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…
On Saturday 2nd April 2016 the Angling Auctions in Chiswick finally drew to a close when the hammer fell and lot 630 – “An unusual American Bamboo trout fishers creel” was sold. Slow applause permeated throughout the hall in appreciation for Neil Freeman who has put the hammer down on 32,000 lots over the last twenty five years offering vintage fishing tackle, taxidermy, books and angling art to a worldwide audience of collectors and angling enthusiasts.
My involvement began in 2011 (I’m considered a relative new boy) when John Andrews of Arcadia asked if I could help out on the rods. Arriving in Chiswick I was soon put to task in the construction of the rod rack, an antique in its own right, but a protector of fine fishing rods. Neil told me that he built the rack in 1991 with a drunk Irishman, a story I must confess I believe looking at the quality of its construction, but in defence of the Anglo-Irish workmanship it still survives with it’s biannual kicks and trips that it has to endure from eager anglers grasping at the wonders it beholds. Five years on I am still putting up the same rod rack, stuffed with even more matches and bound with ever more gaffer tape.
Over the years staff have come and gone but generally there is a core that stay loyal, Neil’s brother has been involved from the start and more recently Neil’s son Sam has worked as a porter. Fresh sandwiches and cakes are made and the all important tea urn is switched on as soon as we arrive on the Friday morning, the tea urn is first off and last on the van, a tradition that has lasted since the beginning. Last Saturday the tea urn was loaded onto the van for the last time in Chiswick and a new beginning for the Angling Auctions has begun down in Romsey, Hampshire. Hopefully I will see you there?
The tackle box to many is a container to hold smaller items of fishing tackle; floats, hooks, weights and so on. But you can tell a lot about an angler by lifting the lid and viewing the contents. The boxes I like have character, a soul, this appeals to me greatly as an insight into the owner and a period of time in the angling past. Over the years I have acquired tackle boxes that I keep as an archive, a curator that considers each box as a piece of art and historical interest, but most importantly a box that has a personality. Sometimes I will edit a box to create a pleasing aesthetic but all the time I am conserving the integrity of each collection. Tackle is not the only thing found, old permits with scribbles on the reverse of notable captures, newspaper cuttings from the angling press, badges, coins and in one example a lucky charm belonging to a superstitious angler. I must also mention the smell of old tackle boxes, a smell that is hard to define but lingers like that of an old british bike or a waxed jacket, a scent of wood, oils, and old cotton.
I have a acquired these boxes from elderly anglers who have taken their last cast, anglers who can no longer tie a hook and rely purely on their memories, but most of all the boxes I have procured come from anglers I never knew, only through detective work I can paint an image of who they were, when they fished and the style of fishing that they pursued, I can step into their shoes, I have become the curator of tackle boxes!
This Sunday amongst boxes of old reels, racks of rods and all types of angling ephemera, Garrett, Nick and Les also known as the three musketeers of Fallon’s Angler will be showing all issues to date along with free advice on stewed hemp and leaf soup. To celebrate our arrival on the National Vintage Fishing Tackle Fair scene we shall be offering a nice deal on our archive of issues one to four and discussing issue five, six, seven…
Find us at the entrance along side our good friend Steve Roberts of River Days.
In a moment of late night EBay bidding I found myself driving down to Brighton to pick up a job lot of fishing tackle. It was quite clear that the original owner of this gear was a fanatical match angler including some nice examples of early glass fibre match rods (all painted matt black) hand-made floats and centre pin reels. Overall the gear was well looked after with plenty of improvised DIY going on, but for me the clincher on the lot was the little two tiered tackle box with aluminium shot tins, there is something about these tackle boxes I find really quite personal…
A person who is born in the town of Usk or has lived there for forty years or more can qualify as a ‘Usk butterfly’. The butterfly symbol was used by Usk craftsmen who created Japanned finished wares, it distinguished their work from nearby Pontypool who created similar work. Last week I was fortunate enough to meet a Usk butterfly for the first time…
Thursday I found myself driving to South Wales with fellow photographer, angler and friend, Nick Moore to cover the stills for an advertising campaign. We were staying at the famous Gliffaes County Hotel that sits on a rocky outcrop in the Usk valley. The hotel is very much of the arts and crafts Edwardian style, and mainly caters for the brown trout, sewin and salmon fisher. As anglers we were both quite frustrated by the prospect of staying at this hotel in earshot of the river Usk, unable to fish, only to work! Ever an optimist I packed a spinning rod, reel and waders hoping that I could grab an hour before or after dinner and winkle out a salmon. The previous day I was talking to John Andrews of Acadia about our predicament and his reply was ‘do yourself a favour and drop into Sweets of Usk…’ I had heard of this old style tackle shop but had never been there so during our drive up to Wales I mentioned this to Nick and the possibility of a detour to visit the tackle shop, after a short conversation a decision was made and we took the turning to the town of Usk. On arrival we found a tiny wooden-clad shop front with the glass panelled door covered in various notes and signs obscuring what was hidden within, to be honest we thought the shop was closed. On close inspection I could see the smiling face of a well dressed lady who was reaching for the locked door, before long we had entered into another world.
