To fish a stream brings cheer and joy
As I discovered when just a boy
A whole new world, new things to do
A worthy quarry to pursue
Much to learn, much to treasure
Time to think, reflect at leisure
An old cane rod by chance discovered
Propped up beside a mouldy cupboard
A piscator was born that day
A path to follow and never stray
Time goes by and memories fade
Of things I’ve done and friendships made
But thoughts of how I fished in youth
Is what I yearn to do in truth
So back to cane and quill and pin
Worm on hook and cast it in
Sit and hope the float will dip
Willing a fish to make a slip
Roach, dace, perch or chub
Just hope one grabs my wriggling grub
Old school angling pure and true
That’s simply what I want to do.
I have always had a fondness for old cane fishing rods. My first cane rod, a hand me down relic, was originally bought by my parents during a seaside holiday long before I was even thought of.
It was one of a pair, propped up in a dark corner of the garage alongside my father’s tool cupboard and left to a dismal fate until I discovered it whilst looking for the cat. The poor thing had bolted into the garage seeking refuge after I shot it in the backside with a rubber band gun, remember those? Kids can be cruel at times.
The old canvas rod bag was rotten and the rod ends poked through the bottom, the rings were all rusty, ferrules corroded and the cork handle had been nibbled in several places and invaded by some parasitic grub which had rendered some of the cork to dust. The cane sections were far from straight, varnish crazed and flaky and the thread which bound the rings rust stained, faded and beginning to unravel.
This sad old rod had been abandoned, long forgotten and consigned to an ignominious end until discovered by a small boy with a yearning for adventure and a traumatised cat.
The rod not only had mystery, it had magic powers, as soon as I touched the decaying cotton bag and grasped the old bamboo sticks within, it cast an irreversible spell….it transformed a small boy into an angler.
To me the condition of the rod was of little consequence. Its decrepit state had no bearing on its function what so ever, it was simply a tool for fishing and would do the job just fine despite its apparent inadequacies and in its company I would discover a whole new world, a world of daring deeds, first encounters and joyful experiences.
I suppose that dear old fossil of a rod imprinted upon me in a way I never realised at the time. I don’t remember having a particular bond with it or sentimental attachment. The thing just sparked off a desire to go forth and seek monsters from the depths.
I quickly realised that the stream at the bottom of the garden wasn’t going to fulfil this ambition. I say stream but I’m probably romanticising, it was little more than a ditch, however I was dangling a rod over some water…..I was doing angling!
I was a child of the sixties, it was a decade of simple pleasures and uncomplicated aspirations. Fishing was a straight forward process; strap rod to bicycle, pack sandwich squash and bait, go fishing. No rod licence required, no permit (probably) turn up at waterside hot and sweaty having maintained a cracking pace on the Raleigh Olympus five speed (stuck in third) and get on with it.
Hopefully there would be no big boys with mopeds and landing nets to pour scorn on my meagre scruffy kit or ridicule my dubious technique, which is only slightly improved from those halcyon days of youth.
Some of these big boys were quite nasty and if you didn’t turn tail when they glared at you they’d chuck your bike in the lake. We got our own back one day but that’s another story.
I did progress however. My parents bought a dilapidated cottage which they were renovating as a holiday home on the barren wind swept east coast of Lincolnshire – yes I know.
One weekend at this blissful retreat I was put in charge of the cement mixer and laboured all day long for my Dad who was rendering the end wall of the cottage which had been assaulted by the ravages of the elements commensurate with this holiday idyll.
I did well and was rewarded with hard cash which swelled my coffers substantially.
I spotted a tackle shop during a shopping trip to Boston and suitably doshed up entered the premises. Normally I’d be peering through the windows salivating at the treasures within until my shoes were soaking wet with drool.
Sometime later I emerged from said premises triumphantly brandishing a new rod and reel, oh the joy, the excitement the sheer undiluted pleasure!
I had traded my “hard earned” for a black painted whole cane rod with an exotic solid fibreglass tip guaranteed never to break…. it did.
