Home of handmade Carp, Barbel, Float, Trout, Salmon Rods and Blanks
Rod Maker's Blog
My thoughts and news on
rod building, fishing tackle and life in general.
Thursday November 24th 2011
I have just uploaded a short video about our new throwing stick. I tried to make it fun as there are already many throwing stick videos on youtube, but the point it makes is straightforward enough. This is a unique stick in that it is pure carbon, 2 x 2 twill, which makes it incredibly light. We kept it short so you do not have to stretch to reload with bait, which makes it quick and easy to use. Straight sticks spin the bait less than curved sticks so you get less exploding of soft baits and less lift. Ultimate distance is not as great as curved stick but accuracy is excellent. This is the perfect stick for baiting precisely up to 100yds, and the light weight makes it all less effort.
Here is the video link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mVYF1GsDdE
Our custom rod building partners are at that time of year when their work load is a bit lighter, and deliveries can be a little quicker. If you are thinking about a new custom rod or set of rods now is the time to talk to them. One that might catch your eye is Mark Tunley who has a new website at http://www.marktunley.com/
Monday 24th October 2011
You may have noticed I have started a facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harrison-Advanced-Rods/205126342892633 The aim is to post small items of news and pictures more quickly than is possible on our website.
Todays Facebook post is about Rodmaker magazine which I can recommend to any of you who do your own rod building. The content is very much aimed at helping good rod builders do special things, and it is full of illustrations of both traditional looking custom building and some real innovative ideas and "how to's". The current issue shows you how to build coloured bands into EVA as well as interesting thread art.
If you are just starting out rod building, and this time of year is the ideal time, there are relatively few resources or good books on rod building and while Amazon is a good place for popular books, you cannot beat a real specialist book seller like Coch-y-Bonddu http://www.anglebooks.com/ if you want books about fishing and related topics. I notice they have a few rod building titles available on the website plus many books on Carp including rare first editions by BB. The website gives you a taste, but the shop is certainly worth a visit in the mid Wales town of Machynlleth. Take the family and combine it with a trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology which seems to have an increased relevance in the current times. The centre seems to have grasped the essence of a better way of living and using energy and other resources long before the popular acceptance of the need to look after our planet better. Well worth a visit.
Tuesday 18th October 2011
I have been asked to provide the weights for the Kigan rings used in the recent video, so here goes. The first number is the size.
50 = 16.4g, 40 = 9.4g, 30 = 6.7g, 25 = 4.4, 20 = 2.9, 16 = 1.9g 12T = 2.2g
40mm ring set total = 27.5g
50mm ring set total = 42g
If you compare that to other premium brands, it is a low weight, and they are very flexible too, with no downside on durability or friction. You can feel that difference on a built rod.
Monday 17th October 2011
The Tackle and Gun trade show is still on but the hit new Harrison products of the first day were the new 12. Trebuchet Light and the all carbon throwing stick. The Trebuchet Light falls between the full power Trebuchet and the top of the Torrix range in terms of casting power. A true l;ong range rod, it has been tuned to make it load up more easily in fishing situations. You do not need to be a tournament caster on a field to exploit the power of this new rod. Pictures to follow.
The throwing stick is something we have been working on for a while, made from 100% woven carbon it is ultra light and and tough. Priced at only £36 retail.
Thursday 13th October 2011
I have just posted a little video to youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hudqi-rzmT4 regarding rod rings or line guides. We use a lot of Kigan rod rings and I have tried to explain why we choose this brand, why we think they are so good. I will be adding a new video every ten days or so over the next few weeks so why not subscribe to our channel which is easy enough to do if you have a youtube account. Otherwise just check back to our home page.
This weekend we are off to the Tackle and Gun show to exhibit our 2011 range to the trade. I am sure there will be quite a few new rods there but as far as I know we are the only company exhibiting new rods made in the UK. We will have some interesting new products, here are a few.:
Carbon throwing stick, Trebuchet Light Rod, Ultra Slim light "ST"carp rods in 2 1/2 to 3 lb test curve.
The lighter ST carp rods are very significant. They will be offered with an option of cork handles, and the 12' 2 1/2 is a very slender 11.6 mm just above the handle. More to follow.
Thursday 6th October
First a quick plug for north west rod builder Tony Kay. Tony is building rods to a very high standard and has years of experience.
Moving on. Tis, or to give him his proper name Andrew Thistlewood, who is my right hand man here, has a strong opinion that the Torrix 12' 2 1/2 Torrix blank is not only one of the best blanks we make but also the most underrated.
In a carp fishing world which often tends to focus on distance casting, it is easy to forget that a lot of fish are caught at 100yds or less. And it is a fact that although you may feel you have more control of a hard fighting fish and are applying more pull when you use a stiff rod, a lighter more flexible rod can sometimes beat the stiff rod in fish playing power, as well as having more elasticity to cope with sudden changes in direction. The reason for this being that the lighter rod can bend in to a shorter leaver than the same length stiff rod.
Just as Tis was again telling me how great the Torrix 12' 2 1/2 is, I received an email from one of our German customers, Mario Winnekes who has just received a set of these very rods. First bite first time out he has bagged himself a 36kg fish which I picture below. Proving my point that you do not need a stiff rod to land big fish. And of course the lighter rod will always be a joy to use.
We all get a bit obsessed with distance at times, but at the end of the day, as long as you can reach the fish, the game is to turn runs into banked fish, and get as much pleasure as possible doing it.
Friday 23rd September 2011
Today I want to talk about our custom builders. Some of you will have seen the short film I put together about custom building, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8m8h9i7HpuY
I just want to add a few comments and updates to that video. Let me start with the easy stuff. In our custom dealer list you will see that Colin Leatherbarrow who trades as Custom built fishing rods has changed contact details. Colin is in Urmston and has a lot of experience with fly rods, carp rods and specialist rods.
A little further away, from us here in Liverpool at least. I have a new addition to our list of a rod builder in New Zealand, Paul Thomas, based in Christchurch, who is also authorised to carry out repair work for many major brands.
Our old friend and blogging rod builder, Dave Lumb has sent me a few photos which I append below. Dave is one of our predator experts, and another predator specialist worthy of mention is Colin Pitelen of Broadlands fishing tackle near Norwich.
More of our rods are built by custom builders like Dave and Colin than we make here in the factory. We are pretty unique in the UK in that respect, but by making our hand made British rod blanks available to rod builders gives you the angler, tremendous choice, and also the help and advice of guys that really do know their fishing rods. I cannot think of anything else you can buy that you gives you the same level of choice and quality, and all this without paying a big price premium over a factory rod.
Wednesday 7th September 2011
I have been a little preoccupied with new product this last few weeks. Finally, we are starting to ship out samples of the new 12' Trebuchet Light to some of our dealers. The first phase is to ship blanks to our custom builders. I am really pleased with the finished product. Essentially we have come up with a rod which slots between the existing Trebuchet and the TE Torrix in terms of casting power. The 12 Trebuchet is a big casting rod, but many of us probably found it a little too powerful to be able to get the best out of it.
A rod needs to cast a long way, but you need to choose a rod that suits you, and works with you.The Trebuchet was conceived as the ultimate distance rod, but you really need good technique and plenty of power to exploit it properly. This new lighter version is aimed at the majority of us who want the distance, but want it effortlessly, a rod that can work with us.
In the "Light" I have built a touch more "springiness" into the butt, and this makes the rod feel very alive. It also makes it a little less demanding on technique and timing. The tip has also been modified from the original Trebuchet, but very slightly as I want to keep the tip speed as high as possible to keep the maximum distance casting potential. Construction is using low resin, high modulus carbon with lightweight carbon scrims, plus a 3k fabric finish in the lower half.
In addition to the ease of casting, this new rod will also have a little more "playability" when you get a fish.
Beidess the new "Light", we have other new products that will be showcased to the trade at the Tackle and Gun show in October. Torrix will remain our flagship rod range, but we have some interesting new ideas to show in the next few months.
Monday 22nd August 2011
I have just come back from a short holiday in West Cork. When I left England we had riots, and while I was away the stock markets were tumbling. It was a family holiday, but there was still chance for some fishing, and because it was fishing of a type I rarely do, perched on rocks mostly, it made me think. Both about the fishing, and that mind wandering thinking you do when waiting for bites. It was Izaak Walton who coined the term "Contemplative Man's recreation", and for sure fishing new places for species you rarely catch had me contemplating. I came to two important conclusions. First, however bad the news is, however low the stock markets get, it all looks better if you are by water, no phones and have a rod in your hand. The second conclusion is that we all tend to specialise too much in our fishing. Yes you have to specialise if you want to catch a personal best, win matches or break records, but there is a lot of fun to be had going somewhere entirely new and working out how to out-smart fish you know very little about, and I think we sometimes forget that, or I do for sure. Anyway, I caught some fish, but more importantly, that fishing reminded me that as a company we have become very focussed on carp rods and have maybe neglected some aspects of angling that we could be more active in.
One example of this is beach rods. We have produced some exciting innovative designs that have been used to win casting competitions but have failed to build on that success and extend the range. Float rods are another example. Once the biggest part of our daily production, they have to some extent been squeezed out by the success of our carp rods. So as I sit here inspired and invigorated by my holiday, I am going to shrug off the doom and gloom in the news and set to expanding our production so we can give more attention to those areas we have been neglecting. I have had several new designs just waiting to be made, but a shortage of capacity, and I think it is time to redress that. We are in the fortunate position of having had quite a good year so far, so we have the choice to either batten down the hatches in preparation for another recession or invest in new tooling and machinery for some exciting new products. Of course we are going for the latter. The advantage of manufacturing here in the UK rather than half way round the world becomes more apparent every day, so the expansion plans are being drafted. I would particularly like to increase our rod building capacity as we have had to turn customers away at times this year. This may mean we can create a vacancy or two in our rod-building in the new year, if you know anyone expert in that area.
Whatever the economy throws at us, it is always a good time to go fishing!
Monday 8th August 2011
I was just browsing a magazine that came through the post and was reading an item "How to look after your rods". Most of it was sensible advice, but one item stood out as just plain wrong and deserved a mention. The article says
"If you've just bought a new set of rods, make sure you wear them in-like you would a new car. The carbon is fresh and needs time to become flexible."
Now this is wrong, and I do not know where this idea comes from, but let's nip this in the bud now. The carbon in your rods does not need time to become flexible. Imagine the implications if it was true.
"Vettel's lap times are expected to improve as his new front wing gets run in"
"The plane will be late as the pilot is taking his time, his wings are new."
Clearly doesn't make sense does it?
You may find the first couple of times you flex a brand new rod you get a small cracking sound, particularly on rods fitted with Fuji rings, but that is flexing of the rod ring relative to the new epoxy varnish, and will disappear quite quickly. I am not sure why Fuji suffer this problem more than others, but it most evident on low riders, and after talking with Fuji we have learned to accept it as a little peculiarity that causes no ill effects. Either way, such a rod does not need wearing in like a new car. Use your rods from day one the way you intend to use them. Keep them clean and dry, and give them the occasional clean and polish. That is all they need.
Tuesday 2nd August 2011
I have just uploaded a video on custom rod building to the site today. I would like to add a few extra words of explanation. First let me say we do not sell finished rods direct or custom build in the factory. The video shows how we work in partnership with some really top rod builders who will help build the rod you want on one of our blanks. These rod builders may be one man operations, or they may be based in a shop. For example, Fosters in Birmingham have their own "Bob the Rod" working in the store, and Johnson Ross and Yateley also have their own rod builders. We also work closely with some other shops, to offer more simple options such as the addition of a name, on rods built here in the factory for those who do not require a custom build. I will focus on these dealers in one of my next videos.
So why buy a custom built rod? I think the question should be why not? We are all different, fishing different venues, and we all have different tastes. A custom rod does not have to have extras. It can be really minimal, it can be whatever you want it to be, specified with the components of your choice. If you are thinking of buying a rod, Carp, Barbel, Salmon, take a look at the video and then have a chat to one of the people mentioned for more information.
By the way, there are a few people who did not send me pictures in time to be included. I will put together a second video of their work when I get the pictures.
Tuesday 26th July 2011
This morning I thought it was time to talk about new products due out. Because we have been so busy with existing production, we are behind on the launch of some new rods. The most exciting rod is the new Trebuchet Light. The Trebuchet has proven itself an amazing casting machine, but it is not for everyone. A big angler with good technique, can get it compressed, but if you cast like me, you struggle. What I wanted to create was a rod that could produce the distance but be easier to use, and with more action for fishing. Something half way between the Torrix range and the Trebuchet. And now we have it. Trebuchet Light. The first blanks for sale will go into production next week, and they will be available to sell soon after. Now unless they are reading this, your dealers will probably not know yet that this is on the way, so you would be doing me a favour if you told them to ask for this new rod.
Lets run through the specification.
12' and 13'
Here is Dave Owens junior getting the new mandrels ready for the first production run
Wednesday July 20th
I will start with a funny story. Yesterday I got a call from a customer thinking about buying a carp rod. He had spoken to one of our competitors and asked them did they make their own blanks in the UK. Their reply was "No, but then nobody makes blanks in the UK." X - Wrong answer! Totally incorrect.
So despite the fact that I have banged on for years about making our own blanks in our own factory here in Liverpool, one of our competitors does not know this...or so they say. Now I think that is funny. I could take offence of course, but to be honest, I think it is laughable. Just in case anyone remains in any doubt, below is a picture of David Owens, our chief blank maker, and a life long friend making a blank here in Liverpool. So please tell anyone in any doubt - "Everyone of our rod blanks are made here in Liverpool"
So why do we do this - Make blanks here in the UK? - Where do I start?
Choice, control, innovation, spares support to name a few.
Let me talk about that last point first. If you bought a Ballista from us in 1991, and you needed a spare part today, we will either have it in stock or we can make you one. Can the rod importers say that?
Next let me mention choice. I do not think anyone else can offer you a choice of colour on your rod blank, and that is only possible because we make the blanks here.
I have gone on enough in the past about quality and innovation, but it should be pretty obvious that if I can see every blank being made from my office window, then I have more control over all aspects of manufacture than if they arrive in a box from the other side of the world.
A good friend of mine from Europe who does import goods from China and spends a lot of time out there with manufacturers, was predicting yesterday that much more manufacturing will return to Europe over the next ten years as Chinese labour and other costs rise. I hope he is right, the European economy needs jobs and growth. For the time being we will do our bit here.
Monday July 11th 2011
I am working on a short video about custom rod building and would welcome any input from our custom rod builders or customers, showing photographs or video I can include. It could be pictures of the rods, or anything else. Roger McCourtney for example just sent me some nice pictures of his workshop. Roger is just one of the many custom rod builders that offer rods built exactly to your specification. Roger is a very experienced angler and offers a wide range of rods for fly and coarse fishing. Here is a link to his website. http://www.peregrinerods.co.uk/contact-peregrine.htm
Friday July 8th 2011
After a year off, the blog returns - on an approximately weekly basis. So to start, here is a little video about a new rod we are developing. It shows a snapshot of us making a new prototype and then taking it out for a cast. The guy casting is Mike Helliwell. Many of you will know that Mike is a very good alround angler, in fact he is off to Norway as I write for a week chasing salmon. When I design a rod I design it more for people like Mike than for the specialist caster on the tournament field. That is not to knock Mike's casting, he picked up a first at a recent fly casting event, but I want to make the point that a rod that will cast well in the tournament casters hands does not necessarily make the best rod in the hands of the an angler. Anyway, this video tells you a little about what we have been up to this week, comeback next week for my next update...So to the video...Making and Casting a new Carp Rod...
Thursday 17th February 2010
I have been thinking a lot about rod rings and friction lately. I thought I would share some of those thoughts. I do not claim to have all the answers, only a fool does that, but I hope there is some food for thought.
Friction is misunderstood by most of us. I was reading an article on motorcycle tyres and grip and it reminded me of the fact that friction is not dependent on the size of the contact patch. What I mean by that is that if you try to pull a brick along a table, it does not matter whether it is resting on its biggest surface or it's smallest surface, the resistance is the same. That is because the friction is a function of the materials and the force pressing them together only, not the size of the surface that touches. I know that is counter intuitive, but it is a fact. So this now leads me on to friction in rod rings. Friction occurs when we retrieve the lead, when we play a fish and when we cast. The size of the contact patch will change as you change the diameter of the rings, but as I said, this makes no difference to friction (though it does effect wear).
So where is this going you may ask? Well, the last few years we have tended to go a long way down the road of biggest is best when it comes to rod rings on carp rods, and I think it is time we just stepped back and checked the facts. A bigger ring is also heavier and has more wind resistance, not good things on a fishing rod. Really bad in the tip area!
Starting at the butt end, there is an argument that you need a big ring to reduce resistance on the line as it comes of the reel. During the cast the line is coming off the reel in coils. Fuji have put forward the new guide concept where they force those coils through a relatively small butt ring and smooth out the line flow low down the rod. Most tournament casters who get the best distance shun this and use a bigger butt ring. So let us agree that the one thing with butt rings is that there is no "one size fits all." On a carp rod, I prefer a ring set that start with a 40mm butt, many of our customers prefer a 50. It is your choice. I feel the cast is a touch smoother with 40's and the rod feels livelier with the weight saved, but you may get a yard or two more with the 50 set. So let us move along the rod towads tip rings, which are a little easier to understand than the rings near the butt of the rod.
After the line has passed through the lowest rings during a cast, it becomes smoothed out because of the combined effect of the friction/drag passing through the rings and the pull of the lead. Any oscillation caused by the momentum of the line is also smoothed out as it passes through successively smaller rings. By the time we get to the tip, the line is running pretty straight and smooth. The usual notion is that we should cone the rings down in size progressively so that if we start with a 40mm butt we end with a 12mm tip, or if we go up to a 50mm butt then all the rings between go up a size and the tip goes to 16mm. This works well, but that does not mean we cannot improve on it.
For a moment stop and think about this imaginary cone of line going down the rod rings. It is a nice idea, but it only really works if the rod rings are all in line on a stationary rod. During a cast, immediately after you release your lead, the rod tip goes from compressed to release, but it does not suddenly stop at the straight ahead position, it waggles and vibrates as a result of its momentum. Even if you hold the rod quite still the energy release is causing movement in the blank. The bigger and heavier the rings the longer this persists. Because the rod is not straight, there is no perfect cone but rather a twisted and ever changing flight path, the line will hit every ring as it travels down the rod. The amount of friction at each ring will depend on how much each ring changes the flight path of the line. So it seems obvious really, make the holes bigger, put bigger rings on, and the line will change direction less at each ring and friction will be less. But then we come back to the weight and air resistance issue. Add heavier bigger rings and you will reduce the speed of the rod during a cast. Not by much, and I do not know at this stage by how much but you will be adding aerodynamic drag which must slow the rod. By adding weight with bigger rings you will also increase the tip wobble after the release of the lead. Both of these will reduce the gain you got by making the holes bigger. Complicated isn't it? Like I said at the start, I do not have the answers but I am about to start some experiments on wind resistance, and I am going to start with tip rings. I will keep you posted.
In the mean time, you will not go wrong with either size 40 or 50 ring sets, but for me, chasing that next little bit of performance is where all the fun is.
Tuesday 15th February 2010
The weather was nice enough for a ride on the motorbikes and a sail this last weekend. I am lucky enough to have a wife who enjoys some of the same things as me, so she has her own bike and helps me race the boat. I know it was Valentines day on Sunday, but what better way to spend it than bobbing about on the Mersey in almost spring like weather. There were a lot of anglers out too. I dealt with the traditional valentines celebration with a meal out on a more convenient Friday night. The meal was doubly enjoyable as it was paid for by the restaurant as a prize for a review I wrote about them! Now I have declared my interest, I will still recommend the place - Merchants, Castle Street, Liverpool. A converted bank with stunning architecture and food to match.
Anyway, maybe it was the fresh air, or the longer days but it reminded me that there only a few weeks left on the rivers, we are nearly into March! Time to make sure that your gear is ready and make the most of any good weather we have and get out there. Clearly others are thinking the same way, the phone and email has been extra busy the last few days. Whilst shops see their footfall drop in winter, this business remains surprisingly steady. At this time of year we see a surge in blank sales to rod builders, particularly our European customers. Confidence is not great in retailing at the moment, but the trend favouring higher end tackle seems to remain steady. Our best selling rods are still our most expensive as people seem more willing to pay for quality. There is also a steady growth in the home rod building market. I think there is a great opportunity for a retailer to specialise in this sector as we are for ever getting asked for corks, rod blanks, reel fittings etc. The US market has several big mail order specialists in this sector, and whilst the market here is much smaller I would think there is enough demand for someone to seize.
One thing that holds back some home builders is the difficulty in working with epoxy resins. The secret like most things is of course practice. Practice on old stick, broken rods, anything, and anyone can varnish with a brush. Just take your time. My friend David Edwards is working on a UV setting resin for use in fly tying which he hopes to adapt for rod building. His interesting blog can be found here.
Friday February 12th 2010
I have rested the blog for a few weeks, but a lot has been happening so time to start up again. The most important news is that our most senior blank maker, Dave Owens, is making a good recovery after heart bypass surgery. The national health, often maligned, were very kind to arrange his operation at a reasonably quiet time for us all. He is badly missed both for production and the good natured humour he brings to the work place but the rest of the team have risen to the occasion and production is only slightly behind normal levels. For me it has been a great opportunity to put on overalls and help with some of the less skilled work. I got into this game because I like making things, but as we have become more successful the tendency is to get further from the core of the work and get bogged down in office work. It has been an enjoyable week, mixing some blank wrapping and pulling with the design work and financial juggling. Maybe I will think differently after another few weeks.
As usual, we are working on new products, as usual we are behind. The continued success of our Torrix carp rods makes finding a hole in production to start making new rods very difficult. Beachcasters are the fastest growing part of our range, but we expect the most important product launch for 2010 will be 12'6 Spod and Marker rods to go with our 12'6 TE Torrix. These are in development and testing will be started shortly. Over the next week I will try and catch up with the product news and some material I have been sent by our customers, in the meantimeI have one note for your diaries. Liverpool will be holding a major boat show on the waterfront in 2011, just a short distance from our factory. There will be lots of commercial opportunities for anyone in an industry linked to water borne sport and leisure. The whole event is being championed by famous yachtsman, Sir Robin Knox Johnson, with whom I met last night. If you have any ideas of events that would work well with a boat show, or would like to exhibit, contact me and I will put you in touch. I am sure there could be opportunities for angling related events and exhibits.
Wednesday 23rd December 2009
It is hard to believe it is ten years since the Y2K panic and the excitement of the new Millenium. It has been an interesting time for us as a company and rather than bore you with all the details, I will simply say that the millenium has ended really well for us as a company, despite the recession, and for that I thank you, our customers. It would not have been possible of course without a small but dedicated workforce who are as committed as I am to making better fishing rods and thanks to them as well. For 2010 we have some exciting plans for new product and are hopeful that I can start telling you more about those early in the new year.
The factory closes today and will reopen 4th January.
So all that remains is to say Happy Chrismas and see you all in the new year.
Wednesday 25th November 2009
First some boring stuff. If you are a trade customer who pays us by bank transfer please ask for our updated bank details as they have changed.
I am still getting the odd enquiry for Owner hooks. Just to clarify, we are no longer the importers of Owner for the UK and are phasing out our stock. We still have a good stock of some items, Tango Dancer Lures, red trebles, bulk trebles and some sea hooks, but no longer have many of the popular sizes of carp hooks for UK fishing. That said, we do have a lot of bigger carp hooks that suit European fishing. Any trade buyers are welcome to make an offer.
Owner are a terrific brand, and it some ways it is a shame we have gone our separate ways, but manufacturing fishing rods is a demanding job without the complications of marketing other products, and we are using the resources previously invested in Owner, to increase our rod and blank output...with some success. November production is looking to be considerably up on 2008, as we have already passed last years figure and have four days to go. It might be worth reminding you however, that anyone wanting a rod for Christmas needs to get moving now. We do not have a lot of finished stock and we do not have many days left for orders for rods to be delivered in 2009. Custom rod builders will also need a decent lead time. Yesterday, Mark Tunley sent me a link to his updated website Mark is one of the best custom builders, and a his website a great place to look for the Christmas present. You can find out more about other custom builders here.
Friday 20th November 2009
So much for plans. I went down with flu after my break and though not very ill, it was enough to keep me off work and put a couple of projects back slightly. I hope to be back blogging on a regular basis next week, but for the mean time a little update.
At the Tackle and Gun we showed a new beach rod which we code named Q3. The prototypes are now on their way to our testers and I hope they are as pleased with them as we are, more to follow. There was a real buzz about these, and we have great hopes. We have reduced weight significantly and we think this will translate to greater casting distance.
Today, we are fully back on the 2010 float rod r and d and will shortly be revising our fly rod range with some new additions. For the moment, I am optimistic that carbon prices and therefore blank prices, will not have to change much for 2010, but I do plan to raise finished rod prices slightly due to the change in cork and other component prices with a week pound.
Friday 6th November 2009
I have been back from my break for a few days, but the work has piled up so I have not had chance to post anything here before today. There are a few things to say though. Today I want to mention float rods, I think it is time my company got back into these in a serious way. We used to make huge numbers of float rods and blanks in the past, they were our main business, as they were for my competitors, Here in the office I have a Bruce and Walker CTM 13A I got for my 21st birthday, and an old Century Excalibur, I built myself a few years later. Harrisons entered the float rod business in 1989 and it was at once a huge success for us.
That business tailed off with the all dominating growth of the carp fishing and the decline of the river in favour of commercial fisheries. Time was the 13' Float/Match rod was the most important rod in every companies range, but that has changed to the 12' Carp rod for many of us, but I sense that things are changing again. At our recent Tackle and Gun show, we kept on getting asked for float rods and in particular our 11'6 Match Special. So...after clearing my head with a few days of walking, fishing and motorcycling in the Welsh borders, I have put together some ideas which will be developed and launched as Torrix float rods in early 2010. They will be from 11'6 to 15' and will represent the very best of what can be done with carbon fibre today. Prices will start from a little over £200. We are currently evaluating components and experimenting with adapting our Torrix technology to these lighter rods, but because work on this project has been quietly running for a long time in the background, it will not be long before I can launch more details.
Other than thinking about fishing rods, whilst I was off I visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth. Apart from it being a fun day out, I want to get serious about saving energy at home and in the factory. Last time I visited, maybe ten years ago, some of the ideas being displayed probably seemed a little too "alternative", but times and attitudes change, and pay back times have shortened on many things. I found several ideas that might be of use at home, to save energy and reduce our carbon footprint. Windmills may yet be too expensive and inefficient, but insulation is not.
While in Machynlleth I visited Coch y Bonddu books. It was my first visit to the shop, though I have bought by mail in the past. What a nice surprise. It is a small shop, but packed with the best selection of stock you could want. Old and new, rare and popular. Worth a visit to Machynlleth on its own, but if that is too far, they are great at mail order. I noticed they had books on rod building in stock.
Friday 22nd October 2009
I am taking a few days off next week. If the weather is bad, I may come in to work to catch up on some jobs, but if it is good enough I will be off out on the bike and or fishing. I bought a Triumph Tiger 1050 back in August, and I want to give it a good run before the cold weather sets in. I still have the Kawasaki Versys which I use most days and for fishing trips. The Triumph though a similar bike in concept is a bit of a beast with almost twice the power and it needs the open road to be enjoyed. It would be good to seize the opportunity of a few nice autumn days for a mini tour. Anyway, next week you will be in the capable hands of Tis and Mike if you need anything, and that probably means everything will run better.
Monday 19th October 2009
I spent yesterday at the Tackle and Guns trade fair. We have a stand there, and it is our chance to meet the trade in one place over a couple of days. A chance to exhibit during the day and socialise in the evening. I was a bit apprehensive planning the show. There is nothing more disheartening than a poorly attended show. All the effort and cost for you to stand bored waiting for visitors. Trade shows are unpredictable and can be like that. In the middle of a deep recession I was not sure what to expect this weekend.
I was wrong to be worried. What an excellent day it was. From the moment we arrived there was a buzz. First off, you get to meet a lot of old friends you only see at these events. It took me twenty minutes to get through the door, shaking hands and swapping pleasantries with customers, suppliers, colleagues and even competitors. Next there was the buzz of abetter than normal footfall past out stand. I do not know the figures, but the attendance felt good. I took a quick walk round the show and you could see that this is not a trade besieged by recession. This is a trade ambitious for the future, showing new product and adapting to tougher conditions by working harder.
Finally, the important part of any show, people came to the stand to buy, old customers who we have dealt with for years, anxious to see what is new. Potential new customers wanting to open accounts, and new start-ups wanting to stock our rods. Now the problem for us is we cannot grow overnight to meet that demand. If we can do 10% more next year with our existing customers, that would be a good result, so we have to turn most of our new account applications away, so with the best will in the world you are never going to find Harrison in every shop.
So what was hot at the show? In our own range, the lighter rods we took attracted a lot of interest. The new 11' 1 1/2lb Torrix was a definite winner, and there was a lot of interest in our prototype "players rod" (Still without a proper name!). But the unlikely star of our stand was the Q3 beach rod which although an unfinished prototype, was the rod that created the most significant reaction. With the feedback we have, and a little more testing, we hope to be able to bring all the new product to market soon.
Other companies had their fair share of new poles, luggage and rigs. The Gardner stand always looked busy as did Preston Innovations, but the new boy on the block was Japanese bait maker, Marukyu. They are the largest bait maker in the world and with Roy Marlow and John Loftus on the team, you can be sure they will have an impact here and soon be in the shops with product refined for the UK market.
Commercially, after one day the show was a success for us. More importantly, as an indicator of what lies ahead in fishing and the economy, it looked good. This was not the trade show of a recession with everyone commiserating with each other, or a meeting of misguided optimists hoping for customers. This was a vigorous trade show looking forward with determination to grow their businesses and offer more choice and better product to the public in 2010. Congratulations to David Hall and Sean O'Driscoll of DHP, for creating a professional and enjoyable show to exhibit at.
