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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com