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The day I went fox fishing

Catching live animals is a tricky business; wildlife is unpredictable, and sometimes you find yourself dealing with something unexpected says Alasdair Mitchell

fox cub

I caught a fox in a landing net recently. I should explain that my old stone farmhouse is set into the hillside, separated from it at the back by a brick-lined trench about 7ft deep and perhaps a couple of feet wide. Over the years, a number of hapless critters have had to be rescued from this trench, the most notable of which — until now — being a sheep.

Stealthy burglar

At one point, the back wall of the house has a window, at about waist height, allowing daylight from the trench into the house. A few nights ago, I was just going upstairs to bed when I heard a faint scratching sound floating up from the passageway. I eased down the stairs and listened; there it was again. It seemed to be coming from the window. Was some stealthy burglar trying to get the latch undone? Silently, I felt for the switch of a lamp in the passage. Click: light flooded the scene, illuminating the sharp face of a fox in the windowpane. I nearly turned inside out.

It seemed that the fox — a cub about the size of a cat — had fallen into the trench and then scrabbled up on to the windowsill. It had been attempting to jump the last four feet to freedom without success. Now its problem was mine. I didn’t see much future in joining a needle-toothed wild animal in a confined space. I tried leaving a ladder propped up to enable the fox to make its own way out, but that didn’t work. Direct intervention was required. I looked out my old salmon landing net, which was hanging on a rafter in a barn. The actual netting had perished in places so I had to knit the larger gaps together with cable ties. Then I went fox fishing.

It proved surprisingly difficult to catch the cub. The net hoop is circular and the floor of the trench is flat. You’d be amazed at how a fox cub can tuck into corners. Eventually, with the aid of the top section of a salmon fly rod, I managed to provoke the cub into making a dash into the net. Hoisting my catch, I swung it up and out on to the lawn. The cub lay still for a second, then shook itself free and ran into a flower bed, never to be seen again. Only the next morning did it occur to me to check whether there were any more cubs in the trench. There weren’t. (Read more on foxing here.)

Screaming reels

Catching live wild animals can be a tricky business. Not a few ferreters have been startled to find an angry rat, instead of a rabbit, in a purse-net. As for fishing, I am reminded of the story about the fisherman who cast his bait out into the surf on the coast near Durban, South Africa, one evening. The sun set and the tide ebbed. Suddenly, the reel began to click. The fisherman lifted the rod and struck. The reel screamed and the catch shot away, parallel to the beach. Then it turned inland. Astounded at this turn of events, the angler turned on a powerful torch and discovered he’d hooked a warthog. The resourceful pig had found the bait left high and dry on the sand by the receding tide.