One final note. Referring back to Fridays blog, I would like to clear up that if you are looking for rod blanks and components, yes we can supply direct as a last resort, but we much prefer you to buy from a dealer who can spend the time to advise you. If you look at our dealers page and seek out the custom builders, they are the best guys to talk to.
Friday 16th October 2009
I am aching all over this morning. I have had tennis elbow for a few weeks, and last night did myself no good at all by changing the rear tyre on my son's motorcycle. He has only had this bike a few days and was unlucky enough to get a puncture. Punctures on bikes are repairable, but most of us take the safe option and replace tyres rather than repair them. Having a tyre go down at speed on a bike is a pretty serious event so we tend to play safe. Anyway, whilst he drove to buy a tyre, I got to grips with getting the wheel off and getting the old one off the rim. Now modern tubeless tyres are a pain to remove from the rim if you are not blessed with the right workshop tools like they have in Kwik Fit. But there is some bizarre sense of satisfaction in doing them your self the hard way, and there is the convenience factor, the nearest drive-in drive-out motorcycle tyre fitter to us is about one hour away. (There is surely a gap in the market for someone!)
Anyway, we fitted the new tyre, balanced it, and off he went to scrub it in. You have to put a few miles on a bike tyre, gradually increasing the angle of lean, before they reach their peak performance and have good grip. Next thing I know he is back having put 80 miles on it in the dark and proclaiming it scrubbed in. So what has this got to do with fishing? Let me tell you....
We could have got that tyre fixed in a dealers, and also the other jobs and servicing we regularly do ourselves, but the sense of satisfaction, the "play value" if you like, in doing it yourself is so much more than you get from asking someone else to do it. It gives you a sense of ownership of the bike, and a body of knowledge that means if you do ever break down you can probably fix it. But not everyone wants that. Fishing is much the same. You can dip into angling, buy some gear and some bait, put the gear away when the winter comes and look back and you have had a good time. But you can get so much more out of angling if you make your own bait, tie your own rigs, and dare I say, build you own rods.
Not every hobby can offer you a good day out, loads of magazines, web forums, and enough little jobs to do in the week to keep you busy, but fishing can. It even beats motorcycling as fishing has the best body of literature of any pastime. And what I am suggesting is that now winter is approaching you consider, doing small rod repairs yourself, or maybe building a rod, or at least getting together with a custom builder and talking through some work or special builds for next year.
If you want to build a rod, we will supply kits direct, though we prefer you to approach a dealer first, as they are better at customer service in most instances. Many of our custom dealers will supply a kit and a bit of advice free of charge. You could also try www.guidesnblanks.com, who supply all the components you need and blanks. Building and repairing rods is not easy, but then neither is changing tyes. It will not leave you aching like changing a tyre, but it may get you crying with frustration when your first attempts at varnishing go wrong., but stick with it. Rod building takes a little time to get the basic technique and a lot more practice to make it look good, but most satisfying things do take time and effort. Persevere, get it right, and the rewards of using something you made yourself to go fishing, at least double the pleasure of catching your fish.
Wednesday 14th October
A little more news on new rods we are showing at the Tackle and Gun show for the trade at Stoneleigh Agricultural Centre this weekend. For some time we have had a gap for a 11' 1 1/2 lb TC Torrix. If you like, you can think of this as a Torrix Avon. Well, at last I have plugged that gap in our range, and the new rod will see the light of day for the first time this weekend. Our 1lb 6oz Avon has been a great seller for us and hard to improve on. It is easy to get a bit obsessed with that Olympic ideal, "citius, altius, fortius" - higher, further, faster, when looking to create unique selling points in new products. In fact not everyone fishes at long range with big leads. My own fishing is more likely to be with an 11' rod on small waters, and that is where this rod is focussed. So a little more information.
The original 11' Avon is a bullet proof compound action rod, bordering towards through action. Because it is short we can use very elastic fibres without it losing a crisp, well balanced feeling in the hand. The new Torrix rod incorporates some new technology to further strengthen and balance the blank while making a small saving in weight. The difference in the manufacture and lay up of the new rod is considerable when you compare it to the original Avon, and for some the gains may seem small. But if you fish small rivers and want the best, and most of our customers do, I think this new Torrix 11' 1 1/2 will be an important new rod for you. It will be available from next week in blank form and custom built by our rod building partners.
Thursday 8th October 2009
It has been heads down working on new product most of this week. There is nothing like a deadline for clearing the mind, and the deadline of the Tackle and Gun trade show looms ever closer. We have a new Torrix stalker in two piece 10' to take to the show and have a new 14' spin off of the record breaking P3 beach rod. We are calling it Q3 for the moment. We have dramatically reduced weight, 50g from the tip alone, and shaved a little off diameter, whilst retaining the action. It has yet to prove itself on the field, but I know this is a winner.
Other things we are working on include a new river range for centre-pin fishing and refinements to our fly rods, and our objective is to take about five of these new rods to the show. Over the next few days I will let you know how we progress, but for the moment a bit of news from our custom rod builders.
First we have a new website for rod builder Ian Tucker. Ian can offer our rods and also offers cane for the traditional approach.
And for something far from the traditional, I enclose a couple of pictures of some rods being built by Michal Studeny of the Czech Republic.
Friday 2nd October 2009
Progress with the new carbon fibre is interesting. We are trying our best to incorporate it into some samples for the Tackle and Gun trade show which happens in a couple of weeks time. This is the most exciting part of the job, researching and testing. We all get involved. Everyone is keen to see what is coming out of the oven. Makes me feel a little bit sorry for those brands that buy their rods in from the Far East, they lose this fun stage of product development. A few years back, we ourselves looked at the "outsourcing" route that nearly every tackle company has followed, and I tried sitting in an Korean office talking through a translator with rod designers to see what we could develop. But even working with the best, this felt like an odd and uncomfortable way to handicap your inventiveness and innovation, and was totally inappropriate for any company that had ambition to stay in the top end of the market, though short term it has produced some good results for others, I quickly decided it was not for us.
So let us take a moment to see what has happened for those companies that have gone that route. On the face of it, all the big and most successful brands have the bulk of their product made in other peoples factories, usually in the Far East. Those companies that have invested in good product designers and spent a lot of time with people in China have developed some excellent products and thrived, by comparison the "me too" brands have tended to do less well. The consumer and the producers have evolved over time and squeezed the juice out of the budget brands, but premium brands have continued to thrive. However, in China, over the last few years, business has also been evolving. Amongst manufacturers competition has been tough, such that today, many have gone and some have grown huge. But more importantly, today, the best factories are often producing for a number of competing European brands.
Now this may be a stupid question, but long term, how can a number of top European brands sourcing from the same factory for the same market, continue to all have a product they can say is the best. How can they keep their unique selling point? How can each remain competitive?
Manufacturing here in the UK, I may struggle to be as low cost as China, but if I see a good new product from a competitor I can react to it by developing our own competing product. More often we lead the way, because we are in the middle of the manufacturing "buzz" we are often the first to hear about new ideas and the first to capitalise on them. So here is the big question. If I was sourcing my rods from a company in China and my competitor had something new and was buying from the same factory how could I react? I would say to my supplier, I want some of that. How does he respond? Either the Chinese factory says "no problem, you can have it too" or it says "sorry that is unique to your competitor". Either way, long term, you are screwed as an independent innovative company, and the conclusion of this is important. As a consumer you get less and less REAL choice. In fact, in the long term, it is a safe bet that the OEM supplier in China will look to develop his own brand name to add value, and if he has any sense, come to the lucrative European and American markets direct, conveniently having been trained in product development for the European market by his European customers. It is what the Japanese did, and it is what I think is going to happen sooner rather than later with Chinese companies.
Now there are a lot of very smart people in the tackle trade, they will adapt, and I would be naive to think that we could ever again make all our fishing tackle here in the UK. But, I think the outsourcing pendulum has swung too far in one direction and it is now quite a smart thing to look at making high end/low volume gear back here in the UK.
Twenty years ago, here at Harrisons, we used to make a lot of rods branded for other companies. Today we do not. Our own brand in rods is stronger than any name we could put on them, and we do not need that very low margin business supplying other brand names. In twenty years time, if the best Chinese companies have evolved as we have done, and I would say things are moving much quicker over there, who will make your UK branded fishing rod? Or will the new Chinese brands become as well known here as Chicken Chow Mein? I bet you one thing, Harrison will still be a top name in quality rods.
Wednesday 30th September 2009
The other day I mentioned we had some new materials and were working on a couple of different research projects. Sometimes these things are slow to produce results, occasionally you get a "Eureka" moment and sometimes you get something totally unexpected. We have had a bit of all of that in the last few days.
The new carbon material I was testing has given us the anticipated weight saving and diameter reduction we hoped for in test samples based on carp rod tips. It is not huge, but significant nonetheless. There are a lot of more mundane experiments to carry out now to look at things like inter-laminar shear strength, but the material promises to be of use in next years rods. What was the surprise though is that the experimental parts had a slightly different feel to normal. Something we cannot measure but two of us agreed was there. A springier/steelier feel to the carbon was present beyond that which could be measured by deflection. We need to explore this further. It is one of those intangibles that make fishing rod design more than just an engineering matter and all the more exciting for it.
But on the topic of engineering, I had an interesting meeting yesterday with my old friend Dr. Alastair Soane who is one of the countries most distinguished engineers and someone I have sailed with and against on many occasions. Alastair was here to help me with some of the more complex theoretical aspects of the behaviour of tubes of different cross sectional shapes. I have a paper that made some interesting claims and the finite element analysis it contained stretched my own knowledge. Going through the paper with the help of a top consulting engineer certainly helps clear up the detail. Cross section of rods has been varied in the past for many reasons. You may say it is old hat, but I think this paper may well have something. This topic may not sound exciting, but it may be about to become a hot topic in fishing rods. Here is a link to help you understand why. I am not going to prejudice your thoughts, go read about it and let me know what you think.
Anyway...while he was here Alastair showed me a fishing rod his father used to use when working in India in the 1930's. It is a telescopic steel rod that fits in a walking stick. The rod is branded "Bristol" from the HORTON MFG CO, CONN. The stick it fits in was made by his father. Anyone got any information about these rods?
Thursday 24th September 2009
I don't travel as much as many people in business. I strongly believe that many sales trips are a waste of time and that busy people prefer to deal with most business by email, phone and post. The time that might be spent sitting in a car can be better spent here working on new ideas and making the business work. Of course this is a massive generalisation and when you are launching new products and ideas or meeting new people, face to face works best, but for me the hands on product development is more important than going out pressing the flesh and at this time of year we are all heads down, experimenting and developing new products and refining the established ones. This in-house research is unique to that small handful of brands of that make things here in the UK, and I like to think that I spend more time on research and product development than our competitors, though of course I am only guessing on that.
Today this research is three pronged. I am continuing some development work on a very specialist tube for the marine industry. This tube is large by comparison to fishing rods, but just as small scale models help when building bridges, making large tubes gives you the opportunity to better understand the manufacture and physics of small items such as fishing rods. In fact, large tubes are a great test bed for the processes of applying pressure to exclude air and consolidate the resin and fibre in a composite tube. It is actually much easier to apply pressure by means of tape wrapping to a small tube than a large one, but what we learn from the big tubes feedbacks into better fishing rods.
The second prong of the research today is meeting with an agency to secure funding for some academic research to be carried out at the local University. I have been reading some theoretical papers on composites that are both interesting and controversial, and I want to commission my own research to check the findings. There is very little innovative research related to fishing rods in the public domain, as opposed to all the supposedly innovative stuff you read in advertising copy. When you do get something significant, it has to be taken seriously. If we find the paper to be correct we can incorporate some of the ideas, though my suspicion is that it will be like so many other ideas, soon forgotten. Whatever happened to Dyneema rods, Kevlar rods, and Boron rods?
And finally, the last prong of the fork today. I am expecting the arrival of a new material sample from our carbon fibre suppliers, which will I hope lead into some new fishing rods in 2010. It will be fun playing with that!
Crazy isn't it, some days I think I have the best job in the world.
Tuesday 22nd September 2009
Although the FTSE continues its rise, the pound has again slipped against the Euro leaving the prospect of imports rising in price and more expensive foreign holidays, but Harrison rods are looking exceptionally good value for our European customers. We remain keen to find new dealers, particularly custom rod builders, in some European countries. This is the time to contact us to talk about 2010. We have excellent partners in only about half the European states and we are anxious to work with more, but our export focus is on rod blanks, as we are very close to full capacity on rod production. If you are a rod builder, In Europe or any other territory, contact me. Steve Harrison for more information.
Friday 18th September
Tis is off for the next week so those of you who like to deal with him will have to out up with me or Mike and phones may take a little longer to answer.
Anyway, news. Custom rod builder Colin Leatherbarrow wants me to point out he trades now as http://www.custombuiltfishingrods.co.uk/ Colin is a regular customer of ours and knows our range very well and can offer you good advice and years of experience.
A newer customer who is making an impact in the South is Carl Timney who has a new website which will be evolving as he develops the range of rods he offers. I have not seen Carl's work but hear from reliable sources it is exceptionally good.
I sometimes forget our overseas rod building customers and one new one with whom we are developing some special beach rods is Jeri Drake at Excalibur rods in Namibia. I like the way they test rods, here is Sue Drake wife with a nice Brown Stingray of 20.4kg caught during testing on a Torrix P2 14'. The rods we are making for Excalibur have a specially modified butt for reel down fishing.
Tuesday September 15th 2009
We made a little video last week about what we do and how the recession is effecting business and it got featured on Sky News. Here is a link to the article:
And here is a link to the video.
Friday 11th September
I want to talk today about how we reinforce rods to make them stronger. Most of our carbon fibre comes in rolls of unidirectional prepreg. That means the fibres run in one direction along the length of the roll. We also use some fabrics in which then fibres are woven to give that distinctive carbon pattern, but although they are the most visible part of some rods they are not the most important. The stiffness of any rod comes from the layers or plies of unidirectional fibre running along the length of the rod. As the tube flexes, it is these fibres are stretched, and it is their resistance to elongation, their modulus which defines how far the rod will bend under a specific load. The problem is that on their own, these zero axis fibre will easily buckle under compression on the underside of a curving rod in just the same way that a bent hosepipe kinks. They also will easily "crack" apart if you compress them or strike them with a branch or fly/weight. You have to add reinforcement in other axes to bind the zero axis together and give it compression strength. The term hoop strength has been used a lot in this context.
There is another issue, UD carbon prepreg, held only togetether by the epoxy resin, is a b***er to work with. It tends to split apart into strips and does not what to stay uniformly wrapped around thin mandrels.
The answer to this problem is scrim. Scrim is lightweight material, often glass, that holds the prepreg together and adds hoop strength to the rod blank. Grass scrims have been around for years. Usually often 25gsm in a 120gsm UD they give good performance in many applications where weight is not critical, plus they are cheap.
But in applications were you testing the limits of weight and performance, fly rods say or distance carp rods. Something better is needed, and the solution to that is ultra light weight carbon scrims.
In a typical woven glass scrim of 25gsm, half the fibres are running around the blank where you want them and half are just adding weight in the zero axis. Replace that scrim with 25gsm UD carbon with all the fibres running at 90 degrees to the rod, then you get all the fibres working for you and they are stiffer stronger fibres to boot. The performance increase is staggering. Of course that also means that in a weight critical component application (aren't they all!) such as a fly or float rod tip, you can reduce the scrim weight from what you would have had in glass and save weight and increase performance. And with UD' carbon scrims you can choose the angle of use to control torsion or twisting.
Here at Harrisons, we have a range of UD carbon scrims that we place in specific ways to enhance our rod performance. It takes a little more time, and costs a little more, but if it makes a better rod, isn't that what we all want?
Wednesday 9th September
So what have you been up to over the summer? August weather has been rubbish hasn't it? I bought a new motorcycle ten days ago, a Triumph Tiger 1050, and today has been the driest day I have had so far. Very few days have I been able to test it properly. However, my wife Rachelle, who works outside and is from the countryside, is confident we should expect a nice autumn. I hope so. I want to try the new Tiger on some fishing trips to the rivers of the Welsh borders. Maybe it will be a good autumn in other ways. More and more economic indicators suggest that the UK is coming out of recession and that finally the jobs market, which is the most important indicator for most of us, is recovering BBC NEWS | Business | UK employment market 'recovering' As usual, the good news on recovery seems to be coming despite the miserable predictions for the UK from most of the International forecasts. I think the forecasters may be able to predict interest rates and quantify money supply, but they are pretty naff at estimating the resilience and and ingenuity of a nation, and have again underestimated the UK's recovery. I hope I am right!
Anyway, to Harrison rods. We aim to launch our new 2010 product at the October Tackle and Gun show for the trade at Stoneleigh park in October. That means we will be working flat out the next few weeks to finish design and testing of rods. Tody I am working on beachcasters, but the main focus for 2010 will be on our specialist and carp rods. More to follow.....
Thursday 6th August 2009
A friend of mine Paul Bishop, who works in a carbon fibre weavers half an hour from here, sent me a few notes about a new book out "A Fishy Tale..Missin' - gone fishin' " by Robert Kirk, and arranged for the publisher to send me a review copy. It arrived yesterday, and I have not been able to put it down since I opened the package. This is one man's story of his life fishing and in the tackle trade. It would have been interesting enough if it had just been about the fishing rods that Robert designed and made, but add in the war, a tackle shop graced by celebrities and a CV which includes Hardy's, Lotus, East Anglian Rod co. and this is story anyone with an interest in fishing tackle will find fascinating, and there is quite a bit there for those who just like an amusing read.
Paul's connection with Robert Kirk, is that his father, Roland Bishop and Robert were friends from the RAF and later worked together establishing fishing rod manufacture for George Cole's operation, Shannonvale Plastics near Cork in Ireland. That business later evolved into North Western Blanks, which became based in Manchester as part of George Cole's Primco business. I have not read yet how that all happened but Roland and Paul both worked for Primco, which is now part of the Advanced Composites group, a major supplier to the fishing rod business.
Back to the book. Robert is a man who has a fast moving and forthright style. For those of us of mature years there will be a lot of interesting tales from making your own minnow traps to catching trout on bread flake on a chalk stream. A lot of the fishing revolves around the Thames and his tackle shop which included Charlie Drake, and Mick Jagger as customers. As well as fun, I think it is an important book too, for documenting the history of the trade before it is all lost. For example, I remember Gilfin reels well, they were one of the first Japanese brands to be seen here, but I did not know how they got here and today they are forgotten by most. The book explains how a Fleet Street photographer started importing them as a side line. They are not so important today as reels, but they were the pathfinders for all that Japanese tackle that followed on. The book also explains how cane was straightened in the Hardy factory and how rods were built for H.W. Aiken and a hundred other things. Each paragraph is full of information and anecdotes. Amongst those stories are motorcycles and motor sport and I will not spoil the read by saying any more, but I do recommend you to buy this little book if you are interested in the people and the rods that existed before the internet. The details are ISBN9780954390020, Published by Merlin Massara
Tuesday 4th August 2009
The death of Benson, one of Britains biggest and most loved carp, made it as a news item on Radio 4's "This Morning". In a report tinged with respectful humour we heard how this celebrity fish may have died from eating an excess of nuts. There is more coverage here in the Times Online. It is always tragic when a big fish dies, especially one as well known as Benson, but I think there is a sub text in the news coverage that is more important.
As someone who not only enjoys fishing but largely depends on it for a living, I am always a little concerned at how the rest of the world sees us (anglers). That is why I took alarm at Griff Rhys Jones' anti angler comments last week. When you share the countryside with so many other users it is vital that anglers behave well, do not litter and treat the wildlife, including fish with respect. This is the only way to protect our long term relationship with land owners and the public, and keep access for fishing on this crowded little island.
Thirty years ago I would have predicted that by now, anti-angling factions would have made more progress in restricting angling. The fact that they have not, and that Radio 4 reports in such a way about the death of a famous fish is a reflection on how the passtime of angling has changed it's image. There was a time when angling would have been bundled (incorrectly) with fox hunting and shooting by those campaigning against cruel sports. That has changed dramatically. Although shooting and angling may still share a few trade magazines, it has always been my opinion that they have little in common, and I think that is shown by the way anglers are now viewed by the public. By the way, I am not knocking shooting or hunting in any way here, the hunt is of course a big part of angling, but in my mind the biggest distinction between fishing and shooting is that catch and release does not work in shooting. At the end of the shoot there is a death. I am not judgmental on that, I am happy to eat meat and game, but as a day out it does not work for me.
Today I think that the average angler's passion for the fish and the environment stands out and is well recognised even by those who do not fish. The respectful way we treat carp, especially big carp, is part of this. We have become more like the biologist catching and ringing a migrating bird, than the hunter looking for a meal. Here in the UK we have been at the forefront of the move against using lead, and our angling associations have worked very successfully to stop us littering the banks. Barbless hooks and unhooking mats are becoming the norm, but maybe the biggest agent of image change is the digital camera. The ubiquitous pictures of a happy unshaven men cradling huge fish not only fill our angling forums and magazines but spill out into the mainstream, the likes of facebook and even dating sites. This may be rubbish for getting a girlfriend but it is great PR for angling. We may sometimes look unkempt with our old T shirts and bulging waists, but society knows it is not at risk from a man who holds a fish like a baby and spends his spare time cooking it the best bait.
I think in that in this digital age, angling has moved to a new place where it has a great much improved image and a long and healthy future. Well done to those clubs and fishery owners that have worked hard to improve our behaviour, and R.I.P Benson.
Thursday 30th July 2009
I had a rod builder make an enquiry about water and carbon rods. Can water be absorbed by the fishing rod? Here is the question.
I’ve been rod building for around 30 years and have always held the belief that carbon composites are not waterproof in the true sense of the word. I know the carbon fibres themselves are supposed to be but I’ve always thought that, as with glass fibre, the resins are not impervious to moisture.
So here is my answer.... Fibreglass boats and fishing rods used to use Polyester resins with the glass fibre. Old boats that have sat in the water for years can show something called osmosis which is characterised by a bubbling of the surface due to absorbtion of water. This water content in the hull can be measured by a moisture meter, and there will be an increase in weight. The treatment for osmosis is to take away the damaged surface areas and replace with a new epoxy layer.
The resins in fishing rods are premixed and added to the glassfibre in the factory to make a material called prepreg whilst those in boat building have been mixed as they were being used in the boatyard. Inevitably the resin mix in the prepreg is more uniform and more closely monitored than that mixed in the boatyard and additionally, pressure is used in moulding a fishing rod when traditionally it has not been used in wet lay up of boats. This means that boats will be prone to more voids or paths for water ingress and are more likely to have areas of improperly mixed resins which can be hydrolysed by water. It is the voids that let water in and the uncured non optimally mixed resin that reacts with it. This does not happen with wet fishing rods. due to the superior mixing of the resin systems.
Epoxy resins are used with carbon in modern fishing rods and epoxies are used as the cure for osmosis in old boats. This is precisely because they are superior to polyester and very resistant to water absorption. Epoxies in fishing rods are mixed and added to carbon prepreg at the same factories that supply materials for aeroplanes and formula one, so mixing is thorough and monitored. Samples are held back for examination. It is a matter of life and death that this is done correctly for the aerospace industry and that culture of care and monitoring pervades all the carbon fibre supplies to the sports industry.
So the question is, can your modern carbon fibre fishing rod absorb water? The answer is slightly complex. Epoxy will not absorb water and neither will carbon, but it is possible for moisture in minute amounts to be absorbed through microscopic voids and along the surface between carbon and the surface of the fibres. With aramid and boron fibres this may be more significant, but in the real world of carbon fishing rods it is not. Or should I say that in twenty years of blank making it is my experience that water absorption by fishing rods is not an issue. If it was then boats would sink and aeroplanes would get heavier in the rain! But...if you do not believe me, and you worry about these things, it is a good reason to look after your rods and wipe them down after use and give them the occasional polish.
Tuesday 28th July 2009
After the stroppy comments of Griff Rhys Jones against anglers that were published by the BBC and others last week, I was quite pleased to see that his new series on Rivers that started Sunday evening was actually quite well balanced. Here is a link to iplayer to decide for yourself.
Starting on Rannoch Moor, which for me is most memorable as the bleak landscape where David Balfour and Alan Breck hid out in Stevenson's Kidnapped, he followed the draining streams down to the Tay and on to the sea meeting with all those gnarled characters that you find on the river bank. I am sure he will become more controversial as he carries on his campaign for better canoe access to English and Welsh rivers, but I will wait and see before passing my own judgement and have to praise him for his courage in swimming in those cold rushing waters in November, though what was an interesting programme was sometimes a little depleted by his grating comedic manner. You are never sure if that is the real Griff Rhys Jones or whether he just got stuck like that after a lifetime in comedy.
Anyway, so far, a programme worth watching for anglers if we set aside the ludicrous quotes from last week.
Moving on,the last few days have seen a lot of interesting emails from my both my trade customers and my end users and I now have a few good product reviews to add to the site, but for those of you thinking of buying some Torrix carp rods I thought these comments might help you make your mind up so I publish extracts from one email this morning which has been shortened slightly.
To all staff at Harrison,
Having been lucky enough in the past to be approached and asked to test rods for a well known company I would like to think that I am no fool when it comes to performance that a particular rod is designed for.
After recently purchasing 4 of the above mentioned rods (Torrix 12' 3 1/2) from yourselves via First Cast Tackle (Haverhill, Suffolk) here is my email which I promised.
My conclusions are that you have developed the most awesome allround rod, copes with bags ridiculously easy hundred yards plus, the progression from a forgiving tip to more power than the average angler could possibly wish for is a dream. On a recent trip to a 50 acre pit with a colleague I truly tried to break them, as I have many other rods and succeeded. I could not even make these groan! ..........I much prefer to fish as close as possible to keep an eye on things and bait as accurately as possible, these rods would cope with close quarters superbly but if the fish are out there on a big pit you cannot be undergunned.
These are the best all round tool - fact. I personally would never go anywhere else - fact. Congratulations Harrisons.
Paul D Maher
Friday 24th July part 2
"Disturb Anglers Comedian Urges"
Comedian and televisions presenter Griff Rhys Jones has stuck his oar in by encouraging canoeists to disturb as many fisherman as possible"
"I've met a lot of fisherman and decided that we should disturb as many as possible" he said.
For the full article go to the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8165815.stm
Well done Griff, I suspect those quotes have done more harm to any rational arguments of the moderate members of the canoe lobby than any scientific evidence on fish disturbance. I wait with "baited" breath to see the programmes.
Friday 24th July
A short while ago I invited anyone reading this blog to send me their reviews of Harrison rods in a way I could use on the site. I have had a couple, and they are good, but I would appreciate more. There will be a prize for the best. I find it really hard to write good copy about my own product and I would welcome any contributions. I would sooner be experimenting with new designs and fishing than writing copy. Please try and get any contributions here for the end of the month.
Thursday 23rd July
I am not sure exactly why, but I have recently been overcome by a bout of optimism. Optimism for the recession ending soon, optimism for increasing demand for quality fishing tackle and optimism for a growth in this business. Actually it is more than optimism, its bullishness. In many ways it is that state of mind in businesses , large and small, that is more important than day to day trading figures. It is that optimism that creates investment and jobs, and it is optimism in our customers that encourages them to go out and buy what we make.
At Harrisons, we have had a pretty decent first half of year despite the recession, but I would be lying if I said it was easy. Yesterday was a day of chasing debtors, and talking to people who cannot pay does bring it home to you how tough it has been for some. We are pretty patient with people who have traded with us for years and find themselves in temporary difficulties and are slow to pay, but I do get incensed by one or two of our debtors. We have one guy who I should have known would be trouble, a new customer who fooled me into designing a new blank and giving credit, but he is pretty much a one off, 99% of our customers are great people we have worked with for years and together I think we are redefining the quality end of rod making, and that is why I am optimistic.
Redefining quality rod making is perhaps a big claim, but let me explain what I mean. Over the last fifty years volume fly rod, match rod and most recently carp rod manufacture has moved to factories in the far east. Japan, then Korea and Taiwan, most recently China. The carp rod business only really got established there in the last ten years. It has been a huge movement, and yet, here is the surprise, not one of the UK rod makers who make their own blanks has gone bust. Not one of the quality custom rod builders is short of work. The fact is that despite the best efforts of some very smart marketing people, fishing consultants and purchasing departments, the Chinese made top end rod has not been a great success, particularly in carp. Chinese rods dominate at £100 retail, but at £250 have failed to live up to expectations. This is totally contrary to the expectations of many of the tackle trades pundits and commentators. A few years ago a British manufacturer was often viewed as a dinosaur on its way out. Those who predict the future by extending a trend line from the past anticipated that everything would be made in China one day, or Vietnam, or wherever was next. But they were wrong, to paraphrase Mark Twain "News of British manufacturings death was greatly exagerated."
So how come, the predictions were wrong and how come I think we are redefining quality rod making?
First off, many people underestimated the individuals who run the remaining UK manufacture of fishing tackle. We run our own companies because we are tough characters who are creative and can take risks. Twenty years ago, I risked everything to borrow the money to start this business, and if you think we are going to stand still you don't know us. We are passionate about we do, and thrive on competition. Its not the stereotype of small scale manufacturing but that is because the stereotype is wrong. You have to know carbon fibre intimately, handle it every day, talk about rods every day, dream about them, to be the best, and that does not happen in the factories that make the UK's imported rods. Here is an example of what I mean. I just got access to a new carbon fibre material, an existing fibre but in a new format. Last night I tossed and turned thinking about the possibilities. This morning I will draw some designs, and in the next few weeks I will be incorporating this material into rods for my own fishing. If it lives up to its promise it will be incorporated into a new range of float rods for 2010. The same processes are probably going on at the other UK manufacturers. We are all looking for ways to be best and thank god, that you the customer recognise the difference that makes in a finished product and choose to buy British rather than imported.
