Caught by the River

Joseph's Chair

1st August 2010

A vintage tackle dealers story by Peter Carman.

Just another telephone call, “About your advertisement – I have some fishing tackle, unfortunately it won’t be used any more. Some of it is quite old.”

Let me explain. I am a collector, but like a lot of us, I sell a little, swap a little and attend countless tackle fairs. This is all because some years ago I came across an Allcock Aerialite in maroon Bakelite. I thought it was such a wonderful object that ever since then I can’t stop looking. After spending a fortune on rubbish I hope I have acquired a selective eye. Saying that, if someone wants to hoist the contents of their garden shed upon me so I can own a Wallis Wizard or a Zephyr centrepin, I tend to shrug my shoulders and take the lot.

I don’t get excited any more. Telephone calls are few and far between nowadays. Ebay and Auctions houses with specialist sporting sales have put the brakes on them. I usually just get the “mint” rod to look at – which never is – or a heap of bamboo, brass and rotten rod bags. I nearly forgot this one. Trying to reduce time spent with my wife in an out-of-town shopping centre. One of those places devoid of a shop of any interest. The phone call allowed me to abandon her with John Lewis and visit the voice behind it.

“There it is; everything in that pile”. Well without even opening or pulling at anything I could see a wooden Farlow’s racquet shaped Gye landing net with the sliding handle. Promising I thought. Using the “dealer” part of my head and not appearing too eager I opened a few boxes and carefully untied some fragile rod bags. I pushed aside the heavy Dunlop waders, keepnets, the obligatory gas mask bag and a Tilley lamp. I discovered a nice un-named brass multiplier winch, a couple of well-used Avon Royal centrepins, two wooden reels with just a single winding handle each, tackle boxes with plenty of cork and balsa floats, many homemade. A jumble of lures, baits, and a couple of whittled wooden plugs. I spied some phantom swallowtails and a couple of Geens Chase-me’s within the rusty tangle of traces and trebles, Mucilin tins, flies and sharpening stones. Later stuff included an early bite alarm, swimfeeders, boilie baiting needles, even modern hair rig stops. The rods were awful, broken and bent, short old fibreglass and some later cheap carbon carp, fly and float rods. There was an undamaged ABU Zoom baitcaster in its bag, about the best of the rod show, testament to quality, probably.

The guardian of the shed spoke again “I don’t know what it’s worth but we need one of these.” She guided me out into the daylight, pulled a folded cutting from her blue blazer, opened it carefully and pointed at a picture of a smiling woman in an easy chair. “A riser-recliner,” she said. I looked at the picture again. The woman portrayed was of an age and disposition that clearly didn’t need the appliance. An obvious strategy by the manufacturers to hoodwink people into believing they are older than they think.

Anyway, the price for the few bits I wanted was unsettled to date and uppermost in my mind, so I glanced at the price of the chair. Well, it was a bit cryptic, taking into account the “members reduction” and it was this month’s “star buy”. However, I was equating it with the tackle and agreed. In one way it was nice not to discuss values, but I am sure advantage fell on her side of the deal.

“You will take it all won’t you – only we have to clear the shed” – Oh no, I thought – this did include the gas mask bag, waders and Tilley lamp. The guardian of the shed had done her job well. I’m not sure I had. I fear my love of old tackle is greater than that of my wallet at times. I pocketed the brass multiplier, threw the rest in the car and headed back. Once inside the shopping centre I realised a shed isn’t such a bad place to be. I re-joined my wife who complained “not more stuff” adding on the way home “and it stinks too” I didn’t say anything, mentally agreed, but stayed silent for the sake of a quiet life.

My enthusiasm for the gear was not great and a week must have passed before I remembered the Geens baits and decided the chill easterly that blows straight into my garage had turned into a westerly and conditions made facing up to sorting the pile a little more bearable. I sorted it out and luckily there were a few more interesting baits in the jumble, but the centrepins didn’t look so good in my garage as in the shed, maybe some of the rods were salvageable – well enough for auction, anyway. I was undecided about the waders – the problem with them is that you don’t know until you’ve tried em’ – then it’s too late!! Auction as well I think, someone else can chance the wet feet.

I noticed some paperwork at the bottom of the pile and pulled it out. A handful of licences, permits or tabs. Why do they call them tabs? I only remember this because the approaching bailiff used to shout from the weir bridge when we were kids “Show me your tabs,” as we disappeared on our bicycles. Bathampton Anglers, Bristol Amalagamation, Wessex Water. I began to link the tackle I bought with the waters in the tabs. The Bristol Avon, Kennet and Avon canal, Hunstrete lake, once home of the record eel, Blagdon and Chew. All places I was familiar with. I unfolded the modern rod licence, not because of fishing interest, just plain nosiness really. Joseph Smith, Bristol road, old age concession. I now had a name to go with the tackle. My eyes glanced over the detail and then the date of birth. 1913. Jesus! I looked again and checked the date of issue – it was 2008. Now my grade 2 CSE maths (I was thrown out of O level due to lack of interest) tells me Joseph is 97 and was possibly fishing recently! If he retired at 65 in 1978 that’s 32 years pension, reduced licence fees and all that fishing from the bank now in the bank. Bloody well done.

Some questions answered. I admit to being puzzled by the range of tackle in the pile from a brass mulltipier to hair rig stops. I thought, perhaps wrongly, that is was from family members of different generations, but I doubt that now. I also realised the importance of the riser-recliner. I now felt a little guilty. In my quest for collectable bits and old reels I had overlooked the meaning of this stuff, I had even cursed myself for perhaps paying too much. I had never asked about the angler who had used it all and whittled those wooden plugs and fashioned the floats. I wished I had. I bet he was a great bloke to know. In fact I am sure of it. He was, after all, one of us. Perhaps old Izaak directed me to the shed. I would like to think so. Joseph, enjoy your chair, you deserve it. I hope you enjoy the time left to remember and relive the best of those fishing moments, misty mornings, hopes and dreams.

Remember there is more to old tackle than just twenty pound notes. I will.

Peter Carman at The Last Cast.