WAS THE MK III WALKER'S FAVOURITE?

THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN CARP ROD...

 

MANY people must realise that different rods are needed for different fish: and that pike fishing, for instance, requires a far heavier rod than a lissom wand designed for brook trout.

Today, carp fishing is the fastest-growing branch of angling in the UK; and so it is remarkable to reflect that, just over sixty years ago, an entirely suitable rod for general carp fishing did not exist.

This was because carp were considered uncatchable and tackle-manufacturers did not consider it worthwhile to invest in tackle designs that no one would ever buy and use.

Indeed, only a handful of people in the UK attempted to catch carp; and it fell to one of the pioneers, Richard “Dick” Walker, to build his own carp rod from scratch: a rod that is now considered a design classic.

Hitchin-based Walker was Cambridge-educated, where he studied engineering; but even he required several attempts to get the design right - and only then, with a little help from his friends.

In 1947, when Walker was 29, he realised that the shop-bought, built-cane Wallis Avon he was using would not do for large carp, because it was too weak. His dissatisfaction led to his first attempt at carp rod designing.

The well-respected angling historian Kevin Clifford in his classic 1992 work, A History of Carp Fishing (Sandholme Publishing) writes: “Dick initially made a rod similar to what a Wallis Avon would be like, if it had 12 inches removed from the tip and, although this seemed better able to handle large carp, it turned out to be very poor for casting.

“In some accounts this rod was called the Walker Wizard Mk I.”

Clifford goes on to explain that while the British tackle company Allcocks still refused to make rods for carp fishing, a manager did send Walker some fine bamboo and suggested that he should continue with his own attempts to create the ideal rod.

Walker spent the next five years trying to do just that.

Somewhere during this period of development, another rod appeared - one that CCC member Maurice Ingham called his "Whopper Stopper". But this rod doesn't seem to fit the accepted narrative for the development of the Mk IV, because it was such a powerful weapon - akin, perhaps, to the Stepped-Up (SU) carp rods that were to emerge much later.

Clifford discusses this rod at some length, noting: "Maurice confirmed that this was the one mentioned in their book, 'Drop Me A Line".

Clifford also mentions an entry in Dick Kefford's diary, where Ingham's "Whopper Stopper" is called "the Mk I, made by Dick..."

But this was not the Mk I as described in Walker's own accounts; and nor was it the Mk II, which was probably the weapon used during Walker's first trip to Hunstrete. This was clearly a lighter rod than the Mk IV. Walker, in a BCSG interview said his Hunstrete rod was "not very powerful".

As for the Ingham rod - I expect it has been left out of tidied-up and simplified narratives, mainly by Walker himself.

The Mark II still exists and it is, in fact, superficially similar to the Mark IV: being 10ft and two-piece and constructed from triangular-cut bamboo strips, otherwise known as “split-cane”

For each limb of the rod, six strips were glued together, creating a strong hexagonal shape. The glue used was special and modern for the time, being based on formaldehyde. Before then, most bamboo rods were stuck together using glues that were animal-based.

Still Walker was not satisfied. Indeed, it was his nature to be highly innovative .

Even in November 1951, when the Mark IV design had been finalised, Walker was still not certain that the problem had been solved.

He knew his task was to design a light, pleasant-handling rod with plenty of power: suitable for lines between 6lb and 12lb breaking strength but capable of throwing light baits, such as worms and bread, considerable distances.

This was because carp were considered to be so vary of resistance on the line, usually no leads of any kind were used to assist the cast.

In The Carp Catchers’ Club letters - edited by Walker’s fishing friend Maurice Ingham and published in 1998 by the Medlar Press - Walker wrote: “I would like reports from members on their carp rods made to my formula. I have never considered the present design final and should be glad to have any information which may lead to improvement.

“If at any time I can help members with special requirements, I shall be pleased to do so as I have a workshop and other facilities.”

Between the Mark II and the Mark IV, there was a curious development: the complicated Mark III: and as we shall see, there is some evidence that Walker may have had second thoughts about this rod, perhaps considering it superior in some respects to the celebrated Mark IV.

Why the Mark IV became the carp rod of choice in the 1950’s and 1960’s is not hard to discover.

In September 1952, Walker was fishing at Redmire Pool in Herefordshire and caught a British record carp of 44lbs: easily beating the existing record by almost 13lbs.

Walker was already well-known as a fishing author and angler of note; but the capture of his forty four pounder, known evermore as “Clarissa”, made him famous.

Soon the Mark IV was being manufactured commercially, as anglers woke up to the fact that big carp could be caught after all, providing the rod was up to the task.

Members of the Carp Catchers’ Club added to the legend with a string of notable captures of carp from various waters, including Redmire Pool.

The company first endorsed by Walker for the commercial manufacture of the Mark IV was B. James of Ealing.