So moving on to my claim to be redefining quality rod making. Firstly we are doing this by innovation, not trying to sell your rods based on tradition and nostalgia but based on performance and quality. Take the Torrix carp, innovative and defining its own sector in terms of all round capability. Secondly we are redefining by planning for expansion, and shedding any distracting activities like distributing other people products, Owner, Hiro etc. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly we are working in partnership with our custom rod builders to expand the availability of the custom rod to more and more anglers.
My aim has always been to be number one in rod design. The fact is that for the first time in ten years I can see the global conditions changing to allow us to take that message and our product to an increased international customer base. If you are a large retailer in an overseas territory, or a custom rod builder, please contact me to talk about supply for 2010
Tuesday 21st July
I have not had time to blog while Tis was off, but he is back now and its business as usual again. We have managed to ramp up production a little over the last two weeks and I am hoping our lead times on delivery will start to reduce.
First thing to mention is that for all of you that have a Torrix carp rod, you may not know we also now have a Torrix spod and Marker which match in appearance and performance. Rather than describe the spod, I can give you a few words from Terry Edmonds casting notes to me.
"I had a good cast with the Torrix Spod you built for me and i'm very happy to say it felt superb, its not overly stiff which is very nice and can be used at all ranges as it loads at shorter ranges as well that makes for good accuracy, it also coped with the big casts on the smaller spods .....The recovery of the rods also beats most of the spod rods on the market which feel very sloppy in recovery"
Terry also had some ideas about using the spod as a long range marker
"Also what was interesting was the spod rod is not an overly stiff one and is ideal for marker work as the stiffer tip transmit feel so much better than softer tips and it has the power to cast heavy leads + marker float"
The problem with this last point is that while Terry is probably right that the spod would make an effective marker for many people, for others I think it would seem to be too powerful. Anglers expect certain things in their rods, and they expect a Torrix marker to be capable of the same distance or more than their Torrix rod but I think they also expect it to be similar in power, weight and size and that is how we have made our Torrix marker, but the spod is a big step up in power and diameter. The new Torrix marker has been designed for use with the 12' 3 1/4 and has evolved from it. The Torrix spod has also evolved in the same way, but is a bigger jump up in power from the standard carp rod reflecting the weights it will have to cast. The spod may indeed form the basis of a good marker for the 12'6 TE Torrix if we extend it to 12'6. The TE is after all a step up for the 12' 3 1/4 and a more focussed distance rod which will in time need a spod to match.
Ultimately though, fishing rods are as much about what you like and what suits you as any scientific analysis so the final choice is always with the angler. What I can say is that the Torrix Spod is now available through most of our custom builders as is a marker designed to work with the Torrix 12' series.
Monday 13th July
First the news. Tis, our production manager is off this week, for those of you that normally talk to him. I am invigorated by a long weekend including some fishing on the Vyrnwy and slightly more successful sailing on the Mersey, and will try my best to keep the orders rolling out and cover his job.
Anyway, while I am busy trying to do two jobs I was thinking that I need to add some new content to the web site about our rods and I have had an idea how you can all help. I would like to invite those of you who use our rods, factory or custom built, to submit me a review with pictures of the rod, that I can use on the website. Consider this a competition. If by the end of August I have received a review that is good enough to publish, I will award to the writer of the best of them a prize of a unique rod from our prototypes and samples box. To any others I can use, it will £50 retail value of Owner hooks. This is for our customers, not involved in the tackle trade. Custom rod builders and shops. If you send me any interesting content I am happy to post. Write it in a form I can just cut and paste, I do not have time to rewrite it. No prizes for the trade other than helping to tell people about what you can offer.
Wednesday 8th July
We recently completed a stock check for our half year management accounts, and it showed a couple of things I need to deal with. First off, although we are no longer importing Owner hooks to the UK and many of the popular patterns and sizes have sold out, we do have substantial stocks of many patterns. For example, though the popular Mutu light is sold out, we do have the hook in red. We also have thousands of ST36 trebles in 4, 6 and 6, but unpacked as bulk loose hooks. In addition we have a few boxes of discontinued rods. One of those is the HDesign Avon twin tip. Base on our UK made Avon, this was made by one of Korea's top rod builders, and is an excellent rod. I will be offering these to the trade over the next few days, and any left will be put on here for clearance next week.For the Owner hooks, I have about £20,000 worth at cost, and would be interetsed to hear from any overseas Owner agents who might be short on stock and be able to take larger quantities.
Monday 6th July
As our rod blanks are all made here in Liverpool you have more choice. You can for example choose to have a blank in matt finish, gloss finish, coloured or just unground straight out of the oven. Let me explain a little more.
First, a reminder, we normally supply rods only through shops or custom rod builders. We do not supply direct except if you cannot find a dealer or custom builder to help you. Most of our rods are now supplied custom built by our small army of builders. You tell them how you want the rod to look and they will order the blank from us. So back to choice.
Rod blanks can be divided into basic groups, those which have a woven fabric on the outside and those where the top layer is unidirectional carbon. This is pretty obvious when you look at them, one has a regular pattern, the other a more uniform finish with a fine grain. When these rod blanks come out of the oven they are covered in a shrink tape which has to be removed. The tape is part of the moulding process and leaves behind it a regular spiral impression on the blank. Once upon a time all rods were built on these blanks and sold "unground". I still build my own rods this way as I think it looks good and I like the minimalist concept of nothing added and nothing taken away. However, most customers prefer a rod that has been ground to a smooth finish. To do this, we have a taper sensing linishing machine that smoothes off the ridges of the spiral, mainly epoxy, and leaves a smooth blank. This smooth matt finish is an excellent non flash finish that does not show scratches and if lightly polished with wax, comes up to a lustrous matt/silk finish which looks good and can be quickly restored with polish at the end of a season. This is becoming a very popular option as it is both hard wearing and attractive. High gloss finishes are very popular and a clear coat over woven blanks like the Torrix does look fantastic, and these can also come with a coloured tint. If you go this option you do need to giver your rods an occasional wax polish to keep them looking good. I recommend an occasional rub down with quality car polish with UV blockers and water repellents to keep them looking good.
Going back to unground finishes, I said the rods I use are generally built on unground blanks and I happen to think that these rods look pretty good too. I like things to be well made, but I also like simplicity. My personal recommendations for a rod would be as follows. For a woven blank like a Torrix go for a matt ground blank with no additional paint finish or for a unidirectional blank like an Interceptor or Avon, go for unground. For me there is a classic elegance in the unground blank, and its natural toughness will not show scratches as easily as a shiny finish. But that said, though I am an expert on carbon fibre, I do not profess to be an expert on taste, so we will be happy to continue offering you the choice you want.
Monday 29th June
I went fishing on the motorbike on Saturday, my preferred mode of transport. And as I am riding along the motorway on a perfect summer evening I started to think how motorcycling and fishing have a lot in common in terms of the numbers and age profile of those who participate. Both motorcycling and fishing have difficulty in recruiting new young participants, but once bitten by the bug you tend to stay with the pastime until you maybe drop out when you have kids, then return a little later. A gross over simplification I know, but what I am coming round to is that both motorcycling and fishing set the bar high for new people to join the clan and this can dramatically effect recruitment.
To get a motorcycle license these days is tougher than it ever was with a new and expensive test that is available at much fewer test centres. Good thing too, proper training and testing is fundamental to motorcycle safety. But fishing has it's own barrier in the form of the rod license, a barrier that is not quite so essential. A youngster can go cycling, skateboarding, computer gaming, just about anything he fancies without anything more than the equipment and a place to use it. To go fishing he needs a rod license. Everyone over the age of 12 needs one. In the days when we had a tackle shop and sold rod licenses, it was a real chore to explain to someone new to fishing why they needed what was in those days a River Authority license to fish a place where they also paid the owner. I have always felt it was that one extra step that either stopped people going fishing or unnecessarily made criminals of those that did not get round to paying their rod license.
One of the problems is that there is no rationale behind what is licensed and what is not, nothing that anyone ouitside a sport can understand. For example did you know that whilst we have a rigorous motorcycle licensing system, there are more accidents per mile riding horses for which you do not require a license.
"after road accidents, paramedics attend more equestrian-related incidents than any other type."BBC - Inside Out - West Midlands - Horse riding accidents
Now the junior rod license is not about safety, it is a tax. The fact that it is only £5 is evidence in a way that the Environment Agency wants to encourage juniors coming to the sport, but any amount will reduce new recruits simply because getting a rod license is an extra bureaucratic step that no other sport has. Setting aside the question of whether we should tax kids to go into the great outdoors and enjoy themselves, it is important to realise that these kids that we should be recruiting to angling live their life in terms of hours and minutes. They do not plan things long enough ahead to go on-line and buy a license to fish next week. They make decisions about today and just maybe tomorrow.
Three years ago in Portugal the government introduced a license to fish the sea. The dramatic effect of this has been written up by Louis Tchertoff here . His thorough analysis can be best summed up in his own words:
"The numbers speak for themselves as to the success of the implementation of Sea Angling licenses in Portugal. The market has lost a minimum of 360,000 Sea Anglers this year representing a drop of 74%."
My thoughts are that if a new license in Portugal can have that effect, what would the effect of a partial removal of the rod license for juniors have on angling in the UK? I bet there would be a lot more dads take their lads fishing for a start. But more importantly it would also make it a lot simpler for kids to go to the local park and just experiment with fishing. After all, isn't that how most of us got started?
Tuesday 23rd June 2009
As you get older, you realise the future looks nothing like you expected it to. Growing up in the sixties with Dan Dare and an international space race, you might have expected us to have colonies on the moon by now, cheap energy from nuclear fusion, ready meals dispensed fom machines on the wall and an end to poverty. In fact what we have is a world that looks surprisingly similar. Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles still selling records, denim jeans in every clothes shop and a return to valuing good organically grown food. Sure we all have Star Trek like communicators courtesy of Orange and Vodafone, but you get my point that a lot has stayed much the same.
One thing that has been around a while and yet seems to be growing in popularity again is the real cork rod handle. On fly rods, cork never ceased to be the best solution for a handle, however it more or less disappeared on carp rods, being replaced by synthetics such as EVA/Duplon and more recently "Japanese shrink rubber". Now, we sell cork to many of our custom rod builders and over this last year I can see the amount they are buying is increasing steadily, and in the better more expensive qualities. It makes me think, is this time for us to introduce a standard cork handled carp rod into our range? I would welcome your comments.
Friday 19th June 2009
Yesterday we had a visit from our New Zealand agent, Derek Kinley. He distributes our blanks to the trade and the popular rods are 12 and 13' carp rods which are used for lure fishing for salmon. An odd application you might think for a carp blank, but not really, when you realise think that like the carp, the salmon is a big hard fighting fish and the casting weights are similar. The main difference is that when a carp rod is cast into position it sits in the rests for long periods of time, whilst the New Zealand application involves repeated casting. Derek asked me whether that repeated casting could put excessive strain on a rod, and the simple answer is no.
The carbon composite tube at the heart of a fishing rod is in effect a spring. It is designed to flex repeatedly with a certain load and will do so happily time after time. It is only if you overload a rod to a point where fibres start to break down that you can actually cause fatigue and failure, but that will not happen with normal casting, though using excessively heavy leads can do this. What did occur to me however was that in the tough and cramped conditions of estuary salmon fishing when the fish are running, it might be worth taking note of what the Spey casting fraternity do in in Scotland. They tape their joints. Spey rods get a lot of twisting during the cast and without taping rods will from time time come loose at the joints. The tape usually used is electrical insulation tape which is easy to remove afterwards. It is wrapped around the joint in a spiral. This stops the chance of a tip flying off during casting. It also reduces the risk of any damage to the blank through the localised loads applied from a section that is half on half off during the full power of casting.
Derek and other overseas dealers have asked me to add them to our dealers list and I will create a page for overseas dealers in the near future. In the mean time we are are still on the look out for dealers in some territories. If you are an overseas rertailer and are interested give us a call.
Wednesday 17th June 2009
It was my birthday yesterday, but as it coincides with the start of the coarse fishing season on rivers, it has always been a busy day for me rather than one for celebrating. My 21st in particular stood out as a battle between me and my mother over whether we would have a family bash or I would go fishing. She won, but it was the only time. Of course in those days most lakes were closed until the 16th as well, unless they had a few trout in them.
Yesterday was as usual, mad busy at work, and I did not get to go fishing. I have been working on a project which I am calling for the moment "T-Bone". It is my code for a new carp rod range which is designed to stand alongside Torrix at the top of the market. It will utilise light weight carbon fibre scrims on the outside of the blank and I am currently conducting experiments on fibre orientation to optimise zero axis stiffness with torsion performance.
This is a long term project and will not bare fruit until 2010. As well as the mechanical properties, we have to make the rod look good, and the fact is that although putting the torsion layers on the outside of a blank increases their performance, it does make the blanks very difficult to sand and paint. The layers are less than 100th of a millimetre thick and any attempt at sanding ready for coating can easily damage them. It is a fact that although we all want the best performance from a rod, it will not sell if it does not look good. My own rods tend to be built on unground blanks with the spiral marks of the tape still showing. I find this looks good, sort of a technical look, and is hard wearing and non slip. If I thought we could sell T-Bone like that we could launch in 2009. Feedback would be welcome.
Thursday 11th June 2009
Tomorrow afternoon about twenty small sailing boats will set off in a historic race from Liverpool to Douglas in the Isle of Man. It happens every year to coincide with the end of TT week and one of the boats will carry a letter of greetings from the Mayor of Birkenhead to the Mayor of Douglas. The start line is just a few hundred yards from the office here, so I will stroll over and wave them off.
This race, organised by Tranmere Sailing Club and Liverpool Yacht Club is one of the oldest continually run yacht races in the world and has for the first prize a solid silver trophy that is identical to that of the Australian Tennis open. Yet this race will be won by an amateur in a boat that may have cost less than a modest second hand car. Although the race was started at a time when the yachts were more likely to be the playthings of millionaire ship owners and cotton brokers, today the majority of entrants will be ordinary working people with a passion for sailing and competition. It will take them between 10 and twenty hours to cover the 72nm distance depending on the wind. This year looks like it could be a long one. Not a lot of fun you would think if you are on one of the smallest boats with not toilet and a single burner stove. But it is my guess that this years competitors will have just as much fun or more than the crews of the prestigious yachts of 100 years ago.
Fishing is like that. You do not have to spend a fortune to have a good time. Despite the fact that the papers are full of stories about the green shoots of recovery from this current recession, the fact is that many people will lose their jobs over the next year or may have to work for less. Whilst that may mean a new sets of rods is not possible, it might mean even more time for fishing. That said, we have found that contrary to what we expected, our customers are more likely to make a planned purchase of good quality tackle during this down turn, rather than make an impulse purchase on what Sir Alan Sugar refers to as "cheap toot" . It is of course vital to our success that some of you buy our rods, so it is important that we guess right just what you want when making our forward plans. Anyway, we are putting our money on you continuing to want the very best top end tackle, and in my opinion Torrix carp is as good a rod as you can spend your money. By switching to using metre wide carbon prepregs when much of the industry is using 600mm, we have managed to contain costs by producing less waste. Its both "green" and good business and means we can offer you an exceptional rod at a price that represents exceptional value for money.
Tuesday 9th June 2009
I guess some of you will have heard talk of a new study on the spider silk produced by Tarantulas. This silk is said to outperform the already well known high performance of other spider silks. Radio 4 was this morning running an interview with a researcher who told us that the Tarantula produces the strongest silk fibres yet known, stronger by weight than steel.
Now if you are in the composites business, the strength and modulus of fibres is the bread and butter of your normal days work. We may all use artificial fibres today, but only 50 years ago the natural fibres dominated. Cane was king. Man-made does not always mean better. The blind hand of evolution has produced a pretty good solution to many engineering problems and as a biologist these are often in my mind. Anyone who wants to get ahead of the opposition in rod making should be on the look out for new natural as well as man-made fibre to adapt to making fishing rod blanks. Sometimes the enthusiasm to find something new leads to over ambitious and misleading claims for new materials (Dyneema in fishing rods?), but it is that ambition to be best and find something new that drives manufacturing forward.
So...I listened to see if Tarantula silk was going to be any more use to us than normal spider silk, which is remarkable stuff, and have just looked for a bit more information on the web. It appears Tarantulas produce silk with their feet and it is assumed to have been an adaptation that assisted these heavy spiders in climbing. The silk is incredibly strong, but it has a lot of stretch. This stretch sadly makes it no use for fishing rods. It might be good for climbing ropes, but for fishing rods we need low stretch/high strength fibres. It is the low stretch or high modulus fibres that allow us to construct slimmer lighter rods. But do we get a bit too obsessive about slimness and lightness in our quest for new product? Well maybe we do.
Yesterday I received an email from one of our European distance casting enthusiasts, Wim Schilperoort, who is using a Torrix P3, 14' rod to get personal bests in casting competitions. Here is a link to his website with some pictures and a bit of video of him casting the Torrix. http://casting.lismore.nl/html/torrix_p3.html
I told Wim that we working on a new butt for the P3 which has the same action but is about 100g lighter. His response was "I don't care about the weight. ...Torrix P3 will do the job for me." Wim judges his rod on his results. Good to hear, and I will reflect on his comments. But history tells me, and I have a lot of old rods to look at, that rods have always got slimmer and lighter and today we are also casting further and further. So the work goes on and the search for new fibres continues. I am just grateful I will not have to be working with spiders.
Friday 5th June 2009
With our chief blank maker Dave Owens still not full recovered and back from work, it has been a tough couple of weeks for everyone trying to keep on top of orders. The whole team has rolled up their sleeves and been helping on production. I myself have been making canoe paddle shafts, and have to admit I have enjoyed getting out of the office. But more than that, the hands on work doesn't half get your mind working on new ideas, and as soon as we are back to full staffing I have a couple I want to work on.
Lets start with the 15' Barbel rod. The latest prototype is now designed waiting a production slot. I have also designed a lighter P3 butt which will have the same power. Again, this is ready to sample and test. But most significantly I have been working up a few ideas on light weight medium range carp rods. We use to sell so many of these, but distance is so dominant at the moment, I cannot be sure whether it us or our customers that have forgotten about rods for under 100yds. Anyway it was timely that this morning our casting consultant Terry Edmonds emailed asking about lighter rods. What I would now like is for some feedback from my customers. Drop me and email if you are looking for something new in 1 1/2 to 2 1/2lb test curve carp rod. It will all help me decide whether to go ahead.
Monday 1st June 2009
For those of you who have asked, Dave Owens is much improved after his short stay in hospital and we hope he will be back at work next week. He absence has slowed output and we have fallen a little behind but things should get back to normal soon.
I have noticed that lately we have been selling more float rod blanks again. The 13GTi and variations was for a long time our biggest selling rod, and this was modified to become the Dave Harrel match rod. We did not make all the Dave Harrel rods but for a time it was huge business. From the GTi we got the stepped up float rods and these like the GTi are available to 15'
Now the popularity of different types of fishing has changed dramatically in the last few years, and carp and commercial fisheries have dominated the news. But the rivers are still flowing and I think many of us have overlooked places to fish. On Saturday, I took a trip round the Welsh borders with my wife on our motor bikes, to remind me of old fishing spots and look for new ones. We aimed for Chester and the Dee and followed it down to Bangor on Dee where we stopped for a snack before heading through Oswestry to Llanymynech and the Vyrnwy.
We took the turn for Llansantffraid and joined up with the Weslhpool to Bala road and headed for Corwen back to the Dee. This Bala road must be one of the most beautiful roads in Britain. In a little over an hour of motoring (without stops) from leaving the Dee at Bangor we passed so much fishing, coarse and game. Within ten miles of Llanymynech you have the Dee, The Severn, The Vyrnwy, The Banwy, and the Montgomery canal and still waters to choose from. You are genuinely spoiled for choice as long as you have the right permits. Luckily I am a member of Prince Albert Angling Association and have plenty of choice.
So back to float rods. Bob the rod builder at Fosters in Birmingham, one of our biggest outlets for custom rods, was reminding me of how many float rods we used to sell and told me it is time to re launch our famous GTi range. And of course, I would not be telling you this if I did not think he was right. As I am planning more time on the rivers this year, it will be a priotity!
Wednesday 27th May 2009
Although the Torrix has been our best selling rod range for the last two years and epitomises the development of modern carp rod design, we still make and sell a large number of what you might call traditional rods and blanks. Let me explain what I mean.
I will start with an example. Our 11' Avon rod is what I mean by a traditional rod. I am not sure who established the 11' 1lb to 1 1/2lb rod in two pieces as an Avon rod, but it was common to both the large and small rod makers when we started in business. Here at Harrisons we took the glass version of the Avon and transformed it into carbon around 1989, and it has changed little since, because it is just right as long as you do not want to cast 4oz over 100yds.
From the 11' Avon we developed the 12' Multi Carps. The first really slim carp rods. Low test curves, 1 3/4 to 2 1/2, with limited distance capability belie the true strength of these rods. Some of the biggest carp ever taken in the UK have fallen to these rods and they are still popular today. The Multicarp is the perfect rod for smaller waters or close range on big waters. The action is compound. It will bend into a tight arc with a fish close in, but it the butt has a blend of 40ton and 30 ton carbon to give what I like to call compression tension balance. Effectively, the rod will bend with a progressive increase in power that gives you a sense of control with plenty of action. The control comes from a progressive stiffening of the blank as you get near the butt.
Somewhere between the Multicarp and the Torrix is the Ballista. It seems mad to think of it as traditional as it was pretty revolutionary when we first invented it, but this range still sells and sells in Europe because it remains a great action for real world fishing, and surprisingly good value in todays rod market. I don't quote retail prices here, that is for dealers, but you will probably pay about 30% less for a Ballista than a Torrix. That said, our biggest selling Ballista these days is the 13' 4lb which although traditional in action just excels at distance fishing for carp. The beauty of this rod is that it is easy to cast with. A popular rod in Romania, Croatia, Germany and Austria, I think it is time I reminded the British angler that this is an awesome distance tool here in the UK too.
One guy who knows a lot about our Ballista range and can take you out for a test cast is Kevin Baynes at the Anglers Workshop in Staffs (01782 561 515). Roger McCourtney of Peregrine rods buys a lot of the Multicarp which he uses for big barbel rods as well as carp rods (01761 436900). Why not give them a ring to discuss what you want from a rod.
Friday 22nd May 2009
It is my old friend and chief rod blank maker Dave Owens birthday today. I have known him since he was eighteen. No more dedicated and skilled worker could you ask for. Harrisons would be very different without him.
It would also have been my father's birthday today were he still alive. He is a big part of the reason I got into this business. Pensioned off from his job in industry because of a bad heart, and bored to death at home, he started a pet shop in Liverpool back in the sixties. He took to business like a duck to water and had a charm and gift for dealing with people which I can only envy. He was always experimenting with new lines to see what would go, and exotic birds gave way to fancy goods, garden items and eventually fishing tackle. I was a young fishing nut, and maybe because of that, he got a lot of help and support from me in that venture and it flourished.
Sadly his health was erratic and his early success gave way to gradual decline and then one night he keeled over and died. My father was not a saver, and this left my self and my mother with a few stark options. The one we took was to take on the business, and at sixteen I became a business partner with my mother, she running the pet side and me the fishing tackle.
Of course it was tough at first, we were absolutely broke, but my mother had grown up in a small business and was shrewd. There is no secret to success in any business. Work hard and spend less than you make and you cant go wrong. Easier said than done, but it is a truism you cant ignore. Traditional family businesses are becoming rare these days, and there is no question my school work suffered because of the hours in the shop, but what I learned about life was worth more than the latin I flunked and I recommend shop work as part of the learning process for any teenager.
Running a business in Toxteth Liverpool was never easy, but we had some great customers many of whom became good friends. And what a way to learn about fishing! The local names would all be through with their tips and knowledge. It was said that Les Howard could have written a book on the dust shot. Eddy Slater was a master float maker who taught a generation the technique of the loaded dart on our local still waters. And another thing you did learn in a shop in a rough area was to think before opening your mouth, as there were some tough characters to deal with.
There are many stories to tell about those days, robberies, con-men, street parties and people with the most fascinating life stories, but I wont bore you now. The point of this note, is to remember John Harrison, who started Harrison's Bait and Tackle, without which there would not have been a Harrison Advanced Rods today.
Wednesday 20th May 2009
Our main interest, my main interest, is of course fishing rods. I got into this game because of an obsessive fascination with fishing rods, and that has not worn off. But I know that people other than anglers read this blog, so I should mention occasionally the other things we do. For example, my 11.00 appointment is to do with manufacturing a component to do with magnets, we are also supplying a new canoe related item for the first time today, and we are currently working on another revolutionary product for a new area of the sports industry. Some of our work is as a supplier and some as a consultant. Also we make tillers and spinnaker poles for some classes and a few bits for the suspension of racing cars. It makes for a constantly variable working day, and the different projects tend to cross fertilise each other. For example, much of what we do today in improving compression strength in Torrix carp rods originally came from work on drive shafts. All scaled down of course. Our unique supply of ultra lightweight carbon prepreg scrims made that possible. (And by the way, we can also supply carbon fibre prepreg to people in the industry who only require the odd 100m.)
Fibre lay up is as important as fibre type in anything made of carbon fibre. Ideally you want as many fibres as possible in the zero axis running along the length of a fishing rod to create a good stiff and light tube for casting and playing fish. But without the other off axis fibres, the whole thing would break in use. It is not the strength of the fibres in tension on the outside of the curve of a bending rod that dictates it's strength, but the compression strength of the wall on the inside of a curve. To prevent that inside wall collapsing like a kinked hose-pipe you have to put in fibres at angles between 0 and 90 degrees that will support the wall in bending and also control torsion forces during casting. Adding that strength whilst "adding lightness" is the hardest thing to do, but it has just become a little easier for us here at Harrisons as we just received samples of a new prepreg to utilise just for this purpose. I will be working on samples as soon as my visitors leave.
It could be an interesting day!
Monday 18th May 2009
British Waterways in their own words are "The organisation that cares for 2,200miles of the country's canals and rivers"...." and it's British Waterways' job to ensure they remain an important part of the Nation's hertiage, whilst serving a modern purpose for the local communities through which they pass."
Today, British waterways is launching a debate about their future. I think it is important that anglers take an active part in that. The important part of that debate is that the management of British Waterways is proposing that its 2,200 miles of canals and rivers should, "over time, be moved out of direct state control and into a new ‘national trust’ for the waterways in order to continue the renaissance of the 200 year old network" You can find out all the information on their website. The ambition is for the present organisation to become an independent trust, like the National Trust that will not only look after the waterways but will be able to raise money and develop them in a way that it is independent of government. Sounds like a great idea, but, any change will probably result in change for the better for some and for the worse for others. Listening to a representative of British Waterways talking about the future on Radio 4 this morning, I did not hear angling mentioned amongst all the great things the waterways have to offer. It is up to us to take part in the discussion and make sure angling is at the top of any agenda for the future. The fishing owned by British Waterways is vital to us all. It is not at risk, but we can all play a part in how important they think it is in their future plans.
Thursday 14th May 2009
I have always been fascinated by the history of angling and of tackle, but it is easy to focus on the ancient history and forget the recent. There is plenty recorded about the split cane rod but much less about the glass fibre rod, the history of which is still in the living memory of some, but little on paper.
Two men who have told me a lot about the recent history of rod production are Archie Harrison from Redditch (no relation ) and Bill Belch of Advanced Composites, now retired. Archie ran his own rod building company for many years and was originally apprenticed as a rod maker with Allcocks, once the biggest rod maker in the world and later absorbed into Shakespeare, which is now just a small part of Pure Fishing. The Allcocks Aerial reel remains one of those products that changed angling and is still sort after today. Bill Belch worked for a number of the early companies in both the rod and composites business and seems to know everyone. He tells great stories about the old characters, and now he is retired I miss his visits. But I digress. The most important development of glass fibre rods happened in the United States just after the war. Yesterday I came across an old information document forwarded to me by Newport of AmericaFor the information below I have relied mainly on information provided by Newport Composites of the USA who used to supply us with with carbon before they closed their European office. Rather than let this information just go in the bin, I thought I would share a little with you and summarise a bit of it.
Glen Havens, founder of NARMCO a defense supplier of glass fibre prepreg, found himself with surplus production after WW2 and was looking for new markets. In conjunction with Dale Thompson and Herb Jenkins he developed the tubular glass rod and introduced these as Conolon tubular glass rods in 1946. Prior to that the only fibreglass rods were made from solid glass. Soon others followed, Fenwick, Berkley, Lamiglass etc. . Boron came into some rods in the 60's but the first proper 96% carbon rod was from Fenwick in 1968.
Dale Thompson along with Bob Basso went on to found Century Design which made, and still make machinery for the angling trade. I bought my kit, rolling tables, grinding machines, linishers and wrappers etc. from Bob and he has been over here to Liverpool on a couple of occasions to sample our fish and chips.
Although the change to from glass to carbon fibre might be viewed as an obvious and straightforward transition, it was not. Carbon has issues that makes it difficult to handle and difficult to wet out. It is also very expensive in comparison to glass. Famous rod builder, Dale Clemens, has described it as100 times harder to make a carbon tube than a glass one. The early development of carbon fibres themsleves took place here in the UK, but like so many inventions, its exploitation and development was greatest in other countries.
I remember being told a story about an early step in the use of carbon fibre here in the UK. A sample of the very expensive material was being sent by special delivery to Primco, now part of Advanced Composites group but then owned by George Cole. It was so valuable a sample that gthe shipment had a motorcycle escort. Primco, under great psychological pressure, processed the carbon and made it into something, a turbine blade I think. Whatever it was, I am told this extremely expensive object was so brittlle it just shatered, and with it the confidence many had in the material. Primco did not want to have anything to do with the material again.
