Southwell III

I had been searching for a Bob Southwell rod called the ‘Blagdon‘ since discovering a 2014 auction photo. A proper auction, not online. The fuzzy shot revealed a long rod with green whippings and the correct period fittings. I left a random note online asking for information about Southwell rods and after several months, up popped an email offering me a ‘Blagdon‘. I bought it the next day.

This was not the auction rod, the inscription was different. There’s another one still to find. My initial impression was that the rod I had bought would need a light refurbishment. I always start with preservation in mind, it never works out that way. Horrors are invariably discovered under the magnifying glass and so it turned out.

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Unlike the other Southwell rods I have, this one had been fished-to-death. The rings were worn out. Expensive fly line destroying half moon bites inside each of the full open bridge rings consigned them to the bin. Why didn’t Southwell use snake rings? Even the Agate butt ring had several grooves and was bent. The cork handle was chipped, the tip section had lost a few inches and the cane had a slight set.

The many scars in the varnish were witness to a hard life. Definitely not a collectors piece. My biggest concern was a suspicious looking whipping near the tip, was it concealing a fracture? The marks in the varnish, the mangled tip ring and missing cane suggested that the rod tip had probably been trodden on. Unlike my other Southwell rods this would need a full refurbishment, it could not be used otherwise.

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I repurposed a natural cork from a traditional bottle of wine. It matched the old cork handle very well. I was given an original black button from the Southwell era. I found a gem of a butt ring that had been crafted from real Agate and looked more like designer jewellery than a rod fitting. It cost as much. I even found some Pearsalls silk of the correct colour.

The handle restoration is complete but the full restoration is a winter long project. It’s fiddly and time consuming. The intermediate whippings are widely spaced but need good light and a steady hand. The rod will be ready in the Spring. Probably.

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Season Summary

I usually summarise the season in one word. This year choosing one word was tricky but I settled on ‘eventful‘. I experienced so many new things that warranted a diary entry. Events that might otherwise be overlooked in later years when recalling the blur of 2019.

In April I visited the Derwent in Cumbria to celebrate my 65th birthday. The scenery, weather and fishing were fabulous and the rented farmhouse beside the river was a warm and comfortable lodging. I am tempted to return but it was such a magical week that it can never be repeated.

I was invited to fish the River Wey during the mayfly season and I although I let a monster escape, I had a great time exploring a bigger version of the Rother. I also visited the River Itchen in early September and had the entire fishery to myself. My beat was spectacular and I learnt a lot about upstream dry fly on a chalk stream. I have taken a rod on the Itchen next season.

2019 was the ‘Year of The Cane Rod’. I christened the Farlows ‘Holdfast – New Zealand’, the Sharpes ‘Aberdeen’ and bought several other cane rods.

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Although I have an inventory of my cane collection, it has become difficult to choose a rod for a days fishing. I have my favourites but I will ensure that the majority get used next year.

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Bob Southwell

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Fly Culture magazine

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River Derwent, Cumbria

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Little Springs

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River Rother

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The New Riffle

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Mayfly Spinner

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Mayfly Dun

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Below Keepers Bridge

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Riverhill

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Weirwood Reservoir 1975

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River Itchen

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New Hat

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Ebisu Day

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October

A Dilemma

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.

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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.

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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 ?

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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 ?

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Ebisu

Heavy rain all month had kept me away from the river. After a very dry summer, which saw only a third of the long term average rainfall, the Autumn had been very wet. Nearly every day had seen rain. A visit to the lakes at Little Bognor was in order. I’d checked the lower lake last week. The water was a little coloured and there was quite a lot of leaf debris on the surface of the water. The springs at the top of the lake were flowing well and water poured through the overflow grill.

My un-christened Ebisu rod beckoned to me from under the bed. The wooden box looked like it should contain a snooker cue but had protected the rod for over fifty years. The rod was probably made in the 1960s by the Ebisu Company Ltd. which was established on 10 August 1954 in Japan. In Japanese mythology Ebisu is one of the seven Gods of Fortune. He is said to be the God of fishermen, working men and good luck, a great combination. Ebisu’s festival is celebrated each year on 20 October and it seemed fitting to use the rod rather than the Hardy.

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The North wind had blown the leaf debris towards the overflow and most of the lake surface was clear. No fish were rising, the prospects looked bleak. I decided to use the 3# Rio line because I didn’t want to overload the old cane. The rod worked well with about ten yards of line outside the tip ring. It came to life when loaded and I confidently side-cast through the slot between the marginal ferns and the drooping branches of the Beech trees.

I started with a black spider, visible to cruising fish, under the branches to my left. I concentrated for about thirty minutes and then lost the plot during a series of hooked twigs, tangles and poor casts. Time to move on.

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I crept along the bank towards the dead Chestnut tree and flicked the fly into the margins in preparation for a roll cast. A big fish swirled but I was so surprised I froze in disbelief. I rolled the fly out expecting an immediate take. A sunken branch grabbed the fly and put up a good fight. Time to move again.

I leant against the trunk of a tree, backcast into a holly bush, kicked the landing net over and flicked the fly into a particularly tough fern frond in the margin. Hilarious laughter followed and I moved to the open bank and deep water. Trout were cruising along the line of the leaf debris taking buzzers but they were not tempted by my offerings.

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I moved around the lake looking for feeding fish and ended up where I’d started, under the big Beech trees. A deep sunk red and black spider was ignored and my casting deteriorated, tiredness was a distraction. I swapped my fly for a black Neoprene Buzzer with white Neoprene breathers, it was a last ditch attempt at deceiving a fish. I suspected that the tiny fly would be invisible in the coloured water. As the leader drifted in a curve from right to left it appeared to stop, a possible sign of a fish disturbing the water around the buzzer. Not enough to lift into. Several casts later the leader dipped gently no more than an inch and I instinctively lifted the rod. The fish fought long and hard, I couldn’t revive it in the landing net and took it home for dinner.

The rod was a revelation, the slow action threw tight loops to a maximum of fifteen yards. I couldn’t push it further. It will be great for buzzers and fine tippets next season. I hadn’t been particularly lucky but I had worked hard and caught a fish. Two out of three Gods were with me.

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