Probably the best split cane rod designer and builder that fly fishing has never known.
He is famous for his carp rods. His split cane carp blanks were built for various well known retailers in the 1960’s. Completed rods were also sold at his father’s shop with the ‘Captain Croydon’ inscription. Signed rods are rare and they command very high prices. Consequently, there are lots of unsigned rods attributed to Bob that have no provenance. Wishful thinking or market hype. Collectors glass cabinets contain a lot of Bob’s rods, too rare and expensive to fish with they are hedges against inflation and pension fund supplements. Shame.
I have been unable to find much information about Bob or his family. He lived before the internet was invented.
I am not a collector but I seem to have acquired four of Bob’s fly rods. For fishing, not display. They are very rare, he didn’t make many fly rods compared to his output of MkIV carp rods. I came across the first rod (left) by chance. The gold label above the handle gives the shop address without a STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialing) phone number dating the rod to between 1959 and 1966. The rod is 10′ 6″, 2 piece. The cane is very dark, the nodes are hot pressed and the rod furniture dates from that period. The rod rings are Low Bells and the rod bag looks suspiciously like that of a MkIV !
The rod feels steely in the hand and the compound taper delivers a satisfying kick to the fly line as it unfurls, a characteristic of all four rods. The MkIV carp rod has a compound taper that produces a hinge effect just above the ferrule to aid casting light baits long distances, a requirement defined by Richard Walker who designed the famous carp rod. Bob’s fly rods also have that characteristic.
The second rod (middle left) came to me in a very used condition, in fact it was unusable. ‘The Blagdon Rod’ is 10′, two piece and has all the correct fittings. A light refurbishment enabled me to catch a few trout with it. The rod has the power to fish from the bank of a lake such as Blagdon.
The third rod (middle right) ‘The Chew Valley’ is 9’6″, two piece and is my favourite of the four rods. It is at home on a mature lowland river and a tiny moorland stream. Very versatile.
The fourth rod (right) is unsigned and a bit of an outlier. It has a Pezon et Michel reel fitting, is 9’6″ and was ordered at the shop in Croydon as a custom build by the previous owner’s father. It has hardly been used and is in very good condition.
Bob Southwell visited Peter McVey at the Corbett Lake Country Inn, British Columbia. Peter was the owner of the lodge and was a very accomplished split cane rod builder. Bob was Peter McVey’s mentor. In 1980 Bob built a rod at the Inn, he finished the rod in a weekend. There is a video of Bob Southwell building a rod at Peter’s workshop, just search on YouTube for ‘bob southwell rodmaker‘ (sic).