The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
My favourite fly rod is one of the original Sportfish delights lovingly fashioned on a Harrison blank. If you’ve never come across this company, look them up at www.harrisonrod.co.uk While they may not be the Rolls Royce of rods they certainly fill the Volvo/Saab slot i.e. a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s as classy as an embassy ball and as reliable as a bobble hat on a Rambler. But for all this it wasn’t expensive. In fact, I remember thinking at the time that it seemed under priced. Later Sportfish moved to another blank, but having tried the equivalent new comer, well it just wasn’t the same, nice, but not worthy of my devotion.
The thought occurred to me that does double the money mean double the performance? After reading many reviews and test driving like crazy at the CLA Game Fair I came to the conclusion that, although not an expert, alas I think not. The graph of money versus performance regarding fly rods, possibly all rods, is an exponential curve not linear. In fact this is probably true of most fishing equipment. After all, is a reel costing £500 ten times better than one costing £50? I shouldn’t think so. Just like armies, fly reels tend to be about presentation and looks. When the General is around orders are followed and everything is clean and shiny. But when he’s away, just like a cheap fly reel, the job will still get done. The guns still go bang and the soldiers still attack or defend as necessary it’s just all done with a few more creases and little less Brasso.
With my most pragmatic head on I feel compelled to state that this is how I perceive a fly reel. A practical line storage device. It doesn’t have to be expensive and beautiful but, like the General, we like things to be aesthetically pleasing. Now this is all very sensible and utilitarian and, although thrift is commonsensical, I wouldn’t want you to think that I necessarily subscribe to this pecuniary Ebeneezering as, despite these very practical points, penny-pinching can be a bit boring. After all, a practical man would go out and buy fish and for those who claim that it’s not just about the fish but the surroundings, well you could buy the fish and go for a walk in the woods. Certainly cheaper than a day ticket. And if can run to the price of a bobble hat and develop a sense of unshakeable self-righteousness the Ramblers would probably want to sign you up too. The point is, financial expedience and aesthetics seldom make good bed partners. But please don’t take my word for this. Any episode of the Antique Roadshow will illuminate this point. You’ll see a landscape water-colour which exhibits such Eden like beauty that, if God lived on Earth, this would undoubtedly be at the top of his bucket list of places to see (yeah I know Gods are supposed to be immortal and omnipresent but they can still be cynical, it’s an uncertain world). Then the ‘expert’ will tell us that although it’s quite sweet it’s only worth about £20 at auction maybe a bit more on Ebay. This will be followed later in the program by a pompous oaf in a Gieves and Hawkes suit that’s almost considered antique itself, offering up some hideous oil painted portrait. He’ll proceed to claim that the afore-mentioned chinless halibut in the frame is a distant ancestor from a part of the family dynasty long since bankrupt. Now you and I wouldn’t hang this ghoul in the attic to scare the mice away. However the ‘expert’ will tell us that despite making the flowers wilt and the dog growl, it’s worth the equivalent of a low mileage second-hand Aston with one careful ecumenical owner. Of course at this point the pseudo plutocrat in the dodgy schmutter usually starts nodding sagely, indicating that he’d always assumed as much but is secretly euphoric as he owes a pile on his Amex card and he speaks to the bailiffs so often they’re on speed dial.
All this outlines is that you pay for what you get but you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. Beginners tend to gravitate towards the more advantageously priced rods which serve their purpose but your level of strength and fitness will dictate how long you’re able to fish. This is because the weight and rigidity will prematurely tire you. Medium range rods are better and usually considerably more forgiving and not necessarily heaps of extra cash. It will be the sort of rod you could buy and eventually struggle for a reason to justify an upgrade as it will just last forever. High end rods are the tools best left in the hands of professionals, the seriously dedicated or the obscenely wealthy. Most of us wouldn’t get the benefit in the same way a poacher wouldn’t get the benefit of a Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle. Then there’s aesthetics. When it comes to aesthetics things aren’t always that simple (ask the man with the water-colour). When it comes to beauty there’s something that’s less tangible. We like some things because they are old (maybe not pensioners, or food found at the back of fridges. Although vastly different, they seem to share a nasally offensive odorous curiosity). Old equipment gives us an ability to imagine their pasts and previous adventures. Contemporary equipment made with traditional skills and materials are alluring, maybe because of the easiness on the eye and the feel of quality. Just being different from the competition is sometimes enough to turn our heads. My Sportfish rod falls into the medium quality and easiness on the eye bracket. This is compounded by my love of familiarity. I like the comfort of familiar things (my rod, my felt lite hat, my Kelly kettle) because the fact that they are familiar means we’ve been together a long time and probably had lots of good times together. Just the site of these objects will trigger good memories which is a warm comfort on fish less days. Strangely, although I’ve had all but one of my fly reels for years there is, as yet, no real bond formed for reasons which, despite the time I’ve spent ruminating on the matter, still seem to elude me.
So do we need to feel remorse, regret or guilt for these sporting eccentricities and moderate financial excesses? No. Our refusal to part with old and outdated tackle or to seek out long forgotten works of engineering genius should not be used by our non-comprehending nearest and dearest as a means of scorn pouring. While the pragmatists and gear junkies who crave the latest technologically and advanced tools are happily causing needless redundancies throughout their extensive tackle collections and sneering down their polarised £1000+ Oakley C Six sunglasses at our perceived peculiarities, we can be not so much smug but replete at the knowledge that for us, the angler is still very much a part of the process and not just a walking rod rest and equipment holder.