This week has been all about cane rods. Having acquired a couple of old cane rods recently one being a Chapman 500 that is in need of some work and a delightful Martin James cane rod that could do with a little tlc , the debate opens up as to who really did make the best cane rods during the 50’s and 60’s in the UK. More the point who is continuing this fine trade in rod making and restoration.
There is a growing body of anglers who want to fish with cane and would welcome a source of hand-made split cane rods, Chris Yates a cane enthusiast has been a great influencer of this.
A selection of good cane rod makers rod bags
Without having a bible on cane rods I had always been led to believe that B James of Ealing had cane coarse rods down to a fine art and by the looks of the price second-hand rods are fetching they seem to lead the pack. R Chapman of Ware rods are still sort after but the B James rods do get a premium and on finish I do think the quality of the B James rods is hard to beat. Constable of Bromely, Sharps, Allcocks and Sealey are all names that are associated with cane. Hardy have produced excellent cane rods and if you look around there are countless cane rods available. There is a strong market for traditional tackle. I did however see a barbel rod by Barder this week hit the £700 mark and several B James Avons change hands at £275 and upwards. If you want to buy a Barder rod you are looking at the best part of £1500 for a new one.
My collection of cane rods, well some of them
On close inspection of the Martin James rod I picked up from Darren in East London I would say these rods also were well put together and the specifications of the one I have certainly got the interest of the Chapmans on my recent visit to their workshop. Locking ferule, fine whippings, agate rings throughout, fine cork handle and high quality fittings. The only thing is that after a week of trying to find out exactly what the rod was I’m still none the wiser as the label on the rod is missing a small corner but as noted in an earlier post details ‘De Lux’ . It seems to be a stronger set up than a Champan 500 or 550, in fact it would make a great rod for a spot of barbel or salmon fishing. Having made the mistake of not checking out the exact condition of a rod before acquiring it I now find myself needing to get one restored if I actually want to use it and that is going to prove to be expensive, it needs new guides for a start so that will be a good £100 plus.
One thing to keep in mind if you buy a rod off the internet is that you may be in for a nasty surprise unless you are buying a fully restored rod from one of the known vintage tackle dealers. I guess you need to weigh up the odds and decide if you are going to fish with it or just put it on show in. The cost of restoring a rod will without question run into a few hundred pounds, new agate guides will put you back £20 a piece, so if you need a butt and top guide for a carp rod that’s your first £40, a refurbished handle with good grade flor cork will be another £60-80, replacement ferules, then there is whipping and varnishing another £120, that’s without having to look at the cane. Now you can see why a cane rod by Paul Cook and the like will then give you barely enough change out of £900 to buy a second-hand Speedia to go with it.
It is best to hang your cane rods to store them
There are some good vintage tackle dealers that have a good range of cane rods for sale and you can have piece of mind that you will be able to fish with them. Some of the cane classics can be found for £275-495, so if you are in the market for a vintage cane rod take your time and look around. Four rod builders that have come up in conversation this week are Edward Barder http://barder-rod.co.uk heralded as Britain’s finest rod-maker, Clive Young who restores rods to better than new, Gary Marrshall http://finecanerods.com and Paul Cook http://www.artofangling.net/restoration.html all seem to produce fabulous work. Also don’t expect to them to turn you recent eBay, car boot or auction find around for you to use this year, Gary Marshall has his books full for the next 16 months.
Another point of interest is that there is little sign of the current economic climate affecting the flow of work for these artisans, in fact some report they have never been busier. One thing we all know as fisherman is that we like the best and you can never have enough rods are reels. When this comes up on the home front I usually respond that there are more handbags than rods in the house so I rest my case..but only just.
Having witnessed the demise the UK tackle industry and the decimation of Redditch there is a re-emergence of fine rod making for purists and those that simply want to fish with cane as opposed to a tank aerial. I’m not for one moment being dismissive of modern materials but after you’ve had a cane rod to use you will look at it in a different way, cane has a personality, its own natural colour and there is just simply something about cane you don’t get with a modern carbon rod. What has interested me it that along alleyways, in sheds and workshops throughout the corners of England there are artisans producing bespoke rods, restoring classics and making their own versions of the Avocet, Avon and MK IV along with fine cane rods for fly fishing, here Barder and Marshall are in their element of making fine fly rods.
There is also no easy living being a rod maker, it is driven by a love and a desire to produce a beautiful item. They work a minimum of 10-12 hours per day and usually 7 days a week. There is an art to making fine rods, much as my friend Paul Adams makes the most fantastic hand-made lures it’s down to pure dedication. The same can be said of the reel makers in the UK and restores such as Chris Lythe and Garry Mills of The Mill Tackle Company Ltd., which I will write up about during the autumn. See http://www.milltackle.co.uk
As I have several rods that need to be worked on I will document who I get to work on them and a before and after. Well it’s now the weekend so I will dust off the Kennet Perfection and head to The Creek.