Fly-fish­ing lu­mi­nar­ies

John James Hardy her­alded by Craw­ford Lit­tle

Trout & Salmon (UK) - - Contents -

JOHN JAMES

and his older brother Wil­liam were sons of an Al­nwick lawyer, also called John James, who be­came Coro­ner for North Northum­ber­land. On leav­ing school, the boys were ap­pren­ticed to the en­gi­neer­ing firm of Sir Wil­liam Arm­strong & Co in New­cas­tle. Sir Wil­liam, later Lord Arm­strong, was one of the great en­gi­neer-in­ven­tor-en­trepreneurs of his time. He orig­i­nally trained as a lawyer in Lon­don be­fore re­turn­ing to New­cas­tle and join­ing the law firm of Ar­morer Donkin. His in­ter­est in en­gi­neer­ing never waned, and he tin­kered in his spare time. His first in­ven­tion was the Arm­strong Hy­dro­elec­tric ma­chine. But his first real suc­cess – a pis­ton engine for driv­ing an hy­draulic crane – was said to have ini­tially been in­spired by his ob­ser­va­tions at a wa­ter mill when he was fish­ing on the River Dee that flows into the River Rawthey at Catholes near the town of Sed­bergh. It was the suc­cess of his hy­draulic crane that led him to fi­nally turn his back on the law and build a fac­tory at El­swick near New­cas­tle – the fac­tory where Wil­liam and John James served their ap­pren­tice­ships, and which later grew into Vick­ers Arm­strong. To­day, Lord Arm­strong is re­mem­bered by some as “the fa­ther of mod­ern ar­tillery”. Hav­ing served their ap­pren­tice­ships, the broth­ers went their sep­a­rate ways. Wil­liam trained as a gun­smith in Scot­land, while John James went to sea as a ship’s en­gi­neer, as did younger brother Forster. On the death of their fa­ther, Wil­liam felt a duty to sup­port his mother and fam­ily and set up shop as a gun­smith in Al­nwick. He was ad­vised by Lord Arm­strong, who urged him to bring John James into the firm as part­ner. In July 1873, the fol­low­ing ad­vert ran in The Al­nwick Mer­cury:

HARDY BROTH­ERS Gun­smiths, White­smiths, Cut­lers etc. Wil­liam and John James Hardy, sons of the late Mr J.J. Hardy, Coro­ner, in­ti­mate that they have taken the premises in Paikes Street, lately oc­cu­pied by Mr W.J. Wilkin­son, where they in­tend to con­duct a busi­ness as gun mak­ers, white­smiths [work­ers in tin], cut­lers etc.; and they in­vite the at­ten­tion of their friends and the pub­lic gen­er­ally to their care­fully se­lected stock of goods which will be ready for in­spec­tion on Sat­ur­day 2nd Au­gust. They hope by prompt at­ten­tion to all or­ders and first rate work­man­ship to ob­tain a share of pub­lic pa­tron­age which they most re­spect­fully so­licit.

It wasn’t to stop there. Both broth­ers were keen an­glers, and just a few months later a sec­ond ad­vert ap­peared, this time in The Al­nwick Jour­nal:

FISH­ING TACKLE MAN­U­FAC­TURER Hardy Broth­ers beg to an­nounce that they have en­larged their stock of su­pe­rior River and Sea Fish­ing Tackle

Per­haps at the urg­ing of Lord Arm­strong, who recog­nised the broth­ers had dif­fer­ent styles, strengths and tem­per­a­ments – the broth­ers took sep­a­rate roles in their ex­pand­ing busi­ness. Wil­liam took charge of the fi­nan­cial and ad­min­is­tra­tive side of the busi­ness while John James, known as “JJ”, be­came gen­eral man­ager of the works. Many years later, in his book The House the Hardy Broth­ers Built (1998), James Leighton Hardy would say of JJ that: “He was recog­nised as the driv­ing force of the man­u­fac­tur­ing de­part­ments. He worked on the prin­ci­ple that only the best was ac­cept­able and took par­tic­u­lar care to en­sure that his work­men re­alised this.” James Leighton Hardy also wrote that JJ’S great love af­fair with an­gling had started at an early age, when he and a younger brother “would tod­dle down to the Aln armed with a piece of string, a few bent pins and some worms to im­pale on them”. JJ was never to lose his love of all forms of fish­ing, along­side which he built a mighty rep­u­ta­tion as a caster, en­ter­ing his first com­pe­ti­tion in 1892 and car­ry­ing off all the lead­ing hon­ours and prizes. His con­tin­u­ing suc­cess helped enor­mously in es­tab­lish­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of the Hardy tackle he in­evitably em­ployed at th­ese events. “At the time of his death in 1932, JJ was the Cham­pion Sal­mon and Trout fly caster of Europe and had won more cham­pi­onships than any man in the Bri­tish Em­pire, his artistry be­ing ac­knowl­edged by all who watched him, his cast­ing be­ing so clean and grace­ful.”

