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