Comparing the Hardy CC De France with Tom Regula Split Cane Fly Rods. Part Two of "Bring Back T
Clark Colman revisits a favourite moorland beck to see how an old faithful in his splitcane fly rod collection compares to a modem arrival from bespoke rod builders Tom Regula.
Truth be told, I don't take my useable split-cane rods out of their slips a great deal nowadays. Having recently returned from test firing a couple of models in the new, utterly remarkable and soon-to-be-released Orvis Helios 3 range. I can't see this changing any time soon! So it's been quite refreshing of late to spend a few hours on the water in the company of cane, rather than carbon or graphite, while exploring the similarities and differences between older and more modern split-cane fly rods.
Serving Veterans And Honourable Retirees My little cane collection means a great deal to me, given that the majority of it formerly belonged to my late, much-lamented friend and sometime family GP. Dr Archie Rankin. Together with many other vintage angling treasures (and one or two more recent ones), they came into my possession through the kindness of Archie's family after the good doctor passed away in 2013.
Readers may well remember some of these items from an earlier feature in which they accompanied me on a successful quest to christen one particular rod — a two-piece, 9ft 5-wt Mitre Hardy — with its first-ever grayling.
Made some time, between 1961 and 1966, as the result of a brief partnership between Hardy Bros of Alnwick and Benjamin Crook of Huddersfield (which made the Mitre footballs), the Mitre Hardy is the youngest of the wooden and split-cane fly rods that now occupy a dedicated corner of their own in my study at home, As a group, they nicely illustrate much of the evolution that took place in the materials such rods were built from, and in the techniques with which they were crafted during the late 19th and into the 20th century.
For many years before Dr Rankin's death, these rods slumbered peacefully in their slips in what was once the waiting room of Archie's old surgery in Aspatria, northwest Cumbria. Having been kept relatively cool, dry and in the dark for so long, they're near a in remarkably good condition, with no warping or degradation of varnish and fittings.
That said, the Mitre Hardy is one of only two in my collection that I'm confident of using on an occasional basis without doing any damage.
Bringing older cane rods out of retirement can be a risky business and I certainly don't want any of them to end up like the one permanent invalid among their number: a long, double-handed wooden salmon rod that must have been used by Archie's GP father, old Dr Rankin, and which has a rather dramatic break to one of its sections. I've often speculated as to how it came by such a war wound — a monstrous Scottish or Cumbrian silver tourist perhaps?
The other serving veteran in my collection is also a 9ft 5-wt rod. However, this one a Hardy CC De France — was acquired a little over two years after my legacy from Archie's family. It has a particularly fascinating history, dating back to the official foundation of the Casting Club de France (from which it takes its name) in 1910. What had started out the previous year as an international spinning competition (in which English anglers took most of the honours) now offered fly casting sections as well, and attracted such luminaries as Louis Bougle, A P Decantelle (both of whom have, of course, had reels named after them and John James Hardy.
Caning The Competition
The latter's win in his section of the 1910 tournament is remarkable even by present-day standards — and it also exemplifies an important staging post in the development of split-cane fly rods. With both distance and accuracy being put to the test, Mr Hardy managed to execute a 75ft (25-yard) cast with a 7ft rod built specifically for the event, named the CC De France. To put this into perspective, 75 feet is only five feet longer than the minimum-length distance cast that candidates for the Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors (AAPGAI) provisional single-handed qualification are expected to achieve at assessment using modern equipment. What's more, Hardy was also aiming at hoops underneath overhanging branches!
Making such casts with the more familiar, extremely soft-action rods of the day would have been nigh on impossible — especially with one of only seven feet. J J Hardy's magic wand, however, had the benefit of a much crisper action, which aided both distance and accuracy.
On the wider, English On the wider, English fly fishing stage, such specifications were by now becoming more and more sought after, particularly in view of the ongoing, so-called dry-fly revolution that called for greater precision (and, where necessary, increased range) in targeting observed fish.
Having got off to the very best of starts, the Hardy CC De France went into production in a number of lengths and line ratings. After enjoying much popularity among those who could afford them (fine-quality cane fly rods have never been inexpensive, either to buyers at the time or collectors since!), the initial run ended in 1961. However, more recent models have continued to appear. From the serial number engraved on its butt cap, mine can be dated to 1949 — and a very fine vintage it is, too.
Start Your Casts Yesterday
I've certainly not dared to try and emulate J J Hardy's 1910 feat with my CC De France. However, such is its condition, pedigree and sheer interest value, I've occasionally taken it out for a bit of fresh air and gentle exercise on the lawn. Or, as when compiling this feature, to a small stream whose width and size of fish is particularly forgiving of a golden oldie's more relaxed way of doing things.
