're fishing?) and the fly had sunk right to the bottom. As I picked up the rod and brought it in, the cheeky little thing attached itself, grabbing the fly fair and square in the lips! You really couldn't make it up.

Another little success has been getting my dad on the bank again, who might not thank me for telling you he's recently turned 70. He's very much the fair-weather fisherman. If it's a grey day, it can take serious arm-twisting. When it's sunny though, he doesnt need asking twice and so we hit the smaller of the two Creedy Lakes. Lovely it was too. I've commented before how many anglers can't look beyond weights- which explains why this weedier pool tends to be quiet while the main lake sees more rods than the Tackle and Guns Show. We had takes on both floating and bottom baits and it was exciting stuff- here's the old devil with a plump, dark gold common. The killer bait were cat biscuits sneakily nicked from my folk's old moggy:
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In actual fact, the typical residents here are much skinnier and longer though, almost resembling the wild carp you read about in old angling books. I did a little field testing with some late samples from the Bait Factory and these did the trick for some runs. I'm not one for using PVA products and multiple rods on such classic waters, opting for small boilies float fished (I know, revolutionary isn't it to avoid three ounces of lead). I find that by wrapping these and the hook itself in soft paste you can guarantee a clear hook point on the strike, the paste offering protection from debris and weed (if you're curious, keep an eye on the Bait Factory site for some techy points and tips shortly).
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This pretty low double was my best, fighting ludicrously hard:
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And actually, that will do for this instalment. I've missed some bits out (including some news on "Fly For Coarse" and some exciting summer events!), but will add another entry soon. It's meant to be a blog after all, not War and Bloody Peace.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Postcard from a wandering drunk

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One of the equally wonderful and irritating things about fishing is that, rather like football, everyone is allowed their own "expert" say in the matter. Certainly the case on urban bits of canal, where I met Seb Nowosiad for some fly fishing. If the above picture is a bit wobbly, it's probably because the bloke who took it was already on his third tin of super strength lager for the day. We humoured the chap anyway, before Seb left him a roll up cigarette and we went in the total opposite direction to where he was pointing and giving his expert fishing analysis. Nice.
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The canal itself was about as clear as an alcoholic's brain too. Not as clear as we'd hoped, which suggested it could be a challenge to catch on the fly. The numbers of rudd and roach at the surface were a pleasant surprise though and given a good walk I was confident we might find some good ones. It might sound blinking obvious, but given murky water and flies it's sensible to use slightly bigger or more visible patterns than usual. A little beaded Tan Shrimp was commandeered by Seb and took several roach plus a skimmer, while I dug out a size 12 Black and Peacock spider, intrigued by local rumours of monster fish.  photo DSC_0101_zps9ad6e44f.jpg
That's the trouble with rumours though; you almost willingly daydream and ignore the fact that
a) The general public often don't have a clue what they're looking at with fish.
b) Anglers, and especially the casual ones, will spectacularly overestimate what they've witnessed (notice how tactful I was there. I could have simply said "lie" or "deal in more fiction than Penguin Classics").
Anyhow, perhaps one or two rumours had a grain of truth, because you always have a chance of nice rudd on the Taunton to Bridgwater. If you can get to the buggers. It was especially educational for Seb, who is a relative fly novice. For a lure angler, it is all too tempting to retrieve the flies all the time- when for many coarse fish you want to just let them be to settle naturally, with virtually no interference. Too much drag or a clumsy cast and you can blow it. I still make a mess of it sometimes myself, but as well as the odd bush I had several decent fish from the pokiest swims imaginable, including this fish of 1lb 9oz:
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After sweating it for months on the new "Canal Fishing" book, you might have thought I'd have had enough of them, but I've been doing more on the local cuts than the rivers so far. With it being light well into the evening I also had a blast on the Grand Western, where a whole troop of schoolboys were roaming. High on enthusiasm but low on knowhow, I felt duty bound to help one or two. After all, you don't catch many roach on 15lb line and three very dead maggots on a size 4 hook. They also kept wanting to borrow my polarising glasses to look at passing tench like this beauty:
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A little later I then caught up with Russ Hilton for a spot of tench fishing, which proved ultimately frustrating. Well, for me at least. Russ did ok, while I managed to miss them, including one where my worm had skilfully obscured the hook point to render my strike totally duff. In typical style though, Hilton came good with a couple of nice fish. It's a good job I never make bets with him:
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Other than that, I'm just getting over the inevitable demise of England at the world cup. At least as a half Swiss, I can follow a team that are the opposite to In-ger-land: underrated, under hyped and organised with that special efficiency that comes with having a German manager. In truth, I've still enjoyed the footy and even managed to combine it with some fishing, most notably at Stafford Moor, where Chris Lambert and me tried frantically via phone and radio to keep up with England's score. We may as well have stuck to the fishing in hindsight.
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We had a plan to tempt a catfish on offal, to give you the backstory, but to no avail. Several carp fancied a chunk of liver, but perhaps a much larger or more disgusting morsel is required for catfish? Back to the drawing board I think. For the record, both Beatties and Joseph's Lake are both outstanding "runs" waters should you fancy a crack at summer carp in Devon- and there's no better or friendlier fishery boss than Andy Seery for putting you onto a big catch.  photo DSC_0353_zpsb3ae9707.jpg

