For those who are new to this column a quick scan through the last two and a half years of my contributions to this illustrious and august magazine, might offer a hint at my reel preferences.
Centre-pins are the business. When it comes to proper fishing: and that does not include the sort of comedy circus act where the so-called angler bombards the water with three ounce leads at 150 yards range: the centre-pin is nine times out of ten the tool of choice. The bad ones are good, and the best are sublime.
The use of a pin offers skill possibilities that add inestimable levels of pleasure to a dayís fishing. Equally importantly no other reel allows the user such delicious direct contact with the terminal tackle, or the fish on the end of the line.
Iím painfully aware that there are many thousands of anglers, maybe even the majority of anglers, who have never even tried to use a pin. Others who have tried have quickly given it up as a bad job because it requires access to more than twenty-six brain cells. Itís probably just as well; weíd end up with a great queue of white vans parked against all my favourite rivers. White vans have recently taken over from double-glazed bivvies as the carp anglerís most desirable accessory. Now thereís a politically incorrect aside for everyone to inveigh against.
Modern fixed spool egg-whisks are cheap to buy, reliable, and reasonably efficient in the hands of everyone from the village idiot up. And there are indeed times when a fixed spool is the right thing for the job, but Iíd always plump for the pin, when the pin can do the work.
It takes courage to take on the regime required for fishing the pin well, but once learned the art that is pin fishing is a pleasure, and an advantage for life.
At this stage I would suggest that you might look back a month or two to my ĎIn The Steps of FWK' articles.
Anyway, it has to be admitted that the reels themselves are wonderful objects of desire. Pin aficionados know that although there are a lot excellent centre-pins in the world, there are also a few which offer a sublime level of perfection: reels that look and perform with some extra level of just-so: reels that were made with some innate soul. Itís probable that only three makers ever reached that level of perfection: L.G.Gough, David Plowman, and Paul Witcher. There are no Goughs for sale in the World, and so far as I know, no Plowmans either. Witcherís early reels were developmental models, and by his own admission, only his later reels are really right. But right they are, and righter than any other centre-pin that mortal man might aspire to.
There arenít many Witchers in the world: Iíd guess fifty or sixty. Thirty, I suppose, can be described as perfect. There are a few one or two-off types such as the Centenary Coxons, for which a chap might reasonably offer to swap his kidneys. Owners of the wonderful Bisterne Aerial types, of which only seven were made, will obviously have them placed alongside them in their coffins. The Avon Elite models are the best of the short-series production types, and they occasionally come up for sale at vast prices.
Paul Witcher retired from reel making some years ago. Heíd never been in it for the money, and he just ran out of time. Aspiring owners have beaten a path to his door, but the answer has always been no. Well, the news is that Paul has been clubbed into submission by his many admirers, and he will shortly start making what might easily be his last range of reels (although I do hope he goes on to make others).
The new reel is a very close cousin to the legendary 1920 pattern twelve spoke Allcocks Aerial.
The 1920 Twelve spoke Aerial was, and is, a lovely creature. Iíve got three, and I use them with love. The silly thing is, when it was made it was simply a high quality production centre-pin from Allcocks. It was always a fine reel, but no-one could possibly have imagined that it might become such a desirable thing that the majority of its kind would end up in glass cases. But such is the situation now. There they sit, pickled in aspic, so to speak. If they had voices they would be screaming ĎLet us out: weíre fishing reels.í
I happen to like the little ones, the 3_" with wide drum being my favourite. The one everyone wants though, is the 4" with wide drum, and thatís the one that Paul is going to produce.
Now, the description ĎAerialí has been devalued a bit in recent years. Itís been attached to all sorts of reels, even a blasted fixed spool, if you can believe that staggering piece of marketing double-speak. The original Aerials certainly varied somewhat in their design and construction, but itís fair to say that the centre-pin we all recognise as a proper Aerial had a back-plate that incorporated a base onto which the reel-foot was screwed. The cheaper Aerial Populars didnít have it, and the early Coxons didnít either, but the reels we all see as the real thing (sorry about that) do have this very pretty and practical feature. The problem for any would-be 2001 maker is that the originals were made with die cast metal parts, and such things are simply not now economical for small production runs. Cleverly, Paul has overcome that problem in some way, so his new 1920 pattern Aerial is a very near replica of the original Allcocks classic.
There are other wonders found in the original, and incorporated into the new Witcher. Most post-war Aerial replicas have been made with flush front face-plates, and the spokes let in behind the plate. Thatís a perfectly good way of making a reel, but itís not quite a proper Aerial. The new reel has the lovely Ďsticking outí flange, to which the spokes are fixed. You can see that quite easily in the photographs of the old Aerials.
Paul being the meticulous perfectionist that he is (bloody frustratingly so, at times) the new reel has been constructed from the very best materials. The centre boss is made from phosphor bronze, the spool plates and back plate from high grade bar stock aluminium: brass is used for the beautiful caliper check spring, the spokes, and for the reel foot.
Until the 1939 Ė 45 war, Allcocks coated their reels with some sort of blacking that looked wonderfully used, even when it was new. I think it involved acids and lead in some curious devilish alchemy of toxins. Whatever it was, Iím pretty sure the blacking of those old reels did the Allcocks workers no good at all. Perhaps itís just as well that the secrets of that process have been lost, but Paul has invented an excellent blacking method which gives the Witcher reels the appearance of those wonderful pre-war Allcocks Aerials.
Iíve watched Paul assembling, balancing, and testing his reels. The operation puts me in mind of a watch-maker with a vintage Rolex watch. Dials are set up on this side and that. Minute adjustments are made here and there, and further measurements taken. The process takes many hours: itís no wonder that Paulís enthusiasm for reel-making faltered a few years ago. When the reel spins like a turbine, without a hint of wobble, or noise, all adjustments are sealed off and itís ready for a lifetime of use. For all Wallis casters, and would-be Wallis casters, this is the ultimate reel of choice.
Although it is inspired by the 1920 model Allcocks Aerial, the new Witcher will be even better than the original, because it will be made from much better materials, then assembled and adjusted by hand. Tens of thousands of the originals were made by production line techniques. The new Witcher will be made in very limited quantities. Regrettably, some will be bought by collectors who will stand the poor things alongside their other screaming captives. Others will be bought by dealers who will stockpile them in expectation of handsome profits: Witcher reels have changed hands at some amazing prices. I know that one proper fisherman has ordered four of the new reel without having seen it. But these reels are to be made to used, for a lifetime. What nicer than that a man might buy one of these glorious things for his sonís twenty-first birthday, and for that son to leave it to his own son
I can tell you straight away that it is being sold too cheaply at £549.50 which price includes an English hard leather case and makerís certificate. Whether or not it stays at that price will be a matter of some interest, because it will clearly enjoy a premium from the moment it is delivered. Some total prats will say itís too expensive, which is great because there will not be enough to go around, and they probably didnít deserve a Witcher anyway. Inevitably there will be a waiting list. Iím pleased to know that there are to be more Witcher reels, but I believe strongly that Paul is under-selling his masterpieces. In fifty years time a Witcher reel in an auction will bring in the crowds. Those who order now should be ashamed of themselves for paying too little, and although itís none of my damned business, Iím ridiculously cross about it.
01428-712699 for orders