Growing up with Poultry and Canaries

From a very early age I was introduced to poultry, rabbits, pheasants, canaries, racing pigeons. The list is endless.

My father kept Yorkshire canary’s (large ones) German Rollers, Fife’s, Borders, bullfinches, linnets and mules (Goldfinch x Canary) I can always remember as a young boy helping my dad clean, feed and condition them. Colour feeding his red factors, which back then was my favourite, seeing those feathers eventually change to light or dark orange. In the summer he would bath them by gently spraying each bird with water. The birds loved it. I remember seeing them lift their wings and start to preen themselves, hopping on the perch and whistling. The songs that each particular canary would sing would fill the room with pure bliss. My favourite canary for its song is the Roller Canary. It sings with an almost closed beak and swollen looking throat, it rolls a beautiful quiet song, in fact their song is in surround sound as it looses itself in the background. Very melodic. My favourite mule, Goldfinch x Canary. Mules are not everyone’s cup of tea and those people tend to stay close to pure finches.

At times I could hear my dad communicating with them in the sheds by whistling to them. He would respond to their song and vice versa! Canary talk haha. In the shed where he kept the roller canary’s, he would have a tape playing all day of recorded songs by other roller canary’s, it’s to train young birds into song. It’s quite fascinating stuff. Going to bird shows was exciting as I got to see lots of other breeders canaries. The sound was just as bad (but in a good way) as poultry shows with lots of different songs from the male birds competing with each other. Back then it was really about getting the right shape/colour and song, but nowadays it’s a much different story and people who attend/compete are interested in money. A bit like crufts…

And so my love of birds began. My dad also kept lots of poultry from silkies to heavy Sussex crosses x Indian game for eating. My strain of English Oxfords both large and bantam remain in our family today. I remember collecting eggs from the individual pens and placing them in trays to be later placed under broody hens. I learnt a lot from my father and it was poultry that interested me more than any other bird. At the same time my brother was racing and breeding pigeons. It’s fun and a lot of work is involved regarding conditioning, but I never took to it. He’s remained a pigeon fancier to this day.

Back in the 80’s lots of families bred rabbits and poultry for the table. Today it still goes on, but in a smaller scale. My brothers and I helped skin and gut many a rabbit, pluck wood pigeons and pheasants, and gralloch deer from the age of 9 and then helped to prep them for our dinner. Our family diet mainly consisted of game and lots of fresh veg that was grown from the garden. Food was either shot by father or bred by him to be killed or fished. We ate it all, pheasant, rabbit, hare, wood pigeon, venison, partridge, duck, goose, teal, trout, salmon, pike, zander and eels. I always remember seeing the freezer always stocked with food or something hanging in the garden like a brace of pheasants, hares and rabbits. I never ate the fish as I was put off it when I was at lower school which was schooled by nuns. They forced it down my throat (literally) and since that day I will not eat fish. Weird I know, because I absolutely love fishing and I put every fish back to live another day.


Red Factors

Golden Pheasants Ginger Oxford BantamsEnglish Oxford Large Fowl

Cock bird I bred that was gifted to a friend.


Pike in the weir pool

Fishing weir pools can be very productive, you can catch many species, in particular Pike. They absolutely love this area and will patiently wait to snap up a tasty roach.

I’m not truly into predator fish, but there’s something about the cold eerie winter on a river bank that attracts me to them. Rivers are hardly fished these days. I grew up fishing on rivers from a very early age and it’s where I’ve learnt my craft and gained my knowledge of the waters.

Not having any roach with me, I settled for half a mackerel as bait. 18lb main line, to a wire trace with a size 4 single hook. A very simple rig.

I’m a firm believer of studying the water before making my first cast. I decided to cast a few feet away of an overhanging tree just past the middle of the weir pool. If any pike are loitering nearby this is where they may be. As I lay my rod onto its rest, a gush of wind blows my unhooking mat straight across the river! All I could do is wave it goodbye as I watch it toss and turn upstream and never to be seen again. I’m getting into a habit of loosing tackle in the wind. Earlier in the season my new fishing umbrella flew across two lakes. Luckily I managed to retrieve it when the wind eventually blew it back towards the bank.

An hour in and I’m still patiently waiting for a bite. I boil my ghillie kettle to make a hot cup of coffee. As I’m preparing my beverage, my rod tip starts to bounce up and down with venom. In the excitement I manage to drop my milk and trip over my tackle bag and land with hands and knees onto the floor. I don’t like leaving the bite to develop too much as the hook can go deep past their throats. This isn’t nice for the fish nor for myself to remove the hook. After what seemed like I had just completed and failed the krypton factor assault course I reach for my rod.

