I have fishing history in my hands. A beautiful, museum-quality artifact from 1955 that has never seen the banks of a river. Preserved, kept well away from careless anglers, protected from overhanging branches, mud and water.
The label on the silk bag proudly displays the crest of the late King George and the Prince of Wales. The rod was made at Alnwick in 1955 about the time I took my first steps. We both came into the world not long after the death of King George V. Although the rod has remained in pristine condition, sadly I have not. The reel fitting is engraved with the royal coat of arms of both the King and the Prince of Wales.
The reel fitting is unmarked and the handle carries traces of cork dust from the factory. Grubby, slimy fishing-hands have never held this rod. It was taken from the rod builder and hung on peg 55 in the Hardy archive at Alnwick.
The provenance of the rod is well documented. Hardy kept an archive of every rod they made. The ‘Pattern’ rods were archived to ensure consistency for the 248 variations built between 1874 and 2005. In 2004 Hardy merged with Greys and in January 2005 the entire Hardy rod archive was sold. That was a tragedy. The archive was dispersed all over the world for a few pounds to prop up a failing business. A short term approach which, when applied to their manufacturing strategy, saw the rapid decline in the quality of their rods and reels. ‘Made in Korea’ was not popular. Production is gradually returning to Alnwick and things are improving. However, the archive cannot be reformed and the iconic brand is now owned by a private equity firm in New York. How sad.
I bought my rod, ‘The Itchen‘ H 1914, on an impulse. A once in a lifetime opportunity that couldn’t be turned down. The purchase was made furtively in a side road, just off the M3, like a county lines drug deal. No cocaine was involved although the residents have probably given the car registration number to the drug squad. I also bought a second, equally rare rod but that is another story.
I bought the rod for several reasons. Mainly because I loved the quality and history. Secondly, next season I have a rod on the Itchen and the co-incidence was a sign. Lastly, as the L’Oreal advert says . . . “because I’m worth it“.
Q. What dilemma ?
A. Should I use the rod next season ? It’s unused only until it’s used. The reel seat would become scratched, the cork handle would get grubby and a branch might creep up behind me and snick the tip. On the other hand, what could be better than a treasured Hardy rod and reel on the Itchen during a mayfly hatch ?
Many years ago I was given a bottle of vintage red wine. It came in a lovely leather box with a certificate of authenticity from the cellar of a well known actress. I decided to keep the bottle for a special birthday. It was stored carefully until the big day arrived, 1954 was not a good year. I’d had better from the local garage. I still have the empty bottle and use the box for my fishing tackle but the magic, the anticipation, has gone.
Perhaps I should preserve ‘The Itchen’ for future generations ?