John Bailey: New rods for a new age

“More diversity in angling has to be the way forward.”

More diversity in angling has to be the way forward - Credit: John Bailey

Writing this column is one of my delights in life, but it doesn’t pay all the bills so I also have to work with Thomas Turner, the legendary and long-established company dealing in antique and retro fishing tackle.

As an ex-history teacher (although my Norwich School boys would say we spent more time playing football and going fishing) it is good to dabble in the past again, but to my delight, we are also building a brand new rod range too. Thomas Turner have teamed me up with the celebrated matchman Dave Coster with whom I worked on rod design for Hardy and Greys earlier in the century. I think we are producing some amazing rods but the responsibility I feel is huge. There already is excellent tackle out there and to ask people to part with good money in potentially tough times demands that you get it right.

What do you want from any new rod? How do you make the choice in a tackle shop like Wensum Valley Angling, which is groaning with goodies? Value is paramount. You do get what you pay for, but you have to think of costs and what you can afford. Endurance comes into it. I have rods in weekly use that I bought back in the late 80s and they still perform like they did when I took the handle wrappings off. One famous angler last century compared buying a rod to choosing a spouse. You hope the relationship lasts for life.

A rod must do the job you want it to do. Last winter I watched a chap casting a dead mackerel into a pike lake on a float rod. Which broke. Practicality and fit for purpose are thoughts that enter my head here. Design. Test curve. Action. Length. Weight. Even number of sections are all considerations that must be taken into account. But that’s all the prose out of the way and now on to the poetry. A rod must sing to you. You must find it exquisite, a case of love at first sight. You might want to live with this rod the rest of your life so it should be a part of you, an extension to your casting arm, a new limb you have never dreamed of before. Your heart should sing when you are out together and that’s why Coster and I know we have to make these rods as fantastic as they can possibly be. These have to be new rods for a new age because the world we knew as kids is changing fast.

Sustainability is not a word we used much back in the 70s when I wandered into John’s Tackle Den and bought new rod blanks most months. Rods then came and went in smart order, but that can’t happen now. Buy a rod today and you have got to want it and to commit to it. Waters too. Are the days of fishing in France or Iceland or Canada or wherever your ambitions take you numbered? In 10 years is there going to be fuel enough to take you on a jaunt to Scotland even or are you going to have to fish within the range of an electric run around? Will we be stripping off and replacing nylon lines with present day abandon or will we be cosseting them for yet another season? We might think about sourcing top quality fishing garments that last a decade rather than cheap stuff that leaks and falls apart after a winter of hard use. This all means buying well and looking after what we purchase.

Diversity is not a word we thought about back in the day but it has to be now. We do need to widen the scope of those who go fishing and make it a sport that appeals to all races and genders. Like it or not, we have to admit that fishing in the UK 2021 is predominantly white and male and I know for a fact that women are very often treated with condescension. I admire one very high profile women game angler who is regularly patronised by the establishment or even treated with open hostility. I really would not call myself woke, but all this has to stop.

Angling has also to become more accessible. If you want to go fishing in many European countries it is way more easy than it is here. Take the Wensum in Norwich. Okay, rogue seals might not have done stocks much good but what a venue for hundreds of city kids this could be. As it is, miles of potential fishing bank is fenced off and, worse, actually dangerous. When I wanted to mount a winter campaign close to Mile Cross a couple of years back, I was advised to take a baseball bat first and a fishing rod second. If the police are reading, this should not be.

More environmentally aware. More politically correct. There’s loads more out there but I’ll stop preaching and say let’s get tackle choice spot on first! That’s a good start at least.