Hand me down my fish­ing cane

James Bee­son heads to Hamp­shire to find out if Ed­ward Barder’s fine split-cane rods are up to the de­mands of a mod­ern river an­gler

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: RICHARD FAULKS

James Bee­son tries an Ed­ward Barder split-cane rod

ABIG TROUT was ris­ing be­neath an over­hang­ing tree on a bend in the river. Ed­ward held the rod and I slipped un­der the barbed wire fence, wrig­gling on my back so that I could slide feet-first down the high bank. I crouched in a shal­low run down­stream of the fish and waited for him to rise again as proof that he wasn’t spooked. Ed­ward com­pli­mented me on my ma­noeu­vre and Richard (pho­tog­ra­pher) joked, “That comes from years in the Royal Marines.” I was quick to deny the link as I’ve never served in Her Majesty’s armed forces and wouldn’t want to bring them into dis­re­pute by as­so­ci­a­tion. The rod was an 8 ft 4 wt Ed­ward Barder that be­longed to, and had been bor­rowed from, a lo­cal cus­tomer for the day. It was in per­fect con­di­tion and had ob­vi­ously been lov­ingly looked af­ter and now here it was in my hands. With a high bank and barbed-wire fence be­hind me, I needed to cast over my op­po­site shoul­der to stand any chance of land­ing the fly in the small win­dow be­tween the dense thicket of over­hang­ing branches. Per­haps it would be bet­ter if the trout had been alerted, but there he was hap­pily suck­ing down every mayfly that drifted over his head. Bam­boo is not a frag­ile ma­te­rial, it would hardly be any good for mak­ing rods if it were, but us­ing some­body else’s trea­sured pos­ses­sion is fraught with re­spon­si­bil­ity. It was only a short cast, but it needed a lit­tle curve for the French Par­tridge Mayfly to land sev­eral

inches up­stream of his po­si­tion. There could be only one chance. The drift­ing fly would ei­ther snag the down­stream branches or be taken. It dis­ap­peared in a con­fi­dent swirl. I waited as long as I dared and set the hook. The water erupted in a mix­ture of white water and an­gry trout. The beau­ti­ful cane rod bent un­der his weight as I ad­min­is­tered a heavy dose of side strain to steer him to­wards open water. One of the good things about cane rods is how well they ap­ply pres­sure to a fish. It might seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive but the natural flex of the power fi­bres in the bam­boo means you can pull a lot harder with­out wor­ry­ing about break­ing off. It’s a great help on rivers with lots of snags, like my lo­cal River Guash, where I of­ten fish with the 6 ft 6 in split-cane rod that be­longed to my fa­ther be­fore he gave it to me. Brown trout are dogged fight­ers and will use every scrap of un­der­wa­ter struc­ture to de­feat you so be­ing able to bully them a bit is use­ful. This trout took the bat­tle to the air, jump­ing sev­eral times be­fore slid­ing over the rim of the long-han­dled net. The longer reach of an ex­tend­able net helps pro­tect the tip when land­ing fish. It would be wrong to say the hand-built split-cane rod was the only rea­son I caught that fish, but it cer­tainly helped. Del­i­cacy and fi­nesse, so im­por­tant to dry-fly pre­sen­ta­tion, come as stan­dard with cane. We started the day at the work­shop, a charm­ing old wooden hut on the banks of the River Ken­net. If you have never been to a rod-builder’s work­shop be­fore it is some­thing worth ex­pe­ri­enc­ing at least once in your life. There are block planes and wooden-han­dled tools, stacks of bam­boo culms, var­i­ous types of ad­justable plan­ing forms, a ma­chine for bind­ing the glued joints, one for turn­ing the cork, tins of var­nish and, of course, lots of rods in var­i­ous stages of com­ple­tion. From the work­shop we drove to the river, a small Hamp­shire chalk­stream that I’m not al­lowed to name, its course run­ning within sight of the Bas­ingstoke sky­line. The banks were awash with the many shades of green from an English spring in full swing. We walked to the river through a meadow, the scent of wild­flow­ers be­ing car­ried to us by a wind that was stronger than I would have liked. I was a lit­tle wor­ried how the un­fa­mil­iar rod would cope in the con­di­tions. It is cu­ri­ous that some­thing which ap­pears as quintessen­tially English as a split-cane fly-rod should have been largely de­vel­oped on the other side of the At­lantic. The in­flu­ence of Gar­ri­son, Payne, Dick­er­son and Leonard re­mains to this day. Ed­ward Barder him­self started out build­ing rods us­ing the clas­sic ta­pers. Once he had gained a fuller un­der­stand­ing of the craft he be­gan to de­velop his own spec­i­fi­ca­tions, and now all Barder rods are made us­ing his own pro­pri­etary ta­pers. A sig­na­ture el­e­ment of his de­sign is the swelled butt that is in­tended to guide the cast. This does seem to make a sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence. The rod loads un­der its own weight, mak­ing it ef­fort­less to cast, and talks to you in a way that I’ve not ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. It tells you what it wants in terms of tim­ing, un­like my own cane rod with which I have to make a con­scious ef­fort to slow down when switch­ing from car­bon. A king­fisher flashed past as I stood be­hind a fallen log and cast to­wards a fish that lay on the out­side of a bend. The bright con­di­tions were ideal for spot­ting

“The beau­ti­ful cane rod bent un­der his weight as I ad­min­is­tered a heavy dose of side strain to steer him to­wards open water”


FAR RIGHT Hooked! The big trout be­tween the bushes takes James’s fly – then re­alises its mis­take. RIGHT The rod bends beau­ti­fully. BE­LOW The man him­self, Ed­ward Barder of­fers some ad­vice.

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