When we first stepped inside Sweets we were overwhelmed at the sheer array of things to look at, there were trays of hand-tied flies, old books, stacked boxes, photographs old and new, wooden carved salmon, tweed jackets, bags, cane and carbon rods, we were struggling to know what was for sale and what items were on display for sentimental reasons. The air smelt of wax and old books, the sun had just come out and shafts of light shone through the gaps in the glass illuminating the shop in dappled light, the atmosphere was thick and there stood behind the wooden counter our host with her infectious laugh and sweet smile. Nick and myself were actually quite dumb struck like a couple of school boys, but we were soon put at ease with Mrs Williams offer of tea and stories that were attached to every object that we pointed out. We felt that we had entered someones front room for the first time and with that in mind turned down the offer of tea for we felt that we were intruding. Instead we turned our attention back to the shop, its history and the content. I spotted a delicate looking cane trout rod that turned out to be a Harry Powell rod who originally opened the shop in the 1930’s and was told that “Harry’s rod would never be sold, it is far too special.” Mrs Williams told us about Lionel Sweet who took over the shop from Harry Powell and of his legendary fly casting skills (in 1953 he became the Casting Champion of Europe which he held for twenty years) while his wife Molly hand-tied the flies in the shop. In the early 1960’s Mrs Williams started work in the shop after her parents were looking to find her some temporary work, then in the 1970’s she took over the shop with her now husband, Mike. Over forty years on Mrs Williams, the Usk Butterfly continues to offer her time and hospitality that is warm and genuine, in truth we felt after an hour that we should leave but I think she enjoyed our visit as much as we were. The shop is very much orientated to fishing the Usk which is literally a stones throw from the shop. I spotted a cupboard of boxes with labels from bygone Redditch tackle firms, stacked in a higgledy-piggledy manner. From this cupboard Mrs Williams showed me some of the contents including some floats, “I have a few floats for the boys in the village, you have to get them started somehow,” it was almost as if this was a rite of passage, from float to fly. By five o’clock we had to leave, we could have stayed longer as I know that Mrs Williams had many more stories to share, time was not an issue in this shop, it looked like it had stopped many decades ago, but we had to move on and step back into 2014. A meeting had been laid on for us to discuss the photo-shoot that was to take place on the following day, the contrast was quite extreme.
In hindsight there is a slight sadness about this shop as you realise it won’t be around forever. When Mrs Williams locks the door for the final time I can’t see this business being passed on or sold as it stands, the vintage tackle dealers and auction houses may buy up the contents and the shop will be lost. The stock is probably worth very little but some of the historic photographs and wood carving are worth considerably more, but as a collection under one roof it is priceless. On a historical and social level Sweets is a very rare place to discover. For now it still stands as a business supplying the Usk fishermen with flies, spinners and line, it is a very honest place and certainly not a parody or museum. For anyone who remembers fishing tackle shops that precede the 1980’s when the owners were normally a husband and wife duo, this is a place you have to visit and spend a few pounds. Sweets is a tackle shop that survives where many others were lost to Angling Centres with departments run by ‘experts’. My experience in Sweets reminded me how far we have come as a country over the last thirty years, we seem to be in a big hurry. Sweets is a real lesson in customer care and understated knowledge, an antidote to modern shopping. This little tackle shop is in no rush, run by a lady who has time for anyone who steps through the door, I’m just looking to find an excuse to go back soon, this time though I will accept the offer of “a nice cup of tea with welsh water” as Mrs William would like to say.
I appreciate vintage tackle and I am an angler, but sometimes combining the two together can cause some upsetting moments by the waterside.
On Sunday I decided on a quick hour of spinning for pike on the Lea despite all of the recent rain. My theory was thus, the water had been running fast for three weeks and now as the water was dropping an opportunist pike must be lying in wait in the slack water. Armed with a box of plugs and a bait-casting rod I headed down to the river to find it still running faster and higher than I had ever seen before, the colour was like tea made by a Frenchman, Liptons bag with too much milk.