Today, great chunks of the carbon composites industry are thriving in the UK. Formula on is a major user and many of the cars are made here. Aerospace is important but when it comes to quality, it is often us rod makers that are the hardest to please and are the first to use new technology.
Wednesday 13th May 2009
Its clear from talking to my friends in the trade that Harrisons are having an easier ride than many in this economic downturn. A lot of that can be put down to our close association with rod builders who seem to be doing very well when normal retail outlets are finding big ticket sales quite hard. By contrast some big tackle firms are making the sort of radical changes that suggest that they are finding things tough or are expecting them to be tough.
I have previously mentioned the big changes at Svendsen, yesterday we found out about some changes at Pure Fishing. Pure fishing has some great brands: Berkley, Shakespeare, Penn, Mitchell, AbuGarcia, but bringing them together under one umbrella was always going to be hard work. For example, the ranges of Penn and Shakespeare had a lot of overlap and in the boiler house conditions of take-overs and mergers it is always easy to see the economies of scale and yet miss the virtues of a small focussed company. In the cull that follows, mistakes are easy to make the wrong products can be deleted and sometimes the wrong people are lost too.
In the aftermath of the recent takeovers, not all has been smooth at Pure Fishing, and Yesterday we received the news from Tackle Trade World, that top management at Pure Fishing is to change. Under the title "Pure Fishing Shocker": I quote.....
Terry Carlson has been ousted
as president and CEO. The move, confirmed in a leaked internal memo to
TTW, quoted Terry Carlson as having a “transitioned departure” from the
company – with Jarden’s John Doerr taking the immediate “interim
presidency”....."The shock news comes just weeks ahead of ICAST and has
left many in the trade wondering (with some praying) that this could see
the return of old boss Tom Bedell. One US retailer, who wished to
remain anonymous, told Tackle Trade World: “I don’t know why but the
company has never been the same since Tom Bedell left."
The problem with big mergers as with great buildings, they are often conceived in the middle of a boom but finally materialise in in the middle of a recession. I do not know what is happening at Pure Fishing, but I hope whatever does happen, that we see that the great brands are preserved for future anglers to enjoy. I have always had a soft spot for Shakespeare in particular. A company I associate with John Thomsett who ran it profitabily for years and offered value for money and great service. Good luck for the future to all at Pure Fishing.
Monday 11th May 2009
Because our main business is fishing and fishing is such a big hobby it is inevitable that I get a lot of approaches from enthusiasts with new ideas they think will change angling and make them a fortune. Some are good, some bad, but very few are commercial. To be honest, we have so many ideas of our own that we like but just have not got round too, it is difficult to get us interested in one form outside, but one idea that did get my attention was a simple training aid from Peter Vincent, a retired business man.
Peter came to us with his idea for a sort of short fishing rod with extra flex and weight and a "click". The idea was to make something you could swing on non fishing days to help train you in your fly casting technique. A "click" occurs at the end of the stroke and is used to feedback information on your timing. I liked the concept, simple and uncomplicated and fun to play with.
We helped Peter for a short while but could not devote enough time to continue with the process, but I am pleased to, announce he has now got the finished product on sale and it is a nice package. Above is a picture and a link to his website with some much clearer images and information. I have not tried the finished article so this is not a test as such, but his site has plenty more information for those of you that would like to know more.
Friday 8th May 2009
Good news! The shipment of Kigan rings that has been delayed and has been causing a hiccup in our production has now arrived. We will be working as much overtime as we can to clear the backlog of orders. Apologies to anyone who has been affected.
I had an interesting chat with Nick Marlow yesterday who is an editor for David Hall Publications working on the trade publications, Tackle and Gun and Tackle Trade World. He had some important news for rod builders, in that G. Loomis have decided to stop making rod blanks available to customers at the end of the year. The press release reads:
G.LOOMIS TO EXIT CUSTOM ROD BLANK BUSINESS
BY THE END OF 2009
WOODLAND, Wash. USA - 4/09 — Allowing it to focus its staff and manufacturing facilities on its globally expanding finished fishing rod business, G.Loomis has decided to exit custom rod blank production by the end of 2009, announces Bruce Holt, executive director at G.Loomis.
I can understand why they have taken this path. It is not easy for
manufacturers to make short runs of product efficiently and keep spares
etc. Custom rod makers are especially demanding as customers as well,
but I like that. Working in partnership with the best rod makers like
Vic Gibson, Bruce Ashby etc has helped us raise our game. This rod blank
sector is small and specialised but it is our most important market, and
if any G Loomis customers need a new supplier, please contact us now. We
have limited spare capacity but will try to fit you in.
I can understand why they have taken this path. It is not easy for manufacturers to make short runs of product efficiently and keep spares etc. Custom rod makers are especially demanding as customers as well, but I like that. Working in partnership with the best rod makers like Vic Gibson, Bruce Ashby etc has helped us raise our game. This rod blank sector is small and specialised but it is our most important market, and if any G Loomis customers need a new supplier, please contact us now. We have limited spare capacity but will try to fit you in.
Wednesday 6th May 2009
I have mentioned before that after several years of distributing Owner in the UK we are coming to the end of this arrangement. We are still fulfilling most orders but we now have significant gaps in our stock, especially trebles. We do however have big stocks in some sizes and patterns. For example, bulk trebles ST36 are avaiable by the 100 in sizes 2 to 8. Red trebles ST36R are still in stock. We also have good stocks of the super strong ST66 trebles. In carp hooks we are well stocked across the range except for the odd size in C1 Flyliner and C5 Iseama. We are also interested in trade enquiries for larger quantities of hooks, which if you are overseas should seem very reasonable due to currency fluctuations.
Whilst we are sad to lose Owner, I think that the business benefits from us focussing on our own UK manufactured product range, and we have been able to increase production and sales of rod blanks and other tubes during these difficult times. We also can offer carbon fibre prepreg to smaller manufacturers and usually have about 5km of various types in stock. Please email for more details.
Tuesday 5th May 2009
The literature of angling is second to that of no other pastime. I have collected a lot of books over the years. A visit to any market town always involves looking for the second-hand book shop. Some people value their signed first editions the most. I personally prefer the old books with pencil notes and annotations that get me inside the anglers head. My best finds have not come from the well known books shops, Hay on Wye will have been picked clean before I ever got there, but from unlikely places in city back-streets that would normally specialise in political or study books.
On my desk I have a copy of the anglers diary 1910 picked up here in Liverpool maybe twenty years ago. The first 190 pages is a mix of adverts and a guide to where to fish. This is extensive covering not only the UK but Europe, Africa, Asia, America and Australasia. In this era of cheap flights, it is easy to forget just how far the middle class Edwardian British used to travel by train.
Listed under the title "Liverpool" the first fishery mentioned is Rivington, a resevoir built by the Liverpool Corporation near to Horwich in Lancashire. It is a long way from Liverpool however and I had never been. The area around the resevoir is park-land containing historic barns and a replica of the old Liverpool Castle built by soap millionaire, Lord Leverhulme, who also endowed Liverpool's famous school of tropical medicine.
Rivington is about an hour from Liverpool by road, but is for me well off the beaten track. On Sunday, my wife and I took out our motorcycles and after lunch and browsing bikes in Southport, we set the TomTom for Rivington to see what it was really about. It was a good plan, we had the most picturesque trip through Lancashire across Parbold hill and along roads I had never been. As a ten year old, I used to fish the canal up this way, with my Dad. We used to bring extra maggots with us to give to an old boy who lived on the canal near Burscough, but it must be twenty five years or more since I explored the area.
As we got closer to Rivington we found more and more motorcycles on the road. I was completely ignorant of the fact that for years Rivington Barn has been a bikers meeting place on Sundays. There were hundreds of bikes there, from the humble 125 learner special to show standard Harley's. We spent an hour strolling round admiring the show and taking pictures, and then the heavens opened and we had to head for home. So I never got to stroll round the lake and suss out the fishing. I will have to go back another day for that, but in the mean time here is a link to Southport and District Angling Association with some more useful information.
Friday May 1st 2009
I can now confirm that carbon is to go up again by just under 10% due to the exchange rate changes. We keep about two months stock in our cold room, so we have time to think about the implications, but sooner or later this will impact on our rod and blank prices which will have to rise about 6%, but hopefully not for a few weeks yet. It is always a shame when prices have to rise and a mid year rise is doubly annoying because price lists are already printed. Rest assured we will do our best to keep price changes to a minimum.
Thursday April 30th 2009
We obtain our carbon fibre raw materials from four sources. There are very few makers of "prepreg" and for the last few years they have enjoyed a boom in aerospace demand and growth in many other areas such that the smaller users of carbon prepreg did not find a lot off people pitching for their business. Recessions change all that. For example Formula one is big user of carbon in the UK, but there is less money in the sport this year than previously, and less will be spent on carbon fibre. That leaves capacity looking for buyers. I was talking yesterday with a supplier of release agents and he confirmed that it was tough out there in the composites industry with redundancies common.
This should all feed through to lower prices of carbon for us and better priced fishing rods for you. But there is a hitch. The raw material for our prepreg, the carbon fibre filaments, are imported. Whilst the price trend for this may be steady or even down in dollars and yen, the weak pound is making it more expensive to us in the UK. I have a meeting this morning when our main supplier will tell me of his proposed new quotes for our materials, and I have been warned these will being going up significantly. If this is the case, then rod prices will inevitably go up. Something neither you or I want. What he does not know yet, but will in an hour, is that we also have a well established but new to us supplier pitching for our business. I am looking forward to an interesting and vigorous discussion at our carbon planning meeting, though I would sooner be testing new rods!
Tuesday April 28th
We have to import some of our rod bags. We have a part time, semi-retired supplier in the UK who gives excellent service but spends half the year abroad, so that rules him out as a supplier for our busiest time of the year. Most carp anglers get their new rods and then throw the bags away, but, nonetheless we have to supply rods in them to protect them. The rod bags I Import are priced in dollars, so they have increased in price of late, and they take weeks to arrive by sea. A shipment that arrived yesterday includes 500 bags made to the wrong size! So here is my plea. If you, your wife, a friend or someone else would like to quote for making our rod bags, please get them to phone me on 0151 709 5981. I would much rather be buying them all in the UK.
On a similar note, we are looking to increase our rod production and would be interested in talking to anyone who can tie rods and would like to work with us, or train to do that.
Below are some examples of the very best thread work on rods, sent to me by Czech rod builder Michal Studeny. Yes these patterns are made by weaving thread!
Monday April 27th 2009
Over the last four years we have been championing Kigan rod rings alongside Fuji for our carp rods. Until recently Fuji did not offer a 50mm ring and Kigan have filled that gap. Fuji do now offer a 50mm in their alconite range, but to be honest I do not like the shiny black paint finish. There are other 50's around but none we have tried match the quality of the Kigans. The purpose of this note is to tell you we have cocked up and have run out of Kigans and as a result have fallen behind with rod production. This was due partly to me failing to order in time and also Kigan delivering a little late. The combined effect is that we have fallen badly behind with production of some rods.
The good news is our shipment is ready top leave today and we hope to be producing rods with 50's again next week. For the mean time, apologies to anyone waiting for rings or rods.
Thursday April 23rd 2009
It is St Georges day, the patron Saint of England. I thought I would mention it because the radio today is so preoccupied with yesterday's budget that poor old George has not had a mention while I have been listening. We normally put a Union flag on our rods to denote that they are made in the UK, but we often get asked to put the cross of St George to denote the more specific English origin. We are happy to help with either. Adding a name to rods is also a low cost option. For the custom rod builders out there, we can offer Union Flags and St George's crosses from stock and can also produce other short runs of digitally printed labels for rods using solid white and metalic foils that stand out better than screen printing on black carbon rods. For rod builders we also have a big range of stainless steel collars to fit Fuji winches and rod butts, and we of course stock a wide range of other rod building components such as shrink rubber, cork, EVA and rod rings.
Moving on to rod blanks, we have made a lot of progress this week on the new 15' three piece barbel rod that many of you have been asking for. The first model has been passed and details will be announced soon, we just need to increase the power to produce something for the bigger rivers like the Trent. I will be working on that from Monday. Designing a freshwater rod to be 15' long, be well balanced and lob huge feeders takes time, but we should be there for June 16th.
Wednesday 22nd April
Here is something for the rod builders amongst you. I had an email from Raymond Adams of Sacramento USA discussing angling history. I used to be a big collector of old and antique tackle and have written a bit on angling history. There is an article that I have written reproduced on this site, hidden away here. It is a brief review of what we know about early angling with references to Izaac Walton and other sources. Anyway, Raymond sent me a link to his site which is probably of much greater interest to you all than my musings on Dame Juliana Burners, supposed author of the "Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle"
Ray's site www.rodbuildingtutorials.com is an excellent and interesting resource. I have not been through the site thoroughly, there is a lot there, but in essence it is full of articles about rod building from a large number of contributors. For example, I counted 27 articles under the heading "Grip and Seat Tutorials". It is the sort of resource I will put in my favourites and keep going back to. Even if you are not into the more fancy end of custom rod building like feather inlays, there is no question we can all learn a few things from our American rod building cousins. For a long time the original reference book for modern rod building has been Dale Clements "Advanced Custom Rodbuilding", if you learn the basics with that you can get some stimulation for more extreme ideas from the photo gallery at rodbuildingtutorials.com. Warning, you may need sunglasses.
Tuesday 21st April 2009
I am back from my holiday, and working my way through the backlog of emails. I can see some interesting pictures and comments about the blog, and will try to reply to you all in due course. I hope it will be business as normal by tomorrow.
Wednesday 8th April 2009
I am hoping to get a few days touring Scotland with my wife on our motorcycles next week. It is not a fishing holiday but I hope to get some fishing in. Taking fishing tackle as well as other luggage on a holiday takes some thought. We have a cottage booked on the Isle of Skye, a short distance from the coast, so it is probable the sea will offer more opportunities than the lakes and rivers. So what gear should I take? I have two favourite rods for the bike, both 4 piece. The one for this trip is a Veals 4 Sure spin a great rod and very good value if you look at the Veals web site. We do not make many sea rods, so I have to buy this one in. It is a versatile sea spinner at 10' long and with enough power for a Bass and is ideal for carrying on the bike. It is a rod I designed for Veals, but then had sourced from China to hit a price point, currently £76 I think. I can carry it across the back of the bike and it is the same width as the bike with luggage. With one pannier dedicated to reels and terminal tackle, and the other to hill walking gear for the Cuillins, we should be ok for a good few days if the weather is not too wet. Thought the forecast is not looking great.
Tuesday 7th April 2009
If you are reading this you may well be a typical e-consumer, buying an increasingly wide range of goods on-line. No wonder the high street is having a hard time, The recession is bad enough but we are also spending more and more with web sites offering services and products and this has to come out of the tills of the high street traders. This week, I have bought software on line, downloaded some music from I-tunes and will be ordering ink cartridges as soon as I have finished this. The web is important for me personally, as both a consumer and a vendor, but there is an important line we draw here at Harrisons, and that is we do not supply rods to ecommerce traders that have a website but no showroom, workshop or physical presence.
I make this point, because I get requests to sell our rods, from new web traders on an almost daily basis. And when I say no, I do not think many understand why. Here are the reasons.
Firtsly, in my opinion, to appreciate our product, you need to look at it, hold it and compare it. I do not want sales at any price, I wan the customer to get the right rod, so I want you to buy from a dealer who can give good advice and compare products. If the dealer is a good angler, even better. Three carp rods is a big purchase, it is important both you and us are happy with the deal, and that means good product, the right choice, and good service. I do not think you can do that just on the internet. Somewhere along the line there has to be a dealer with a shop or workshop and the knowledge.
Then there comes after sales. Say you have a problem, maybe you crush a ring or shut the tip in the car door. Having an experienced dealer to talk to is vital and it is a fact that it is the guys who can demonstrate our rods who have helped build our brand, and it is them we support, bricks and clicks. It is also easy to forget that the cheapest deal is not always the best. Something I forgot recently when I ordered software from www.bitesizedeals.co.uk. They were the cheapest, but despite the claim that they normally ship in one to two days, and that refunds take 5-7 days, here we are three weeks later and I can get neither goods or refund. Thank God it was only £75.00
My advice is that if you are buying our rods, please talk to a human being first. Listen to the advice of the dealer, or ring us on 0151 709 5981, weigh that advice against what you know from forums etc, and then buy from a source that you know is efficient and helpful.
Friday 3rd April 2009
A few days ago a chap knocked on the door clutching three old rods in thin worn cotton bags. He had been given them by an old relative and wondered if they were of any value. One was a Spanish reed rod with a Liverpool makers brand, Dawsons, Copperas,Hill. The other a cane rod from Liverpool wholesaler, Richard Forshaw and Company., the other an anonymous glass fibre rod.
Although of no great value, they were interesting. The cane rod was from about 1960 and reminded me of my trips to Forshaws who were based about 5 miles from here. It was the highlight of my school holidays to make the weekly trips to the wholesalers with my Dad. Forshaws was one of the biggest wholesalers of the time and housed in an old mansion near to what was then the beach in Crosby and is now a container dock. It was more like a gallery of fishing tackle as an art form than any showroom. It was run by two brothers who I now realise were typical of the legacy of wealthy merchants and shipping families of Liverpool, but larger than life and unlike anyone I had met before. One brother was slim and had an effete manner and had the habit of adding a y to the end of adjectives such that tackle boxes became yellowy or greeny. He drove a Vanden Plas 4litre R which as an emerging petrol head impressed me no end. His bigger brother drove a Rolls Royce and had a more testosterone fuelled gravitas. They were great characters, ran a tight business and both had the time to talk to me seriously as if I was the customer even though I was only 12 or 13. By the time I was 16, my father had died and I had become the buyer for the shop which my mother and I now ran. That early experience with the Forshaws was invaluable.
Forshaws grew to be a major player nationally, and bought up the rod making company Craddocks in Redditch. I am not sure whether the brothers fished, but for many years a large Scottish trout caught by their mother could be seen in a local tackle shop on the Wirral. It is easy to forget that only 40 years ago, all but the cheapest rods were being made here in the UK and other parts of Europe. A little over 100 years ago Allcocks in Redditch were probably the biggest makers of rods in the world. These are not great passages of time when you look at them in the context of the twenty years we have been making rods here at Harrisons.
In waves, new nations have taken to making fishing rods, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China and exporting them around the world, and in waves, the quality has risen from poor to very good. But in parallel with the improvement of cheap imported rods two things have happened. There has been an information explosion, and the cost of making things in even the most undeveloped countries has increased. The information explosion means that you the customer and the manufacturers and tackle dealers around the world, know quickly what is good, what is not, and what is the price of things all around the world. Time was when a Luxembourg tackle dealer could sell an ABU reel way below the UK price, and only a few dealers in the South would know. Today, I can know what the price of carbon is in Korea and the labourers of Qingdao can find out what people earn in the UK, at a click of a mouse. It took from 1960 to 1970 for the UK to end its days as a volume rod manufacturer. China will not end its dominance so quickly as there is no place for the manufacturing to go, more akin to the UK in the 1890's, but a new market place has developed were China's export growth is no longer taken for granted.
So how does this all effect us, and the other manufacturers in the UK? My view, is that for those of us who do not have massive borrowing and who are weathering the current "recession", this is a great time to invest. Invest in people, plant, capacity and most importantly innovation. And that is what, we are doing. Every penny of this years profits is being ploughed back into the company as we see that UK manufacturing cannot just be excellent in quality, but also increasingly good value. We are also busy trying to invent a new type of manufacturing in partnership with our custom rod builders. A type of manufacturing where you cannot only get better value than imports, but specify exactly what you want. You pick the blank you want, look up a custom builder form our list, and tell him what fittings you want, and within a short time you have bespoke rods made by the best. Custom building has been around for a long time, but this is I think the first time we have seen such growth and competitiveness for value. And finally, I would like to announce that Martin Cloke of Aquarius fishing tackle has decided to restart building rods for anglers and the trade. I will bring you more details as I get them.
Thursday 2nd April 2009
I said I would talk about carbon fibre this week, but rather than start blogging about carbon fibre here, I have gone back and looked at this page on rod production and made a few changes and additions and I hope that adds a little my information on carbon fibre. The main point of those additions is to emphasise a point I have often made, that you should judge a rod on how it is, how it is built, how it fishes and how it casts etc. Buying a rod because the maker says it is 50 ton rather than 40 ton carbon makes no sense. Top rod companies and designers use a wide range of fibres and blend them, and the notion that there is a single better fibre is a flawed concept that probably originates in a marketing department.
Colin Leatherbarrow has sent me some pictures and a few words about the work he does building and also refurbishing rods. I will edit the custom building page shortly and add this and other news from our custom rod builders. I attach one of the images below and in his own words Colin says:
"Apart from all types of 'Custom Built Fishing Rods' - (carp, barbel, trout, salmon, saltwater).(www.custombuiltfishingrods.co.uk)
I refurbish old, cherished fishing rods in cane, glassfibre, carbon fibre - at reasonable prices. Using over 30 years experience.
Rod repairs undertaken - replacement rings - reel seats - handles - everything 'fishing rods'."
Wednesday 1st April 2009
I am in the process of moving the office around and making a few refinements to our computing. Things are not quite going to plan. A new printer has not arrived and is preventing completion of the project. I am working on the carbon fibre information and other things I promised to publish this week, but things are a little behind schedule. I anticipate it will probably be Monday before things are running normally. In the mean time there may be some disruption to email and a phone call to 0151 709 5981 may be the best form of contact.
Friday 27th March 2009
Building a brand is one of the hardest parts of any business. Building one with your own name has the doubled jeopardy that success or failure becomes personal as well as commercial. I am therefore pretty relieved that now after 20 years of Harrison Advanced Rods, the brand and the spin off's Ballista, Torrix Chimera, Lorhic, are well known and well received. The name could easily have been just Harrison Rods, with no Advanced, but the advanced was included as a reference to advanced composites and gave a clue that we made the blanks as well as the rods.
Now I am a bit cynical about marketing. I come from the school of "If you build a better mouse trap the world will beat a path to your door." But that is too slow a process for most companies so they have marketing departments. And I was intrigued to read this morning how the Ron Thompson brand was created by the marketing brains of Svendsen. In an interview with Magnus Gunnerson, publisher David Hall gets some interesting answers to the genesis of that brand and other questions about the current consolidation of Svendsen which is bringing much of its operation back to its roots in Denmark, to reduce global inventory and increase efficiency.
Anyway, I was amused to find where the Ron Thompson brand had come from. As you might have guessed Ron does not exist. The brand was invented to replace a range of product from the Kunnan factory when it burnt down. Although Svendsen is a Danish company it wanted the new brand to sound American and Ron Thompson was invented to sound like Nasa scientist who had turned to making fishing rods. It made me laugh. As a UK research scientist who has turned to making fishing rods, I suspect me and the real Ron Thompson would have had a lot in common and enjoyed a beer together.
Back to business, rod builders Ian Tucker 01634 862645 and Colin Leatherbarrow 0161 748 0959 (yes real people!) have sent me some interesting material and pictures to feature. I will give you the low down when Mr Tis is back from his holidays and I have some more time.
Thursday 26th March 2009
I invited our custom builders to send a few words on what they do, and first off the mark was Bob Gill of Angling Innovations. The picture below shows some special quiver tips he makes. Bob's web site http://www.anglinginnovations.co.uk/ gives more details of what he does and you can always get him on 01275 846286. I would always treat a web site as the tip of the iceberg with respect to what people like Bob can offer, and its always worth a phone call. Most of these guys have years of experience and can offer good advice as well as good rod building.
Some of our most respected custom builders are sufficiently busy they do not have a web site, Vic Gibson for example, 01920 870775. I think you are missing a trick if you phone round these guys looking for the cheapest. The real opportunity is to find a rod builder or shop that can give you the exact rods you want. If it costs a little more, as they say, the quality remains long after the price is forgotten.
On another note, yesterday I got a report from the Liverpool University engineering students who we have been helping with parts for their suspension in their Formula Student car. You might just be able to pick out our sponsors logo in the picture below. They have built their car from scratch using a motorcyle engine and hope to compete later in the year against cars from other Universities. They are scored for design and build, as well as speed and performance, so the hope is that by inlcuding some carbon fibre suspension parts, whith which we have helped, they will get extra points. Good luck guys.
Wednesday 25th March 2009
I have been asked to give a little more information on carbon fibre and why one modulus may be used rather than another and I have decided to rewrite that part of this site that talks about that technical stuff along with a more major revamp of the site content and navigation starting next week. It's a difficult line to walk. On the one hand I am keen to tell you as much as possible about my own design philosophy and to debunk some of the mis-information that clouds general understanding of carbon rods, and on the other hand I do not want to give away hard earned secrets that are not public domain. Anyway, I will do my best, starting next week.
In the meantime, I think its time I mentioned Kevin Baines of the Anglers Workshop again. Kevin came over to pick up his order yesterday and we had a long chat. I have always been impressed by his knowledge and the fact that he does not follow fashions but tests things his own way and bases his rod building on hard facts. He is a classic example of why buying a rod from a custom builder is a good choice. First the contact details, Kevin is based in Newcastle Under Lyme and his phone number is 01782 561 515 and email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin is a great fan of smaller rings on long range rods, and he will prove to you how little things can make a big difference by taking you out onto a field to cast with his demo rods. For example by fitting a Fuji Alconite butt ring the wrong way round he can eliminate any possibility of a loose coil of line wrapping during the cast. Kevin can also demo to you the pulling power of different rod actions and I think he might surprise you with what he shows. But perhaps most importantly, Kevin has his own range of special blanks developed with us and other suppliers to do those jobs that are simply not covered by main street manufacturers. I have spent most of my life involved in making fishing rods and Kevin is one of a very few people that I can learn things from. Guys like Kevin and our other custom rod builders get pretty busy at this time of year, so if you want a custom rod for this summer start planning now. Any of our custom rod builders reading this, please send me a few words about what you do and a photograph or two and I will try and include it as we reconstruct the site so that we can show the wide choice available.
Tuesday 24th lunchtime.
I am annoyed!
On question time, in the papers, on the BBC website, the mantra has been "we must fear deflation". Costs of so many things are set to fall and people will be put off buying goods as they wait for them to become cheaper....Oh yeah! And the band played "Believe it if you like"
Todays' lunch time headlines are "Surprise hike in consumer prices" as the CPI rises. Forget the retail price index, the consumer price index is the one to watch if you fear deflation. It reflects what we are buying in the shops and excludes housing and mortgages.
So why am I annoyed?
Well I am frankly furious that the politicians and their advisers, the models they use and the financial commentators who report it all found this price rise a surprise.
From the BBC website..."Hetal Mehta, senior economic advisor to the Ernst & Young Item Club, said: "It is surprising to see CPI inflation increasing when a sharp fall was widely expected"
Surprise to the item club?...it was blindingly obvious to a market trader.
Do the maths.....So much stuff is imported, food and manufactured goods, the pound is weak, so prices go up. Goods manufactured here depend on imported raw materials, so prices go up. Those that don't need to put prices up do so because everyone else is.
Just because demand is down suppliers cannot keep moving prices down. There is a bump stop when de-stocking is finished and when margin is cut to the bone. We are all on that bump stop. Any more lean and we will be starving to death. Prices have to increase as costs increase. Every small shopkeeper is seeing new supplier price lists with price rises. In this fishing tackle game all the big companies have had to raise their prices, so have we. So how the flippin heck don't the politicians and bankers know this?
I am annoyed that we, the voters, the general public and small business people, are hoping to be saved from drowning in this financial mess by pundits who could not run a whelk stall let alone pilot us to recovery. And God knows how much people like Hetal Mehta are being paid to be surprised.
Another example of getting it wrong is the IMF forecasts, showing Britain will be last out of the downturn. Well let me go on the record and say this now. "B*ll**ks. They were wrong in predicting the downturn and they are wrong again now. Here is my prediction, very shortly there will be a surprise rise in manufacturing output. We cannot be the only company with a good export order book because of the weak pound, can we? And its not just exports, importers are looking again at local sourcing.
Rant over, I will talk about fishing rods tomorrow!
Tuesday 24th March 2009
I was expecting this week to be miserable, wet and windy, as it always is when Tis chooses his holidays, especially if he intends to go boat fishing. But this morning is sunny and looks set fair for Liverpool. Because I spend a lot of time in small boats I check the weather a lot, and I came across a new commercial site yesterday that could be worthwhile to anyone who does the same. They came forward as sponsors for an event I am helping with so it seems fair to offer them a plug. www.predictwind.com I took a good look at their site last night and it really impressed me with the detail of the forecast. Here in Liverpool in the Mersey estuary we have a tendency to see westerly winds decreased relative to the surrounding forecast whilst South Easterly and North Westerly tend to be stronger in the estuary than they are out at sea. You get the same alternate concentrating or sheltering effect in the nearby Menai Straits, though with different wind directions, so a really detailed forecast of the wind is in my opinion worth the subscription if it improves on what is available free of charge. Accuracy will get you out fishing on days you might think you should stay in and keeps you safely ashore when you should be. I think that is worth paying for. My usual favourite for detailed wind forecasting is www.theyr.tv which I have found to be very accurate over the last three years or more, but predictwind offers a free trial and looks very good indeed. Here in Liverpool, once you are locked out onto the estuary for the day, you are staying out until two hours before the next high tide, so accurate timing of the forecast is a must.
While I am talking about sea fishing it is worth a reminder that we do make a few beach rods. Yesterday, I got this nice email entitled "Best Rod Ever" from a Dutch customer about our 14' P3 beach rod. Check out his web site, a cracking resource.
Monday 23rd March 2009
Andrew Thistlewood, Tis, is on holiday this week, probably fishing as I write. That means I will be trying to deal with part of his workload as well as my own so there will not be much blogging and the phone may take a little longer to answer this week. If you have a simple message for us, email is probably best way to get in touch, but for queries that would require opinions on the best rod etc, we find it is better to phone us and speak to Mike who can offer excellent advice. 0151 709 5981.