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The art of (sometimes) catching

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With the thick, warm atmosphere of summer finally here I've been spending plenty of time in wild places, as often as not just watching the water or taking a long walk as opposed to actually trying to catch something. As much as I love the outdoors and a cheeky beer though, fair weather fishing can be as listless and sluggish as the atmosphere. Unless you pick your targets carefully, that is. I love to fly fish in June, but scorching weather can be poor for trout. Rudd though, are the polar opposite. Recces covering several miles at a time are essential for me to locate decent fish, not only for personal fun but for those I guide in the summer. I hope this lovely fish of 1lb 6oz will be the first of several nice fish over the summer, whether they fall to me or someone I guide:

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There's a magic to summer in fact, when even the confirmed bottom dwellers of the fish world come up to play. The reason most anglers see these fish as "Uncatchable" is because they're eating natural food and don't take kindly to having a worm lobbed to them with float or weight attached.
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These two skimmers were hanging in the top few inches but would only look, not take a slow sinking wet fly, although I did manage a roach bream hybrid. And whether you catch or miss them, it's visually such good fun that even my non-fly fishing mates tend to steal the rod for a cast, such as confirmed pike addict Seb Nowosiad, who somehow managed to tempt perch as well as small silvers by poaching my four weight:
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Rather more adept with game tackle was my next guest Peter Davis, who was keen to both catch some coarse species and also revisit a pretty corner of Somerset where he walked as a boy. We tried several different nymphs to good effect, with some top class sight fishing but also a tiny indicator when the breeze made takes harder to spot.
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Peter had a hatful of pretty roach and rudd, mostly to small spiders, but was also unlucky not to connect with a chunky perch that kept following a streamer. Even so, it was a day of great viewing and plenty of quick takes from rudd of all sizes:
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Next stop will be the chub, now the rivers are back open, and I'm already scouting some great new places to try over the next few months and take more visitors. Do check out my site for a whole range of "Flies for Coarse Fish" and guided days at very reasonable rates- we're entering a terrific period for fly fishing and it's not unusual for my guests to catch half a dozen species in a day trip.

Talking of day excursions, a trip to Dorset last week rendered me awe-inspired but rather frustrated at the county's "Sculpture by the Lakes" attraction. Only an angler feels the true pain of such a setting: beautiful lakes with big fish and even a succulent bit of river next door, and none of it available to fish!
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Actually, it's all in the name of something just as poignant and pointless as fishing itself: art. Works by the appropriately named Simon Gudgeon surround the waters and, fishing or no fishing, they are absolutely beautiful.
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Last but not least, I leave you with one of the most romantic little fishing huts I've ever seen. Not sure why it's on wheels, but there we go:  photo DSC_0505_zps8c9265c0.jpg

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Elegant blanking, balsam and beginners

