The Incomplete Angler

What could be missing from this collection of antique fly-fishing equipment?

Guy Schum

Antique English brass bait carrier, Angler’s Guide, greenheart fly rods and reels.

I am not an angler. I’ve never caught a trout. I’m an antique collector. More than 15 years ago, inspired by a photograph I once saw in a magazine from the U.K., I started a small collection of early 19th-century English fly-fishing equipment. The photo showed a little room just big enough to contain a wooden bench with rubber boots underneath, a few blackthorn walking sticks leaning against the wall in the corner, and waxed jackets and dog leashes hanging from a pegboard. The thing that stuck with me most in the picture, though, were three old cane fly fishing rods and a wicker creel hanging from the ceiling. It was perfect. All I could think about was how I could replicate the same simple, rugged beauty in my own home.

I found my first English rod, from the Victorian era, at an antique fishing tackle auction house, Lang’s in Waterville, New York, and was hooked. (Lang’s, which carries items owned by notables such as Zane Grey, once sold an 1859 Copper Giant Haskell Lure for $101,200, a record price for any piece of fishing tackle.) Though my collection is small, it is deliberate, and includes mid-century greenheart rods, early dapping rods, signed standard and multiplying reels, English-made creels, brass-banded bait carriers, period books, nets and fly wallets, a scarce Victorian collapsible fishing seat of turned walnut, and assortments of horse hair, silken, and waxed braided line.

This spring, I intend to take a couple of rods off the wall, find a proper stream or narrow river, and attempt to fly fish like a stuffy old Victorian might have. I will try the old technique of fly-fishing called dapping, which involves using a 16- to 19-foot-long hardwood rod, such as bamboo. Without the aid of a reel, it relies on the breeze to carry the fly out. With its tip raised high enough, the rod allows the fly to bounce and play just above or touching the surface of the water to attract the fish.

I realize the experiment may explode in my face, but then again, I may finally catch a trout or two of my own.

June 11, 2022

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