Thursday 19th March 2009
Down here by the river there is one of those cold thin mists that you know is going to burn off into a beautiful day. Yesterday I struggled to find a spot to park my motorcylce in a place that was almost empty two weeks ago. Spring is here. British summer time starts next week and it becomes possible to grab a bit of fishing after work. Growing up in Liverpool this was the time that excited me most. I knew that as soon as those buds started to break in the park at the bottom of the road, then the tench would soon be showing themselves too.
I learnt to fish in Greenbank and Sefton Park lakes, both a short walk from home. I started with one of those solid glass rods with a spiral wound handle and a cork perch bob float. For a long time the only things I caught were Jack Sharps, sticklebacks to most of you, and the odd kamakaze perch. My cousin would swear he was catching roach "as big as herrings", whenever I was not around. Cousin Charles was a little older than me and always had gear I could only dream of. A tackle box full of salmon flies and devon minnows, Jardine snap tackles and fishing gazette floats. Most had never seen a fish, but they hooked me.
Here we are forty or more years later, and I still get a real buzz from fishing tackle. We have a sample of our new 15' three piece Barbel rod to try today. Fresh out of the oven last night and waiting for rings and a handle to go testing. I am pretty sure it is still too light and not yet right for what it was intended, but my god it has potential for some sort of fishing that has yet to be invented! This promises to be a good week. I am expecting a box tomorrow that contains a sample of some new carbon fibre prepreg which will open up a number of new possibilities. We have a lot of things here that we try, here is one that never made it to fishing rods (yet) a carbon kevlar hybrid we use for canoe paddles.
Wednesday 18th March 2009
Mike Helliwell has just sent me a link about a Gaelic salmon fishing programme on the TV. It is on Alba on Mondays at 8.30pm and Thursdays at 10pm. It is also available on BBC iPlayer. He tells me I must not miss it, so I thought I would share the link.
The programme features and old friend of Mike's and Harrison's, John Monteith with whom we have developed a beautiful Scottish style 15' double handed rod. I enjoy designing fly rods, though I very rarely cast a fly in anger, but the pleasure in designing fly rods is considerable, possibly my favourite challenge.
My first job is getting the balance and casting right. I have one material I do not think any of my competitors have, so that gives me an edge. The first drawing for a new rod is a fairly quick sketch. Some calculations plus a little black art. Then the drawing is passed on to Andy Mantova who makes all the prototypes and specials. The feedback from a new design is then pretty quick. I can be drawing a pattern at 9am, and at lunchtime, within a few minutes of the blank coming out of the oven, we can be casting it on the water. The rings will only be taped on, but that is enough to know whether to go to the next stage or make some tweaks first. This is why UK manufacturing is so important, we can do this all within a few yards of my desk.
The factory is just a short walk from a pontoon where we can test cast into the salt water of the Liverpool docks. Over the years we have had some good and well known anglers here casting into this muddy Mersey water. Though the water is not clear, on a sunny day it is a lovely spot to test rods in the heart of the city. The marina and in the distance the iconic Lyver building as a back drop. There is only one draw back, nearly every passer by will stop and say "You won't catch any there mate". It was not that funny the first time I heard it. Twenty years on I have stopped faking amusement.
To go to the next step of testing a fly rod with fish, is the job of our consultants, partners, and of course Mike. That is what Mike and weekends were made for. I am lucky that all the staff fish. Tis is off next week and will doubltess be spending a fair chunk of it fishing, though he is more likely to be either on a boat sea fishing or a lake. I like solitude, a quiet bit of a river, Dave likes big tench, and Kevin is a big carp specialist and Andy does the lot. Between us we have all aspects of fishing covered.
Monday 16th March 2009
First, fishing rod news. I have just designed a new 11' 4pce Lorhic blank and will be adapting it to a range of line sizes over the coming weeks. We have also just sent Terry Edmonds a couple of potential 9' tournament rods for fly casting as we would like to help him break some new records. Also we are still looking for new distributors in some territories in Europe.
Now, slightly off the subject of rods. Last week the British papers were running a headline that gardening in your fifties could extend your life. This was the conclusion of a study showing that taking up exercise in your fifties could extend your life by two years and gardening was sufficient exercise to have this effect.
Over the weekend I came across this link: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5itCbTMj0ACqXppwLJqoe39s4d-Gg
In an article entitled "Motorcycles help keep you young" you can read:
"The driver's brain gets activated by riding motorbikes" in part because it requires heightened alertness, Ryuta Kawashima said after his research team and Yamaha Motor conducted a string of experiments involving middle-aged men.
So if motorcycling and gardening is good for you, what about fishing? I have heard it said that time spent fishing is not taken from your life but added to it, but always assumed that was wishful thinking.
Anecdotally, there are thought to be many benefits for young individuals and their communities produced by getting involved in angling. At one time I helped with a local community group "Diggers" that amongst other things took kids fishing and started a fish farm. I have to say it was hard work amusing a group of teenage boys and guaranteeing catching fish, but the man behind diggers, Lenny Cruickshank, had the energy and the ability to motivate others and he drove the project hard with his team of helpers. Lenny is now retired, and that project over, but thankfully there are other groups and individuals trying to keep kids off the streets with fishing. The lottery has recently announced that it is to fund a proper study into the impact of angling on young people communities and social exclusion. But it will be a long time before we know the answers.
But none of that tells me what I want to know. Is fishing good for you? My wife is a PE teacher and very big on "Health related fitness". Can I justify my fishing? Google the question "Is fishing good for you" and you will find a lot of interesting stories why individuals find fishing good for them, but not a lot of proof on why it is good for us all.
I think we are all attracted to water, whether with a rod or a boat or just living by the sea, because it harks back to some primeval hunter gatherer urge to collect food. It would be good to think it was good for us, but maybe that long walk of a round of golf would be better. But as you get older you realise that physical health is not as important as mental health and I reckon that sitting looking at a lake or river beats a round of golf in potential for improving you mentally. I do not play golf these days, but did for long enough to know it can be the most exasperating and demoralising of games, unless of course you are good, which I was not. Yes, fishing can be disappointing, but being humiliated by a fish is a lot less public and demoralising than being thrashed on the golf course.
But there are a few facts we can establish on fishing and health. Eating fish is beneficial, Omega 3' are short in most western diets. Being out in the open air getting more daylight is good for those who may be susceptible to seasonal affected disorder, and is the best way to avoid vitamin D deficiency. A long walk to your peg with a heavy load will be good for your cardiovascular fitness, and if you ride a motorcycle to get to your fishing like I do, your mental acuity will be improved.
So my new slogan is "Get fit, Get Fishing", just makes sure that you do not counteract that with too many sandwiches and cigarettes.
Friday 13th March 2009
Today I am meeting with an enterprising young guy who is starting a new business in high performance composites and needed a little help from us. Each of us working in carbon fibre develops our own unique skills. The way in which a carbon tennis racket is made is quite different to bicycle frame or a fishing rod, but the two common factors are heat and pressure.
The raw material for most carbon fibre products is prepreg, or pre-impregnated carbon. (Americans say graphite not carbon, but as any schoolboy knows graphite is a different form of carbon that has lubricating not structural qualities.) This prepreg is a special blend of epoxy resin and fibres, the epoxy will not cure at room temperature but needs heat, usually 120C to, to cure. The pressure, squeezes out the trapped air in the prepreg and consolidates the product.
Pressure may be achieved in numerous ways. For complicated shapes in short production runs, bagging is ideal. The carbon is layed up in a mould and the lot is placed inside a durable bag which has all the air sucked out. This "evacuation" creates a positive pressure from the atmosphere squeezing on to the raw lay-up. With simple shapes and the correct resin systems, this may be enough to form a good composite, but often additional pressure is required in an autoclave, essentially a pressurised oven. In a sealed bag system, the increase in external pressure will create more pressure on the part and make it easier to achieve a void free low resin composite.
Tubes, fishing rods, are made in an altogether simpler way. Because they are essentially open ended cylinders there is only the one curved surface to create pressure on. No awkward corners to be squeezed as in a mould. This is best achieved by wrapping the lay-up with shrink tape under tension. The pre-preg is first squeezed by rolling under high pressure, and then wrapped under tension with shrink tape. There are a number of tape options, and the larger the part the more complicated our taping procedure. It is a trade secret what material we use, but suffice it to say that we routinely use two different tapes to get the pressure we want.
A tape system is open, unlike a bag the gaps between the spiral of the tape allow the gases to escape the lay-up and the pressure is mechanically applied by the tape tension. Pressurising the oven does not increase the external pressure on the pre-preg in the same way as it does on a sealed bag part. For that reason tube curing ovens are normally at atmospheric pressure. If you could imagine putting an empty plastic bottle with the lid on in a pressurised oven, then turning up the pressure in the oven, the bottle would collapse. Repeat this with a similar bottle without a top and the bottle will not collapse as the pressure is equalised within and without. The tape wrapped rod is like an open bottle. Pressurise the outside and it equalises on the inside of the tape. Of course any entrapped gas filled voids will shrink in size if the external pressure is increased, but they should not be present in a well rolled, well taped part.
There are of course companies who make fishing rods in slightly different ways, we all have our own methods. The important thing is that the resin filled prepreg is squeezed until the gasses escape and the tube becomes a consolidated void free part. Such parts have good surface finish and an almost metallic ring when you tap them on a hard floor.
Anyway, today, we are helping someone with their project and showing them how to manufacture their product. Though we love making fishing rods best, consultancy work is just another small part of what we do. It does make work interesting.
Thursday 12th March 2009
Heston Blumenthal may do some strange things with food, but his restaurant, The Fat Duck at Bray, is rated as one of the best in the world and is distinguished by three Michelin Stars. He is at the extreme end of celebrity chefs in terms of innovation, but Heston, Gordon Ramsey, Rick Stein, they can all cook and it is usual to see them in whites putting together their dishes on the TV. I always say that we do here at Harrisons, when making fishing rod blanks, is like running a restaurant. We buy the best materials, prep them, experiment, then put it all in an oven to cook (cure) for two hours, and then we sample the product.
No surprise then, that for part of every day I wear overalls and spend time out on the shop floor experimenting and playing with fishing rods. How else could I do it? Make the best rods that is. To stretch that extra bit, to raise the product above the ordinary, is a never ending task. Any given day we will be running an experiment or new design in the oven, and waiting to find out what it is like. We have bins full of the results, not all are great. Some are.
At that business lunch I mentioned yesterday. Many of the businesses were out-sourcing from China, just as happens in the tackle trade. Inevitable if you are driven by price. None of them were happy with business at the moment. They had become global players in a global recession. More importantly though, with out-sourcing comes a long term price, the loss of in-house skill and expertise. To go back to the Chef analogy. If Heston closes his kitchen to have the food cooked in a factory, he ends up a taster not a chef. That may be all right for school dinners but it will not win Michelin stars.
This process is happening all over industry. Companies are losing the precious knowledge of how a product is made. I have met people on many occasions who say they are rod designers. Every trade show throws up a few new faces. What they mean is that they are rod testers at best. Nothing wrong with that, great job if you can get it. But there is a big difference between A.A. Gill the food critic and Gordon Ramsay the chef, and it is an important difference. So when you next meet a rod designer, there is an easy way to tell if they really are Chefs or just Tasters, look for the little black carbon-fibre splinters in their hands.
Now, how would you like your Torrix done Sir? Fuji Sic or Kigan 50's?
Wednesday 11th March 2009
Yesterday, I and about twenty other local businessmen had lunch with HRH the Duke of York. Since leaving the Navy he has had an active role as the Special Representative for International Trade and Investment. Over the last couple of years I have been working with UKTI, United Kingdom Trade and Investment, to help us export more, and as a result found myself on the invite list for this meeting.
It was interesting. We had a real opportunity to exchange views about the current economic climate with someone who could actually report back at government level. I was a bit shocked to find that I was the only person there who was positive about current trading conditions, though equally, there was very little doom and gloom. Each of us had our own myopic view of the big picture and were focussed on the detail of our own markets. Most seemed to be rising to the challenges of difficult times.
Darwin is in the news at the moment because of his anniversary. Businesses show a form of natural selection or "survival of the fittest" in the same way as species do. Each business being analagous to a species. To my mind the best way to help us out of this recession is to identify those small growing businesses with a good long term outlook and help accelerate their growth to become the dominant species. I tried to put that view at yesterdays meeting but sadly the trials of regulating the chemical industry seemed to be of more interest than helping small dynamic businesses to grow. I get the impression no one saw fishing rods as a serious business!
One thing we could agree on though is that the media has a part to play in the recovery. It needs to change the reporting of this recession to be a bit more balanced and positive about the good news, before consumer confidence rises and we turn the corner. So for my bit the positive news is, all my custom rod builders seem to be very busy and if you want new rods for this summer maybe it is time to get them on order.
Monday 9th March 2009
Andy Nicholson, one time fishing tackle wholesaler and well known angler, first introduced me to shrimp and worm fishing for salmon. I should clarify that. He introduced me to the fishing rod needs of this art, and together we developed an 11'6 two piece rod that was ideal. Adapted from a 12' two piece light weight carp rod, we modified the tip and changed the length to get something which Andy was happy with and which sold year in year out until Andy left the trade. Andy made a very good video showing this method which you might find on ebay.
Independently, I developed a three piece rod for use on Irish Salmon. Again I was led by the customer, as my experience of catching salmon is sadly very limited. These too turned out to be steady sellers. At the Tackle and Gun show 2007, I was told by one Irish visitor, that "everyone with a pair of bo****ks now has one.
Here we are in 2009 and we have just made our third shrimp and worm rod, well a prototype at least, for Irish dealer Gary Piggott at Ridge Pool Tackle. I love designing rods outside of the mainstream, and although I am still waiting to see if this is what Gary was looking for, I know I have come up with a three piece 11'6 blank that will find many other uses. It is based on our 12' system rod. A Barbel three piece, that has a choice of 30 ton or 40 ton middles to suit different conditions. With just a few days left of the coarse season, I will have to wait to find out.
Back to the Andy Nicholson rod, we long since parted company with Andy on this project so no longer offer the rod, but the blank for this rod is a stock item, and if anyone should want a first class rod to this design we can supply the blank to a rod builder to be built to your specification.
Another design that is "out of print" but still in demand is the soft top barbel rods. I will explain another day why we no longer make those, but Roger McCourtney at Peregrine rods can offer something exclusive to him which is very close.
Friday 6th March 2009,
I had lunch with David Hall yesterday and his key account manager Dean Rothery. David started as a publisher with one magazine, "David Halls Coarse Fishing", and now has ten titles including the trade magazines, Tackle and Gun and Tackle Trade World. In recent years he has moved into organising trade shows, and has done a spell as Chairman of the Angling Trades Association. You might assume that anyone with that much on his CV and his foot in the door of angling politics would be a boring, single minded, workaholic and poor company for lunch. If you have ever met David, you would know that you could not be more wrong. David, is one of those "characters" of the trade. Someone who like Peter Drennan and Cliff Fox, has not just competed for market share in a sector but has created and developed that sector. His frank, incisive style is a pleasure in this politically correct world. He had just come from a meeting with Dave Chilton of Kryston. Dave Chilton and I started up around the same time and we knew each other before creating our businesses. Dave Chilton used to call in my tackle shop and tell me about his plans for revolutionising leaders for carp fishing and I would bore him with my ambitions for rod making. Amazing it turned out so well for both of us. There was a clear theme from David Hall's two meetings at Kryston and Harrison's, that the challenges of the world downturn were actually making new opportunities and dare I say it making the game more exciting for us.
The beauty of this trade, unlike many businesses, is that working in the tackle industry is much more than just making a living. There is real passion that comes from turning you hobby into a living. You get to work with people like the two David's, people who sweat enthusiasm. I was talking to David Hall about retirement, he is 66, but he says retirement is not on the cards. Like me, he has worked out it is more fun coming to work and doing business with your friends than staying at home and wondering what to do next. Long may it last.
I am not naturally a people person like David Hall, for me the product is everything. Innovation is just as important to our survival as it is for a mobile phone company, and that is why this week has been a particularly good one. Yesterday we completed a very nice new three piece shrimp and worm rod sample and this morning on my desk is a new material sample, just out the ovens, that has industrial applications. Next job today is a tournament casting fly rod and it looks a nice enough day to go and test it.
Thursday 5th March
I mentioned that we had been sent information on Q.suber, a new cork substitute that on first impressions sounded pretty good. Yesterday I received samples and I was impressed. This material does look different to other products of this type. The feel is right, the look is pleasant and the ability to machine this product seems to be better than cork. I do not know the price yet, but will post that when I have it.
We also had a visit from PacBay agent David Bird yesterday and we have a few other interesting rod building items to evaluate. The PacBay catalogue is huge and fascinating for any rod builder. If you do not know their product range take a look at www.fishpacbay.com They have some interesting items beyond the normal rod rings and reel fittings you might expect. You can for example buy a DVD on rod building and machines to rotate your rods whilst the varnish is drying. That said, www.guidesnblanks.com should be your first port of call if you are in the UK as they have an equally interesting range which is more focussed on the UK, they are main Fuji agents, and are probably going to be less expensive on delivery.
After PacBay I have another busy day of meetings today. I don't often "do" meetings, it's one of the pleasures of running you own business, you only have to sit and talk when it's someone you want to spend time with. Today I am seeing David Hall the publishing entrepreneur who is always good company. It should be an interesting chat. I wonder if he shares my view that for small British companies that can adapt quickly we are near the turning point of this recession. One "optimism indicator" is that my eighteen year old son and his university mates are all ploughing their student loans into the stock market. Do they know something we do not or will it all end in tears?
Wednesday 4th March
Our existing dealer list only covers the UK, which is ridiculous when you consider that a major chunk of our production goes to export. So later today I will be working on putting that right. But by way of a preamble I want to mention a little about how and what we distribute abroad.
We are a small company and our flexible manufacturing allows us to make short runs of bespoke product for specialist niche markets. For example, Ian Collins in Germany (0049 69 866994) buys both our standard Torrix blanks and other special carp and spinning blanks which are unique to his market. His market is for the most part rod builders in Germany and Austria, and as well as our blanks he carries a big stock of components that he sources from around the world, again many of which are unique to him. Ian does not carry our finished rods, but for every blank made by us he is your first stop in Germany.
Collins is unusual, more typically we have one retailer or custom builder per country who will sell our rods or custom built rods built on our blanks. In Croatia for example we have Stjepan Ivanusic who trades as Carpista He buys a wide range of mainly 13' carp blanks for his special builds.
Sweden is a market which is more like the UK. We have Skandinaviens Sportfiskcentre in Ljungby who stocks both carp and specialist rods, and Lars Oloffson in Vastra Frolunda who is more of a fly fishing specialist.
Of late the exquisite rod building of Michal Studeny of the Czech Republic has been capturing a lot of attention. http://www.alibaba.com/product/sajmon-103447772-0/Harrison_Rods.html
We are currently looking for new distributors in some territories. Primarily I am looking for customers for our regular carp and fly blank production as we are stretched on rod production and have little spare capacity, but I would consider enquiries from big retailers for carp rods. We do not supply wholesalers as our experience has been that it results in too high a price in the shops when an extra tier of distribution is introduced. I hate seeing our retail price unnecessarily elevated and it is by keep the supply chain short we can offer you the customer the best value.
Tuesday 3rd March
Twenty odd years ago, when I had a tackle shop and before I went full time in to manufacturing, I used to buy poles from Tricast in Rochdale. My fishing experience was more influenced by match fishing than any other single style and I used to sell a lot of poles. I had originally been one of the first to adopt the method in these parts as I was always attracted to the rhythm and efficiency of speed fishing. As a Liverpool dealer, I was for a time ahead of the curve on poles.
As fishing progressed from the Lerc and Garbolino glass poles I started with, to the much longer Carbon poles modified to take elastic down the hollow tip, a fashion started which demanded more poles than I could get my hands on. As with any sport, match anglers wanted the best pole they could afford in an attempt to get their hands on the pools money. I could sell more poles than I could get from Tricast. I used to wonder why they did not ramp up production, put on a night shift or something else to help satisfy demand. As a retailer I had no idea how much more difficult it was for a manufacturer to increase their capacity and turnover.
Twenty years on I am now faced with this same problem. The problem is predicting demand and putting in place the capacity to meet it. You never get it right, and at this moment we are struggling with a lot of good new enquiries and insufficient capacity to deal with them. Any attempt to grow a business calls for cash to fund stocks and staff, working capital, but manufacturing has the added demands of requiring tooling, equipment and specialist skills. If you are a rod manufacturer in the UK you will not find anyone you can recruit without training. For a few months they will probably slow production more than help it.
In these uncertain times its hard to know if our current upturn is because the pound has dropped so much or because we have the right product for the market. Of course it is a bit of both, but this is a scary time to invest in expanding. That is the self fulfilling dividend of a recession. At any other time I would be rushing out to recruit and buy tooling, but now I just think it best to go slowly.
There is an advert running in the Economist for a firm of consultants which runs. "It's not a setback it's a test." I agree with that sentiment, but until the footsie stops dropping and bankers stop making the main headlines little guys like me spending their own money on investment will hold back.
So this is by way of an apology to anyone who has emailed and wants a Harrison account or a special product and is currently waiting. I will get to it, but we are a little behind with a high volume of orders from existing customers and we have to look after them first and foremost.
This backlog of orders sounds like a great position to be in during a recession, and of course it is, but it is not plain sailing for us here at Harrisons any more than anywhere else. Yesterday a European customer told me that due to the "financial crisis" they could not afford to pay for the large rod order we have ready to ship. I know "cancelled export order" is a bit of a cliche but this is the first time this has happened to me in the 20 year life of Harrisons Advanced Rods. A sign of the times. Of course they are only one, and thank god, many of our overseas customers are doing well, but again yesterday, we heard that David Hall Publishing group were cancelling their International fishing tackle trade show due to be held in Amsterdam in June. China Fish, has just seen visitor numbers down dramatically with a 45% drop in pre-registrations.
Anyway, that is enough of doom and gloom. It was a beautiful weekend and it looks like spring is almost here. Tomorrow I want to talk about the dealers and distribution that are doing well in Europe, people like rod builder Michal Studeny in the Czech Republic and Stjepan Ivanusic in Croatia, but right now I want to see if I can find a buyer for this export order!
Friday 27th February 2009
I would like to talk about rod rings. There is some confusion about what is Silicon Carbide, what is Korean Silicon Carbide and what is Zirconium etc.
Silicon carbide is a tough, light, hard wearing ceramic and is used by Fuji in their most expensive rod rings. It has other interesting properties such as its ability to conduct heat better than other liners. Heat is a killer for fishing line as most are made from modern materials that melt at relatively low temperatures and wear rapidly as temperature increases, however heat build up does not happen in all applications. To all intents and purposes the only genuine Silicon carbide rings most of us will see in the UK are made by Fuji. They are sold as "Sic" which is a brand name of Fuji, and they are very expensive compared to most other rings.
There are a few alternatives to Fuji using genuine Silicon Carbide. The Silicon Carbide centres for these rings can be bought in from Japan and fitted by anyone who makes rod rings, but because of the cost few do. One exception is Pacific Bay who also have a top quality SIC ring. A few other ring makers do offer genuine Silicon Carbide but there is little cost saving over Fuji so few are seen.
We use Fuji Sic as standard on our Torrix rods and they are available on any rod we make.
Unfortunately there are lots of rings in the market place that look like Silcon Carbide and are often described as Korean Silcon Carbide or some variation on Silicon. Most of the examples we have seen are in fact zirconium. Describing Zirconium as Silicon Crabide is wrong and misleading. Zirconium is as much Silcon as a dogfish is rock salmon. It is a shame that some manufacturers have blurred the edges on descriptions. Zirconium is itself a very good material for making rod rings and equal to Silicon Carbide in many practical applications so why pass it off as something else? It is slightly more dense and not as good at conducting heat, but these are marginal differences that do not effect many applications.
I do not know where this long standing practice of calling Zirconium rings Korean Sic, or something similar started, but it has been so endemic that when buying rings we have been offered written assurances that rings were Silicon Carbide when we could tell from our own density measurements that they were not. We steer clear of such suppliers.
Anyway, back to Zirconium. Good Zirconium centres are excellent. The surface finish of the ceramic is as important as the material it is made from and we have selected Kigan as our supplier of Zirconium rod rings. Like Fuji, Kigan can be identified by the brand being stamped on the ring foot. I happened across Kigan by accident. They were being fitted to some of the more expensive rods produced for the Hiro brand that were being manufactured by Louis Tchertoff. Louis is one of the best informed men in the tackle trade. He has had senior jobs with Daiwa and Shimano, has been President of the European Fishing Tackle Association and now runs his own business. If they were good enough for Louis it was worth us trying them.
We have now used Kigan Zirconium for about four years. We have found that they offer several advantages over previous rings.
1. They are available in size 50 when very few other rings including Fuji Sic are not.
2. We like the frame which is slightly more flexible than some alternatives.
3. We like the reliability. Centres will not come out unless you really abuse and squash the rod ring.
4. The finish on the metal frame is really robust and does not wear off with use.
Overall we are now big fans of Kigan and fit them as our first choice to any rod that does not have Fuji Sic. We also distribute them to other rod builders. If you want a top Carp rod with a 50mm ring set they are my first choice, though Fuji Sic is hard to beat if you choose a rod with 40's. At the time of writing the 50mm Kigan ring set and the 40mm Fuji Sic ring set will cost you the same on a finished Harrison carp rod. Its your choice.
Thursday 26th February 2009
I have been meaning to say a little something about my good friend Julian Shambrook's operation "Anyfish Anywhere". Julian was at one time one of our professional rod building accounts and like a typical rod builder, a dam good angler too. His main interest is sea match fishing at which he is pretty good. But Julian is also young and ambitious and was keen to expand his business from custom rod builder to a brand that covered rods and other products. And instead of just talking about, which he did plenty of as well, he went out and did it. It takes a lot of bottle for any family guy to go out on a limb and risk everything, but Julian, has done it, and done it well. Anyfish Anywhere beach rods are at the top end, his luggage is imaginative and well made and his terminal tackle beautifully packaged and superb quality. I am giving him a plug today as I know this blog is read in parts of the world Julian has yet to be seen in. So if you are in the trade and interested in seeing the best of the new sea tackle available in the UK, contact me, Steve Harrison, and I will pass your enquiry to Julian.
Now back to my own rods and blanks. Pretty much everyday I get enquiries as to where people can get a rod ring or cork or similar for a rod repair or to build a rod. It used to be most tackle shops would keep then basics of rod building such as whipping thread and rod rings, but the dawn of epoxy finishes was also the demise of home rod building and very few shops keep components today. I usually direct enquiries to www.guidenblanks.com which is a web based business off shoot of the old established Hopkins and Holloway. They stock their own components and many more and are also a reseller of rod blanks including ours.
If we were not so busy making rods and blanks I would be tempted to start a retail operation myself to help rod builders get all that material they need. We already have so much of it in stock ourselves. For example, we are the main importers of Kigan rod rings to the UK and have helped to establish them as a superior alternative to many of the unnamed generic rod rings that are about. We also have a vast array of stainless steel bits and pieces whichh we supply to the trade for finishing carp rods. Anyway, we are too busy to start this retail project at the moment, which is unfortunate as the retail sale of our rod blanks is held back because rod builders find it difficult to source components to complete a project. (By the way, we will now sell a blank direct to the end user in the UK, and the components to finish it as a kit, but we cannot supply odds and end of rod building materials.)
So finding rod building materials can be tricky. However, as a result of an email about Threadmaster epoxy from Scott Bazinet, I discovered an ebay shop and website that is selling rod components. Hurah!
Here is the link. www.solwaycustomcomponents.com
As far as I am concerned anything us rod builders, big and small, can do to help each other has to be a good thing. If anyone has any tips on good suppliers or product please let me know and I will try and mention them.
Wednesday 25th February 2009
HDesign was a secondary brand of mine that we introduced about five years ago. At that time we were not sure if the rise of manufacturing quality in the East would lead to the terminal decline of the UK rod making indudstry, so we hedged our bets and started a secondary brand sourced in the Far East. It was similar to what Hardy were doing with Greys. I went to the best rod maker in South Korea, a company that was making fly rods for the top world brands, and together we put together a small range. The biggest success of these has been the Sulis 4 piece Avon.
It was a fascinating experience. After working in isolation for years, working together with other rod designers was totally new. South Korean manufacturing is like the British equivalent, a good mix of artisan and high-tec, often driven by real enthusiasts. My supplier was determined to be the best, and I have to admit he was pretty good, which is why we chose him and the environment was energetic and stimulating. I saw a guy do something I still cannot fathom. With one hand he picked up rod blanks sections two at a time, almost like chopstics, and simultaneously passed them through two tiny holes in a rubber membrane to squegee them with paint finish. We use a similar paint system here, but handling two sections at a time is like riding a unicylce and sword swallowing simultaneously, only for the brave and talented.
Going to Korea, was the start, and as the centre of gravity for rod making shifted to China, I developed a really close relationship with another company with whom we worked closely to help source product for some of our big clients. Product at a different price point to our UK made product. This business grew to the point we had boxes of rods arriving every week, all badged up with different brand names for many different clients. They were good rods, my design input, outsourced manufacturing, great value for money.
Today it has all stopped. For ourselves and the market, a few different things came together quite quickly.
Firstly, a few dealers started to blur the lines between a Harrison UK made rod and and a Harrison designed imported rod. We never, ever put Harrison on the HDesign product for the reason we wanted no confusion on which was home made and which imported, but I guess it was inevitable that someone would blur that distinction. I had to stop it dead.
