A Time Capsule

Thirty years ago I bought a matched pair of Sharpes Scottie impregnated carp rods. They were immaculate. I paid slightly more than I should have to help a friend who was in financial difficulties. I told him that he could buy them back when he was flush but we lost contact. I didn’t use the rods until a few years ago. I christened the rods with several carp all of which were over 20lbs, one approaching 30lbs. Then I discovered how rare and valuable the rods were. My matching pair of Sharpes “The Carp”, in mint condition, sold for nearly ten times what I had paid. I had mixed feelings about the sale. I was relieved not to have the responsibility of looking after the rods but sad that I could no longer fish with them.

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One winter afternoon, bored, browsing through vintage rods for sale, I found a time capsule. Another Sharpes rod. It was expensive. The rod had been made in September 1964 and had been in storage for over 54 years. I didn’t need another vintage cane rod. I had restored two rods and found the Holy Grail of English split cane, a Bob Southwell fly rod. My heart overruled my head and I bought “The Aberdeen”; 10′ 6″ of honey coloured cane. My previous Sharpes rods had given me a lot of pleasure and they had been a great investment. I bought it as an early birthday present to myself. My instincts told me it was the right thing to do.

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The rod arrived, in a bullet proof plastic tube, covered in duct tape and bubble wrap. It took ages to unwrap. Once assembled it was a joy to waggle. I compared it with the Farlows rod that I had restored. They were the same length but the Sharpes had a steely quality absent in the lithe loch rod. This rod clearly means business, it would handle a large sea trout. I flexed it in the garden and cast to the lawn trout under the rose bush. It had quite a fast action for such a long, heavy rod.

I now have two rare vintage rods to play with. The Southwell has already been christened. I am tempted to take the Sharpes to Cumbria. It would be at home on the wide, fast flowing River Derwent.

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2019 Plans

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Last season had been memorable but I felt fished-out by the end of October. The early November holiday on Dartmoor was very relaxing and after returning home, I wasn’t minded to catch any more trout. I had fished three times a week throughout the season plus there were other occasions when I visited the river and lakes without fishing.

The Estate records revealed that I had fished on 77 occasions. I’d had a great time in the glorious Sussex countryside but I’d over cooked it. In 2019 I would cut down on the number of visits to the river and lakes and try to make more of the evenings.

I had returned every fish to the river and only retained 11 fish from the lakes. The catch and release experiment at Little Bognor had been a great success. It had been agreed to extend the trial to the other lakes until the weather warmed up. This would enable me to fish all of the waters without killing unwanted fish. I would no longer have to dump trout on my neighbours or the landlady at the pub.

The refurbishment of the Farlows rod I found in a jumble sale meant that I had two suitable split cane rods in my armoury. I will take the latest acquisition to the lakes as soon as the season opens and christen it with a couple of fish. The action of the cane rods will slow me down and their weight will force me to stop casting and rest for longer periods, no bad thing.

I delivered my 2018 diary to Otter Bookbinding at Midhurst yesterday and will collect it in a few weeks. It will be interesting to consult my notes from the last three years and compare the results with 2019. The winter weather so far has been mild and dry. The lawns already need cutting. I hope that we get rain during February and March and that the summer is not as hot as last year.

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I am researching and planning my week fishing on the Derwent in Cumbria during early April. The fly boxes are filling up with replacements for the flies left in the bushes and trees along the river. I will need a good selection of heavily weighted flies. Without beads. I will use traditional flies, beads would ruin my holiday.

I have already made an entry in the calendar for Saturday 15 June so that I can celebrate ‘Fishing with Elgar’ at Little Bognor. I made a detour around Riverhill on the way to Midhurst yesterday and was shocked to see that the gnomes at Little Bognor were under attack. A digger and chainsaw shattered the tranquility of the valley. The guys from the Estate were amazed when I introduced them to the gnomes and they promised to be careful with the digger.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2018 Season Summary

The 2018 season was eventful and if I had to sum it up with one word, I would say it was ‘memorable’. The extreme weather was frustrating but I particularly enjoyed fishing at Little Bognor and the river. The “Beast from the East” delayed the start of river fishing and the long, hot dry summer ruined the trout fishing on most of the lakes but despite the weather, I had many enjoyable moments.

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At the start of the season I had several objectives in mind. I planned to reduce the wear and tear on my right arm by learning to cast with my left. After 40 years of casting badly I would have an opportunity to correct my wayward style. How hard could it be ? I used the first few weeks of the season to practice casting with my left arm and became quite proficient. As the season progressed I became ambidextrous but continued to use my right arm for tricky casts around bushes or under trees. It was probably just a lack of confidence.

I used the new Hardy Duchess reel that I bought from Peter Cockwill. I matched it with a cut-down Cortland 444 and it was excellent. I loaded the line onto the reel for right hand wind  and reversed both ratchet pawls so it didn’t make a noise. I used it mainly on the river and it quickly became my favourite reel.

The catch and release experiment at Little Bognor enabled me to fish frequently without the embarrassment of dead but unwanted trout. I used March and April to learn new casting skills, test leader and tippet combinations and to experiment with new flies ready for the river which eventually became fishable in mid May.

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The Mayfly hatch was interrupted by heavy rain at the end of May and dwindled away during June. I will always remember June 2018. I had a potentially fatal experience in the Land Rover when a wheel bearing seized on the way to the Orvis Day. Which I missed. June 15 was the centenary of Elgar’s first fishing trip to Little Bognor and I caught a brownie of 4lb 8ozs while rehearsing for the big day.

