Actually it wasn’t quite the parcel I had expected. I opened the front door to a young lady who handed me a fishing rod. In a canvas rod bag. No tube. No wrapping paper. No address label. Just a rod. It had travelled from the Midlands by courier totally unprotected. Imagine the Royal Mail . . . No, it’s too horrible to contemplate. I was so shocked that I just mumbled something and shut the door. I should have hugged her and tipped her £10. In my dressing gown? Perhaps not.
I feverishly felt the rod bag for breakages, splinters and sharp bits of cane. It felt OK so I untied the ribbon and revealed the rod. It was perfection. The Holy Grail of English split cane. A very rare and collectable fly rod by Bob Southwell. Famous for his carp rods. Supplier to the great Richard Walker and B James. Moreover, if I had specified a custom build it would be fast action, ten feet and no frills. Exactly like the rod in my hands.
I examined it carefully. It bore all the hallmarks associated with Southwell. Dark cane, pressed nodes and a steely feel in the hand. Plus a label with the name of his father’s tackle business, J W Southwell. I felt privileged to hold a rod by the great man that was probably made around the time I was born.
I had a busy schedule and it was late evening before I could play with the rod. What to do? Should I use it? What line would suit the rod? Was it too heavy? I had a glass of wine and loaded up the rod with my favourite Hardy reel and modified Cortland 444. My first tentative cast on the damp lawn was surprising. The rod had a natural feel and curled out a straight line. It wouldn’t be hurried. Slow and accurate. It had the backbone for a longer cast but I ran out of lawn. I had another glass of wine and imagined a perfect evening on the river, with a perfect rod.
The following day I loaded my tackle into the back of the Defender and drove towards Petworth. The roads were full of fast cars heading to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed. I visited the big Chub under the streamer weed at the Fish Pass and decided to leave it for another day. As I looked into the water below Rotherbridge a trout rose and disappeared back under the raft of rubbish collected by the Willow tree. On the other side of the bridge a nice Trout was finning alongside a small tuft of streamer weed. A shoal of good size Dace were feeding on a patch of sand. The Wealden Hunt were due to pass through Rotherbridge and the water loving pack of hounds would disturb the Trout. I headed towards Keepers Bridge.
By the time I had set the rod up it was lunch time and the temperature was close to thirty degrees. I sat on the grass opposite the first Alder tree and curled a short line across the current. The action of the rod was slow but the length allowed me to delay the forward cast without catching the bushes. Lengthening the line helped balance the rod, it was best at about one river width which was very convenient. Over the next two hours I moved downstream, mainly casting with my left arm, exploring the weed beds and under the trees. I was happy with the rod and hoped to christen it with a Trout but the leader remained undisturbed. The sun was too bright. Nevermind, I enjoyed myself.