I’m sure that I’ve mentioned before that a really fine, early Avocet is without doubt one of the best split cane rods ever designed. It’s the rare examples with their gold ‘Built To Endure’ transfers that I’m thinking of. They’re the manifestation of someone’s dream of the ideal Avon-style rod.
Usually, these rods have nicely spaced intermediate whippings; not too many, not too skinny. They were, I think, tied in the B. James workshop. The later rods, with their trumpet shaped handle tops and as much silk as bamboo, were whipped by an outworker or workers. Very impressive they are too, but they don’t have the elegance, finesse and lissome steeliness of these really early models.
This rod is especially unusual and rare. Not only was it made seventy or more years ago, it was ordered by a particularly strict connoisseur. Intermediate whippings are lovely but not strictly necessary. In fact mechanically, they are superfluous and add a small amount of weight to a rod, slowing it down and slightly marring its responsiveness.
I like some intermediate whippings on a coarse fishing rod. However, the elegant simplicity and pure expression of rod building craft in this ‘nude’ Avocet has to be seen and felt to be fully appreciated.
It had had one owner from new until it was tracked down by someone I know. He persuaded the owner to part with it. It was then moved on to a mutual friend and thence to me. It hasn’t been used since it left its original owner. He had applied a coat of matt varnish to it at some stage, to conserve the original finish. Wise man. Although functional, this varnish wasn’t doing anything for the innate loveliness of the rod. There was quite a lot of the stuff in and on the rings and ferrules.
I have very sensitively removed this varnish from the rings and ferrules. I flattened but did not remove the varnish on the rod itself. Finally, I applied, by hand with a sable brush, a single flawless coat of traditional Tung oil based gloss marine varnish. This has further conserved the rod, restored its original gloss finish and brought its full beauty back into the light.
The ferrules are a superb fit and retain their original hand turned hardwood and cork stoppers. By the way, these are not only very sound ferrules but as well as their spigots, the males are waisted- a very attractive and rare feature. The sections are straight and sound. With no intermediate whippings to hide anything, you can marvel at the idiosyncrasies of the hand built Southwell split cane.
Section lengths excluding male ferrule spigots and the projecting parts of the female ferrules:
Butt- 44⅜” Middle- 43⅜” Tip- 44¼”
Total length of the rod: 132″ – 11′. Assembled length allowing for the fact that the ferrules don’t have to be fully inserted: 11’⅜”
The whole cane butt is a very nice, limber piece of Tonkin. Look at its elegant, slender handle (26″ long from the end of the button to the tip of the conical alloy collar) and those perfect gold and black transfers. This is very special and rare stuff. The rings are agate lined nickel silver at the butt and tip (both pre-1939 German made rings) with small chrome plated intermediate rings. The whippings are dark green Perivale shade 684 which have taken on some gold patina from the yellowing of their shellac and varnish coatings.
The aluminium handle fittings were made by WR Products Ltd of Shepherds Bush. The rod comes in its original and correct B. James cotton bag. The bag’s end was rather tatty so we asked our seamstress to give it a new end made from material salvaged from another early B. James rod bag. She has reused the hanging loop and replicated the thread and the staggered partition ends precisely.
So, that’s the technical stuff. How does it feel? Utterly sublime. Join the tip to the middle, the middle to the butt and give it a wiggle. Amazing! You’ll be transported to your favourite swim and you’ll never want to let go of this sublime Avocet. As you can see from the accompanying illustrations of Mr Colin with the rod, it has a very practical, progressive taper and it won’t take a set. It’s straight and there is no deterioration of the bamboo’s original resilience whatsoever.
At this price, given its condition, originality, rarity and fabulous fishing qualities, it’s a snip.