I pick up it up from it’s rest and I’m met with an almighty thud and the reel begins to scream line out. The pike takes me to the middle of the weir. I keep the pressure taught allowing my 8ft rod to naturally bend and absorb each knock it receives from this super predator fish. Pike are strong and do not give in easily. With each visit above water he thrashed his tail and dived back under, reminding me he means business. He wasn’t happy at all.

With several runs in and out of the weir he starts to tire and eventually gives in to me. Landing net ready I scoop him up, and I as do so he whips his tail in defeat making an almighty splash.

I unhooked him by the water and weighed him. 8lb 2oz. Not a battle warrior by far but a beautiful pike all together. I released him back into the bubbling murky dark weir pool and watched him slowly disappear to grow and fight another day.

I pat myself down like a bird ruffling it’s feathers back into place and tend to my grazed hands and knees.

I think I’m going to need some more painkillers.

The Pikes karma…..

New umbrella that was blown away and landed two lakes away!

Race against time

I took my acolyte 14ft float rod, a pouch of maggots, large bread punches and some spam. The last time I stalked for a particular species was over 20yrs ago.

In the past few weeks I had seen some chub activity in this stretch of the river, so it was only a matter of time before I visited it.

After many failed attempts of no indication of fish, I reached a stretch of river that was wider and the flow slower, much slower. My gut feeling was telling me I might be in luck here.

A pinch of red maggots thrown downstream eventually showed some interest. I could see those large mouths sucking the maggots down. A perfectly rounded piece of spam came out of the 11m punch which I placed onto a size 14 hook. I gently lobbed the float out slightly upstream. It settled and cocked, slowly making it’s way towards the baited area. Nothing, it floats straight passed them. I reeled in and repeated the process. Nothing! A third, fourth and fifth attempt nothing! Frustration was settling in and It was beginning to get dark, however the neon tip on my float helped a little with my vision.

I lob the float out for the sixth attempt, it cocks and heads for the baited area. Whoosh! Float dips down and away. The next 4 minutes felt like 40. This chub put it’s head down and took me on a wild goose chase. My rod bucking to and fro soaking up every lunge he threw at it. I held my position with the rod held upright over my right shoulder, gently taking him away from cover. I can feel he’s starting to tire, making it easier for me to control his unpredictable movements. I’m making progress and have him in front of me, a rod length away. He makes one final half hearted attempt slapping his tail and tried to lunge into the reed beds below my feet, I turned him away for one final time whilst my rod escorted this muscular specimen into my landing net. He was absolutely covered in weeds from head to tail and when I was unhooking him, his mouth was full of those tasty little red maggots.

I was losing light and sadly I wasn’t going to get a chance for another. 🎣

Quill and reed fishing floats.

Quills, swan, goose, crow, pheasant, peacock and porcupine. Then there’s reeds, Balsa, Norfolk and Sarkanda. These reeds are best to be dried once cut for a year or two before using them.

Sarkanda is a delicate reed to work with and many will avoid this beautiful reed because it’s soft and can easily snap during the processing stage. I know of a few that will substitute this for Victorian Reed, found in the Cambridgeshire fenlands. This Reed is extremely strong and is made from floodwater reed. Because of this the reed is stained dark and mottled.

The porcupine quill is by far the best. The original quill float still used by the Injuns, Light and very sensitive. The quill itself has beautiful markings. There’s no need to paint it, but maybe a little sealant varnish to protect it during its time in the water.

Handmade floats date back to over 2500 years ago and traditional methods are still being used today to make them. There’s nothing like making your own fishing float, then going out to catch fish with them.

I’ll post another blog soon detailing how a feathered quill is transformed to a fishing float.

Sarkanda Reed

A cold morning’s fishing

This year has been the worse year to date for me. Lots of other hobbies have had to be put on the side line, until I recover from my injury. Fishing is one I can just about do (with some help), for me it’s great for de-stressing and strangely enough…healing.

Yesterday was a beautiful morning. On route to the river, my wife quickly points over to her right. A beautiful trio of Chinese water deer running across the frosty fields at full pelt towards the winter wheat fields. Definitely disturbed…. A thick mist hovering over the weir beside the old Roman bridge, making the place look more inviting each time I pass. I need to wet a line or two there.

I arrived at my location, the whippet jumps out of the truck and begins to twist and turn at full speed, leaving his footprints in the frost behind him as he goes. Head down he picks up various scents from animals that may have lurked during the night, weaving from left to right, looking up occasionally to see where I am. The cold vapours from his mouth form a cloud over his face. It sure was cold. A sharp whistle and he turns and runs back towards me. By the bank I peg the whippet down, otherwise he would be off hunting.

