B James & Son “The Avocet” 3-piece 11’3” whole & split cane rod c1953-4.

A magnificent example of this sought-after classic.


When this rod was bought to me, I had the all too rare feeling that I was looking at something really special. It had been purchased new by the owner’s father in the early to mid fifties and fished by him until the late sixties. From then to the present it hasn’t been used.

What immediately impressed me as I conducted a detailed examination was the extraordinary straightness and obvious resilience of the Southwell-built split cane sections, and the firm fit of the ferrules. On assembling the rod and studying its action, it was clear that this was a rod full of life and vigour, the epitome of a really superior split cane rod. Not only are the individual sections absolutely straight; the rod is straight when assembled. This demonstrates that the ferrules were accurately fitted to the blank.

How amazing it is that completely hand-made split cane from this era and this maker can be so good. It’s a testament to the late Bob Southwell and his time served craftsmen that they could make such sound, seamless rod sections from Tonkin bamboo using hand tools alone. The esteem in which they are held today is fully justified.

On inspection under magnification, I was relieved to find that the original chromed steel full open bridge intermediate rings were free from grooves and corrosion. The clear Agatine lined butt ring had no cracks and neither did the agate lined nickel silver tip ring. The original hook keeper ring, so often missing from early B James rods, was in place. The original cotton rod bag, though a little grubby, was still in good condition. The transfers were intact, the (WR Products) handle fittings and (Mountford Rubber Co) red rubber button were all there and in great condition.

The dark green silk ring and ferrule whippings, though dry and cracked with age, were all original, indicating that nothing had been altered or replaced. The cork handle (with its trumpet shaped top) was typically soiled with age and the ferrule stoppers had long since been lost.

We could have over-varnished the rod and left it at that, but we were so impressed by its underlying qualities and distinguished pedigree that a sensitive, sympathetic refurbishment was clearly appropriate. The work we have carried out preserves and enhances the rod and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be fishing well in sixty five years’ time.

The work carried out.

The ferrules were removed (B James used a very odd ferrule cement so this work is obligatory), re-blued, re-lacquered and re-fitted to their sections. We made facsimile mahogany and cork ferrule stoppers in precisely the same pattern as the originals. The ferrules themselves retain a superb fit and show no signs of wear.

The rings were removed, cleaned and re-whipped with beautiful and correct vintage Pearsall’s green silk.

The handle boiled and steamed to sweat out the soiling and to expand the cork. Once fully dry, we were able to re-turn the cork to a lovely velvety finish and the sliding reel bands are a nice firm fit.

The Pearsall’s silk whippings were varnished in our usual way. This renders them translucent, waterproof and flexible. We use only traditional varnish for this so the whippings aren’t bulky or unnatural-looking.

The original finish over the blank and intermediate whippings was then very carefully cleaned and prepared for the hand-applied and flawless yacht varnish finish it received.

The bag was hand-washed and pressed.

We believe that we carry out this sort of work to a peerlessly high standard and as it’s very time consuming, we don’t undertake it unless we think it’s absolutely worthwhile. Since we started offering pre-owned classic and contemporary rods, we have refurbished a Hardy Wallis Avon № 1 from the 1930s, an Ogden Smith 8’ fly rod from the same era and now this Avocet. You could say that we are fussy. You might also conclude that we have a rather high opinion of our workmanship. You’d be right on both counts.

The rod’s action is lissom in the hand but firmly, authoritatively progressive. Just as intended, it’s a step up from the classic Wallis-style of Avon rod. The tip is strong but not too stout. It has finesse and sensitivity. The middle has plenty of backbone, and the whole cane butt has that unique degree of flex that makes these sorts of rods such a pleasure to use.

I’d use it with reel lines of 4 – 6 pounds breaking strain, and I’d recommend that you fish with it for tench, chub, barbel and the better class of perch. Pair it with a centrepin or a fixed spool reel; float fish or ledger with it. It’ll give you joy, put a smile on your face and unlike an un-restored vintage rod with its original finish, it won’t soak up water like a sponge every time it rains.

This rod is a rare beauty of great class and elegance. Colin and I have put a lot of heart and soul into it. Tina has laundered its bag. It’s almost one of the family for heaven’s sake! I confess –I covet it something rotten, but I can let you have it for: