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29 January 2004
Country Life magazine pays a visit to The Edward Barder Rod Company


Bespoke cane rods are the ultimate object of desire for the fussy fisherman.

DAVID PROFUMO meets a man keeping the art and craft alive.

THE invention of an angling pole to keep your line away from the bank and assist in exhausting hooked fish dates from before 2000BC.  There are casual allusions in the Odyssey and early Chinese books of odes, and the first piscatorial book in English (1496) gives instructions for making a fearsome example with a butt section as thick as a man's arm.  In the search for strength and lightness, many materials have subsequently been employed, from whalebone tips to recycled tank aerials.  In the early 19th century, bamboo was introduced, but it was not until an American, Charles Murphy, invented the split-cane technique in about 1862 that rod-makers found a process which was to prove popular for a century or more. The author (above) tests a Barder rod; its maker advises.

These days, we are spoilt with space-age fibres such as boron and graphite, which result in slimline, lightweight wands.  There is still a specialist market, however, for the exquisitely hand-made wooden rod.  When the Flyfishers' Club committee wanted to commission a quintessentially English trout rod for the Millennium, we chose a young chap called Edward Barder.

Edward Barder fishing with John Profumo photo
The author (above) tests a Barder rod;
its maker advises.
I meet him at his compact workshop near Newbury.  Indeed, at no more than 18sq ft, and stuffed with bamboo culms, glue pots and mechanical contraptions, this has to be the paradigm of a cottage industry.  Yet here, for the past decade, he and his colleague Colin Whitehouse have been producing bespoke rods so sought-after that there are continuous back-orders for at least a year.

Mr Barder admits that his is a connoisseur market, hut it is by no means all down to nostalgia.  Most of his clients were never brought up with wooden rods in the first place.  'People are angling for pleasure, and there comes a time when many of them want an aesthetic quality you just can't get from carbon fibre,' he says.  Each rod requires some 60 hours' of his handiwork.

Although largely self-taught, Mr Barder comes from a keen fishing background (his father, Richard, was a noted angling author) and, following spells in several tackle shops, he went solo with his rod business in 1990.  He and Mr Whitehouse worked by trial and error, acquiring new machining skills, learning the lathe, and about blueing, grinding and varnishing.  Mr Barder inherited his grandmother's silversrnithing tools, and the olive inserts for handles come from his parents' grove in Provence.  These days, apart from the leather cases (which are made by a friend), everything is produced in-hut.

Stylistically, his inspiration is Hiram Leonard, doyen of American rod-builders, who died in 1907; many of his apprentices, such as Payne and Thomas, went on to make classic fly-rods that now command thousands at auction.

The creation of a rod begins with some straw-coloured poles stacked in a rack.  This is Arundinaria amabilis, Tongking cane.  First the seasoned cane needs to be heat-tempered to drive out the sap.  Then the shrunk wood is split into strips and manipulated to remove anomalies-this preparation is most labour intensive, and is akin to the handiwork required for a best English gun.

The sections are then matched up, lending the rod 'a certain degree of hybrid vigour'.  They are then milled into triangular shapes, and a gradual taper is introduced-at this stage, he is working to minute tolerances (plus or minus a thousandth of an inch).  His taper designs have been modified empirically, but the precision is crucial.  Six strips are glued together to form a hexagon in cross-section, and the exterior is cleaned so the fibres of the bamboo are revealed but not broken.  Rings of hardened stainless steel and a butt-ring of carbide set in a nickel-silver frame are then whipped on, and the handle of 'flor'- or champagne-grade-cork is applied.

Silk whipping is saturated with varnish from a sable brush, which imbues transparency, then the cane is varnished several times before drying.  Mr Barder hands me a finished rod (prices start at 1,400) and defies me to find the slightest speck or run in its countenance.  Well, I cannot.  The sleek instrument gleaming like petrified honey, the silk virtually invisible, its ferrule stoppers turned from the same piece of olive as the reel seat.  Very fancy, but how would it test-drive?

An eight-foot model rated for a five-weight line, it is tried on the nearby Lambourn.  Advocates of cane speak of sweetness and control, but until now I have been doubtful.  After half an hour of casting, I am converted.  Edward Barder makes exceedingly desirable rods.

Reader, I ordered one.

For further information, telephone Edward Barder on 01635 552 916
or email edward@barder-rod.co.uk
website: www.barder-rod.co. uk

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