Farlows ‘Holdfast’

I had a tip off. There would be vintage fly rods and reels for sale at the village Christmas fayre. I would launch a preemptive strike and come home with arms full of rare goodies. That was the plan.

On a wet, grey miserable Saturday morning I was excited and nervously fiddled about until the car key turned in the ignition and I was off, speeding through the misty Sussex countryside with a bulging wallet. I was confident that my arrival, ten minutes before the village hall opened, would see me at the fishing tackle table before the enemy. It was a shock to see parked cars clogging the centre of the village and a queue infront of the village hall. I wiggled the car into a space, partly blocking a cottage door and joined the untidy thread of people milling around in the drizzle.


While queueing I stood under a gazebo covering a stall selling hot bacon rolls. It was torture. I had missed breakfast but resisted the temptation incase the doors suddenly opened mid-transaction. I examined the handful of people ahead of me in the queue. Mainly women buying Christmas presents, antique dealers looking for sleepers and no fishermen in Barbour jackets and floppy hats. Excellent.

Eventually, I shuffled through the door and got another shock. The hall was full. How did that happen ? At the fishing table, obvious from the forest of rods stacked in the window recess, I asked about the antique fly reels. The stall holder told me a lady had just bought it. Bother. I rapidly scanned the room looking for a lady clutching a Hardy Perfect or suchlike, but the enemy had departed.

Ignoring the forest of fibreglass, I clutched two tatty old canvas rod bags, anxious to retain possession until I could examine the contents. The Sharpes bag contained a vintage split cane salmon rod but most of the cork handle had been eaten by mice. The Farlows bag revealed a badly restored fly rod with rusty rings and a split ferrule. The cane was good. I knocked it down a fiver and left the scrum. I retrieved my badly parked car and drove home in the rain, keen to examine my prize.

rod bag

My last restoration project went way over budget and resulted in a rod that looked nice but wouldn’t be used. It had a steel centre and was too heavy. The new rod was light and lithe. Farlows records were destroyed during WWII but a 1938 catalogue identified the rod as the ‘New Zealand’, 10’ 6” cost £9 12s 6d. A very expensive rod for loch fishing. The patent on the Holdfast device was taken out in 1926 and the later models had tapered ferrules so the rod was nearly a hundred years old.


I planned to lightly restore the rod using appropriate rings and retaining the Holdfast ferrules which gave the rod its name. The rod weighed 9 ½ ozs mainly due to the mahogany reel seat and brass fittings. It had a special magic feel. I could imagine the rod bending and shaking as a loch trout became airborne.


The restoration went smoothly, there were no unexpected setbacks. Even the varnishing was without incident or dust. I’ll test the rod on the lawn trout in a couple of days. Now that I have two excellent split cane rods perhaps next season should be ‘cane only’. That would slow me down. I would have to rest my arm every five minutes. Something to ponder over Christmas.