In this and other as­pects of his char­ac­ter, per­haps JJ might be de­scribed as a “nat­u­rally gifted sales­man”. Or to put it an­other way, he was what used to be de­scribed as a “club­bable per­son” in that he was friendly and charm­ing, and thor­oughly en­joyed the com­pany of oth­ers – par­tic­u­larly if they were an­glers, and es­pe­cially if their in­ter­est, like JJ’S, had started to cen­tre on the pur­suit of sal­mon at home and abroad. In 1905, JJ was in­vited by Coun­try Life to au­thor the chap­ter “Sal­mon Fish­ing” in its Li­brary of Sport. This led him to write Sal­mon Fish­ing, pub­lished in 1907, which was ea­gerly re­ceived by the an­gling pub­lic. “As a part­ner in the Firm of Hardy Broth­ers as well as an en­thu­si­as­tic lover of sport, I have at all times taken a lively in­ter­est in all that per­tains to an­gling; seek­ing bet­ter knowl­edge of the ways of the wild things we an­gled for; watch­ing them in their homes in the river; en­deav­our­ing to dis­cover why our ef­forts were not crowned with suc­cess; hatch­ing new schemes and in­vent­ing new lures has al­ways been a most en­joy­able pas­time,” JJ wrote in his In­tro­duc­tion. “All true an­glers seek a fuller knowl­edge of their craft, and learn much from each other, and it is in this direc­tion I hope my en­deav­ours may be a help to oth­ers. The more we learn of an­gling the more en­joy­ment we dis­cover in its pur­suit, more es­pe­cially when un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions suc­cess crowns our ef­forts. An­i­mated with the spirit which de­sires to know more of the sal­mon and their moods, one al­ways feels that there are many prob­lems yet un­solved. Let us hope that while they make the an­gler’s life more in­ter­est­ing and en­joy­able, they will for all time re­main a fas­ci­nat­ing study for en­quir­ing minds.” The book is full of de­scrip­tions of tackle – fly, spin­ning and bait – and how best to em­ploy it. But in choos­ing the fol­low­ing ex­tract, I feel it might serve as a timely re­minder of what one of the great tackle man­u­fac­tur­ers, cast­ers and fish­ers had to say about the de­sign of sal­mon fly rods, in th­ese days when so many seem to be de­signed for cast­ing a line, as op­posed to fish­ing a river. “A per­fectly bal­anced rod should be ca­pa­ble of cast­ing ei­ther a short or moder­ately long line equally well. A stiff butt, which does not com­mence to work un­til 25 yards of line is ex­tended, is nat­u­rally too stiff to cast nicely at 15 to 20 yards. The most per­fect rod in this re­spect may be com­pared to a shot-gun, which should be bored not for long shots only, but so that it will do its work well, at say 25 to 35 yards. A sal­mon rod should have its range from 20 to 30 yards to work easily, and when ex­tra force is put into it, to get 35 yards is as much as it should be called upon to do. If a rod is re­quired for very long cast­ing, it should be­gin to work at say 30 yards and go up to 40; but of course such a rod is not easy to fish, and will not make the shorter casts well ... There should be just that amount of elas­tic­ity, which, when prop­erly brought into ac­tion, ef­fec­tu­ally drives the fly to the spot de­sired, with the least ex­pen­di­ture of ex­er­tion on the part of the an­gler. Stiff or im­prop­erly bal­anced rods en­tail a great deal of un­nec­es­sary labour. For in­stance, if a rod be too stiff in the butt, great force must be used to cause that stiff butt to spring suf­fi­ciently to do its work. On the other hand, if the butt be too sup­ple to cast well into a wind, you may tear your heart out and tire your­self, but you won’t get your fly to go through. The ex­act amount of move­ment which is called ‘pace’ is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine or de­scribe, and only ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge gained on the river will tell the maker when he is right. A sixty-fourth of an inch more or less in the butt of an 18 feet rod, will make or mar that rod.”

Im­ages pro­vided by Coch-y-bonddu Books (an­gle­books.com).

“He was friendly and charm­ing, and thor­oughly en­joyed the com­pany of oth­ers”

John James Hardy's orig­i­nal "Per­fect" reel. Note the patent cir­cu­lar line guard.

A plate of flies from Sal­mon Fish­ing, 1907.

JJ of­fered ad­vice on how to use fly, spin­ning and bait tackle. Here, leaded prawn hooks.

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