It had a short cork handle with two sliding reel bands, a big plus as my old rod only had one.
To compliment this bright and shiny devastatingly attractive rod I bought my first fixed spool reel, an equally devastatingly attractive Intrepid Black Prince! There was just enough cash left over to buy my first landing net. It had a folding alloy frame so it would fit in my saddle bag, yellow mesh with very strong great big knots and a short alloy pole.
My standing with the big boys with mopeds will undoubtedly have increased to a level whereby I wouldn’t be glared at or be expected to turn tail following their encounter, my bicycle was also greatly relieved.
After returning home from a most satisfactory shopping trip I decided I must practice casting with this new-fangled fixed spool reel. I practiced casting on the side lawn until teatime and then practiced casting some more until bed time, I actually became quite good at practicing.
My Dad decided I needed to practice some more over water so he took me to a big ditch which the locals called drains.
These were constructed to drain the land so cabbages could be grown. However they were put to much better use when someone had the bright idea to put fish in them thus allowing the locals to enjoy a spot of piscatorial sport and maybe even supplement their diet as there were eels to be caught which made quite good eating according to my Mum.
After all, you can only eat so many cabbages and the locals probably didn’t like cabbage anyway, oh and they smell; cabbages that is not the locals, although if they did eat a lot of cabbage they probably did.
Our idyllic holiday home was plonked right in the middle of a two hundred acre cabbage patch so I was well accustomed to the aroma of a ripe cabbage and quickly came to the conclusion that there are an awful lot of things that smell better.
I caught a roach from that drain, yes I actually christened my new kit on its inaugural outing. I decided I must now be an expert angler with a fine collection of tackle and the world was my oyster.
I did progress further with tackle upgrades, I had a couple of hollow fibreglass rods one of which was a twelve foot match rod and the other a stout pier rod for holiday use.
The cabbage patch cottage had been sold to a farmer’s son who had a fondness for brassicas, we were able to have our holidays elsewhere and all was well with the world.
I discovered other pursuits in my mid to late teens and didn’t fish again seriously until my mid-thirties.
My boss took me fly fishing which I enjoyed so bought a fly rod which was a very light carbon fibre job, not pretty but efficient. I didn’t return to coarse fishing until I was in my fifties, I had become bored with fluff chucking and wanted to catch fish other than trout.
So a visit to a tackle shop was in order to establish what I would need to pursue chub barbel and roach etc. which proved a daunting experience.
I felt quite intimidated by the sheer magnitude of the products on offer, most of which seemed alien to me. There were some big boys in the shop too which was a little unnerving but I don’t think they rode mopeds any more.
They were draped around the counter and glared at me when I walked in, fortunately I hadn’t come on my bicycle. I mooched around in a daze for several minutes and then departed empty handed.
How had coarse fishing become so complicated and expensive?
Where were all the old brand names I knew?
Why were cycle component manufacturers making reels?
Why do tackle shops sell wheelbarrows?
I thought back to my early fishing days, those days of blissful ignorance and naivety, of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm.
It used to be simple, uncomplicated and fun and only builders merchants sold wheelbarrows.
It then struck me – who was that bloke on TV who fished with old kit whilst his chum had all the latest state of the art exotic stuff? He managed well enough with an old cane rod, ancient reel, hook and a lump of plasticine – didn’t he have a bicycle too?
That’s what I wanted to do, fish in its purest, simplest form without all the plant and equipment. I wanted to return to this gentle pursuit and fish as I did in my youth.
Six years ago an Edgar Sealey cane rod appeared on Christmas day, resplendent with glossy varnish bright chrome rings and ruby whippings, a proper rod, heavy, wobbly and made of bamboo.
A Rapidex centrepin reel of a similar vintage was found in a junk shop for three quid and was soon supplemented by a a fixed spool Ambidex circa 1950. I also had hooks and plasticine.
I was transported back in time and as happy and enthusiastic as that eight year old boy I remember from the swinging sixties.