Secondly, inflation started to edge up prices in China. Typically by at least 10%. Raw materials were a factor, but the most significant change was the cost of labour, which rocketed as worker aspirations increased and government legislation enforced new contributions to pensions and health care.
Thirdly, we have seen the massive shift in currencies, such that in the UK a rod has increased in cost by a third in a year before any price rises from the factory. How quickly things move. In a year we have seen the most massive change in the balance of competitiveness between East and West we have ever seen. This move in prices has yet to be fully seen in the shops as people sit on stock and big companies have pre bought currency, but if the pound stays low it will hit soon.
But it is not just about prices and competitiveness. Working with and talking to Chinese and Korean rod makers on a daily basis allows you to find what they are good at and confirm your own strengths. That old saying about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer is such good advice. Get to know China and you find it is not the bogey man that will wipe out all western manufacturing. You discover that things about yourself and your own business that you took for granted are hard to find in China. China is a country of great enterprise and great skill, and here in the UK we have that in common with them. But when it comes to passionate fishing tackle entrepreneurs we have them beat. Kevin Nash, Cliff Fox, Danny Fairbrass, Peter Drennan, its a long list. We also have a legacy of manufacturing that is the best in the world.
China did low cost very well but already factories are moving from China to Vietnam in search of the next low cost source - but low cost is not everything. We do not all want the cheapest microwave, fishing rod or DVD player. Once you move away from the cheaper end of any product range, the volume decreases. With respect to fishing rods, particularly carp and salmon rods which use a lot of carbon, as you move up to the quality end of the market, the cost of the cork, reel fitting, rod rings and carbon swamps any cost advantage the Far East has in labour cost. And good quality carbon is no cheaper in China than it is here, indeed not everything we have access to is available in China. High end and low volume rules China out of the game.
Over the last three years we have seen a slow improvement in UK competitiveness. I believe a UK made carp has always been the best choice and the best value over £200. But the competitiveness of UK manufacturing has slowly improved, and then accelerated during this credit crunch to the point that we could become competitive over a wider range of price points if we had the investment in capacity.
I could go on all day about this, but the main point is Harrisons are no longer bringing in any fishing rods under the Hdesign brand name and when current stocks are gone that name will be reserved for any accessories we market that we cannot make ourselves. We are hoping to increase availability of our UK Torrix and Lorhic rods as we increase capacity here in the UK. And we are delighted to announce that our long time friend and rod maker, Martin Cloake is planning on re-entering the market after a brief spell doing something else.
Stop Press: Since I wrote the above a couple of hours ago, I read that latest statistics show Japanese exports down by a staggering 46% in January. 47% to the EU.
Tuesday 24th February 2009
As you may know, most of our rods leave here as blanks and are then built by custom rod builders. It runs against the accepted business models of vertical integration and adding value, but it works for Fuji and it works for us. I would like to say it was a cleverly devised strategy, but in fact it was more a happy accident that the business developed this way, serendipity.
Malcolm Grey, originally a rod maker at Hardy's had started his business "Greys of Alnwick" and was buying a few blanks from us. Things were not going as well as they might and he sold the business to a group of businessmen who pumped in funds and rapidly expanded the business. The new boss, Charles Mitchell, may have had his faults but you had to admire his drive and ambition in finding investors and expanding that small company into a significant brand name. In no time, Greys was our biggest customer and we would send rod blanks almost every day to keep the Alnwick rod builders busy. It was a significant time in our development. I knew very little about double handed fly rods in those days, but by working with Greys and their consultants we developed an expertise and knowledge that is vital to us today. In the end we went our separate ways, they starting to make their own blanks and we found new customers with a better attitude to paying bills. Ultimately the original Greys went bust as they found making blanks was not quite the easy gravy train they thought it was. But of course the Greys name lives on as it was bought by Hardys and has been developed in recent years to a major international brand.
Other big rod blank customers at that time included Midland Angling Products, for whom we made the Dave Harrel range of float rods. I wish I knew how many of these we made, but it was thousands and thousands. In the eighties I had probably half a dozen customers who would buy rod blanks in thousands each year. Times were good.
Today the landscape is quite different. China almost killed of small production rod makers who bought in our blanks, but the high end custom builder has survived and in many cases porspered. Today we have more customers buying blanks, but in smaller quantities. Today the typical rod builder is a highly skilled craftsman, building to order for niche applications. He demands the very best from us so he can offer you something that is exclusive and better. I received a few images last week from Bob Gill of Angling Innovations, Bristol. They show the work he is doing with wood fittings on rod handles. Bob can be contacted on 01275 846286.
I would like to say that Bob is typical of the current state of rod building in the UK today. But the custom rod builders I know are all so different, no one is typical. But they do have some things in common. For one, they all seem to be busy. Yesterday I spoke to Vic Gibson, (01920 870775) one of the most respected names in custom building, and he told me he has never known it so busy for February. Year on year most of our rod builders are up on 2008 and the best thing for the end user is the diversity of choice they offer. You can get a basic build at a great value price, or you can go the whole hog and spend a fortune. I hope you do the latter, but am happy with either as long as you choose a Harrison blank.
Monday 23rd February 2009
It was half term last week here in England, and as my wife is a teacher, I took a few days off and that is why I have been missing for a few days. Today there is so much paper on my desk, I have to keep this note short and to the point and say, I will be back as normal tomorrow.
Wednesday 18th February 2009
Yesterday I talked about Q.suber, a new cork substitute, and put it down as O.Suber in some fit of madness. I should have known better, my first degree is in botany and the cork oak is Quercus suber. Mea culpa. Rod builder David Norwich put me right, clearly benefiting from a Scottish education. That said, calling a "substitute" cork product after the tree that provides the real thing looks to me to be a bold if not cheeky step, and I would not be surprised if the cork growers do not take an interest.
Brand names are a minefield. Just try and come up with a name for a fishing rod that sounds like a fishing rod and that has not been used before. Even if you come up with an entirely new name you run the risk of one of the big boys of the trade starting to use it with at best ignorance of it's previous use or quite likely a mischievous desire to stamp on little guys. I have in the past received a cease and desist notice from one of the major players for a brand name I have used for years, and I know I am one of many. There is then the difficult choice of whether to fight.
As an example, currently Hardy have been using Marksman as a trade name, on coarse rods, and in the past so have we. We did not register the name and had stopped using it just before they started, so no big deal, but the trade is littered with more contentious clashes of Trade names that because they have been settled by lawyers have become major drains on time and finances of the companies involved. Lets be generous and say that we often hear something and forget it, but then recall it as our own idea at a later date, and because of that we sometimes think we came up with the idea. It is not just brand names. At the moments guitarist Jo Satriani is suing Cold Play over an alleged theft of musical ideas in the Cold Play song Viva La Vida. Google it and you will find some fascinating comparisons.
Anyway back to fishing rods. In the past to register a trademark was very expensive, but it is now possible to do it yourself, on line for a relatively small fee, £200. Here is the link Of course, if you are protecting a major brand worldwide you still need the lawyers, and have to have deep pockets, but for UK protection the system has now been streamlined to make it work better for smaller companies. Today we routinely register our names, and we try and invent ones that are not obvious and are new. Torrix for example comes from Torsion matrix, taking the first three of Torsion and the last three of matrix. Lorhic is bits of "low resin high carbon."
And on that note, my next job today is to renew one of our expiring names and think about a new one for some new products.
Tuesday 17th February 2009
Certain things have been around a long time but are hard to improve on, leather shoes, denim jeans, champagne..... And there is another a class of things that get left behind, there is substitution, improvement, evolution. Take the material for your fishing rod. Over my lifetime I have seen the disappearance of Spanish reed, cane decreasing in volume to a fraction of 1% of rods, fibreglass marginalised to cheaper rods so that today carbon fibre, unknown a generation ago, dominates most rod production.
But what about rod handles, in particular what about cork? Is it like Champagne, difficult to improve on or is it like fibreglass, waiting for a better substitute?
With respect to carp rods, cork has already almost disappeared. The majority of handles are either EVA or Japanese shrink rubber. But when it comes to rods that you hold all day, fly rods for example, cork is still the first choice. Cork is warm when it is cold, grippy when its wet, beautiful when its new and can be cleaned and sanded back to look like new at the end of a season. You can shape it by hand or machine, and though organic, it does not rot. The downside is that good cork is expensive, the best is very expensive. Like leather, it remains a fantastic material unsurpassed by synthetics, or does it?
For those that do not know, nearly all rod cork originates from Portugal were it is harvested from the bark of Cork Oaks. It is then selected for use in wine bottle corks, cork tiles, fishing rods etc before processing in either Portugal or the Far East. The continued availability of good fishing rod cork is linked to the efficient sale of the rest of the cork harvest for its other uses. It also changes with the variation in the growing seasons in Portugal. There is a fortune to be made for anyone that finds a material to make a better handle for a fly rod than Flor grade cork, and now we may have it.
Yesterday I received a flyer from Bluemoon Fishing telling me they have just such a product. It is called Q.Suber, and is a synthetic "revolutionary material" which is said to be "25% lighter than cork, and feels and looks like cork and can be sanded to shape like cork". We eagerly await a sample. Although this is said to be new, it does look a lot like a material we have seen before from Hopkins and Holloway. Not that nasty cork coloured EVA foam, but a high quality cork substitute that really was excellent, but it just lacked that something that cork had, and it never caught on. Hopkins may still sell it, but I have never seen it used on a top quality rod. We have never been asked to fit it.
I think it is the texture and appearance that cork achieves from laminating together lots of cork rings that is difficult to match. The physical properties alone are less of a challenge. It is like substituting a printed tile for Travertine Marble, the substitute will always be seen as "Faux" even if it is harder wearing and stronger. And just like Travertine, it is difficult to make a substitute for that natural cork colour.
When you substitute the mottled natural cork with a uniform beige colour it easy to make it look rather skin coloured and unappealing, the sort of colour we associate with uncooked pork and prosthetics. Then again, in this minimalist age many of us live in beige/magnolia homes, so maybe the time is right for the cork substitute.
Clearly I am a bit sceptical, but I have the greatest of confidence in the man behind Q.Suber, his judgement and expertise, and we are taking this "new cork" very seriously. There is a good chance that this will be an improvement on anything we have seen before. I am just waiting to get a sample, and if it is as good as Mick says, we will offer it as an option in due course. Good luck Mick, it will be a help to all of us if this Q.Suber is as good as you say.
Monday 16th February 2009
Although Friday 13th went well enough, yesterday got of to a bad start. I had to come in to work and my car would not start. Because I use a motorcycle much of the time the poor old Jag gets neglected and usually has a flat battery when I need it most. Apart from a tendency to run down batteries when not used regularly, a quite understandable and forgivable fault, my Jaguar S type is the most reliable faultless car I have ever owned. That is why I have owned it for five years and have no intention of selling it. This is in stark contrast to a Jaguar XJ6 I had back in the nineties, which was amongst my worst cars for reliability and niggles. The electrics gave me many problems. In between I have had a few cars, mainly German and mainly satisfactory, though I did have an Audi A6 that always needed work under warranty, though it was just annoying, it never stranded me anywhere.
This current Jaguar has been reliable to run, free from expensive items at service, and a pleasure to drive. We also as a business and as a family have some Hondas, which are again fine examples of well made British cars. The British car industry has gone from being a basket case to producing some of the worlds best cars, and I think it is tragic that because of the current economic climate we are seeing many of the fine workers who make those cars being laid of and being made redundant. The banks are being bailed out with billions, and manufacturing so far has got next to nothing. We will not solve this present economic crisis by rebuilding the economy based on another real estate bubble. We have to start making things again. Our financial sector is crippled, but manufacturing by comparison, is in good shape as long as we help companies to weather the short term downturn in demand.
There must be thousands of small companies like us here at Harrison's who have successful product and at the moment are going through a period of great uncertainty. Because we have been around a while we are able to enjoy the advantage of the weak pound and ramp up our exports, but for fledgling companies with a bigger need for credit, these are very difficult times. Even for well established companies that cannot give the appropriate guarantees, it can be tricky to raise finance and many sound companies are failing. We need to fix this quickly.
Back in the 1980's when I was planning this business, I was able to apply for a variety of grants for assistance. Of our original start up capital, about £30,000 came from government sources in the shape of Regional Selective Assistance and innovation support. That is peanuts in comparison to what we have been able to pay back in terms of taxes and jobs created over the years, but it was vital to me making the decision to start up.
Many of those people currently facing redundancy will have a dream to start their own business, and a well crafted scheme to support them with start up support could make a massive difference to how quickly we come out of this recession and probably cost no more than paying them job seekers allowance. This money needs to be quickly available, easy to apply for and significant in amount.
UK manufactured goods are well made, innovative and in demand. Global conditions for many of us are excellent. Chinese prices rising, UK prices dropping, quality high, British brand value high. Come on government, put some billions into business start ups now. And maybe offer some extra help to companies like this one that could easily export more if we got some more streamlined help with buying new machinery and training staff. If the government were to focus on manufacturing and exports, we can create jobs and lead this country out of recession.
Friday 13th February 2009
I said yesterday I would talk about new product, but first some "product news." Most of you will know that we have distributed Owner hooks in the UK for some years. It is now time for that relationship with Owner to come to an end. With the current yen / pound exchange rate we can not make the Owner distribution work any more for us or for Owner. We cannot make the margin we need and we cannot sell enough product to satisfy Owner's targets. Its a shame. Owner are fantastic hooks and we have enjoyed being associated with them, but over the last year we have seen the Yen move from 235 to 130 to the pound and it would mean that at the moment we would be paying more to replace stock than we are selling it for.
On the upside, we keep pretty substantial stocks and still have most patterns available and will have for at least six months. Stocking up now might be a good idea. Prices will have to rise when a new distributor is appointed.
Now, with respect to our own new product. Going back a short while we bought the fixed assets of a small business called Obelisk, which specialised in quality stainless steel and rod pods. We then started the development of carbon fibre bank sticks and pods. For reasons of cost we never brought those to market. The changing global landscape in this credit crunch has made us look again at that product and we have decided to launch a new range of products over the next few months. We are not recreating the Obelisk range, but something new to match our rods. First items will be carbon bank sticks and quickly following will be more carbon accessories. There are a few details to finalise but production of key components has started. Planet Carp have helped us in this project and will be the first to know when stock is available.
Thursday February 12th 2009
I had a late night last night. My wife and I went out to see the talented Imelda May and her great band at Liverpool's Albert Dock. A very impressive new talent. Not so long ago singing on fish finger commercials but now tipped for great things in 2009. Blew me away.
As a result I am behind and have to cut today's blog short to focus on production and design of new industrial tubes and some work with Liverpool University. Just a quick thanks to those of you who have put links to this site as our google ranking is improving and we are seeing more new business enquiries as a result of our march up the search engines first page. All very good news in the middle of a recession.
Tomorrow I will tell you a little about new product for 2009.
Wednesday February 11th 2009
It was forecast to be 3 C here today which is enough above freezing to let me ride to work on my motorcycle rather than use the car. I recently came back to bikes after a five year lay-off because of all the road works here in Liverpool building up to Capital of Culture year. They called it The Big Dig, and it was. Ten years road works in eighteen months. My last few motorcycles were sports bikes. Fabulous machines such as the Honda Fireblade, but in truth not very practical in the real world. Another middle aged guy inspired by Charley Boorman and Ewan McGreggor, I found myself, last summer just before my birthday, in a BMW dealers.
I am usually pretty decisive, but being out of touch a while, I was not sure what I needed. It had to be a commuter bike first, but beyond that I was not sure whether it would be just days out or used for long touring. A few days later, I decided to buy a BMW F650GS which is actually an 800 twin that looks funky and would do everything I wanted with a degree of style. The bad news was I could not get my hands on one in time for my birthday, and the dealers were sufficiently busy that two did not even return my phone messages when I wanted to order one.
Somewhat annoyed by BMW dealer torpor, I started to look for an alternative. Reading the motorcycle forums an obvious contender appeared. The Kawasaki 650 Versys, described as a dual sport bike, was getting rave reviews from owners. It was the right size to commute and tour and I loved the looks. A day later, I ended up in a Kawasaki dealers, Marriots Birkenhead, and test rode the Kawasaki.
Car dealers are trained that if they can get someone to have a test drive they are more likely to buy. It works for motorcycles too, but very few dealers take advantage of that effect. I do not know the reason so few demo bikes are available but it is a fact that you are often expected to buy a motorcyle without ever having test ridden it. Anyway, I was blow away by the demo Versys and what works for car dealers worked for Marriots and I bought one.
I know this is not the place for motorcycle reviews, but bear with me. The Versys is my 21st motorcycle, and far and away the best fun and most useful of any I have ever owned. Its has great fuel consumption, a large tank, so good range, mine has ABS, and the high seating position allows me to thread through traffic safely and see over cars on the motorway. Most of all though, it is fun. The headline power output looks small at half my last bike, but it delivers it in bucket loads from low revs, you are never in the wrong gear and it handles superbly, making it as fast through the twisties as most sports bikes. Plus if you look at the forums the Versys seems to have fewer warranty issues than the BMW that I almost bought. I am so pleased with it I have now bought a second Versys for my wife.
I mention all this, because one of the factors in my choice of a Kawasaki over a BMW, the tipping point if you like, was the positive reviews and feedback from independent owners on the internet. Professional motorcycle reviews are often riddled with prejudice and sometimes just plain wrong, and medium sized practical motorcyles rarely get the attention of the latest Ducati. That is why feedback and reviews from owners is so important.
It is like that with fishing rods too. I can tell you our rods are the best, but in the words of Mandy Rice-Davies, then I would say that wouldn't I? You can believe a guy in a magazine who probably has less fishing experience than you and an advertiser to keep happy, or you can trust the words of your friends and internet buddies in what they say. We are a small company, with a tiny advertising budget, so thank god many of you see through the marketing hype and buy a Harrison rod because you were recommended by a fellow angler.
On that note, here is another short "independent" review from Purepiscator of our 4 piece Avon that Roy Daintith emailed me this morning.
Tuesday February 10th 2009
A chance conversation with one of our customers reminded me of a rod builder that had to retire because of an allergic reaction to epoxy resin used to varnish the rods. Epoxy is ubiquitous in rod making. It is the matrix that holds the carbon fibres together in the rod blank, it is the adhesive that attaches components to the rod, and it is the clear resin that covers the rod whippings holding the rod rings to the blank. In fact you might argue that the modern rod is as much defined by epoxy resin as it is by carbon fibres. A rod builder with an epoxy allergy is on the face of it as much use as a trapeze artist who does not like heights.
One of the problems with sensitivity to epoxy is that it sometimes develops spontaneously in individuals who have been previously free of any reaction. It is one of those peculiar tricks of the immune system. It is a tragedy if you make your living building rods, and it can all be so sudden.
There are ways of lessening the problem. Best practice prevents epoxy contacting the skin. You can use disposable gloves for gluing and varnishing, but most of all its an attitude to general tidiness that best keeps epoxy from skin contact. Avoid skin contact and you will probably avoid developing sensitivity. When you work full time with epoxy, that is easier said than done. Once you have become sensitized, just being in the vicinity of epoxy can make you itch.
One thing the amateur rod builder can do to reduce epoxy exposure is to use alternatives where posible. Hot melt adhesives are an ideal choice for fixing tip rings as they also have an advantage that you can replace a damaged tip ring with ease by re-melting the adhesive. For cork handles, though often used, epoxy is not the best choice adhesive. We have tried a number of options in the past and currently use an expanding air curing polyurethane adhesive (it actually reacts with the moisture in air) which is a cork coloured and has good gap filling properties. We used to have to import this type of adhesive specially but it is now available from the Siesta Cork Tile company ( 020 868 34055 ) under the brand name Plus Eight.
For custom rod builders the epoxy matrix of the blank can be considered harmless, as the curing process in the factory converts all reactive material to an inert plastic that will no longer cause sensitivity. That leaves the epoxy used in varnishing the rod whippings. At the moment there is no effective alternative to this for most rod building. Epoxy is clear, strong, has great adhesion and is easy to apply. We have experimented here with UV cure systems and they have failed to deliver on quality of appearance. Its the preferred method on cheaper mass produced rods but will not match a quality high build with epoxy. So for the rod builders who read this... my advice is be careful with the epoxy and avoid developing the sensitivity that could stop you building rods.
For anyone worried about this who needs more information, I found this article by West to be well balanced and useful. Google will also throw up a couple of scary accounts which are very atypical. I would ignore any information that does not come from a respectable medical or company source.
Monday February 9th 2009
Back in November I used a quote from Arthur Ransome's book Rod and Line:
"It is as mistaken to think that we go to tackle shops only because we need tackle as it is to think that we go fishing only because we want to eat fish."
It is clear from talking to a lot of our smaller customers, and one or two of the bigger ones, that we have not been going into our tackle shops as much lately. Whether its the cold snap here in the UK or whether it is the economy, or maybe the increasing amount of goods available on the internet, the traditional local tackle shop is under more pressure this winter than it has been for a long time. Here in Liverpool, a city of half a million, we are already badly off for tackle shops. When I was growing up most of us were probably within walking distance of a shop selling maggots to drown in the local park. Our own family tackle shop was less than a mile from the longer established competitor S.C.R. Duffy Ltd. and it used to make for some interesting competition. It taught me that business is a game, like monopoly, you should not take it all personally, you just have to make sure you win as the consequences of failure are devastating. I have a lot of interesting tales from those tackle shop days, but they are for another time.
What I wanted to do today was remind you that despite this cold weather, it is much later than you think. It is the second week in February, and for those that fish waters that close 15th March that leaves only five weekends to go. I spent this last frozen weekend catching up with jobs around the house. Fixing a door lock, boxing in some ugly pipe-work, and other odds things - to free up my weekends for when the weather improves. Step two in my preparation will be to look at my tackle and make that list of things I need to replace. Now this is where your can help your local tackle dealer. If you do find the mice have chewed your net, or you are short on floats and that line needs replacing, it is time to go look up our old friends in the local tackle shop. I am sure they will be pleased to see you. The internet is great for shopping for some items, but you cannot easily compare line brands, smell bait additives, handle rods or so many other things you can do in a tackle shop.
Of course, to go back to Arthur Ransome's account of tackle dealers, not all of us go to a tackle shop for tackle, some of want a "course of mental treatment. Such is the noble nature of tackle dealers that in most cases he gets it". It is etiquette to pay for this treatment or I prefer the word therapy, by the purchase of something you do not really want. That is why we all have so much tackle. Go cheer yourself and your tackle dealer up, and pop in for some retail therapy today.
Friday February 6th 2009
I had an email the other day, two in fact, which led me to a quality fishing website Purepiscator, which was new to me. It is non commercial run by enthusiats. Purepiscator, was carrying a review of our 4 piece Avon written by Robin West. I designed the 4pce Avon to be a little stiffer than our two piece as I thought it would be more likely to travel abroard and catch very big fish. It works very well at that level, but I have had the odd complaint that it feels over gunned to those expecting it to be the same as their two piece Avon. Anyway, there is an interesting review on Purepiscator and a lot more besides. The site has that quality, an old world charm that attracts me, and is a nice diversion. But beyond the charm there is some great content from excellent anglers.
Another interesting email comes from our friend Terry Edmonds, to tell me he had cast our P3 beach rod 273yds (250m) and the Trebuchet carp rod 219yds, Unitec, at the Sussex casting club on Sunday. Impressive casts. The Unitec is an overhead cast we can all use when fishing and 219yds with a carp rod is a long way.
My strength is rod design, so rather than me go into details of the Unitec and other casting tips, take a look at Terrys website and have the benefit of some free advice from one of the best. I gave Terry a plug not so long ago, but the site is improving fast and deserves another mention. You will find a page on the Unitec under the "Instruction" drop down menu. But Terry's site has a lot more to offer if you look round. I recommend you start here at "Distance Casting Explained."
After you have explored the site, if you really want distance, I would recommend booking some lessons. Terry is not just a caster he is enthusiastic and a good communicator. You will not only improve your distance but you will have a good time learning.
Long range has become such a big part of modern fishing, and you will not get distance simply by buying new rods and reels. It is a combination of preparation, practice and the right equipment. We make a range of rods for long range carp fishing that start with the Torrix 12' 3 1/4, include the 12'6 Torrix TE and end with the more extreme Trebuchet. Which is best for you is easier to decide if you go and get some lessons with the expert who will have a number of rods you can try. If you contact Terry, please tell him I sent you.
Thursday February 5th 2009
Today I hope to move the email to our new server....anything might happen. So don't forget we have a phone. 0151 709 5981 and fax 0151 709 6096.
Each month we buy in many rolls of carbon fibre that if placed end to end would stretch to kilometres. When you first start out It can be difficult because you cannot buy small amounts of carbon by the metre, but have to order in 100m rolls which start at around £1000 each and may be several times that for higher modulus materials. It makes it hard for smaller manufacturers to try new ideas and experiment.
We have a big walk in cold room where all our carbon is stored, so we are able to keep a bigger than average stock holding, and over the last few years we have become a regular re-seller to other composite companies. It helps them and increases our buying power. Usually we only sell in 100m rolls, but a chance conversation yesterday made me realise that there is probably a demand for smaller amounts and to that end I am putting together a price list for 10m lots of carbon if anyone should need it. If this helps any of the smaller users in the UK, that would be a good thing. I do not really see any of us rod makers in the UK as in competition with each other, although of course there is some overlap, but if we can help each other to take on the rest of the world, that would be a worthwhile thing.
On the note of cooperation, I have been tempted to organise a UK rod makers conference/workshop where we could all exchange ideas on raising the profile and market share of the UK rod maker, so if any of my colleagues in the trade read this and think it a good idea, why don't you give me a call.
Wednesday February 4th 2009
No two days are the same here and yesterday was more unique than usual. The takeover of one of our industrial tube competitors has left industrial buyers of carbon and glass tubes with fewer choices of supplier, and some of them are protecting their supply chain by asking us to quote for business. These big tubes require new tooling and equipment and yesterday was intended to be allocated to those projects. However, the local newspaper had got hold of a story about us exporting into new markets and wanted a photograph for a good news story in their business supplement. I had expected the photographic interruption to be a two minute mug shot, but that was before I found out the photographer had been tasked with photographing me fishing.
At the best of times I do not like being photographed, I know my strengths and weaknesses, and male modelling is not my strength. I also have a pet hate of any photographs or film of angling (usually a soup advert) that shows a canal coupled with a sea rod being held in the wrong place. You never see a photo of a tennis player with a squash racket, but it seems you can put any fishing rod in a publicity picture of someone fishing and no one minds how silly it all looks. Now I know how it all happens!
The only rod and reel we had set up ready to go was a fly rod we had been testing. The only sunny open spot with water nearby was in the docks and on the sea wall. Once the very accomplished and experienced photographer arrived and took charge, all common sense evaporated at this end. So that is how we arrive at the picture in this mornings Liverpool Daily Post of me with a fly rod casting into the Mersey at low water. They do say no publicity is bad publicity don't they?
Tuesday February 3rd 2009
Our new computer network will not be complete for a few more days so there may be continued interruptions in email and the blog. If you need us in a hurry ring us on 0151 709 5981.
I have not mentioned our custom rod builders for a little while so today I will mention one of our local northern rod building specialists, Colin Leatherbarrow. Like me, Colin has been in the trade a good few years, with a tackle shop in Urmston. Although I first knew Colin as a tackle dealer, as time goes buy he has been building more and more rods so that I now primarily think of him as a custom rod builder. The benefit of a background in tackle shop, is that you meet a lot of people and learn a lot about different styles of fishing and individual needs. As a result, Colin has wide ranging experience across game and coarse fishing, and is probably one of the most knowledgeable in the trade. He also has an attractive web site here. On his website you will find information and articles on a range of fishing and rods from Carp to Catfish. Colin also offers the extra facility of micro chipping your rods in case of theft. For those cutting back because of the economic climate Colin also lists rod repairs amongst his services.
It is fortunate that the full time custom rod builder does seem to be prospering in what is currently a difficult market. My accountant friends tell me that it is the middle of any markets that always suffer in a recession, and the bespoke quality end should therefore prosper. My experience would agree with that, no surprise really when you consider you do get exceptional value from a custom built rod when you compare it to an off the shelf product.
Friday 30th January 2009
First some important information. We will be installing a new computer system over the next few days, and communication by email may be a problem. If this blog does not appear for a few days you will know why!
Now to rods. In 2008 we expanded the
Torrix range to include the 12'6 TE special, a carp rod for distance
developed with the input of well know caster Terry Edwards. Terry
also excels as an angler so TE has been optimised to achieve distance
and be a nice fishing rod. More recently we have been adding Barbel rods
to the Torrix range.
The first Barbel rods were the 1 3/4 and 2lb 12' Torrix designed round the Chimera action but using the Torrix technology for cutting edge performance and balance. The Torrix barbel rod will be available in 2009 with extra quiver tip tops and the range has also been extended to include a 12' 1 1/4 specialist rod the starting point for which was the famous Interceptor, and also two 11' Torrix which are a development of out traditional Avons, but a little faster and more powerful. We rate these 1 3/4 and 2lb. The 11' also has the option of a tip to take push in quivers.
These new models are available now as blanks and will be available later in the spring as finished rods. As they are not yet in our dealer price list, in the first instance you need to talk to us here for more information of to a custom rod builder like Mark Tunley who is already buying and building on these blanks. The TE carp rods are more readily available, and can be found at most of our custom dealers or in specialist shops like Planet Carp. Paul and Michael at Planet Carp are able to talk you through all the Harrison range and they also commission some ultra sexy special builds for their shop. They both fish for carp and can give you expert advice.
Thursday 29th January
Recycling has been in the press this week. We are all diligently separating our waste to meet targets, yet mountains of the sorted waste are accumulating due to its low value and high cost of recycling. Carbon fibre waste is not as yet a major problem, and the amount used in fishing rods is not at this stage an issue, but old aeroplanes will become a bigger problem. 50% of modern aeroplanes is carbon composite, and in 30 years time that will have to be disposed of. In the intervening years older aeroplanes going for scrap will contain a smaller but growing proportion of carbon composite. One method of recycling involves separating the fibre from the resin structure by milling and heating to produce a product of short strand carbon fibre that can be reused in injection moulded composites. You can learn more about the UK pioneering work in carbon fibre recycling here.
