This summer has seen my camera by my side more often than not, here I was capturing Paul Cook at his workshop and on the Wensum with one of his hand built fly rods…
I quite enjoy using and accumulating fishing tackle from the same era as when I was a young lad, but at the age of ten or eleven most of the tackle I owned was hand-me-down rubbish, a pink solid glass rod paired with an Intrepid Black Prince reel was my only kit. With my inadequate tackle and limited funds the only ‘good’ items I could afford in my local tackle shop, Penfolds of Cuckfield were fishing floats.
When entering the narrow shop illuminated only by artificial light, carded displays in glass cabinets from various manufacturers covered one wall, it was always the Ultra range of floats that caught my eye. Neat rows of floats organised into models and then graded into sizes lined up like church organ pipes standing to attention as if on parade. To a novice angler the range was beweildering, I mean how many ‘onion’ floats do you really need, and how different are they from a ‘Ducker’? To understand the range was an education in how to fish, although attractive they all had a utilitarian purpose.
Thirty years on I still have a few remaining Ultra floats, a band of brothers that managed to avoid the pitfalls of being cast into overly optomistic situations, less lucky comrades were lost in battle, eventually washed away by the ebb and flow. Today though I was most pleased to find that good friend and dealer in nostalgia John Andrews of Arcadia had located a lost battalion of Ultras, locked away in a box for decades but now released, dressed in black (as I remember them) and the earlier olive-green version.
With little success on the bank at present despite a few trips out, The Traditional Fisherman’s Forum has become a winter refuge for me, and for many of its forum members it has become a gathering place for traditional float makers.
I’m not sure if staring at a float while waiting for its disappearance draws the eye of the beholder to find beauty in such an object? Just like a salmon fly the colour combinations and use of materials is close to art and the artist.
Yesterday, a parcel arrived from one of the artisan float makers from the aforementioned Traditional Fisherman’s Forum. Stuart AKA ‘Fatfishfloats’ had sent me three exquisite Norfolk reed wagglers which I originally spied on the forum and commissioned Stuart to make three variations with yellow tops. The results just like Paul Cook’s floats are things of beauty, works of art that shall be launched into the British countryside, with much care!
Anyone who appreciates traditional floats should look at Stuarts website or The Traditional Fisherman’s Forum and see what talented floats builders are doing with new and creative uses of colour and materials but keeping the traditional float building ethos.
A package arrived the other day in an eight inch length of plastic tubing, I knew what it was but I was quite taken by surprise by the exquisite fishing floats that were carefully packaged inside. Within the tube was a rolled up note from artist, writer, rod restorer, angler and all round gentleman, Paul Cook.
I met Paul a few years ago, at his house to pick up my rather sorry Allcocks Carp Superb rod which needed a new top and some general tender loving care, the result was stunning, and still is after three years of abuse. To say Paul is a restorer of rods or maker of fishing floats would be like saying Michelangelo is a decorator of churches, Paul is an artist, his floats are true works of art.
The four floats that arrived yesterday were simply stunning and even a non-angler would appreciate their beauty, a careful mix of feather, wood and coloured thread, all with an inscription ‘The tuesday swim.’ The question is, shall I cast these floats (often quite badly) into a weedy pond or a snaggy river? The answer is “yes” they have to be enjoyed in the field.
In Paul’s covering note he talks of an extra float, in his words states “Its a copy from an original Victorian float that I have overdressed for the occasion!” Bloody brilliant!
Mr Cook, the tuesday swim salutes you. Thank you.
Penfolds of Cuckfield in West Sussex was my place of wonder towards the end of the late seventies and throughout the eighties. After an up hill bike ride of about four miles I arrived, breathless and excited, just as if I was going fishing.
As I recall the front of the shop would have been no more than ten feet wide including the entrance. The exterior was painted gloss black with a hand painted sign, ‘Penfolds’. The window was covered in a layer of yellow celluloid gel to protect the display of angling items and packaging from the effects of the sun.
To enter, a slightly stiff door had to be given a hard push to engage a brass bell, which would in turn alert the waiting staff. Once through the door a waft of maggots, waxed canvas and old oak drawers filled my senses (long before the smells of tutti fruiti boillies and halibut pellets). I was immediately thrown into a magical world of fishing tackle, spools of Perlon, rows of floats, shelves stacked high with boxes of reels, piles of Efgecco bait boxes in the corner, spilling out of a large cardboard box and small wooden drawers filled with hidden angling paraphernalia.
The shop, like the frontage was about ten feet wide with a counter running all the way along the left hand side to the rear, the interior was always quite dark even on a bright summers day. The far end was dedicated to shooting and equestrian related items, this enhanced the smell with fresh cut leather and ointments. Along the narrow corridor on the right was a selection of wall mounted display cabinets full of floats ordered into categories; balsa’s, porcupine quills, waggler’s, chubbers, wind beaters, avon’s and lignum sticks produced by makers such as Ultra and Middy. Between the float displays were racks of rods, not the huge selections that you would expect in a modern tackle shop but no more than about twenty rods from thick glass float rods to the ultra thin and expensive new carbon creations.
One Saturday morning I was taken by my father who used to sea fish, (he had a boat on Brighton beach in the 1950’s) where he purchased my first new rod for my tenth birthday, a 11ft Shakespeare ‘Strike’ float rod, made of glass and as thick as a rolling-pin! I think this was the only time I ever ventured in the shop with an adult; Penfold’s was strictly a place for myself and my angling peers.
The long counter was made of a dark hardwood with a glass top that allowed a display of angling accessories, more floats, swim feeders, weights, pike gaff’s and scales. The custodians stood behind the counter framed by a montage of more tackle including cheap penknife’s hanging from display cards, canvas fishing bags and keep nets dangling from the ceiling. The elderly grey haired couple both dressed in sandy brown shop overalls would stand to attention awaiting my meagre order of bits and bobs.
Also behind the counter, on the wall was a series of matching hardwood drawers, none of which were labelled but if a request for something unusual, a Mitchell bail arm spring or a spare rod ring, a bee-line would be made to the correct drawer and the said item would be found and placed on the counter. If the item was correct then it would be tallied up with a pencil on a brown paper bag. Many times I would have to put items back as the tally became too much for my limited pocket-money.
There were bigger, more ‘modern’ angling shops near by but as a shy youngster and novice angler, Penfolds was the place to go for good friendly advice.
Recently I drove down the high street and to my surprise Penfold’s still exists on the opposite side of the street in a larger premises that is now just a country and equestrian clothes shop, the Penfold’s of old has all but gone.