I wish I still had that old cane rod discovered in a damp garage half a century ago, I have no idea what happened to it , more than likely it ended its days on a garden bonfire. I feel quite sad when I think about it.
So what is it about an old cane rod that appeals so much…aesthetics maybe?
Cane looks lovely old or new, the colour sits well with natures hues, it just looks right. So much so birds often perch on the rod tip as if it were part of the flora and fauna.
A cane rod is organic, bamboo grows as does cork, the alloys used in its make up come out of the ground, the silk that binds the rings comes from the cocoon of a mulberry silk worm. In today’s green and eco-friendly society this scores maximum brownie points.
There are many pre-war rods still in existence they have served the lifetime of the original owner and possibly the second. They can be refurbished and used by generation after generation. They are environmentally friendly. Unlike cows, cane rods don’t fart.
A cane rod is a delight to fish with, cane has a very pleasing action and bends throughout its length to absorb the lunges of a fish as it makes its bid for freedom. Any fisherman who has not played a fish on a cane rod will have no idea how cane transmits the movements of the fish as it fights the angler, It’s the angling equivalent of high fidelity as opposed to the digitally enhanced audio of a modern rod made from the black stuff.
Fishing should be a stress free, and a relaxing experience I find this so using my antiquated tackle. It is quite liberating to be able to roam a river and not be encumbered by a mountain of kit. Most of the time I’m quite happy to sit it out though and wait for the fish to come to me. I don’t feel under any pressure to catch the largest or the most, I just want to enjoy the process either alone or in company.
The actual fish catching bit is of secondary importance, don’t get me wrong I do like to catch fish and there is always the desire to catch a larger one than I’ve managed before but the “being there doing it” is of equal merit. It’s the thrill of the chase I suppose.
My cane fishing rods are displayed in a rod rack in our dining room. My wife considers them to be object d’art and provided they are not covered in fish slime or maggot juice she is very happy to see them displayed next to the Renoir.
My antiquated reels also receive meritorious approval from the in house curator of arts and treasures thus they have their place on a book shelf the other side of the Renoir…. anyone else got a Renoir sandwich?
I keep buying cane rods, I keep selling them too, which is just as well otherwise I would have to buy more Renoirs and make more sandwiches.
The buying and selling has resulted in a small collection of rods that suit my specific needs and these will never be sold unless a better alternative presents itself or until I am no longer able to fish with cane.
Some have been altered and customised to a degree, some restored to original spec. As far as I am aware, none of my rods are historically important or of special interest to collectors. I do however get a great deal of satisfaction from conserving what I consider to be important aspects of our angling heritage, be it a rod an old reel or a simple quill float.
Discovering an old tired sad looking fifty year old relic of a rod which may have been its original owners pride and joy fills me with excitement. I do enjoy the challenge of rectifying faults, repairing damage, hunting for replacement components or making good or serviceable those items which can no longer made.
Junk shops, antique shops, charity shops, and the like hold a certain fascination for me and I find it almost impossible to pass one by without exploring the dark recesses within. The sight of an old tatty rod bag propped up in a corner sets my heart racing, fumbling to undo the ties with trembling fingers however usually reveals a cheap and nasty modernish rod with a broken tip which had been stuffed into an old rod sleeve.
The last time this happened the lady in the shop seeing my sudden change of mood and sudden disinterest piped up;
“I think its quite a good one”
“Oh, do you fish too?”
“No but I think its quite a good one because lots of people have looked at it”
“But no one bought it?”
“A man said he had one like it years ago and he caught a huge fish with it”
“Maybe this is his old one and that’s why it’s broken”
“I think it’s supposed to be in three pieces”
“Well, yes! I’m aware of that but the top part is short and the tip ring is missing and the ends all jagged – look”
“I could knock a pound off?”
“Err…I’m not sure I could do much with it, I’ll have a think about it”
“It might be gone if you come back”
“Let’s hope so”
“Thanks ever so….”
Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t go back and buy it, I have overcome my trepidation of tackle shops and the Renoir’s a copy.
Writing Jeremy Croxall – Photography Pallenpool