If you are interested in the bigger picture of carbon fibre composite manufacture you could look at Vince Kelly's fascinating site.
If you are only interested in fishing rods, I intend to talk about a few new products for 2009 starting tomorrow.
Wednesday 28th January 2009
If you love fishing, you probably have a lot of angling books. I have no idea if it is true, but I was once told that the Izaac Walton's Compleat Angler has been printed in more editions than any other English work than the Bible and the works of Shakespeare. If you know if that is true perhaps you could email me.
I was once placed on report at school for some minor problem ( I cannot even remember what it was) and the headmaster tried to build inspire or bridges with me by lending me his copy of the Compleat Angler. I wonder if it had an influence on my later career? Well done Mr Pobjoy!
I have continued to prefer older books, and one of my favourites is Angling Diversions by A Courtney Williams. Williams wrote this during the (WW2) war years, quoting Walton, " To make a recreation of a recreation" It is a cracking bed time read. Broken down into short sections on topics as diverse as the history of the cane rod, Fish Cookery, London's lost Waters, Patents and Inventions. I got my copy some years ago from Paul Morgan at Coch y Bonddu books. Williams has that fascination with all things about fishing that I enjoy. It is as much the wildlife, the countryside, the tackle, the literature and the art as it is the fishing.
The reason this little books is on my desk is pure chance, I was tidying my home office and I came across it and thought it time for a re-read. I like to quote that French saying, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose", the more things change the more they stay the same, and it is a fact that the great angling minds of the past had some really good ideas that can inspire today. Inventions like multiplyer reel level winds, and line down the centre of rods have been "invented" and patented on many occasions, and the fact that one works and the other doesn't is testimony to both angers' inventiveness and their cruelty to dead horses.
At lunchtimes I will trawl through an old book like this, looking for inspiration from the past that when added to new materials and our own expertise, can add up to an exciting new product. Now and again it works. More often new rod ideas are just a hard slog through prototypes, testing and sound engineering. Occasionally they are a happy accident. One of those accidents has just happened.
This week we have just designed a new blank in our "Airport Spin" range. It is a 10' two piece made for export. If it was a carp rod you would describe it as 2 3/4 test curve. This blank, made for one specific job looks like it could have a dozen other uses. Everyone in the factory wants one, all for something different. Light spinning from a boat at sea, carp stalking, salmon spinning. The construction utilises our Torrix technology and it has the same 1k woven finish on the but and lightweight carbon scrim construction. The internal name of "Airport Spin" arises from the fact we first showed samples of this range to our customer in Manchester Airport and has nothing to do with travel. I intend to add it to our range in the near future. This 10' "Torrix" is a winner!
Tuesday 27th January 2009
I did mention the other day that Horace Browning of Hopkins and Holloway had retired. I can now give you a little more information as a press release has now gone out to the trade and it is all public domain. The following note has been circulated to the trade via the European Fishing Tackle Trade association, Eftta.
and Holloway sold
With only one big supplier of rod components in the UK, this is important news for the trade. If we take this at face value it sounds like good news. Time will tell. I am struggling to think at this moment of a take over in this trade which went the way the buyers said it would, but fingers crossed this one will. Fuji offer some of the best fishing tackle components and their efficient distribution is vital to ourselves and our customers. We are also good friends of Gregg Holloway and his staff and wish them well. It would be foolish however not to have our own strategy in case the new buyer decides a different route in his company development plans and to that end we will reviewing our own stock holding and distribution plans for components. When 80% of our production goes out as rod blanks to rod builders we need to ensure that they have the components they need when they need them.
We already hold good stocks of many rod building items, bags, corks, shrink rubber. We are the UK distributor of Kigan rings and have a large stock of stainless steel fittings such as collars to fit reel seats and buttons for rod butts. Expect the range and size of that stock to increase in the coming months.
Monday 26th January 2009
When I was a small kid playing in the local park, there was always one girl who could make the swings go higher than anyone else. It was a mystery to me how she did it. Us boys would be putting more into it, grimacing with effort while she sailed serenely higher. She had a gift, not much use in normal life, but a gift nonetheless.
Casting is like that. There are guys who put a lot of effort into their cast, but are pretty average on a distance, and others who just make the lead fly. It's about putting effort in the right way at the right time, just like the swing. When you get that technique in a big powerful guy you get records broken.
We work closely with Terry Edmonds, who is not only a record breaking caster but a good communicator and offers lessons. He is working on a new website and here is a link. http://terryedmonds.com/page10.html Terry gave me a short lesson while testing our rods, and in ten minutes improved my distance, so I recommend a session with him.
So far Terry and Harrisons have only worked on carp rods, but we are about to do some work together on tournament fly rods. We are not new to this as we have worked off and on in the past with other good casters like veteran Mike Marshall, but it is a while since we worked in this area and it is time to revisit it. Tournament rods are not much use in normal fishing but just as in motorsport, striving to be better in competition often leads to improvements in the production version whether it be a car or a fishing rod. The fact that we are one of the few companies with its own in-house production means that we can do this development work here in Liverpool and get Terry his test rods in days rather than months. To use the motor racing analogy again, its the difference between making your own engines like Ferrari or buying them in.
Developing rods is a lot of fun. I do not believe any one person fully understands the mechanics of a rod in casting. Ultimately tip speed at the point of release is one of the most important things, and to that end historically people have made faster and stiffer rods. But too stiff and the rod struggles to keep in touch with the load during the casting arc. If I can continue to use the motoring analogy, an over stiff rod during casting is like towing a car with a low stretch rope. You struggle to keep steady contact, there is too much snatching. What you need is some give. It is the same in casting, you need enough action to keep that load accelerating without snatching. Getting that balance right varies from caster to caster and is a bit of a black art, but if I wanted easy answers I would have done something else for a living.
The other thing we are working on this week is a 15' three piece barbel rod. This is because it had been rumoured we had a 15' in development, and though we didnt, and had been denying it strenuously to all who asked, there seemed so much interest I thought it might be a good idea anyway. Another interesting challenge!
Friday 23rd January 2009
I get so preoccupied with our new product development that I sometimes forget to to mention some rods that just sell year after year despite the fact we never advertise them. Product life cycles in fishing are often only a couple of seasons for the big brands, but our Harrison 11' 2 piece Avon rod and blank is going strong after almost 20 years. Nearly every day one or two go out, and then we have a few people like Peregrine rod builders run by Roger McCourtney or Davis Tackle in Christchurch, who buy them in larger numbers. This little rod must be one of our best sellers of all time, and all by word of mouth! We did a special edition, a slight variation, a few years back as the Fishing Magic Concept rod. That rod quickly achieved cult status, but the all out best seller is our no nonsense factory built rod with the option of John Roberts sliding reel fittings or a Fuji DPS.
Here are a few statistics. 2 Piece, 11' black, full cork handle. The action is what you would call "through action" by comparison to our carp rods, but it has enough low down stiffness to feel in control, with no hint of sloppiness. It is a slim rod, and a light rod, but an incredibly robust rod. I am sure most of you will know that a rod that bends and has shorter effective leverage length can be used to put more turning power on a fish compared to a stiff fast taper rod, as long as it has enough bottom end stiffness to control that power and give a sense of feel, of control. It is that balance of qualities that makes our 11' Avon so perfect. A few years back we made an optional 4 piece variant, and it is that rod that has become my number one rod for taking on my motorcycle. It has enough guts to land anything I can find. I can use it for harbour mullet and for small river fishing it is perfect. It is light enough in action to cast free lined offerings or light floats on still waters. The only thing it can't do is fish long range or heavy flooded water, but the Avon is known to have accounted for some huge "accidental" catfish. A rod for all seasons. There are a few new rods emerging in this sector, but this is the original carbon Avon, it has the pedigree and it is also very good value.
Thursday 22nd January 2009
I have a backlog of design work so must be brief this morning. Here instead of a lengthy blog is a link to a favourite motorcycle site of mine, which contains an unusual ride report from the US. It is from a woman who travels alone and fly fishes. A fascinating adventure and some great photography.
Some fishing here http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=354446&page=11
If you enjoy great photography, and don't mind motorcycles, go to the start up page: http://www.advrider.com/
Wednesday 21st January
Not all the effects of the credit crunch are bad. Fishing in Iceland is now very good value according to Mick Bell of Bloke fly rods Mick also offers trips in Scotland which sound like good fun. In his news-letter this caught my eye. "Last year Greg Taylor surpassed all expectations by catching two spring salmon in an afternoon and offering a proposal of marriage to the waitress of the Chinese restaurant the following evening" If you fancy some of the same, Mick can be contacted on email@example.com
Salmon rods are actually quite a big part of what we do. We do not sell so many under our own brand name but do produce a lot of very high quality blanks for custom builders. Our top blank is the Lorhic. This name is an abbreviation of Low Resin High Carbon...Lo R Hi C. I strongly believe that many Salmon fly rods utilise excessively high modulus carbon that whilst making slim light rods also makes for fragile rods that lock up too easily. By using our own methods of carbon lay up with ultra light weight unidirectional carbon scrims and lower resin, we can squeeze upgraded effective modulus whilst retaining the strength and "stretch" of normal high and intermediate modulus. This makes for very smooth casting rods that are extremely reliable in use. As usual, ring Mike here on 0151 709 5981 if you want more information.
Tuesday 20th January 2009
In my in-tray today is a forwarded email relating to a petition on the UK government web site. It concerns sea fishing, well in fact it concerns all anglers. Here is the link. http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/rsa-eu-proposal/ The petition is against proposed EU legislation that will license and restrict shore fishing. Here is a forum discussing some of the issues. http://www.worldseafishing.com/forums/showthread.php?t=155164. There are pros and cons for licensing shore angling. Conserving fish stocks is a laudable aim. All I ask is you look at the links and make your own mind up on whether to sign the petition..
The angling trade is full of characters, and one character for whom all of us here at Harrisons have a great affection is Horace Browning. Horace has worked at, and been a director at Hopkins and Holloway for all the time that I have dealt with them and has been our main point of contact for rod rings and components. For those of you who do not know Hopkins and Holloway, they are like us that most unusual of things, a manufacturer based in the UK. They make rod components and also supply Fuji products. Horace has been a pleasure to work with, an angler with a sense of humour, and largely unflappable in the ups and downs of business life. When I first started this business, and the Fuji agent of the time, Normark, showed no interest in supplying me components, I received a warm welcome at Hopkins and have had excellent service over the years. For the home rod builder, Hopkins now run a retail service through their website www.guidesnblanks.co.uk
Horace, enjoy your fishing, keep in touch, and be sure there is a cup of tea if ever you pass this way.
Monday 19th January 2009
At the end of January we will be introducing a new price list. We have not yet got all our new "cost" prices in for 2009 so we cannot confirm how much our prices will change, but they will have to go up. We will honour old prices on any rods ordered before the new price list comes out so you have less than two weeks to grab a bargain. One thing I can say is that our price rises will be less than the average rises in the industry, which this year are set to be high because of the effect of the weak pound on imports. We do not import rods of course so we are less effected, but carbon fibre, cork and most rod rings originate outside the UK and are affected by currency fluctuations. Just time to grab a bargain!
Friday 16th January 2009
I have never known such a challenging time to be in business. Just when it seemed like things were settling down a little in the economy, with a few businesses actually reporting growth, a new wave of banking problems has made the news this morning, and the markets are again down.
Just before close of business yesterday we heard that a major supplier of ours had been restructured under new ownership, due to the crisis. This was a company with a long history, and a strong balance sheet. It is not an immediate problem for us, but it may impact on some of our customers so my next job this morning is see what we can do to guarantee their supply chain. It is a distraction and a pain for everyone, because most of us who are building rods here in the UK are actually full of orders for the European market. Thank god we are in the position that we could operate quite happily without banks providing, you the customer, favour us with your business.
Thursday 15th January 2009
We are a small company, and as such we all tend to do more than one job. I like it that way. I got into manufacturing fishing rods because I love fishing and I like making things. God knows how long it is since I did my first professional rod building, I think I was about 13 years of age, but even now 40 years on, I like to spend an hour a day on the shop floor working along side the production staff, hands on. We do not have any "suits" here and we are proud of that. All of us help each other.
I mention this because it has become an unfashionable way to run a business in recent years. We have been working closely with UK trade and investment on export initiatives, and my contact is always saying I should not waste time on things my staff could be doing, and you know what, she is absolutely dead wrong.
Flexibility in the work place is absolutely essential to efficiency, and it starts with the boss. But more importantly than that, quality and innovation come from handling and knowing your materials, processes and customers and being passionate about what you do. You do not get that from sitting at a computer screen all day. Today is typical. Start off at my desk dealing with correspondence and financial stuff, then as Tis and Mike come in we will fine tune the days production plan and output, and by 10am I will be working on product development. PM, I will be out on the shop floor with my sleeves rolled up.
Tis and Mike have similarly varied roles. They both have their own accounts they manage, plus Mike deals with customer service and Tis output. However a large part of their job is production. This type of working is not popular with business gurus because it is not scalable. It is not easy to take the small business big. But you know what, I don't really care. We have a lot of fun here, and it gives me a real sense of satisfaction that during this recession, we seem to be enjoying good business. Nonetheless, we could be slicker on dealing with enquiries and I know some of you get a little peeved when you ask about rods by email and don't get a reply. We try our best, but we are really busy, but if you want speedy advice you can always speak to Mike by ringing 0151 709 5981. Not only does he fish, he also helps us make the rods.
Are we unique? I suspect very few UK companies could put you through to somebody who is involved in making their product, unless of course you can speak Chinese.
Wednesday 14th January 2009
First a mention for our good friend and predator expert Dave Lumb, who it appears I have missed off our custom rod builders. I will correct this today. meanwhile here is a link to Dave's site. Dave can supply you with that special rod for pike and other predators or many of those difficult to get accessories.
Next, just to tidy up a loose end from yesterday, I thought I would tell you how to make your own cork reamers. At the factory we have some diamond impregnated steel tools for this, but what I am going to describe will work perfectly well for the home builder.
First you need a few tapered sticks. Old sections of rods are the best thing. You need them longer than the handles you are likely to fit. You also need some abrasive paper. Something very coarse. About 60 grit is ideal. We have abrasive tape, but you will find it easier to get sheet and cut this into strips about 1.5cm wide.
Using a good adhesive, epoxy is best, glue the tape in a spiral to your stick and then bind over it with masking tape to keep it good and secure during the cure. Do not be tempted to use this reamer until it has well and truly cured. Reaming cork generates a lot of heat and any incompletely cured epoxy will quickly soften and come away. Unwind your masking tape and you have the finished tool.
These reamers are best used spinning in a lathe, but if you do not have one, a drill will do the job. You can even use them by hand. If using in a lathe, be careful of the heat generated during use. Rest the job to let things cool down or you will melt the resin in the rod blank you made it from. With care these can last years.
Tuesday 13th January 2009
Yesterday I said I would carry on with the subject of cork and tell you how to repair it, so here goes. Cork handles are mostly preformed on a lathe. They have a hole down the middle which is tapered to match the rod they are to be used on. This may be done at the manufacturing stage, or a parallel hole can be adapted by the rod builder by boring out with a tapered reamer. You can make these yourself at home. More of that another time.
The alternative type of cork handle is assembled from cork rings on the rod blank and sanded to shape in place. When it comes to repairing damage, it does not matter which type you have, the repair will be the same. The most common damage we see is either the butt end is worn away in use, or the handle has been attacked by rodents in a shed. Whatever, the important thing to know is that you do not have to replace the whole handle. Cork is easy to work, easy to glue and easy to blend in. To repair a damaged section all you need is some replacement cork, some adhesive and some very sharp blades.
Step 1. Work out in your mind a simple geometric shape that you can cut out of the damaged handle that will be easy to recreate in a new piece of cork. This might be a ring, a piece of pie shaped wedge or something similar.
Step 2. Before you cut out the damage, try and create the replacement piece for the shape you are cutting out from a piece of new cork. This will give you some practice on how cork cuts. If you do not use ultra sharp blades you will squash and rip rather than cut. Once you have this mastered move on to step 3.
Step 3. Cut out the damaged cork from your handle. Try to go a little bit smaller than the replacement piece. You can always sand that to fit.
Step 4. With some gentle sanding and trimming adjust the new piece of cork to fit. Cork will have a little "give" in it so you do not have to be right to the nearest "thou".
Step 5. When you get a good fit, prepare some epoxy adhesive and glue the new cork piece in place. If you have any gaps fill them with a mixture of adhesive and cork dust. Now press the job in place. Do not worry if the new cork stands proud. Bind the piece tight with adhesive tape, but it is best to put a non adhesive layer of something like cling film in place first to stop the adhesive tape damaging the surface when you peel it off..
Step 6. Remove the tape and sand with 180 grade paper to a smooth fit. Finish with 800.
A repair like this will be almost invisible and last as long as the rest of the handle.
Monday 12th January 2009
The wind came round to the south and started to warm everything up over the weekend. This morning it is almost tropical, 10C. I rode my motorcycle to work, and started to plan some days out. Trouble is, it does not look set to last with cold weather coming back in for a short spell Tuesday and Wednesday. So back to rod building tips for those long nights in.
Today, cork handles. Cork on well used fishing rods quickly goes dirty and can get crusty with bait residues and fish slime. My old float rods used to get the worst, but as long as they are not badly worn, it is possible to get handles on fly rods, barbel rods or any type of rod, looking almost new.
Start by gently removing the worst dirt with washing up liquid and rubbing gently with a cloth. Try not to scrub as you may dislodge any filler, and nearly all cork will have some filler. You can use a nail brush locally on stubborn muck, but go easy. Wipe the handle dry and leave somewhere for any residual moisture to disappear. When the handle is completely dry it will look clean, but grey compared to the fresh new cork which has creams and reddy browns if you look closely. The way to bring back that new look is by using abrasive paper. Light sanding will remove that grey top layer and bring things back like new. Start with 180 grade. Gently work the cork as 180 will cut quite deeply if you are brutal. Go over all the cork once and change to clean new paper and do it again. It is even better if you have a lathe to spin the handle, but if not, just keep turning with one hand as you rub with the other. The finished result will look good, but it needs a bit more work to take it to the as new look. You need to step down to a finer abrasive to polish the tiny scratches out and give a velvety finish. For this use 800 grade. Just repeat what you have done and you will end up with a handle possible better than when you bought the rod.
The picture below shows a bit of dirty cork off-cut that was sitting on a bench here. It took two minutes to bring one end back to new with the steps above. Tomorrow, how to repair any serious damage to the cork
Friday 9th January
Yesterday the cabinet met here in Liverpool at the Echo Arena. In the picture of Liverpool waterfront at the top of the page, the arena is just behind the ship on the right. Our factory is a little further to the right, about half a mile along the waterfront.
The cynical say this cabinet meeting was an expensive public relations exercise and a waste of time. It coincides with end of the Liverpool year of culture which officially ends tomorrow. My view is that getting the cabinet out of Whitehall and into the provinces may well be driven by PR, but that nonetheless, its a dam good thing. The scale of change in Liverpool, not only the building, but the attitudes and ambitions of the people, local politicians and the man in the street, have changed beyond belief in the last ten years. It is important our government sees and feels that. Important they are reminded that Liverpool is a vibrant successful city that has excelled and continues to excel in many fields. Sport and culture are two obvious areas of success, but it goes way beyond that. Academic, industrial and commercial excellence all abound here.
For the visitor, the water front has been the most obvious area of change. It all started with something most people do not see, an improvement in the quality of the water in the Mersey. I do not think that the arena would have been built, the docklands housing redeveloped, the marina installed or the Anthony Gormley statues put on the beach, if we had not improved the water quality first. This was achieved by massive investment in sewers and treatment.
I have lived and fished by the Mersey most of my life. Mersey goldfish, used condoms to you, used to be the biggest catch on the river. I remember in the eighties, my mother in law came to stay. After Sunday lunch we all went for a walk down by the river. There had been a westerly gale the night before, and the shore was sticky with a mixture of everything that had gone down the toilets the day before. She thought us mad for wanting to live so close to the water.
The effect of putting in major investment over twenty years, an interceptor sewer and new treatment treatment works, has dramatically changed all that. Today the Mersey is good to fish, good sail on, and good to look at. It is a civilised and beautiful place to work and live by. I am lucky to do both. The factory is a stones throw from the water where we can test cast rods. The changing river with its huge tides and mix of commercial and pleasure boats is a fine place to go for a walk at lunch time. At weekends the sailing boats make their way in and out of the marina to race. Here a few yachts are pictured having a Christmas party on the river.
The politicians and visiting delegates need to visit to really get a sense of what is happening in the North and I am glad they came yesterday. For my part, I intend to continue to do my bit for this great city by investing in the business and manufacturing we do here and expanding production and adding new products in 2009. We are fully committed to creating jobs and keeping production here in the UK and hope you will support us in that aim.
Thursday 8th January
We used to have a house in Wales, and whenever I was there, all I wanted to do was look at the sea and sleep. Back home here in Liverpool, I am a terrible sleeper. I miss the Welsh air. At home I keep a laptop next to the bed so I can work on ideas at any time of the night. I aim to get to the office by 7.20am, and days like today, I have already done a few jobs before getting to work and my first job here is emails and the web. Yesterday I tried a different approach, new years resolutions and all that, not doing any work in the middle of the night and trying a different order of jobs and a relaxed approach. It was chaos, and some jobs, like the blog, did not get done.
Back to normal today. So here is the secret of how to whip finish without tying over a loop, as promised on Tuesday.
Imagine you are tying a simple end of joint reinforcement whipping to keep it simple. Once you get to a few turns from where the whipping will finish, do the following. The instructions are for a right handed tyer, whipping by hand holding the thread in their left hand.
1. Cut your thread from the spool but with a long tail, say 18" plus for your first go.
2. At all times, with your left hand hold the thread tight to the whipping, and at the same time hold the tail out from blank.
3. Pass the loose long tail around the back of the blank and wrap it back towards you, up and over and around the blank, and then down through the loop that has formed by your left hand.
4. Repeat 3 above a few more times, say three times to start with. You are wrapping the loose tail of thread round the stationery blank with the fingers of your right hand and passing it through the loop in your left hand, and winding a spiral of thread back down to meet the whipping you did before. You need to spiral down towards the whipping.
5. Now turn the blank as you did when making the whipping, feeding the thread in your left hand just as you did making the whipping, and trapping the loose tail of the thread. Repeat this until you have wound over the tail as many turns as you wrapped the thread around the blank in numbers 3 and 4. This securely traps the tail under your whipping winding thread over it whilst unwinding the thread above tail.
6. When you have unwound the correct number of turns, pull the tail tight and take all the slack out of the loop.
The result is a whipping the same as whipping over a loop of thread and pulling the tail under. It is just a much quicker and more elegant way to do the job.
Tuesday 6th January 2009
In relation to the Shakespeare and Daiwas of this world we are a very small company, and I like that. It means we get to know our regular trade customers very well. I consider most of our custom builders to be friends as we speak on an almost daily basis, and not just about fishing rods. Take Nick Buss. Nick is a well known angler and fishing rod builder. Nick builds in quantity for the trade and also custom builds to your requirement. Because he is one of the bigger custom builders we are able to develop exclusive blanks and special editions for him. He also stocks other makers blanks and can offer a wide choice of options. I like to think we make the best blanks, but I am happiest when a third party supplier like Nick can go through the merits of our blanks against those of our competitors and offer you the choice. Nicks' rods are also available through some dealers. If you are thinking about new rods, why not give Nick a call. 01233 634 832. For those of you interested in music, Nick is also a very good guitarist. I have a theory that musicians make the best rod builders, as so many of our rod builders play an instrument.
I did say yesterday I was going to offer a few rod building tips and secrets this week, so here is a taster to get you thinking. All the books and videos I have seen relating to rod building, show the same method of finishing a whipping on a rod ring or decorative whipping. You finish off and secure the loose thread by whipping over a loop of thread, passing the tail of whipping thread through the loop and using the loop to bull the thread back under the whippings, trapping and securing it. Not the greatest description, but those of you who build rods will know what I am talking about. There is another way. Used by some of the fastest production rod whippers I have seen, and favoured by myself when I was more hands on. Instead of the trapped loop, you can use a whip finish knot. The knot is well known to fly tyers, however, adapting it to a fishing rod is tricky and not so well known. Look up whipp finish in the fly tying forums and try and work out how you can adapt it to a rod. If you do not get the answer, I will describe it in detail tomorrow.
Monday 5th January 2009
Happy new year!
It has been a long break and we have lots to do. The first job today is reply to any outstanding emails from our customers. Remember, if you need a quick response or an answer to a complex question, you can always talk to someone here on 0151 709 5981. Mike is here to help you with your queries.
My main job today is to brief the staff and get started on plans for expansion. Although the short term economic background is gloomy, UK manufacturing competitiveness has increased dramatically with the drop in the value of the pound and the increasing cost of Chinese product. Whilst China is reducing production we are increasing. We intend to increase both fishing rod and commercial tube production here in the UK. For 2009 we have plans for new machinery and infrastructure and later in the year more staff. More of that later.
Over the next few days I intend to talk in this blog about some rod building tips and trade secrets. The topics I intend to cover will be things like ring alignment, whip finishing, revitalising cork handles, and more.
So for now, its back to the paperwork!
Tuesday 23rd December
Our last working day today. I know it is hard to think of making fishing rods as work, but a change is always welcome. Last night my son and I picked up a very nice four year old Kawasaki ER5 which we will fettle over the holiday for him to ride. This means we have an almost new, Yamaha YBR 125 to sell. It is four months old with about 1500 miles on it. Just had it's first service. We are looking for about £1350.
What with bike fettling, some fishing and a bit of sailing, it is to be hoped the weather stays good. According to my favourite weather site, www.metcheck.com it looks promising in the North over the next week, with even some sunshine on the 26th.
Anyway, down to business. If you have emailed us on firstname.lastname@example.org over the last few days, the chance is I have not received it. That mail server has been down, please re send to email@example.com
I cannot answer every email, but if you do not get an answer, please ring on 0151 709 5981. There is always someone who makes the rods available to talk about them, usually the legendary Mike Helliwell, fish catcher extrordinaire. Of course he will be off until the 5th January, but we all need a break!
Because we are ending this peculiar year of ups and downs with the best trading figures for December ever, we will be spending a little of the holiday working out why we are bucking this trend of recession. If we think this pattern of sales growth is sustainable we will be planning some expansion for 2009. If by chance you are an experienced production rod builder and would like to work with us, or maybe an amateur who might like to turn pro, please email me after Christmas.
In the mean time, that is it for the regular blog. I will check in over Christmas, but in the mean time, thanks for the support in 2008 and have a great Christmas.
Monday 22nd December
This is our next to last day at work before the Christmas close down. We return on the 5th January. The weather has changed dramatically, it feels 10 degrees warmer, and on a motorbike you notice that. If it stays like this it will be a Christmas to spend outdoors.
I will be blogging over the holiday, but not every day. I hope to catch up on some fishing. From January 1st my new membership of Prince Albert AS begins, and if the weather plays ball I will be exploring their waters on new years day. PAAS is the biggest organisation of its kind in Europe with 8000 members. They have plenty of waters around the Welsh borders. Llanymynech, which is right on the border, used to be a popular destination for Liverpool anglers going by coach with plenty of choice of waters on the rivers and canal. I have not fished round there for years but have memories of fun on the Banwy. That area from Llanymynech over to Bala and Llyn Tegid is a favourite area for riding my bike and full of fishing, and it is a beautiful place to visit even if you do not have a rod. PAAS also have water on the Vyrnwy. The drive from Lake Vyrnwy over the hills to Bala and the Dee is breathtaking whether on a bike or in a car. Here are couple of pictures of Vyrnwy I took in the summer.
Last year I designed a rod specially for my adventures on these excursions. It packs down just small enough to carry on the bike though at three piece 12' does not compromise on length for fishing. At the factory we call it the system rod, though we we need to come up with another name to market it as "system" is used in connection with fly reels and is registered. The concept is pretty simple. One butt section of 4' takes a choice of 30 ton or 40ton carbon middle section, each of which can take one of three tops: a power top, soft top or spliced quiver top. For my fishing the softer 30 ton middle and soft top will be ideal. It makes a well balanced rod that will be ideal for switching between float and ledger. The concept was easy enough, but getting the balance and joint transitions right was b*****Y hard work, but I love the result. If I venture as far as the Severn, the more powerful middle and tip will come in to play. Last summer the power middle and soft tip was ideal for float fishing for tench.
Currently this rod is pretty much unknown to our customers, as we have not put it in our price list yet, but Mark Tunley is in the know and can supply them, as can anyone else in our dealer list if you check out www.harrisonrods.co.uk
Friday 19th December
My mother's family always had shops and my father was a bit of a wheeler dealer who supplemented his wage as a driver with buying and selling anything he could make a profit on. Eventually they opened a pet shop that turned into a tackle shop. It was inevitable I would get sucked into fishing tackle and develop an eye for business. But a lot of that instinct and good business practice that I learned as a kid was knocked out of me in later when I first went off and pursued an academic career in an environment were enterprise and profit was looked down on, and later listened to business gurus on how to turn the fledgling Harrison Advanced Rods into a mini corporation.
It took me years to realise that turning a successful small business into a mini corporation was like cutting Samson's hair. It saps the power, it bogs you down. Recessions are good at showing you this. One of the best known entrepreneurs in the tackle trade is the publisher David Hall. In an article in January's Tackle and Gun he writes:
" We surrounded ourselves with the trappings of success - like a distribution manager, despite never feeling the need with one for the past twenty years. Then there was a finance director, a job the wife had done successfully since 1985, an Editor in Chief ( I never did find out exactly what he did except he earned a lot of money) and a marketing department.