Such rods may well have been considered crisp in the early to mid- but by today's technically advanced standards they're very much all-through or full-flex in their action. True, there appears to be a certain reserve of power to my CC De France (you can feel it towards the bottom of the blank), but the extremely flexible tapered cane above negates it to a significant extent. Rods like this don't respond well to faster casting strokes and their tips describe the shape of a Nissen hut front if rushed and/or rotated too early, which sends the line out in a wide, air and wind-resistant, energy-sapping loop. This is bad enough at the best of times, and even more so when faced with casting into the kind of stiffish downstream breeze that seldom let up while TFF editor Andy Taylor and I were on the water.
At the same time, however, the very nature of such rods goes some way towards helping you avoid such pitfalls. Overpowering a longer, heavier split-cane rod (which this one is, at least in comparison to what's coming next) is both hard and uncomfortable, especially if your strokes are rather wristy. So their weight almost immediately encourages you to put the brakes on if you don't want to damage yourself in the long run. Also, the inherent flexibility of classic cane fly rods means that they almost load themselves against the air and wind. So this, coupled with the weight and inertia of the fly line, means that very little casting effort is required.
The recommendation I once heard to "start your casts yesterday" when using traditional-action split-cane rods was a deliberate exaggeration. However, it served its purpose and has stuck with me as an amusing, memorable way of emphasising the need for slow, smooth acceleration, avoidance of any sudden jerky movements (such as when speeding up or bringing the rod to a stop at the end of each stroke), and longer pauses to allow the line to unroll after such soft-actioned rods unload. This helps to keep the tip moving along as straight a path as possible, which aids the formation of narrower, more aerodynamic and energy-efficient loop faces, which you really have to make a conscious effort to do with these innately flexible tools. It also allows the rod to recover and return to its straight position as quickly as possible after unloading, thus minimising lateral movement and the introduction of slack into the cast.
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Given that split-cane fly rods are still made today, how much further have their builders progressed in terms of rod actions? Are they still very much in the traditional mould, or is it possible to produce versions with crisper actions that are at least a little more akin to modern carbon or graphite equivalents? The answer would appear to be yes to both — it just depends on what you're after.
Tom Regula is but one of the current generation of English cane rod builders and there's few to match him where achieving the perfect marriage of tradition, progress, beauty and practical fishing performance is concerned.
As for the bespoke, personalised and utterly individualistic nature of his rods (both traditional and faster actioned alike), produced at his workshop at Blandford Forum, Dorset, Tom stands alone.
His distinctive choice of materials (such as the high-quality Portuguese cork and figured wood used on his rod handles) and individualistic style have been built up over 40 years in the craft, and may well persuade some to regard his products (which you can see more of at www.bespokeflyrods.co.uk) as works of art above anything else.
They are, however, equally as pleasurable to use as to look at, and Tom certainly prefers them to be seen and employed more as a means to an end than objects to be cooed over but never allowed to flex against a fly line or the struggles Of a fish. Indeed, he upbraided me mildly over my initial kid gloves approach when first I agreed to put one to the test. Just look at it; can you really blame me?
At around 4oz, Tom Regula's cane rods aren't much heavier than some of my modern-material versions. The model featured here — a 6ft 9in 3-wt—is light and crisp, its butt powerful and its blank a good deal less parabolic than older or modern traditional-action equivalents.
Which to choose depends on the situation. Tom favours this one for smaller running waters, such as the moorland beck on which we pitted it against the CC De France, and prefers something a little (but not too much) longer and stronger when tackling bigger ones or targeting wild brownies on natural stillwaters.
Having recently given one of Tom's rods a thorough field trial, I can certainly vouch for its ability to generate higher line speed and narrower, more energised loops, while still retaining the suppleness necessary for safeguarding light tippets against the impact of the strike and the antics of lively trout. Sounds like a carbon rod all over, doesn't it?
Teaming this beautiful and fascinating little cane wand with an appropriately sized reel, double-taper or compound-tapered weight-forward fly line, furled leader and tippet produces an overall outfit that has efficiency and refinement stamped all over it. The same could, I feel assured, be said of other current split-cane fly rods, whose builders have also been able to take advantage of advancements in construction methods to produce more specialised tapers for faster actions, as well as continuing to offer traditional, softer-actioned versions for those who prefer.
While I'm not expecting a cane rod renaissance as a result of this feature, here's hoping that it might at least encourage readers to find out a little more about modern split-cane fly rods and give one or two a go for themselves. My recent adventure with such a rod (and its ancestors) has certainly been time well spent and I've definitely come away with an increased sense of admiration for the flyfishers of yesteryear as well as 21st century cane aficionados.