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My last couple of weeks have been enjoyable, if a little barren on the fishing front. Sometimes the fish don't play ball- or at least seem to lack my eye for a story. Perhaps I've changed as an angler however. Once I might have gone home thoroughly fed up after a blank but these days, if it doesn't sound odd, I tend to enjoy myself regardless. Yes I love to catch fish. But I also love watery places and people and a glass of beer. And there are few certainties in fishing other than two constants: when the fishing is rubbish it will always get better at some stage. And equally, when the fishing is brilliant it will never last for good. The only real constant pleasure is just being alive and enjoying the outdoors.
Just as well I'm more chilled these days, because I haven't picked the most ludicrously hard fishing. The Main Lake at Anglers Paradise can be challenging, but is usually worth a run or three, but nothing on my last overnighter. A shame, because over a quick glass of homebrew with Zyg, I thought I'd found the all new deadliest catfish bait in the form of a slightly rancid Polish Kabanos sausage. Terrifyingly potent and tough skinned to boot, I quite fancied it (not to eat, but to catch on). It could have been a great story too… maybe next time eh?
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Heading more coastal, I've also been enjoying the odd short session but not succeeding to any great level. The mackerel were absent off Sidmouth beach on an otherwise pleasant jaunt. I have been back on the smaller trout streams of Devon though. The trout are always willing, barring a flood- and among several options, the Westcountry Angling Passport scheme is always worth a go for sheer value and the wild places on offer. I've also been combining these sorties with a new hobby too: Balsam Bashing. I've always hated the stuff, but Theo Pike's new book on invasive species has really galvanised me.
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On reflection, the best fishing of the lot was enjoyed by some of those I've been guiding recently. Edward Ames had his first ever taste of coarse fishing at St Tinney Farm, along with his mum and dad. They picked up the basics very quickly in fact, catching carp, roach, rudd and crucians in quick succession. The enthusiasm of young Ed was a real highlight for me- the sheer excitement of a four year old with a fish is something truly magical. And impressively, he went from just about daring to touch a fish to holding one by the end of the session. Great little angler in the making I think!
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Nor was young Edward the only one to catch a great deal more than me these last couple of weeks. Entries for the "Fly For Coarse" contest are steadily coming in and results have been impressively varied. When your catches include everything from a 30lb pike to buzzer caught bream to a little gudgeon, you can tell things are really cooking!
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 photo PaulSharman_Bream_Buzzer_zpsf7c88489.jpgPerhaps my favourites have been the carp though. Deer hair mixers have been working a treat for many, but even more appealing to me personally is targeting carp with more natural flies. How's this for a belting mirror carp, taken on an Apps Bloodworm by Phil Dixon at Seighford Lakes?
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The idea is to slowly build a one stop resource at - and I'm also busy getting together two essential new sections: the first will be a guide to "Fly Friendly" coarse fisheries across the UK. In particular this means venues well suited to the fly, where an angler is safe to cast without those predictably bloody stupid comments about trout, JR Hartley etc. Equally exciting is an ongoing hunt for specimen captures to make up a list of "UK Record Fly Caught Coarse Fish", something which is long overdue. Anyway, watch this space. By my next post I might even have caught a fish!

Monday, 26 May 2014

Capital Breaming

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Recent travels have led to some really exciting fishing. And while it might not be the main reason I go fishing, the prospect of the odd much larger than usual sample has only added to the spice. What constitutes a "big" fish to any of us? It's one of the most misleading (and often pointless) topics in fishing, because it's entirely relative to what you know, and more specifically the venue where you've chosen to park your backside.
When that venue happens to contain fish that dwarf your local samples, things do get exciting- which was exactly the case on a trip to north London.

Big waters can be daunting, but with my host Will Barnard pointing me in the direction of a reliable area I was hopeful of finding the fish at some point. The first vital concern was to introduce a good carpet of bait, since big bream can demolish a serious amount of food and won't stick around for long if you've only offered them a starter.
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I decided to be nice and positive with my feed, with two kilos of pellets and lots of random particles, along with about four kilos of ground bait (50/50 Bait Factory Krill and Crab/ Brown Crumb). At sixty yards or more this is a challenging task in itself. You could be there for a week with a swim feeder so out came my spomb set up, which is a great way to feed accurately a long way out and admittedly quite good fun until you hit cast number fifty something.
Nor did it take massively long to get a response, because within two hours the first fish intercepted a double 10mm boilie hook bait. In typical bream fashion it didn't exactly run like fury but the bend in the rod suggested something heavy, before I caught first sight and had a moment of revelation along the lines of "holy shit that's a pretty big bream."
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It was bigger than any bream I'd ever laid eyes on anyway, so I had to weigh it. At 10lbs 12oz, this was comfortably my best ever. And the indicators dancing almost immediately after a recast suggested the show was still warming up. A boilie tipped with a worm was quickly grabbed by bream number two, a male which I didn't weigh but looked around eight pounds and actually fought harder than its big sister:
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It's always nice to catch the fish you wanted early, so you can totally relax. In fact my next concern was whether it would be sensible to night fish and possibly forgoe all ideas of sleep, given the number of fish showing. I opts to add some bigger boilies for carp, saving the real onslaught for first light. It was a plan that resulted in some peaceful sleep at least- which is the civilised thing to do when you have your girlfriend also bivvying up. A beautiful sunset it was too, with all the gear drying out after some serious thunder showers in the afternoon.
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A phenomenally fat "football" bellied carp did show up in the night (although a few yards down the bank I'd also bumped into Dean Macey who managed a thirty in the night!). The action for me really began to kick off at first light though, when I crept out to send out another good helping of bait. This did the trick again- and while I could bore you with the exact details of everything, a summary will do nicely. Rigs were a piece of piss: a two ounce method feeder with a three inch hook length worked best, with the winning bait two 10mm Bait Factory Coconut Cream boilies. Tipping the bait with half a worm also seemed a good way to get bites quicker- and I always like some extra wriggle, especially when the fish have a real carpet of similar baits to choose from. On the techy side, long range fishing needn't be rocket science either: fancy running rigs are fairly pointless once you have sixty plus yards of line out, with semi-fixed presentations nice and positive. Back leads are equally unnecessary because all the line near the feeder will already be flat on the deck due to the great distance involved and the relatively flat angle of the line.
I did also try more conventional feeder rigs, but these needed watching a lot more closely for twitchy bites and some really exaggerated drop backs. No such trouble with the method feeder and some astonishingly positive bites! I had another few fish, including two over the ten pound mark at 10.9 and 10.3, while Paulina also landed a double of her own for good measure. Throw in a bottle of wine, an epic game of scrabble and a fried breakfast and it amounted to a very civilised overnighter.
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Friday, 16 May 2014

