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The Magic of the Rod - October 2008

Fishing with Fred J's Rod

I’m not a religious person but I sometimes wonder if there is an afterlife, a Fiddlers’ Green, a place where fishermen go when they don’t go to Hell. If there is, it would be great fun to influence the success, or otherwise, of the anglers who are still in the land of the living. I also wonder whether this is the reason for the seemingly inexplicable difference between good and bad days on the bank.

It was a grey October day. The forecast predicted force eight gales and driving rain sweeping in from the Atlantic in the afternoon. If we were lucky, we might get a couple of hours on the reservoir before it hit.

I had come down for the weekend to recuperate after a car accident and Keith had suggested a bit of fishing. Never one to pass up an opportunity, and as I had to travel by train, I asked if I could borrow a rod. There was an ulterior motive, a chancing of the arm, perhaps. Knowing Keith’s passion for anything made of cane, especially if it has Hardy’s name on the butt, I was half hoping that he would offer the loan one of his prized possessions. Instead, Keith said he had just the thing. Following the recent death of the angling legend, Fred J Taylor, MBE, Keith bought one of his rods as a memento of Fred’s contribution to his own personal angling experience. Would I like to borrow that?

Would I? I had shivers down my spine at the thought of it. To use the rod held by the man who taught me to use the lift method on which I had caught huge bags of tench as a callow youth. To run the line through the same rings he would have peered at in the half light of a summer morning. To feel the pull of a fish as he would have. It would be akin to the way a medium feels the essence of someone from holding their wrist watch. Surely his rod would be the magic wand that transformed this ordinary angler into a one man trawler. Wild horses………….!

When Keith passed me the rod, I shivered with anticipation. I undid the ties of the bag and peered inside and started to draw it out, but this was no split cane beauty with perfect balance. It was made of green carbon fibre, with plain wire rings and a cork handle; slightly top heavy with a soft, almost floppy action. It was clearly Fred’s rod, as his name was on the butt. Keith said that only two of this Chevin model were ever made, the other for Fred’s son-in-law. I thought to myself that it didn’t seem to be the tool of an artist.

Anticipation gave way to curiosity. After all, who am I to criticise the great man. I am certain he knew more about angling that I will ever know, so I couldn't hand it back without giving the rod a chance. Besides, I needed to go fishing, and beggars can’t be choosers!

So we trundled down to the reservoir, a fairly unassuming triangle of water, above a windswept hill. The hills and trees on two sides offer a little cover from the wind, so ignoring Fred’s advice to always fish into the wind, we fished with the gale at our backs and settled down for a chat. This was no serious, stare at the float fishing trip. We had some news to catch up on and some yarns to tell and we whiled away a couple of hours catching the occasional daft roach or skimmer bream on corn, worms and luncheon meat. Keith used one of his Hardy’s, more a work of art than a tool for fishing. A good bite on a piece of luncheon meat was met with a firm strike from Keith, but he was too firm and the fish got away.

The wind was beginning to whistle in the trees and the bacon sandwiches that had been ordered failed to appear, probably because of the weather. So it was looking like we would be curtailing the trip. Fred’s rod had been serviceable but untested against any serious adversary.

Then my float dipped and disappeared. I struck and the fish powered away spinning my reel as it took 50 yards of line in seconds. This is more like it, I thought. This will test the rod. I had only brought 4lb line with me, expecting to tempt a few bream and maybe a tench. But this was much bigger than that. To land this fish would take some luck and some care. But as the fish ran, the rod seemed to have no power. I could not apply any pressure, because the rod didn’t have it and the line would probably not have taken it.

The fish slowed to a stop in its own time and then decided he would try the old “swim towards you” trick. I reeled quickly to keep a tight line. When it approached the bank, things became a bit more even and I started to gain some ground. At this point, the rod started to show helpful qualities, giving easily to the sudden lunges of the fish, and allowing pressure to be applied evenly.

As it surfaced, there was the bronze flash of an array of scales and we could see it was a beautifully proportioned common carp. Eventually, it conceded and loped into the landing net. It was obvious that this would beat my personal best (match anglers don’t catch many big fish – that’s my excuse anyway). It weighed 15lbs11ozs.

I reflected on the morning and wondered whether my fates were being manipulated. The thrill of anticipation at being offered the great man’s rod, the questions raised by its appearance and feel, the mistrust of the logic behind the design, and the evidence of the test suggested another presence. I would like to think Fred was sitting at my elbow, enjoying the challenges that he was throwing down, watching me conquer them, and sharing the enjoyment of a good day’s fishing.

Reg Talbot

Please note, the only camera we had was a disposable one so the photos of Reg's rod-bender will be scanned in asap.