Hundreds of Mark IV rods were bought by eager anglers after the capture of Clarissa; but was the Mark IV always Walker’s weapon of choice? Apparently not.

Walker was still apt to use his Mark III rod on occasions.

In Kevin Clifford’s remarkable book of 1984, Redmire Pool (Beekay Publishers), there is a sequence of photographs that show Walker landing his second largest carp of 34lbs.

In Clifford’s later A History of Carp Fishing , he writes: “The photographs all show Walker’s Mark III being used.”

Walker gave the credit of the capture to the Mark IV rod, in an interview with The Angling Times. But the ringing and handle of the Mark III is quite distinct, and there seems no doubt that Walker was not being wholly truthful when questioned by The Angling Times reporter.

It seems likely that, because the Mark IV was being manufactured commercially and the Mark III was not, Walker chose to tell a little white lie on this occasion.

But what was the Mark III and why did Walker decide to use it for his Redmire session of June 1954?

The reason is probably down to the fact that Walker used a heavy ledger, or sinker, and the Mark III was a stiffer rod than the Mark IV and more suited to this purpose.

The Mark III was made of bamboo, just like the Mark IV; but it was double-built. This means that strips of bamboo were glued onto a thinner inner core of “split-cane,” for extra strength and stiffness.

In A History of Carp Fishing, Clifford writes: “This rod was used a great deal, and a number of large carp were caught on it, but Walker always felt that it seemed heavier than it should have been, at 14oz.”

By 1954, Walker and other members of the Carp Catchers’ Club had experienced the galling problem of hooks falling out during the playing of large fish.

Walker had his reasons for using a heavy lead at Redmire. In The Carp Catchers’ Club letters he writes of the capture of his thirty four pounder: “I said ground bait particles similar in size to the hook-bait, and the use of an Arlesey bomb (ledger/sinker) to get a downwards strike to connect with the fish’s lower lip. That is what we did, and it worked.”

The use of a heavy weight to help set the hook into the carp’s leathery lower lip is now standard practice among modern carp fishers, and their rods are typically heavier that the famous Mark IV as a result. Thus it can be argued that the Mark III, not the Mark IV, is the ancestor of the modern carp rod.

This is not to diminish the historical importance of the Mark IV. It was the first commercially made carp rod and made it possible for ordinary anglers to tackle the pursuit of monster carp.

Even today, few rods are better for close-range carp fishing, such as the free-lining of bread and other soft baits. Hundreds of big fish have been successfully landed over the years, because of the Mark IV’s unique qualities.

These qualities owe much to Walker’s Cambridge education, and also to an advisory input from other anglers: most notably Maurice Ingham.

It was Walker’s old University tutor H.W Phear who encouraged him to build a rod with a scientifically-calculated “compound taper” - producing a progressive action from a lively tip to the handle, where a single section of Tonkin cane was spliced into the split cane, for extra power and stiffness.

Walker many not at first realised that the Mark IV would be his ultimate carp rod design. Indeed, he may not have been entirely satisfied with it.

But without doubt, thousands of anglers today have cause to be grateful for his foresight and endeavours.

PICTURE: Seen here, the Gnome "canes them" at a scenic old water...

 

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JAA | Reply 17.04.2013 00.42

G, Thought you'd have a copy! One day I'm having a Whopper Stopper made...

Gary 17.04.2013 09.55

Dear JAA - best of luck with the Whopper Stopper project. If you like, I could feature your net here too..?
Best - The Gnome.

JAA 17.04.2013 09.25

G, On my present "'project" progress that'll be in about 2016! Landing net first!

Gary 17.04.2013 00.55

Oh you must give details for this site, when it's ready!
I borrow my bruv's copy, by the way - they're hard to find/afford...

Gary | Reply 16.04.2013 10.06

I've read it, JAA - but thanks for the kind offer. I'd forgotten about the "whopper stopper" - but article is now ammended, thanks to you. Best - G.

jaa | Reply 16.04.2013 09.25

Get yourself a copy of Drop Me A Line - it's a wonderful book and all is within. If you email me I'll scan the page for you. Email coming via TFF.

JAA | Reply 16.04.2013 09.23

Get yourself a copy of Drop Me A Line - it's a wonderful book and all is within. If you email me I'll scan the page for you. Email coming via TFF.

Gary | Reply 15.04.2013 10.32

Interesting - and many thanks for the input - could you supply for info?
Best - the Gnome.

JAA | Reply 15.04.2013 09.38

See now Nome, I always thought the rod on described in November 1949 in DMAL was part of the story. That's a rod with a far measure of wallop, used by RW and MI

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18.06 | 10:49

Thanks Mathew, that means a lot. Much appreciated.

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18.06 | 10:25

Well done Gents and yes some of those carp do look authentic enough to be called proper wild carp.

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31.05 | 16:57

That's brilliant, WHERE is the nearest village, l want to.look on my map!

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04.04 | 10:52

I must agree

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