Sunburned Glory

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This latest blog instalment comes with a slight health warning. This might be England and it might be decidedly cold when you load the car at 5 in the morning. But that's no excuse not to pack some sun screen. It's a lesson I learned the hard way as I was slowly toasted.
A session at Linhay Pond, on the Rackerhayes complex, began in idyllic style however. Cool mist and the odd rolling fish. It wasn't so much the sun, but the great depths of the lake that I had anticipated being the crux of the challenge.
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The pole is one obvious way, but for me it was an excellent excuse to dig out the 15ft Hardy Marksman float rod- a great weapon where the bottom plummets away alarmingly quickly. I was joined by Russ Hilton, who reckoned the tench would be patrolling just where the weed stopped and the margin dropped to a good 8-10 feet. And as tends to be the case, the bugger was correct! I put in four balls of ground bait laced with chopped worm and caster and it didn't take long for the wrestling to begin:
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Sport wasn't exactly rapid, but bloody hell do tench fight well. And in the gaps, Russ also caught plenty on the whip, while I slowly got frazzled. I could have posted up a picture of my sorry, red, sweaty shoulders, but instead here's a random photo of a bee:
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Was it worth it all in the end? I'm tempted to say yes, because the tench were beautiful. Not small by Devon standards either. Perhaps the whole tench fishing scene has been crashed by fat gravel pit fish that grow enormous- but in the Westcountry, a fish of six pounds is still pretty respectable, not to mention beautiful. This was the best of three:
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The session was very much a case of quality rather than quantity. Would we have got more bites fishing lighter? I can't say, but with hooklengths of 5-6lbs, you're much safer. A size 16 hook and a worm and caster cocktail was by far the best bait on the day.
The idea was that I was to return home looking like a Greek. The reality was more like a lobster. Joking aside, do be warned- the sun is no laughing matter and when you're enjoying your fishing it's incredibly easy to forget about protection.
My next trip by waters was without the rod, but this time with plenty of sun block. I had a wonderful walk with Paulina to Ladram Bay in fact, where I took the picture below. It was a really lovely scene: the youngster and his dad approached the old angler and no doubt he was asked all those sorts of questions that six year olds are so excellent at randomly coming up with:
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I'm also in the process of answering some of met own questions with the arrival of a rather novel book this week from my good friend the angler and conservationist Theo Pike. "The Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing and How to Tackle Other Non-native Species" is a fascinating if alarming read. Documenting all manner of undesirables from mink and crayfish to horrible, alien plants this pocket sized guide makes eye-opening reading. Most importantly of all though, it also explains how you can do your bit to stem the tide of these unwanted blighters, whether that means reporting, cutting down or even dispatching with boot or bullet. Perhaps those which I particularly hate the most are Himalayan Balsam (which is everywhere these days) and the dreaded mink (the main reason I haven't seen a water vole for over a decade). I took the shot below as a bit of a joke- but the issue of invasive species is very serious. The most important weapon is not a gun, but knowledge, which is why Theo's book could be extremely important.
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