The 14ft acolyte rod is set up with my homemade porcupine quill, I dot the tip as low as I can get away with, just a sniff at the bait will sink that quill. As I was about to make my first cast I hear that unmistaken tap tap tapping! The chiselled beak of a woodpecker. I’ve not heard one for years. I couldn’t locate it’s whereabouts as it’s distinctive hammering was echoing through the spinney. I managed to quickly record it on my phone. It must have known I was doing this, as soon after it’s drumming had stopped. It’s tapping was probably a warning to the others that I’d been “Spotted”.

I used the left over slices of thick cut toasty white bread. Choosing a 9mm bread punch to try my luck on some bigger fish. With a nugget of black heavy groundbait thrown in every half hour. Not long after the fish arrived and were content to stay in my swim. Each silver I handled was freezing cold to touch and I could also see the groundbait stuffed in their mouths whilst unhooking them. They’re definitely stocking up before the winter arrives. The bites were constant, and on almost every chuck that quill disappeared under the water and another feisty red fin was swung in to my hand.

I lost a fish that felt decent, my rod was soaking up each hard knock the fish fired at me. My drag was releasing more line as it was fighting to get away, but it was no good. The quill shot up out of the water and into the air like a rocket whilst I ducked to not get hit! A Chub maybe…

The temperature was dropping quickly, the whippet began shaking and was giving me the eye, probably cursing me why I’d chosen him over my my longdog to come fishing. I did feel bad for him, but he works in much colder conditions than today without any complaint. My wife had sneakily put his coat in my fishing bag, I’m against dog coats and clothing such animals. But as he was not on the move so I put his coat on, he was very grateful when I did. His thin tail whipping against my knee and quickly started licking my hand to say thank you.

The last cast went on for further 45mins before I eventually gave in. I called my wife to come and collect me. Shortly I heard the distinctive diesel engine of the Land Rover coming down the track, the dogs ears pricked up and it’s tail waggling at some knots. My lift had arrived.

All aboard the defender and off home to warm up beside the log burner.


Winter is the best time to net a few rabbits for the pot. Here is a family of lurchers. Dam and with her two sons. This particular cross is a Saluki x Whippet. Stamina, speed and patients is what is needed to catch rabbits when ferreting. Good strong feet too as they’ll more than likely work around brambles and dense cover.

In most places no nets are used. The net is usually covered over the rabbit hole, so when the rabbit bolts after being pushed out by the ferret, it’s then captured in the net which closes in on itself. The lurcher replaces the net and hopefully snaps them up. A good ferreting dog will be quiet and still, always listening below ground at the rabbits as thud their feet alerting the others there’s danger. As the ferret enters the rabbit warren you must be silent otherwise the rabbits will not bolt and corner themselves. This is where you might have to dig down to the ferret that has captured its prey and refusing to let go. The ferrets wear collars with detectors so their owner above ground using a hand held machine can detect the whereabouts by listening to the tone of the bleeps. These are very good and can travel far down below ground 8ft plus.

When the rabbits are caught they are killed instantly. Once cleaned and jointed they are put in the freezer. Stews, rabbit pie and curries are made from them. Sometimes the ferrets will have a whole rabbit to themselves. They will eat the whole carcass and it’s perfect food for them.

River roach and bread punch.

I couldn’t resist as the weather today was beautiful. After my physio session I headed for the river. I was set up by 1pm and decided to use one of my homemade Sarkanda reed floats. Bait today was a loaf of Warburtons thick cut toasty, with a 9mm Bread punch. and a little dark mix of groundbait to be lobbed in every half hour.

Within 10 mins of starting the float dipped, a quick strike and the first feisty roach is netted. A beautiful pristine specimen. The shoal seemed to of homed in on my groundbait which was a sweet nutty mix. A steady flow of roach were being caught and I must say a nicer stamp too. I was hoping that Mr pike would stay away.

During my session, before placing the next roach into the keepnet, I stopped and held it. Turning it over on both sides, admiring it’s beauty. Perfect condition, each scale in place, with a tinge of blue/purple, bright orange eye and red fins. They are the most beautiful sliver fish in my books. The roach continued to feed in bursts but as time went on I was loosing more daylight.

Gathering a handful of dried twigs and pine cones from my bag that I had been drying from last year. Lighting the fuel I boiled some water in my good old ghillie kettle, not soon after, I hear the whistle on the kettle begin to sing gently like a roller canary, and warning me that the water had boiled.

Whilst enjoying my beverage I sat back and looked at my ledger rod. I had been trying my luck with a some spam and cheese paste, hoping to catch a nice chub. Not a sniff all afternoon. I waited until the pheasants went up to roost, then put my head torch on and packed away.

Not today Mr Chub….