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News
Spring 2006
Edward Barder Rod Company reviewed in Waterlog

Practical Magic

Jon Berry
Edward working Waterlog photo
(Photo courtesy of Waterlog)

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.

As 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 house.

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.

The 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 began.

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.

By 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.

The 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.

Edward working Waterlog 2 photo
(Photo courtesy of Waterlog)
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.

 

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