My first fishing rod was a garden cane. Attached to this was a length of line, a hook and a simple float made from a swan feather. I used to sit there catching rudd while my father fished for carp. The bait I used was made from bread flavoured with honey…
In those days, the mid-fifties fishing tackle was only just starting to develop after the Second World War. There were not really any suitable rods for fishing for the larger more powerful fish, like carp, pike or barbel. Hardy Brothers of Alnwick made some salmon spinning rods, these made reasonable big fish rods but lacked in length, only being up to nine feet. For the match and pleasure angler, rods were made from Spanish reed and whole cane with split bamboo mid sections and tip sections. A good all-round fishing rod was the Allcocks Wizard. This had the whole cane butt section and split bamboo middle and top. This was a very popular rod.
An angler from Lincolnshire had a helping hand in designing fishing rods for specimen angling and in particular carp rods. That angler was Maurice Ingham from Louth. Alongside Richard Walker from Hitchin, Maurice helped develop the MKIV carp rod. Maurice also helped with the design of bite alarms and landing nets.
Reels in the ’50s were mainly centrepins made of wood, or wood and ebonite, aluminium, or aluminium partnered with ebonite. One early reel that has become collectable is the Coxon Aerial. It had a wooden back and ebonite spool. A brass shaped starback was screwed to the reel back, this helped avoid the wooden back warping. This was then joined to the reel foot.
I have always, since my early days of angling, used the fishing tackle of that era, the ’50s. Like Maurice and Richard Walker, I mostly made my own. I loved tinkering with fishing tackle. As a youngster I made my own floats and rod rests. When I was at secondary school I made my first rod, this was for the hobby part of the Duke Of Edinburgh Award that I was taking part in. Later in life I became good friends with Maurice and he gave me good advice on making fishing tackle.
Last July I met with a friend, Dave, who wanted to catch a carp on traditional fishing tackle. The plan was to fish the lake one evening into the dark, then again at first light until mid-morning. Dave was going to use a pair of rods and reels I had made for him. I was going to use a lighter rod, that I had made way back, coupled with one of my own centrepins. I was going to float fish using corn as bait for anything that came along: tench, bream, carp – and if lucky, a large crucian.
We arrived at 4pm and walked around the lake looking for signs of fish. In a corner of the lake there was a large bed of lily pads. We noticed some of the leaves moving and in a short time we spotted carp. They appeared to be taking something off the surface. As Dave was fishing as my guest, I gave him first choice as to where we were to fish. He elected to fish the lily pads in the corner. Dave tackled up the two rods and reels I had made for him and set up a surface fishing outfit on both rods. The bait was going to be dog biscuit.
The fish were quite close in, only six to twelve feet from the bank. Dave scattered some free offerings into the pads to try and get them into a feeding frenzy. I moved 30 yards down the lake, to fish between two patches of lily pads.
It was around 8pm when I heard the click of the ratchet on his reel. Looking up I saw the rod bent round and Dave was playing a fish. After several minutes I slipped the net under a scale perfect common. The fish was weighed and the dial on the scales stopped dead on 15lb. A fantastic fish with which to christen the rod and reel. We fished on until 11pm, then retired for sleep. Usually I would have fished the night through but due to Dave having a long journey home thought it best to have some rest.
We went down to the lake at 3.45am the next morning and the carp were back in the corner again. Dog biscuits were scattered a few feet from the bankside into the pads.
At 6am Dave was into another carp. Again, this one turned out to be a fully scaled common carp, weighing a bit less at 12lb. This fish fell to the same rod reel and bait as the other fish. My fish for the sessions were one tench and a few small roach and rudd.
We stopped fishing at 8am, for Dave to start his long journey home – both of us well satisfied with our evening and morning sessions.
Yes you can use all the latest modern fishing tackle, but nothing is better than sitting by a tranquil water using the tackle of yesteryear, or having custom-made tackle representing that era. What we did in our short sessions was exciting and enjoyable. Catching carp a few feet from the bankside on the surface, and me fishing with a single grain of sweetcorn underneath a swan quill float just a couple of feet from my rod tip, just sheer joy. Happy New Year.
Words: Barry Grantham