by Keith Elliott
My first fishing rod cost in 10s 6d (52.5p in todays money). It was made
of cane and wasnt very good. It died, eventually, of misuse.
Last week, I received an email from a pile-em-high tackle show, advertising
rods for 4.99. That rod will be 20 times lighter, better, more adaptable
and more durable than my pride of the Grand Union Canal. These days, you
can get a quite superb rod for 100. So why would anyone want to fork out
1,700 for an Edward Barder?
Let me say that I have no vested interest. I dont own one; probably never
will. I suspect my wife would bobbitt me if I bought even the cheapest in
Barders range, a Mark IV carp rod for a mere 1,000. His is work is not
even modern. Were talking seriously retro, the sort of stuff your
great-grandfather might have fished with. But people wait up to two years
to own one of his creations. Whats the secret?
My only encounter with Barders work has been waggling one in a vaguely
fishy way at a tackle fair, so perhaps I should quote my writer friend Tom
Fort. He says: More beautiful than anything in the Uffizi or the Louvre.
It tapers to a wand-like delicacy, yet is pregnant with power and
resilience. Wow! And you thought we were talking about fishing rods.
There is no real reason to fish with cane. Its yesterdays material.
Carbon fibre is lighter, more powerful, more forgiving. But its soulless.
Cane may be quirky, but it somehow has life, a connection with nature.
Its the difference between driving a dodgem car and a classic convertible
Aston Martin. Sorry: got a bit carried away there. But cane does funny
things to you.
We are not talking about that wonky garden stuff that holds up your beans.
This bamboo, Tonkin cane, comes from one very small area of China, and is
getting increasingly hard to source. Barders stock includes cane from 50,
60 years ago. It is seasoned, sliced into strips, straightened and cut into
precise tapers so six perfect equilateral triangles create a hexagonal
shape. Then its heated, glued, sanded and sanded again.
Ive made it sound simple. It isnt. Tapers are measured in thousandths of
an inch and everything is done by hand. Then all the fittings (rings,
cork handle, olivewood reel seat, ferrules) must be put on.
Barder showed me a small box containing rings of cork cut into circular
sections. How much for that box? he asked. Cant catch me out. I
know that corks become very expensive. 25, I said.
More than 400, he replied. And Ill only be able to use about one in
Barder and his assistant Colin Whitehouse, turn out about a rod a week,
working flat out. Im starting to understand their 1,700 price tag. But
its only when you see the finished product that you see why people fall in
love with cane, and why Barder is unquestionably Britains finest rod-maker.
Tom Fort puts it far better than I can. I defy anyone who loves
fly-fishing and has a scintilla of soul not to thrill at the sight and feel
of these exquisite creations. Angling pornography, you might say.
Edward Barder: 01635 552 916 or