Edward Barder Rod Company reviewed in Waterlog

Practical Magic

Jon Berry

Increased means and increased leisure are the two civilizers of men

Benjamin Disraeli, speaking in Manchester, 1872.

HE HAD a point, old Dizzy
Granted, the hundred years of civilized behaviour that have followed have
brought us war overpopulation, poverty, and more recently The X-Factor, but
we do have the split-cane fishing rod, and the tea bag.  These are civilized
times indeed.

Let us leave Disraeli there, eternally locked in verbal combat
with Mr Gladstone, and skip forward a century or so.  In the 1970s, while
most young people were debating whether to wear the bondage trousers of the
Pistols or the Tartan loons of the Rollers, the youthful Edward Barder was
beginning a journey that would lead him to become this countrys finest rod
maker recently spent an afternoon with Edward and his assistant Colin at
their Newbury workshop, in an effort to understand these mens craft.

children, Barder and his brother fished with their father, dipping randomly
into the familys collection of fishing rods as occasion demanded.  This was
at a time when most rods were made of bamboo, some were of glass, and carbon
remained somewhere on the Periodic Table.  There were always rods that
looked nice and had a certain quality, Edward told me.  These were the
ones my brother and I used to fight over.  I remember a Hardy spinning rod,
one of the cheaper models.  My father was using it, coincidentally in the
weir pool where I now have my workshop, when the butt section exploded.  But
it had a certain class about it.

Edwards early efforts at rod building and
repair will sound familiar to many.  My father gave me a three-piece rod
with a broken tip.  I fixed it with a glass section, caught a chub and it
promptly broke again.  Undeterred, a visit to the late Ron Benjamins
wonderful old tackle shop in Newbury produced some ferrule tubes and a new
cane top section, probably a Chapmans or a late JB Walker.  This time,
Barders efforts remained intact, surviving battles with French wild carp on
family holidays, but not the determination of burglars who later raided the

Two chance encounters were to finally secure Barders future.  One
was with a copy of Col. G. Lawton-Mosss tome How to Build and Repair Your
Own Split Cane Fishing Rod, in a Bristol bookshop.  The other was with the
father of an old school friend.  This remarkable gentleman was a retired
airline pilot and skilled amateur engineer.  He was in the process of
building his own light aircraft from blueprints, in which he would later fly
to his cottage in Cumberland to fish self-tied flies on self-made bamboo
rods for salmon.  A teenage Barder now had the inspiration, access to
milling machines and the like, Lawton-Mosss excellent instructions and five
hundred bamboo poles at no cost, courtesy of the benevolent aviator.

1980s arrived. Young men swapped their bondage trousers for the baggy
velvets of the New Romantics, while Barder set up shop in his parents
attic, poring over the Colonels instructions and putting them to the test
on a planing form purchased from Ted Oliver of Knebworth.  These early
models began to appear in the Thatcham tackle shop where Edward worked, and
were supplied to Fred Crouch and Pete Henwood of the Association of Barbel
Enthusiasts.  Word spread, and a move to a sales job at Hardys did little to
slow down the attic-based cottage industry Edwards father eventually
suggested to his son that he should try and go it alone. Perhaps Barder Snr
needed the attic space; whatever the reason, the Edward Barder Rod Company

Collaboration with Chris Yates did much to launch the new enterprise.
Yates had approached Barder to repair a gudgeon rod smashed in the early
Passion for Angling days, and an offer to make new split-cane rods was
accepted.  Prototypes for new rods were tested, dismissed, redesigned and
approved, and a range of rods was used and abused by Chris throughout the
four years of filming.  Such extensive field testing meant that the rods
that emerged were innovative, effective and modern.  This has been part of
the Barder philosophy ever since – his rods are not cosmetically enhanced
acts of nostalgia, but practical tools built to cope with the demands of
twenty-first century fishing.

A Passion For Angling did much to establish
Barders reputation, and the sale of his coarse rods quickly took off, in
spite of their near-300 price tag.  The fly rods Edward was designing took
longer to develop, but a mix of US aesthetics, British tradition and new
tapers meant that the rods that eventually emerged found favour not only in
Europe but also in the highly impenetrable American and Asian markets.

now, Edwards childhood friend Colin Whitehouse had joined the company, and
he remains there to this day.  Both men are keen to keep as much of the work
in-house as possible.  All metal parts are machined at the workshop, and
only the rings and rubber butt caps on the coarse rods are bought in.  For
the last sixteen years, production has averaged fifty rods a year.

popularity of cane has continued long after re-runs of Chrisn Bob
disappeared from terrestrial television.  This, Barder maintains, is because
it remains a relevant, technically-valid material.  Within certain
parameters, he says, it works at least as well as anything else.  In some
areas it may be less effective, in others it is probably better.  It will do
the job, but importantly, it will do it differently.

Neither Edward nor Colin holds with the idea that ones fishing should be hampered by using
split cane.  It has to work, and should never spoil an otherwise good day.  There is a degree of pride of ownership and so on, and it does give that
tactile, aesthetic buzz, but it must be an effective fishing tool.  Unlike
some rod-builders of past and present, Edward and Colin fish prodigiously –
indeed fanatically.  Every design, every modification and every innovation
begins on the bankside.

The Edward Barder Rod Company is now widely
recognised for producing the best rods money can buy.  The quality of the
craftsmanship, the attention to detail and the overriding desire above all
to produce superlative fishing rods has resulted in a healthy order book, an
enviable reputation on both sides of the Atlantic, and a waiting list that
rarely drops below twelve months.  The company embraces the newer glues,
improved raw materials and refined engineering techniques denied to Dick
Walker, Ted Oliver and others, and so the current rods represent the
apotheosis of split canes ongoing evolution.  As the proud owner of a couple
of Barder rods and a landing-net (with the overdraft to prove it) I tackled
Edward over the prices.

We work within a specialised, minority market, and
as such there is no merit in using mass- production techniques.  These rods
are aimed at the connoisseur.  To make a rod to the best of our abilities,
using the best machinery available without compromise, takes Colin and I
sixty hours.  Cheaper rods would mean lesser rods both in aesthetic and
engineering terms.

I invite the reader to multiply his or her own hourly
rate by sixty, take account of workshop rents, material costs and two mens
modest wages, and then consider Edwards prices – and if that doesnt do it,
consider this; the battered van I drove to Edwards workshop, a recent
purchase to spare my beloved the combined aroma of wet nets, Marlboro Lights
and dead-baits, cost more than any rod in the Barder range.  I left the
workshop a few hundred pounds lighter (an overwhelming desire for an 8-foot
4-weight took hold), remembering Errol Flynns words My difficulty is in
trying to reconcile my gross habits with my net income.

As the smelly van
and I rejoined the M4 and headed back to Swindon, I felt a surge of pride
that someone, deep in a Berkshire workshop, is still living a life dedicated
to making bamboo fishing rods.  I do what I do, Edward had told me,
because I absolutely love it.  Im keener now than I was twenty years ago,
I think about them all the time, and I dont want to do anything else.
Those of us who spent our youth immersed in the search for fashionable
trousers, rather than perfecting the skills passed down by Col. Lawton-Moss,
should take time to be grateful.