Edward Barder Bernard Venables Fly Rod

JB returning a ferox trout. An illustration by John Searl which appears in ‘Red Letter Days’

I see that Thomas Turner is selling an Edward Barder Ltd Edition Bernard Venables 8’6” bamboo fly rod. It was ordered on 6th October 1996 and finished the following year. Its description sounds mouth-watering, and the pictures show just how mint it is in every way. Only 20 or so were made by Edward, so this is quite a find… and so it should be at an advertised price of £2,450 but then again, why not? A financial expert of mine tells me that inflation is about to hit hard, so perhaps money is better in cane than in cash. Whether you use it or treasure it matters not in terms of enjoyment in the rod, I guess. You can look at it adoringly indoors or out, but wouldn’t it be nice to land just a single, wild brown trout on it, just once in its life?

My guess is that the idea behind the rod was one of several to help BV financially in his later years. Edward would be able to tell us, but I’m sure the great man came out of it well, so the rod has served several purposes in its life already! In one of my roles as a commissioning editor I discussed with BV the possibility of taking on his autobiography, which eventually went elsewhere. Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing was also reprinted in the nineties and it would be interesting to have the figures on that enterprise. What did serve BV quite well, I think and hope, was the book Red Letter Days (Crowood Press 1994). This I did manage to commission, and was a compilation of angling tales brought together by Pete Rogers and illustrated by the late John Searl. It was much acclaimed and did well.

My personal knowledge of BV was restricted to a good many meetings in the last ten years or so of his life. He was frequently a guest of honour at angling dinners, where he talked movingly of angling and its role in his life. It would be wrong, in my view, to think of the older BV as a grandfather type, all cuddly and Santa-like. He had trenchant views on the way angling had gone  and he especially disliked the Richard Walker world of big fish and big fish hunting which, in his view, had diminished the magic and mystery that angling has at its beating heart.

He was furiously dismissive of the specialist angler who concentrates on a single species. In BV’s view, every fish and every method had its merits, and a true angler loves and practises them all. This was emphasised at his Memorial Celebration in 2001, where we were given a beautifully produced booklet of Bernard’s words on the aspects of angling that rang truest for him. One piece I have always felt especially splendid, capturing the essence of the Venables message. I’ll quote it pretty much in full.

“Angling Never Stops For Me

“Angling, for the all-round angler, never stops. It is like the traditional idea of royalty – a king may die, but kingship goes on. In March, so says the all-round angler. “Coarse fishing is over! Welcome trout fishing!”

“Now is the dreary fence period for those who find their pleasure only in coarse fishing, but it is a heyday for a more catholic taste. Every day is a trout fishing day. The duns hatch and drift down the current under the opening leaves, the soft plops of rising trout add excitement to the dreamy peace of the water meadows. 

“In trout fishing now time is abolished. The hatching fly and singing lark are more significant than the affairs of nations. But it is about this time that a small note sounds in the mind of the fisherman. At first it is a faint sound far back in his consciousness, then it grows and swells with the turning of the weeks.

“It is maytime now: the hawthorn buds pink and white: the elder scent heavy on the air, joys enough for any reasonable standard. But June follows May, and on the 16th coarse fishing returns – not the coarse fishing left in March but a different kind, that of midsummer dawns and dusks. 

“That is the thought that begins to work now in the all-round fisherman, a faint tinkling bell of thought at first, but growing and enlarging in him until it is such a jubilant sound that it fills his consciousness. His joy in Spring and its own special fishing is no less, but equally there is no sadness in him for its passing. The fishing of spring will be over. Welcome that of the summer.”

I don’t know who will buy this Barder/Venables masterpiece, but I do know the great man would rather it be his “all-round angler” who appreciates the tench every bit as much he does the trout!

Postscript

Here’s a postscript for you perhaps. I mentioned the efforts made by many to help BV financially in his declining years. These initiatives have to be seen as deserved for, after all, BV did set so many of us on the path to angling in what many of us would describe as the truest of ways. Crabtree was a testament to beauty, to nature, to compassion, generosity and friendship in a way not many angling books have come close. I suspect that many anglers of, say fifty years-plus, owe the best of their angling ethics to what Bernard suggested to them in their youth? For this alone, he deserves to be remembered even today, and deserved a monetary leg-up then.

That he needed a bit of support shows how angling has rarely paid its stars richly. Had John Wilson been a footballer rather than an angler, he probably would not have driven around in a fifteen year old car. I suspect the only people in the angling business to have made proper bucks are the tackle makers… I would not mind being a million pounds behind Peter Drennan for one.

Mind you, I am not suggesting we should feel sorry for Bernard in any way – and he would have hated that thought. He lived his life almost entirely on his own terms, and as far as I can divine, mostly did exactly as he pleased.

Anyway, to the point of all this. Thoughts of the rod, of Barder, of Bernard, of Red Letter Days, drove me to my drawers of angling odds and ends wherein I stumble across an old b/w photograph, badly reproduced here. My memory of it is hazy indeed, but I suspect the image shows the great and the good gathered somewhere down on the Avon (perhaps?) in order to celebrate the publication of the book itself. I was invited, as the book’s commissioner, contributor, and passing friend of the man himself, but got halfway there before weight of traffic meant I would have arrived as everyone else was leaving. Regrettably therefore, I missed the event, and you won’t see me on the photograph as a result.

If indeed this photograph records what I think it does? Any ideas out there?

And who are the anglers assembled there? I can make out BV himself, Maurice Ingham (in the wheelchair), Chris Yates kneeling, Gerry Berth-Jones behind him, and Pete Rogers behind Gerry. Quite a few of the other faces look familiar, but time has dulled my memory of the names behind them. It would be good if any of you were there, or can fill in the blanks for us. It was obviously a happy occasion all round!

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