Sunday, September 18, 2011

England was Wonderful....

England was wonderful!!
Editor's Note: This is a wonderful first person report from one of our long time customers/friends Jean Latta who recently returned from a very special trip to the cradle of  fly fishing in England.  Thanks Jean!

I have recently returned from a three week trip to England and I would say that it pretty much came under the heading of “a trip of a life time”.

“The Lost World of Mr. Hardy” was the inspiration for the trip.  Being from the “old school”, I was raised by my father on English fishing tackle and fished with Hardy equipment as a kid growing up in the Mid-West.  I inherited all of his fishing equipment, flies and library.  Reading about English flies used in the early days on the chalk streams Itchen and Test started “educating” me.  “The Lost World” was the final impetus for the trip.
Southern England, the Hampshire

The trip consisted of two parts.  On the first leg I fished southern England on the chalk streams.  I stayed in Stockbridge, about seventy five miles west-southwest of London at a very nice little 4-star hotel, the White Hart Inn, a converted coach house.  This is the heart of the River Test valley, the heart of the chalk streams.  Here I went out six times, three on the Itchen and three on the Test.  Both of these rivers offered up firsts for me.

On the Itchen I caught my first ever grayling.  I had gone one day with a very good ghillie (I learned those are guides in England) and it literally rained almost all day.  We were “stuck” in the fishing hut waiting forever it seemed for the rain to clear.  About 4:30 the clouds passed and the river “exploded” with grayling.  Bang!  Bang!  Bang!  Bang!  Four in a row, and one a nice 12 incher.

A few days later I went out again with the same ghillie but this time we were on the River Test at Houghton.  It was a relatively inactive day until I started fishing this really deep pool right in front of the fishing hut.  I took three very nice brown trout from this pool, including the largest trout I have every caught.  (I know, there are much larger ones.)  

A fine brown from the Test

This was taken on the nymph version of the Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) damselfly, one of the most beautiful dragon flies I have ever seen.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) damselfly

I fished the Itchen at Hockley north of Winchester (the former capital of England) and on the River Test at Lower Mill.  I was out there without a ghillie and I must say that I was not very productive.  This was where I learned that it really is worthwhile, in spite of the substantial expense, to go on the chalk streams with a ghillie, someone who really does know the rivers.
In Stockbridge I had my first encounter with the English people, and I learned very quickly that they are very warm and gracious.  Everyone is respectful and courteous towards others and will help you with any issue that may arise.  ORVIS opened its first UK store in Stockbridge and the store manager is a very knowledgeable young fellow.  He GAVE me a net strap so that my landing net went over my shoulder, the way it’s done in England.  If you love fishing, if you love the history of fishing, you will be well taken care of!!

Alnwick, Northumberland

I thought that the time I spent in southern England on the chalk streams made the entire trip.  But I was not prepared for what transpired in Alnwick, the home of Hardy Brothers.  This turned into something wonderful in a very unexpected way

I went to Alnwick specifically to visit Hardy Brothers.  As I said above, I’m from the “old school” and was raised by my father on Hardy Brothers and H. L. Leonard equipment, at that time considered the finest (and probably still is).  The trip to Alnwick was for my father.  He loved everything English, he loved Hardy and in his lifetime he never had an opportunity to travel to England.

I stayed at a B&B, Tower Restaurant & Accommodation, in Alnwick, a place I just picked from the internet because it looked nice and was reasonable.  It turned out that this establishment is owned and operated by Roy Hardy, James Hardy's son.  When in conversation he found out I was there specifically for Hardy, all kinds of things happened.  He introduced me to his father, James, who is the last living Hardy to have actually worked in the business.  THAT was a real honor.  James Hardy is probably the last living old-line tackle maker.

The Hardy factory is within walking distance of the Tower.  When I went there for the first time, I could tell that something was very different:  I was treated like royalty (which is of course a “big deal” in England).  I could only surmise that James Hardy, who is a consultant to the company and still very influential, gave “orders” because I had come all the way from America just for Hardy.

Coquet River

One of the ghillies from the Hardy Academy took me fishing on the Coquet River there in Northumberland, which is very beautiful and tremendous trout county.  I had with me my R. L. Winston 5-wt bamboo rod on which I caught on a couple small browns.  However, I turned the rod over to the ghillie for a while; he had never fished with bamboo.  I could tell that this was a new and enjoyable experience for him.  Well, that led to an invitation to come by the Hardy factory the next day and bring my rods with me.  (I also had with me a Sweetgrass 3-wt.)

I was introduced to Callum Gladstone and Tom Moran, Hardy's bamboo rod makers.  They were very interested in the American-made rods, spent a good deal of time pouring over them and casting them at their casting pool.  I got the impression it gave them some ideas; one of the things they seemed very interested in is the lightness of the rods due to the hollow butt sections.  Hollow rods were of course a Lew Stoner (one of the founders of Winston) invention in 1936.  I was invited down to their bamboo shop; they showed me how they were "setting up" (my expression) the tapers for the new C. C. de France rods.  These rods will be the 2011 Centennial C. C. de France rods and apparently they are going to be built on the taper of the 1911 rod.

The 1911 C. C. de France rod is something very special.  This is a rod that was specifically designed and built by J. J. Hardy (“JJ”, one of the two original founders) in 1910 for the casting competition in 1911 at the Casting Club of France (C. C. de France).  Of course it won; the cast was 81 feet.

Casting the CC de France

The crowning jewel for me was the absolutely phenomenal honor of casting the 1911 rod.  Frankly THAT was emotionally overwhelming.  This rod could be considered the holy grail of rod-making, the line just flies through the guides.  And after that what else can one say.