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In July I christened my Bob Southwell cane rod which was immediately reserved for special occasions. The July temperature reached 35 degrees. I spent a memorable holiday in Rye, staying for a week at the Mermaid Inn, visiting the beach and some of my boyhood haunts. I was relieved when it rained at the end of the month and the Sea Trout started to run.

In August the river was refreshed by heavy rain and I enjoyed a memorable day on the top beat which had remained unfished since April. I didn’t catch anything but I deceived and hooked a good fish, in a difficult lie, with an upstream dry fly. It snagged me and got off but finding, stalking and hooking the Trout was extremely satisfying.

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September was a productive month, the Autumn Equinox brought gales and heavy rain but earlier in the month the river had been in perfect condition. The mornings were chilly and the House Martins left for warmer climes. I had great sport with copper nymphs and dry flies, particularly a small sedge pattern. Quite a few Sea Trout were caught but I had resolved, at the start of the season, not to fish for them. Fishing a deep sunk lure would be hard work and boring. Moreover, I wasn’t comfortable trying to catch a fish that had survived a long journey to the sea and back.

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In October I visited Little Bognor, Great Springs and the river. I caught fish from both the lakes and the river. It was a final tour of the Estate before the trip to Dartmoor and before the bad weather set in. October is usually the best month on the river and I had an excellent day at the start of the month, netting a big resident brown that had evaded capture. I finished the river season in the wooded section below Keepers Bridge where I caught one of the Impossible Trout. A great way to end my year on the Rother.

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In early November a holiday on Dartmoor had interrupted fishing. The week away had enabled me to walk along the banks of the rivers Meavy, Blackbrook, Walkham and several tiny moorland streams. I didn’t see a single fish. Not even a minnow. Dartmoor in November is an evil place, devoid of tourists, dark and threatening. The rivers were fast and crystal clear unlike the Rother. I hung over the parapet of a tiny stone bridge contemplating a game of Pooh Sticks. Early next April I will fish the Derwent for the first time and in my mind, I practised running a weighted nymph through the turbulent pools below the bridge. I didn’t get a take.

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In Sussex the late November weather was cold, wet and windy. I cleared the outflow on the lakes at Little Bognor a couple of times each week but the Chestnut and Beech trees shed their leaves faster than they were swept downstream. Each time I visited the lakes during November I saw fish moving but the frozen water troughs and the biting wind meant that the rod stayed in its tube. My season had ended on 25 October, the earliest ending for years.

Although I caught fewer fish than last year, I had more enjoyment. The catch and release experiment at Little Bognor meant that I didn’t have to worry about killing the fish and I also had the pleasure of seeing them swim away. Finding a rare pristine Southwell fly rod and celebrating the Elgar centenary were the high points of a very memorable season.

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25 October – Keepers Bridge

I walked part of each Beat trying to assess my chances on what might be my last visit to the river until next season. The sun was warm and I took my time strolling along the river bank waiting for a fish to show. The weir pool was full of turbulent grey water and looked dead. I was not impressed. At Rotherbridge the water was a lot clearer but there were no signs of life. I walked downstream to investigate what looked like a rise but it turned out to be a Little Grebe. A few fish had been caught at Keeper’s Bridge but although I stood and willed a fish to move, the water was flat calm. I remembered the Impossible Trout in the wooded area below Keeper’s Bridge and decided to spend a leisurely afternoon trying to winkle one out from under the trees. I visited Taylor’s Bridge and walked down to the Shallow Pool but saw no signs of fish. I was confident that Keeper’s Bridge was the correct choice.

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I was comfy in a big Musto coat and walked slowly across the bridge and downstream towards the pair of Alder trees that would hide me from the fussy Trout. The warm Autumn sun was on my right and as I leant against the tree trunks, I cast no shadow. A fish rose under a low hanging branch which was encouraging. I chose a lightly weighted Black and Copper Spider which sunk slowly, dragging the leader through the surface film. I cast through a letter box formed by rushes and Alder branches. The fly landed close to the trees on the far bank and drifted down and across. I worked the tree line for about thirty minutes them moved to the other side of the tree trunks. After a couple of casts the line felt heavy and I lifted into a fish that stayed deep. It was a long, lean hungry-looking Trout that glowed gold in the low Autumn sun. I was relieved to have caught a fish, I wanted to end the season on a high.

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After returning the Trout I went upstream and spent a few minutes exploring the pool below the Alder tree where, on a previous visit, I’d lost a good fish in the roots. I saw a fish rise about fifty yards upstream in the shadow of another Alder. I knelt above the rise and was careful to work the fly gradually down the far bank, I didn’t want to line the Trout. It came up in a big swirl and took the fly. It was a plump fish and in great condition.

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Content with two fish, I wandered back to the bridge, stopping occasionally for a few half-hearted casts under likely looking bushes. I wanted to stay at the river and take a few photos of the sunset but a big grey cloud built up above the tree line and obscured the sun. There would be no sunset. Cold weather with Arctic winds had been forecast overnight and the angry evening sky looked wintery. I had an urge to fish the riffle but as I got there I saw another member on the opposite bank. I retreated downstream to give him room.

As I wandered towards the broken gate I heard a fish rise behind me. I turned and saw a small circular ripple near the far bank at the end of the Sandy Pool.  I thought a vole had dived into the remains of the streamer weed but went back to make sure. A small Trout seized the fly on the third cast and immediately jumped. It tangled the fly line and dived into a snag on my side of the river. I twitched the fly line loose and bent the rod from the butt to bully the fish into open water. It was a wild fish that nearly sneaked out of the hole in my landing net. It was very silver, a stark contrast to the stocked fish.

I had been in a relaxed mood all afternoon and was happy to have caught three fish. The river looked beautiful and I had ended the season well, the trip would remain in my memory until next April.

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