November 3rd, 2003

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

The Stuff We Use

By Jim Clarke, UK

Rods, reels, flies and leaders. These are the basic equipment which no fly fisherman can do without. Everything else is embroidery. Or so many people would have us believe. There are those among us who are prepared to sing the praises of our forebears' lack of modern aids and to feel virtuous if they approach our sport in a more primitive manner than most of us would be prepared to do.

Many are the anglers who sing the praises of split cane rods, they (the anglers) exist in vast numbers, so perhaps they are not completely wrong. More of them later.

It is fashionable to long for a silk line, people pine for the sound of an audible check, I have even heard of a brotherhood who use gut casts (or leaders, to use the American term) and are prepared to carry wet boxes with damp felt leaves a la 19th century. This, I contend, is going many a mile too far. Progress will only be accepted as progress if the majority wish it.

This article was prompted by coming across an old Hardy cane rod in the back room of the business which used to be mine. The present owners allow me to wander around "as if I owned it still" and this was tucked in a corner with other junk. You will see that on this side of the Atlantic we don't have the same sentimental attachment to cane as exists in USA.

However - I was taught to fish with cane rods way back in the days of yore, I used Hardy rods all my formative years, my families company were Hardy dealers in the days when that carried some clout and exclusivity, days now long gone. Second-hand Hardys were common and I had the pleasure of trying out and using almost every rod Hardy made in the 50's and 60's. A few became favourites. The Halford Knockabout was a 9'6" dry fly rod, meaning a stiff action as opposed to an easy wet fly action, I fished one of these for a few years until long casting on reservoirs became my way of life when I transferred my affections to a Pope, 10 ft of super stiff split cane. Other models which remain in my mind with fondness are the J.J.H.Triumph, France, Koh-i-Noor, Taupo and Perfection. The Triumph, named after J.J.Hardy, a casting champion, was 8'9" of sweet dry fly rod with snake rings instead of the more traditional full open bridge type, a light sliding reel seat on the cork in place of the popular heavy aluminium and in all regarded as state of the art lightweight, all singing, all dancing, super duper fly rod from the world's leading maker.

This was what I found among the junk!

The chaps who now run the business had grown up in the days when fibreglass was rapidly replacing cane (those old wooden things) and in turn giving way to graphite and really, cane rods mean nothing to them.

I picked the rod, in it's bag, from the junk corner, and took it out. The name, Triumph, leapt out at me and immediately transported me back thirty years. I went into the middle of the room and waggled, it as one does.

It felt strange, but somehow familiar. I asked if I could try it. The answer - "Take it away with you, we don't want it."

Next day I had found a #5 line and put it on a reel, took the rod down to the lake at the bottom of the garden and prepared to cast myself back in time.


This jewel of a rod, this epitome of the rodmaker's art, this thing of beauty was heavy and slow, oh so slow.

Somewhere from the dim recesses of my mind came the timing and movements needed to put a line onto the water. I found I needed a great deal more arm movement than I had used for the last ten years. It was a slow, very deliberate arm movement. Wrist was no good with this thing, wrist action ran out of arc before the line was aerialised satisfactorily. It had to be coaxed into reacting, and nursed into stopping at the end of the arc.

Fifteen yards was finally eased from the rod, a lot less than I once cast with a similar rod, but I had to be satisfied with that. I have been using graphite for twenty years and a Sage for seven, the difference is immense. My first rod was a greenheart, then came the years of cane to be followed by Hardy/Tarantino fibreglass. Each was the last word at the time but when graphite appeared, that was it! No going back.

Let us look at lines. Kingfisher silk lines were the norm when I started, with Hardy Corona lines the top of the range. We were happy with these, in our ignorance. Gladding made a few ripples when they introduced their Bubblet, a plastic line with a hole down the middle, and this in days when plastic was a novelty! However, the hole filled with water and the surface coating peeled off. Back to the drawing board.

Next to bat were Millwards with their Flymaster lines made of floating or sinking fibres which promised well. The problem soon surfaced, the coating was rubbery and wouldn't shoot, it seemed almost to stick to the rings. Failure. We carried on with our silk lines, greasing them, drying them at midday, hanging them up carefully on a drier at the end of the day and in the close season, and, inevitably, throwing them away when they got sticky and useless. Kingfisher would redress lines if requested, but even then it was labour intensive and uneconomical.

Then AirCel arrived!! Happy day!! We found these lines unbelievable. They floated forever, and if your line was pulled under by the current, up it popped further downstream. Magic. The makers said the lines didn't need to be dried after use, and even said you could practice on concrete and it would do no harm. We couldn't bring ourselves to do this but it gave one a lot of confidence in the wearing qualities of the line. Plastic lines have improved immeasurably since those early days, and once again - No going back.

Reels have not changed much over the years, except in weight and capacity, and these features were always possible, waiting only for demand to bring them out of the cupboard. I had a Hardy Perfect with silent drag in 1956 and it was an old reel then. It was a felt pad rather than a disc brake, but the advantages were there.

Casts have changed, how they have changed! When I left school and went into the business, we were still selling gut casts and points. The new-fangled nylon monofilament had just appeared and was greeted with some suspicion. This suspicion soon disappeared when the differences were realised. One could carry a spool of the stuff with you and take off as much as was needed. It didn't have to be soaked beforehand and didn't rot. Nowadays I use continuous tapes co-polymer casts tipped with fluorocarbon and cannot imagine anything better.

Flies have changed dramatically over the years. In the old days we still used the traditional trout flies with wing, hackle, tail and perfectly tied body, in the patterns that had existed for generations. Suddenly we had nymphs, odd looking things with shell backs and bunches of hackle at the sides where no hackle had any right to be, and so sparsely dressed as to look almost insubstantial. We were used to lots of hackle and full wings over a fairly robust body! But, they caught fish and suddenly change was afoot. Flies have never looked back.

I, for one, would never consider going back in retrograde steps to cane rods, silk lines, great heavy reels with little or no room for backing and gut casts. Heaven forbid! ~ Jim Clarke

About Jim:

Jim Clarke
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, longer ago than he cares to remember, and on leaving school went into his family's business - Gunmakers and Fishing Tackle manufacturers. By the time he joined the firm it had become more retail than manufacturing , though the history and reputation of the company was somewhat patrician, which stood them in good stead in the face of the modern, retail only, fly-by-night businesses which proliferated in the fifties and sixties in the climate of leisure time explosion. A few years later, feeling somewhat stifled in a company run by father and two warring uncles, he left to take over an ailing gun maker in Chester, England. He was to stay there for thirty pleasant years, retiring some six years ago, ostensibly to have more time to fish. He had given up shooting, but in reality appears to have retired to garden, decorate and construct THINGS in the garden. He has, nevertheless managed to fish in Ireland, Scotland Wales and England, with trips to Sweden and Alaska thrown in. You will find more of Jim's writing in our Europe section.

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