A bit of Culture

Last year I wrote about Elgar’s first fishing trip to Little Bognor on 15 June 1918. I commemorated the centenary of Elgar’s visit by catching a Trout at Little Bognor on 15 June 2018. I enjoyed researching and writing about his life and music. His cello concerto and enigma variations are a fitting accompaniment on my regular visits to Petworth.


Fly Culture magazine is a new, upmarket publication about fly fishing around the world. It’s all content, no adverts or product placement. It’s about ‘why’ we fish. No regurgitated articles about killer fly patterns or the latest ‘tactical’ fly tying scissors. It’s a good read. The Editor, Pete Tyjas, liked my piece about Elgar and published it in the Spring 2019 edition.

I’m looking forward to celebrating Elgar Day again this year. A friend suggested that a lakeside vintage picnic with a gramophone would be fun. I’m not sure about that.


18 March – Little Springs

The weather on Saturday, the Opening Day, was horrible. Gale force winds and rain. It had been an easy decision to stay indoors and wait for calmer weather.

The Defender rumbled along the narrow lanes and then turned across the cattle grid into the Estate. I drove slowly between fields of bright green shoots, the warmth and rain had produced an even covering of cereal crops across the gently rolling escarpment. The cloudscape was impressive, banks of dark clouds had formed over the South Downs and were marching north-east.


The lakes were coloured and no Trout were rising. There were plenty of small Roach dimpling the surface of Little Springs but I couldn’t see any signs of the recently stocked Trout. I had a cup of tea and watched the lake. I had two objectives; to catch a Trout and to christen the Sharpes ‘Aberdeen’. I put the rod together and threaded the Rio line carefully through the rings. I didn’t miss any. I chose a black and copper spider and decided to fish the margins around the first point. The rod and line were awkward in my left hand. The rod was not working the short line, it was not loading correctly. I persevered and moved around the lake convinced that a fish would take. As I sat on the east side of the lake a Trout splashed in the margin where I had started. I changed to an unweighted black spider, it would be more visible high up in the water.

As I crept along the bank at the deep end of the lake a Trout swirled close to the brickwork by the overflow. I dropped the fly into the ripples and the fly line was drawn towards me by the water pouring out of the lake. The line twitched and I lifted the rod but not quickly enough.


I flicked the fly back out, further from the bank to allow it to sink before the movement of the water dragged the fly line down the outflow. The line drew away from me and I connected with a good fish. It fought hard and was in very good condition. I released it from the net and congratulated myself, the fish was about 2lb. Earlier I had seen a fish swirl on the eastern side of the outflow. I had slowed my casting and adjusted to the rhythm of the rod. After a few gentle casts the line tightened and a very good fish went on a long run up the lake. I held the rod low and feathered the spool of the reel. Eventually the fish rolled over the edge of the net, it was about 3lb and in fin-perfect condition. The fly fell out of the Trout’s jaw and I nursed it in the net until it dived away back into the cold, deep water.

I had caught a couple of excellent fish in about two hours and had tuned in to the Sharpes. It had been a perfect start to the season.


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.


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.


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.





2019 Plans


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.


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.


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.