The sun was appearing through the trees and it looked to be a pleasant day so I was quite happy trying out a few different plugs at varying depths, speeds and actions, trying to locate the slower water. After a while I decided to put a lovely old Heddon Go Deeper River Runt on and explore the deep, slower water. The Lea was up about a meter so I thought the lure should stay off the bottom. This lure has a fantastic action that vibrates the rod tip in such a distinctive manner that you always know the lure is fishing properly and not twisted or caught on the trace. On my fourth or fifth cast the the lure caught on something just near my feet about two foot out from the bank, dammit!
After much pulling from all directions I finally went for the ‘pull’ and the 25lb braid gave way, leaving no resistant, the lure had been lost. God dammit!!!!
Losing bits of tackle including vintage tackle is part of angling but losing this lure in the raging river Lea really pi**ed me off as I knew I was unlikely to get it back. After a another few casts I left for home.
Obsessive? me? No surely not!
I had one glimmer of hope though, the Lea was running high so I could return as the river dropped and hopefully find the obstruction that my River Runt had clung onto? The Lea is not really tidal anymore due to the Olympic Park but at low tide on the Thames the water flows out of the Lea more quickly and drops about 2-3 feet. Low tide was due at 9.50 am the following morning and with no rain for the previous 48 hours it should drop even further. But fearing another angler or dog walker would pass by and spot my lure I decided in a paranoid moment to make a quick visit before dark, so to look like I was not abandoning my duties as a father on a Sunday I took my daughter along in the pram. The river was falling but when I arrived at the crime scene the water had only dropped about a foot, my lure was nowhere to be seen.
Monday morning had arrived so I included a visit to the Lea while heading to work. At 9.30 am I arrived to find the river down about a meter and there in the torrent of water was a lone twig, Excalibur stood alone with my River Runt clinging on for dear life, swaying backwards and forwards in the fast current!
Now I had the simple task of cutting down a branch, creating a fork, stepping down into the silted mud in my trainers, pushing the lure off, knocking it upstream and flicking it onto the bank. As I said before, obsessive? me? No!
Well, it all went to plan and my Heddon lure now sits on my desk at work all safe and sound, while my trainers dry off below, leaving a faint smell of River Lea in flood…lovely!
Twice a year The Tuesday Swim and Andrews of Arcadia meet for the biannual Angling Auctions at Chiswick town hall, West London. Viewing is available from Friday lunchtime and the main show commences at twelve noon on Saturday the 6th April.
This not so un-likely pairing shall as usual be holding fort on the rod section, please come along and re-arrange the rods from their allotted places and enjoy our anguished faces as said rods are moved back INTO THE CORRECT ORDER!
If only the military was organised with such efficiency and precision.
I’m not a collector of these little tins but more an accumulator of such items. These tins tend to turn up in job lots of tackle bought, found at the bottom of larger old tackle boxes or bags. I’m too young to remember them being available in tackle shops but I’m quite familiar with them being used by more elderly fishermen when I was fishing club matches on the Sussex Ouse, along the Lindfield stretch in the early eighties. I still use these tins for small items of tackle such as swivels and beads, more for nostalgia than for any other reason, as the sliding lid does tend to stick, especially in cold weather!
Twenty or so years ago I walked into 61 Pall Mall and was addressed as “Sir” quite an achievement for me at that time as I was a scruffy looking art student dressed in ripped jeans and a leather biker jacket. The man who addressed me looked more like an undertaker rather than the normal tweed clad (this is how you are supposed to dress like in the countryside young man, don’t you know) shop assistant. I was addressed with respect and asked no awkward questions regarding my request, a Hardy waxed wading jacket. A suitable jacket was found, wrapped and paid for with a credit card that was on the brink of letting me down, those two dreaded words ‘card declined’ thankfully didn’t flash up and I marched triumphantly out of Hardys with a waxed jacket. I was not going to wear this on the chalk streams of southern England but in the shady bars and night clubs of Shoreditch, East London. One day I would wear it on the Itchen or Nadder but until then I was to make my rural fashion statement in the Vale of Hoxton!
Soon after Hardy’s of number 61 Pall Mall closed down, my wading jacket still hangs in the basement and has since been blessed on the rivers banks of southern England for brown trout and Scotland in search of salmon. Looking back now I never thought that 61 Pall Mall was an era on the brink of extinction, I thought this establishment was to go on for ever, sadly it didn’t. If I had known of its impending demise I would have spent more time in there.
For those who remembers the wooden panelled shop and its calm atmosphere only broken by the occasional New York accent of an excited over seas visitor, you may also remember the changing faces of the shop window…