Here at Harrisons the problem was not personnel, but paper work and thinking. One example was when we decided to adopt ISO 9000. The ISO standards are meant ensure that customers in industry get the right products to the right quality and to give an audit trail. Great idea, but in practice they make it harder to supply quickly the right product to people who want it. An example is when I ring a supplier to say we are short of something that they have in stock, but it turns out they cannot ship for three days because that is how long the paperwork will take.
As customers we all want the same. Not the same goods, but the same speedy service and the same high quality, with a smile if possible. We want that pair of shoes, but in size 10, we want the steak but rare for me and medium for her, we want the Torrix Carp Rod, but in matt finish please. It is not rocket science. Yet as business people we are encouraged to put in systems that make that difficult. Difficult to get anything other than macservice as one option, delivering a limited choice off the shelf, or that slow inefficient service that always starts with an order number. In big companies the reasons are pretty obvious why. It is because most companies have inventory they have to move and it is their marketing departments job to convince you to have it and the bean counters job to measure it, they need the systems. But the small manufacturing business making top end sporting goods for enthusiasts does not fit any known model at the business school, and it took me too long to realise that is our strength.
So about five years ago we decided to go back to basics, throw out the business books and be proud to be different. We have developed our own business model, and we have gone from strength to strength.
Here at Harrisons, we are pretty unique. We can give you what you want (at a price!), as oppossed to trying to convince you with adverts to have what we have in stock. I run this place like a top restaurant not a car factory. You decide what you want, Torrix in matt sir, no problem. The pattern is cut, it goes in the oven, and you get what you want. We do this in partnership with our dealers and custom builders. Ok, it takes a little longer than a steak, but its worth three Michelin stars when you get it and what is remarkable is that it costs no more than a Macrod.
Thursday 18th December
PPPPPP...many of you will know what that stands for...."Proper Preparation Prevents P**s-Poor Performance"
Its a saying that applies 100% to rod building. As an amateur rod builder It may go against the grain for you to take brand new and fairly expensive rod rings from good makers and start changing the profile of the foot with a file, but it is something porfessionals have always done and it is the best way to guarantee that you produce a quality gap free whipping.
Let me explain. Modern rod rings are either produced out of chopped lengths of wire, like snake rings, or stamped from sheet metal before bending into shape. Although the end of the ring foot will have been ground in manufacture, and we specify an extra linishing stage with rings we buy in, nonetheless, all rod rings benefit form a few seconds attention with a file or grinder. Over the last few years, bench grinders have dropped dramatically in price and can be bought for less than £20. We have a model which has a grind wheel at one end and a belt linisher at the other. If you can find one like this it will repay you in time saved after a few rods.
Before starting any rod building project, sit down with your rod rings and dress the ends of each ring foot on the grinder then deburr it on the linishing belt. The shape you are looking for is a smooth ramp over about 5mm of the ring foot. You will find that this makes tying the rings on quicker and neater as the thread travels more smoothly up the ring foot as you rotate the rod through the tying process. In the picture, the foot on the left has been ground and the one on the right has not.
This works whether tying by hand or machine. By grinding you will reduce thread graps and time spent adjusting them, by carefully deburring the ring foot you will reduce the chance of creating frayed thread and stick ups. Another tip is to use a felt tip pen to take the shine off the ring foot so it is less likely to show through the thread. Five minutes of preparation will save you fifteen putting the rings on. .
Wednesday 17th December
First a quick "hello" to my nephew David Johnson at Honda. His fishing mates at work would not believe his uncle owned Harrison Rods. See you at Christmas Dave!
Talking of Honda, I see that after Honda's pull out of Formula one Subaru have now announced they are to quit rallying. Sport sponsorship is one of the easy things to cut in an economic downturn but it does not have to effect grass roots sport. I spent a lot of my twenties sat in rally cars telling crazy fast drivers which way to go. We did it on a shoe string, and though the top professional sport is most interesting to watch, hopefully entry level motor sport will not be too badly effected by the big teams pulling out, and young hopefuls can carry on scaring themselves and their co-drivers to death. Fishing can be expensive, but does not have to be. Angling activity usually increases in a downturn and has been known to thrive in past recessions when people had more time. It is only work that keeps me from going fishing more and I guess it is the same for most of you.
Yesterday, one of my overseas customers, rodbuilder Stjepan Ivanusic who trades as Carpista in Croatia, invited me to go fishing with him next summer in Croatia. It is typical of the invites that I more often than not have to turn down because of lack of time. In the summer when the fishing is best, we are often too busy to take time off. I look forward to the day when like Bruce Ashby and Nick Buss, two famous names in both fishing and custom rod building, I can get the work / fishing balance a bit more even. Nick has his fishing friends in Romania he goes to see, and Bruce is well known all over the continent.
Most of my successful dealers, whether custom builders or shops like Planet Carp, are very experienced anglers and passionate about their fishing. When selling rods at £700 upwards a set it is reassuring that you are dealing with someone who can give you good advise and after sales care, and that is why we are very choosy about our dealers and do not supply internet only dealers but work mostly with a small handful of people who really know their sport. We work as a team to bring you better rods and better service.
Tuesday 16th December
Some years ago we had an attempt to get into the emerging carbon golf shaft market. The first carbon shafts available were expensive and not in my opinion very good, so it looked like an open door. Golf club shafts are in one way much easier to design than fishing rods, where a fishing rod has to do several jobs: cast; strike and play a fish, each golf club is designed to do one job well and that is it. If we could make a shaft that was lighter than a conventional shaft and hit the ball further we would be on to a winner.
Of course, if it had been that easy I would now be the rich owner of a golf club factory. Clearly it was not easy at all. There were two problems, one was torsion or twist, the other was marketing.
Any golf club shaft, carbon or steel will have a tendency to twist as you swing it because the head is heavy and off the axis of the shaft. With early carbon shafts, by the time the club face hit the ball it could have changed angle by a considerable amount, but the problem was that as swing speed and acceleration changed so did the face angle and hitting accuracy went out of the window.
Because we have experience with drive shafts, we were quickly able to develop golf shafts that reduced this problem and twisted much less than what was available and for a short period had a degree of success, before the big companies swamped the market with mass produced shafts, when our journey into golf finished.
I am telling you this because we often forget that torsion also exists in fishing rods. Because your line is guided along the rod through rings that are off the axis of the blank, there is a twisting force operating on the rod when you cast. The ability of the rod to resist this twisting is effected by blank diameter and by fibre lay up and the distance of the line from the axis of the blank. Rods have got slimmer and slimmer for many reasons, which makes them easier to twist, so as a designer, I have to consider modifying the carbon lay up to resist the twisting. Two similar rods with the same test curve and ringing pattern will cast differently if one twists more than the other during casting.
This is just one of the issues that effects ring choice and blank design and makes everything so complicated. I prefer to fit 40mm ring sets to carp rods which give less stand off than 50m sets, and I am also a fan of the Fuji low rider new guide concept. Better casters than me prefer 50mm ring sets. I can't say which is best for you, but for my part, to control twist in the rod, I design features into the blank that include off axis light weight uni-directional carbon which helps you cast straighter and further. it is one of Torrix's little secrets.
Monday 15th December
It is freezing again so my motorcycle stayed in the garage and I have reluctantly used the car to come to the factory. Apart from being harder to fall off, the one good thing about the car is having the radio. As I tuned in I caught an interview with Nicola Horlick, the superwoman investment manager famous for juggling a successful career in the city with raising five children.
Yesterday's papers would have you believe that she and other investors had been hit very hard by the latest financial scandal, the Madoff pyramid scheme which has gone down with losses of about 50billion $. One source said that
The Sunday Times also focussed on Horlick's losses, her investors were said to have lost a huge amount which had implications for pension funds including a Merseyside based fund I am in. Today's interview live on radio 4 set the record straight, it made it clear that although her fund was exposed, in context the losses were small. In fact sufficiently small that over the year her investments had only lost 4% during a period that the stock markets had lost 36%. A performance, that had it been applied to all our pension funds would be a good result.
I was brought up to to be sceptical about newspaper headlines, innacuracy is common, deception, not unknown. Yet it is inevitable that we do get influenced by what we read, even though a lot of it is quickly thrown together to meet deadlines and should be taken with a pinch of salt.
It is not just the news, take reviews. I am looking to buy a motor bike for my wife to ride. We want a bike that is low enough for her to get both feet on the ground, good on fuel economy for touring and comfortable for hours in the saddle. On the short list is the KLE 500 Kawasaki. It has a legendary bomb proof engine and fits the bill in terms of everything else we need. Plus it is currently available at a very low price. It looks a little bit like a trail bike and is capable of light off roading, but we want it mainly for use on tarmac. World wide, this is a popular bike with people moving up from their first bike. The owners who talk about it in the forums love it, complaints are limited to little things like the side stand. Reviews of it in magazines are quite different, at best they are luke warm and some hate it. Motorcycle News said:
So who do you believe, the forums or the reviews? No contest, I trust the people who own the bike and talk about it on the internet. And for that reason, I am going for the KLE.
With fishing tackle, making choices used to be like buying a motorcycle, it used to be about taking word of mouth advice from friends and shopkeepers, or believing the big adverts and reviews in the papers. Today that has all changed. In fairness, I would say the journalists I know in the angling trade are altogether more knowledgeable and objective than those I have read in some motorcycle publications, but it is good to have the back up of forums to get unbiased advice from people who use the tackle. It works well for a small company like us, We very rarely send rods for review, but we do have a lot of enthusiastic users on the web who say nice things about our product. Thanks to them for the help. You have made Torrix our fastest selling carp rod yet.
Friday 12th December
Thinking about yesterday's blog, it would be unfair to mention barbel rods without mentioning Roger McCourtney. If I overlooked him yesterday, it is because he started out with us in that pigeon hole labelled fly rods. Roger is like me though, he has been around long enough to have spent a bit of time in different pigeon holes, but most of it not fitting properly in any one.
You will find Roger at Peregrine rods in Radstock near Bath. Peregrine started out as fly rod builders and should you want a fly rod built, then I recommend them to you. But Roger is a very good barbel angler and he is an innovative rod builder too, so together we have developed a few special products that are unique to him. Ask him about his flood rods or his soft tops and any other rod you might want for the river.
Like most of our custom builders Roger can offer you a unique rod built for you at a price little more than the better end of the mass produced imports. It is possible to do that because of this alarming fact, the typical imported rod sells to you at five times it's original ex works cost because of shipping, duty, mark-up at importer/wholesaler and retailer. A £200 rod to you from China probably left the factory at the dollar equivalent of less than £40. It is not that anyone is "screwing you" so much as the inneficiency of the supply chain. When you go direct to the custom builder you cut out most of that mark up and pay instead for materials and craftmanship. You also get a lot of good advice thrown in free of charge.
Off the peg or custom built? It is your choice. If you cannot wait for custom rods, our factory to retailer supply chain is equally efficient and you can get the same value on factory built rods at our retail specialists, like Leslies or Planet Carp. Also there are the shops that do custom building as well as stocking factory rods...Johnson Ross, Fosters, Bevan Tackle. (Dealers, dont worry I will feature you all in time!)
Returning to Peregrine, I have to mention something else about Roger, he is a very good musician., guitar and vocals. I am a very poor musician, having taken up guitar late in life, but eager to learn, and I get a lot of tips and advice from him and my other rod builder guitar mentor, Nick Buss. I am going to talk about Nick and his rod building in a few days time. Any phone conversation with Roger or Nick usually includes ten minutes of guitar tips and even on occasion some playing. The Telecaster I play most days came from Nick who seems to have more guitars than fishing rods.
Another of these rod builder musicians is Steve Parton who runs Sparton tackle. Any of you thinking of becoming a rod builder, I think we have a clue here. If your fingers can swap chords quickly and cleanly then there is a good chance you can learn the art of rod building.
Thursday 11th December
Yesterday I got an email from an old friend, David Edwards, who it turns out also has a fishing blog site, and as he has said some kind things about our rods, I thought it only right I put a link to his site
Over the next week or so I want to talk about some of the dealers in out list. We are unusual in that only a small part of our product is sold through conventional retail channels. Small specialist rod builders are very important to our success. In no particular order I am going to start this off with a mention of Mark Tunley. Mark has an attractive and comprehensive web site Like many of our rod builders he does supply rods built on a range of blanks not just from us, so he can offer independent advice on rod choice. Mark is both a very experienced rod builder and angler. He fishes in the sea and freshwater, and can build everything from a carp rod to a beachcaster, and we also make him some specials. You can see from his website that his work is of the highest standard, and I have only heard good reports about him. I should add that he served his apprenticeship building cane rods, which is the most demanding rod building there is.
Mark is in daily contact with us and is often the first to know about new product. If I wanted a barbel rod he would be one of the first I would ring.
Wednesday 10th December
The range of fishing rods we actually make is far bigger than most people realise. Although we do not promote our predator activity, we do make a lot of blanks for predator fishing rods. One of the better known figures we work with regularly is Dave Lumb. We make half a dozen or more special blanks for Dave and he builds those into his own range of mainly Pike rods. Dave calls in the factory about once a fortnight to pick an order up and have a bit of banter with the staff, he is in many ways living the dream, as he seems to have the balance of making a living and going fishing just about right. Something I have never managed.
Another of our predator partners is Eric Hope up in the lake district, who can guide you to a good days fishing and sell you a rod. Again, Eric seems to have an enviable life style, getting paid to spend a lot of time on the water. Yesterday we finished a new prototype pike boat fishing rod to go in our Chimera range, and that first sample will be with pike specialist Colin Pitelen of Broadlands Angling, before the end of the week. Colin is a part time rod builder who is slowly growing his business. We also cater for the more exotic and we will be shipping out a batch of tarpon blanks later today.
These days we do make a lot of non fishing stuff as well. It does help even out the ups and downs of the fishing season. Wishbones for racing cars are on the list for today. We also get involved in research work with the local university, but in truth, for me, there is nothing more demanding or more fun than getting the designs right for a business run by an angler like Dave Lumb.
Tuesday 9th December
After a scary down turn in domestic sales in November, we seem to be back on track with a bounce back on rod sales this month. I hope this is an indication that we are all getting back to normal. The bad news is, anyone wanting a Harrison Rod as a present, is running out of time fast. We have made a prototype rod from a new design on a sheet of paper to test casting on the water in under four hours, but a production or custom rod can not be rushed that way. We try and keep all our rods in stock as blanks and build them to order as our customers require, we do keep a few of the more popular options in stock but most of our rods are built to order. This is how it works when we get an order.
Day 1, sees the untrimmed blank taken from stock and go through the coating process, most are given a clear gloss finish, but increasingly popular is matt, and we also offer colours.
Day 2, the coated blank is jointed and trimmed to length and given to the first rod builder to have the handle fitted.
Day 3, the second rod builder, the rod tyer, will put the rings or line guides on the rod.
Day 4, the rod has its first coat of epoxy on the rod ring whippings.
Day 5, the rod has its second coat of epoxy.
Day 6 the rod is inspected, polished and bagged.
Some of these stages can be combined in a single day but most processes involve the use of two pack adhesives and finishes and these require a curing period between stages. If we are busy, as we are at the moment, there is often a delay between stages.
Some of our custom rod builders are able to move a little quicker than we can in the factory, but if your partner has promised you a rod for Christmas, I would make sure they order it very very soon.
Monday 8th December
It is my nature to throw very little away if I have the space to keep it. Because we have a fairly big house, that means I have a lot of what my wife thinks is junk, and some of it I agree, I should clear out. The trouble is, there is some good stuff too. There is the old fishing tackle for a start. I used to be a keen collector of antique and veteran tackle and still have a fair quantity. There are the Hardy Perfect and Silex reels and the early Illingworth spinning reels, there are also the rods, and then there are the books. Climbing books, sailing books and fishing books. You can't throw stuff like that away. An Edwardian fishing diary with details of fishing trips by train to lakes where dozens of wild trout could be taken in a day. A tiny hooped bag with a mesh bottom printed "Patent Pike Proof Keep Net". It might hold two roach that know each other well, but no more. On my desk I have an early 4" Allcocks Aerial wide drum with ivorine handles and a leather sample case containing hand made hooks and printed in gold, H. Barfleet, Redditch. Each item has a story, and I cant let them go.
This old tackle and the books can tell us a lot. First off, the anglers and what makes us tick, have changed very little from the days of the Edwardian diary. The venues have changed a little more. The really wild places are getting fewer, and management of fisheries is now more important than trying to find new undiscoverd places. What has really changed is the tackle. I might be happy to go fishing with the old hand made Barfleet hooks, but trusting the natural lines made from silk and gut is something it is good to have left behind. I have used old reels, centrepins on many occasions, but I do not think modern carp fishing would have evolved half so far without the fixed spool bait runner. But most of all the rods have changed beyond recognition.
The cane rod, whilst a thing of beauty, and pleasant to use in it's smaller sizes, is no match for the rods of today. I can fully understand the pleasure of catching a carp on a MkIV avon, but let us be honest, the places you can use such a rod are very limited. The small pond with the big wild fish is not available to many of us, for most you need a modern rod to reach the wily fish on the syndicate or day ticket water. What you can learn from history, from products like the cane Mk IV rod and the Hardy perfect reel, is that amongst the humdrum day to day product that has always been available, there occasionally come along the classic products that anglers adopt and treasure for years.
As a manufacturer, my aim is to deliver that quality of product. Forget about marketing, branding, advertising, all very important in their way, but first you need a product that stands out. That is all I care about. Product excellence. I believe we have it in Torrix, my customers, both trade and retail tell me the Torrix 12' 3 1/4 is the best carp rod available today. Custom rod builders that really know their craft, keep telling me the same. It should be the case, as that is what I set out to do with Torrix, to make the best carp rod in the world. But it is good when people you respect tell you that you did it.
Friday 5th December
Who remembers the Golden Shot? For those of you who don't, I will tell you. It was a hugely successful TV game show that ran until 1975, in which competitors won prizes by telling a blindfolded archer where to shoot his crossbow. Left a bit, stop, up a bit stop, right a bit, stop, fire. I will come back to it later.
This week is a sad time. North Western Blanks is finally closing its doors. When I started this company in 1989, they along with Century and Tricast where the biggest makers of quality carp and specialist rods. The blanks where made in their Manchester factory just as Tricast maunfactured in Milnrow and Century in Washington. Also making blanks were Zzipplex, Conoflex, Hardys and Bruce and Walker. This second group were more occupied with game and sea rods, but they similarly had production and design in one location here in the UK. Up until today, through the ups and downs of the trade not one had closed. Since the advent of carbon, the only British rod and blank maker to fail has been Greys of Alnwick, not the current company owned by Hardys, but an earlier version bought from Malcolm Grey and managed in a wholly peculiar way by men in suits. Any other rod maker who has come and gone has not made their own blanks, and that I think makes all the difference in rod production. It effects performance, quality, inventory, and profitability.
Now the closure of North Western blanks sad though it is, is not a failure, but reflects that it has become a diminishingly small part of an increasingly successful industrial tube and prepreg business. So well done to the owners. But it is the exception that proves the rule, that manufacturing high end fishing rods in the UK can be done both successfully and profitably.
Now returning to those blank makers I mentioned before. In each company there are one or maybe two people who can sit down with a blank sheet of paper and choose the materials, select the mandrels, design the patterns and instruct the blank rollers how to produce a carp rod. That means there are probably about ten of us at most who can do this in the UK, and more likely only three or four of us who are really experienced designing carp rods. This begs the question. If there are dozens of companies selling carp rods in the UK, how do they design their rods? When they say in their adverts, for 2008 we have designed a whole new range of rods, just what do they mean?
Well for sure, they do not mean a British guy who goes fishing and designs rod blanks full time sat down with a sheet of paper, designed a rod and gave it to another guy who goes fishing who made a sample that day.
This is where the Golden Shot returns. Sadly, most product development has become like the Golden Shot. In today's Golden Shot product sourcing game we have experts in buying who really know product, who know what they want, talking to a guy, often through an interpreter, who is an expert in design and manufacture, but has no clue where the target is. Design becomes a little hit and miss as the buyer does not have the expertise to draw the pattern and the designer does not have the experience to know when it is right. It is all a bit, left a bit stop, up a bit stop. Sometimes the target is hit. Often it is not. If you look at the product range some of the big brands have, it is impossible for many of them to devote a lot of attention to the design of a single product. There are exceptions, and it shows. The rise of Fox and the current growth of Korum shows how to do the job properly. The carp magazines are full of special offers for the product that did not hit the target. That was always the way with the Golden shot, there were winners and losers.
Thursday 4th December
When it gets too cold to fish, and I define that as when the water has turned from liquid to solid, which it has today on the puddles at least. The angler has more than any other enthusiast got plenty of things to entertain him. Apart from having more books on his hobby than any other interest, he also has his tackle to play with. Most of us have more tackle than we will ever need, but be happy in the thought that the industry that brought that tackle to you, keeps a lot of fellow brothers of the angle out of the poor house. As one of them, I thank you. I personally have always been as fascinated by collecting and making tackle as I have enjoyed catching fish. Catching fish on tackle you have made combines the two pleasures.
Harrisons are best know in the UK as a carp rod maker, overall we probably have almost as many customers using our game rods, and for them the cold spells and closed seasons open up the opportunity to make flies. I am sure that many would say that making rigs is an equally rewarding passtime, and for carp, making your own baits is another thing you can do on a cold winters night. What I think is really overlooked in the UK, is the possibility of building your own rod. In the USA there are thousands of enthusiasts building their own rods. If you comb the internet you will find forums and resources that will tell you everything you need to know from how to glue cane to getting started weaving the most amazing thread patterns.
Here in the UK, Getting hold of the materials has been a problem, but now its easier than it was. The internet has made it no problem to find those bits and pieces. For a start, all our rods are available as blanks. 80% of our production actually leaves the factory as blanks to be built by others. To turn that blank into a finished item, you can find most of the components you need at Guidesnblanks. If you need specific advice, don't email us, but ring up and chat to Mike 0151 709 5981. If you cannot find a dealer willing to supply a blank we will now supply direct, but try your dealer first.
If you do not want to build a rod from scratch I am writing a guide to rennovating an old rod, which would be a good place for anyone to start their rod building career. This should be on the site in a few days, I will post a link in the blog.
Wednesday 3rd December
By all accounts the Carp Society winter show at Sandown was a great success, well attended by anglers willing to spend money if they could find a bargain, and bargains there were. The atmosphere seemed very different from the doom and gloom that has been filling the high street. Perhaps at last consumer confidence is returning. And that was all before the vat decrease on December 1st.
One of our customers who reported brisk business at the show was was Dymag tackle who had a good response to their UK made tackle items. Some of their products are made using carbon fibre tubes made specially manufactured by us. Their website is worth a look as it has some interesting and unique items, nets, rods and pods. Dymag. Also reporting brisk business was Tony's tackle who regrettably had some rods stolen from the stand. Tackle theft generates quite an industry and is probably going to increase if we go into recession. I dont suppose Tonys tackle will ever see their rods again but there are a few things you can do to improve the chances of getting you gear back if its stolen.
Here at the factory we have a very sophisticated digital printing system that can produce any text or logo, your name for example, in gold silver or white ink, and this can make your rods unique and easily identified if they are stolen. If your ask for your name to be put on whilst the rods are being built it adds very little to the cost. You could go to a rod builder like Colin Leatherbarrow in Manchester who will add a discrete micro chip to your custom built rods, and there is also smart water that is promoted in many neighbourhood watch schemes and can be used to identify tackle you already own.
Theft of tackle is pretty big business. There are big dealers like Angling Direct and Fosters in Birmingham who have dedicated staff working full time dealing with replacement items for tackle insurance claims. The replacement tackle equates to several small tackle shops giving away replacement tackle all day long, the staggering cost of this is borne by all of us on our insurance premiums. Insurance cannot however replace sentimental value, and I guess we all have tackle we associate with good days fishing or consider to be lucky. I treasure a rod that was a 21st birthday present and have it in the office now. Money could not replace that. Better we don't leave our gear in a poorly locked shed and that we make sure it is all identifiable.
Tuesday 2nd December
I was having a chat with rod builder Tony Parker the other day. Tony reminded me that when building rods he does something that is not common in the trade, and may be unique. I do not think he will mind me sharing with you and its a great tip if you have the skill to use it.
Normally when you whip rod guides on to a blank you would take a single thread of whipping nylon and rotate the rod so that you slowly build up a spiral of thread that runs under tension over the guide foot and binds it tight to the blank. Some people use a motor to turn the rod, some do it by hand in a jig and some by hand holding the rod in the hand that turns it. When you first learn this skill your untrained hands will soon ache with the turning. Getting the thread to lay gap free and without one wrap of thread climbing over the next is a skill that takes a while to develop and like playing the guitar, is something not everyone can master.
Tony's extra skill is to do this using two spools of thread at the same time, so that he doubles the thickness of thread he applies and halves the time to apply it. So simple in concept, but trust me, a real skill to get right. I mention it here as it may be something that the rod builders amongst you would like to try. Maybe one or two of you will be able to master it.
Monday 1st December
It was really cold coming in to work this morning and I was pretty stupid to walk past a warm car and get on my motorcycle. There was a lot of frost about and I had no confidence the roads have been gritted, so I had a pretty scary journey riding at sub zero temperatures looking for black ice. I was going to write a little about torsion in fishing rods, but changed my mind and thought I would write a little about temperature effects on carbon fibre instead.
I have mentioned that amongst the things we make, we also make tubes for telescopes. More specifically, top-end astronomical telescopes. Traditionally these have been made of aluminium, but aluminium has a high coefficient of expansion, meaning that it changes size with changes in temperature. This is not ideal for a high performance optical instrument. Carbon fibre composite expands and contracts much less with temperature, making it and ideal material for telescopes. There is no specific number you can quote for the coefficient of expansion of carbon as this is dependent on the fibre used, it's orientation and the epoxy matrix properties, but to all intents and purposes you can say that it is zero for both telescopes and fishing rods.
Unlike a telescope, the performance of a fishing rod is not greatly effected by expansion, but occasionally we do hear from anglers going on holiday who are worried that their rods may harmed by extremes of temperature. It is good to be cautious, but in fact there is nothing to worry about. The epoxy matrix of a fishing rod does change with temperature, but not in the range that you will ever go fishing. The resin systems used in nearly all fishing rods are 120C or 250F cure systems that once cured will perform uniformly across a wide range of temperatures up to the glass transition point. This glass transition point is above the boiling point of water so will not be an issue unless you are applying heat directly to your rod to do something like remove a tip ring. If you are doing this, do not apply direct heat for more than a second or two, and pull the tip ring rather than twist.
In normal use, environmental heat will not damage your rods. Equally, at low temperature within the range your rod will ever see before the rivers freeze, performance will remain the same. Most of the materials we use in fishing rods were developed for the bigger market of aerospace, so it stands to reason that what is good enough for a a passenger aircraft fuselage will be good enough for you.
Friday 28th November
Although most rods have screw winch fittings, typically a Fuji pipe fitting, to hold the reel on the rod, there is a problem that they do dictate the position of your reel. I have longish arms and grew up on ABU match rods with absurdly long handles. What might be the correct reel position for me is different to what many of our customers would prefer, most would typically prefer a shorter handle. Whilst we try and make our rods to suit the average angler, if you do not like our reel position and handle length, the only answer for a carp rod is to get your reel seat placed where you prefer it by a custom builder, However, on coarse rods with long parallel cork handles, such as an Avon rod, there is an alternative solution. John Roberts makes snug fitting sliding reel seats that hold the reel in position by friction. John has taken the traditional aluminium machined sliding reel seat and made a plastic injection moulded retaining ring that fits any reel and has enough "give" to develop a secure friction fit. They are not expensive and they are not complicated, but they are really effective at doing their job. Over the years they have been copied but never equalled with most of the "me too" products failing to fit and grip as well. We can offer these as a no-cost option on most barbel and float rods and you can then stick the reel where ever you want it.
After a period of Fuji dominance we are starting to see a return to popularity of the John Roberts reel fittings, such that I just had to phone John and place an order. John is a rare beast, someone who like us, still makes things. He has a number of unique products he has designed and I was delighted to find he is still busy working hard and fishing at an age when so many are retired. This fishing tackle game is a funny business. The most successful companies are nearly all managed and owned by their founders and workers in the industry tend to be reluctant to retire. I guess this indicates we are all having fun.
Thursday 27th November
Choosing which rings to have on your rod is not a big problem for most anglers. With most rods you do not get a choice! Harrison Rods offer the choice of Kigan or Fuji Sic on all our carp rods. These are two which we have chosen as offering great performance, quality and robustness. Gunsmoke frames, ceramic liners, robust in use.
Until recently, the biggest brand, Fuji did not offer a 50mm ring for carp rods, so we have pre-selected the best quality we can find from the field and have found Kigan to be superior to anything else we have tried. To identify Kigan, they have the brand stamped on the ring frame the same as Fuji. Now the big question, do you need a 50mm ring set on your carp rods?
The biggest casters will probably tell you they get their best casts with 50's, but there is a down side. 50's do weigh more than 40's. In the case of a Kigan ring set the difference between a 40mm and 50mm ring set is 17g, of which about 10g is added to the weight of the rings on the tip. There is a smaller difference between a Fuji 40mm set and Kigan 50mm set which are out two most popular options. In this case it is just 12g. This is still a large amount of weight in a rod. To take 12g out of the rod blank would be a massive technical achievement, and yet you can easily add 12g to the rod by specifying 50's. That extra weight has an effect on how the rod feels. The lower the power of the rod, the more obvious the extra weight.
I am not saying it is wrong to specify 50's. Far from it, but I am saying do not do it unless you need to squeeze every yard out of your rod and certainly do not do it on rods lower in test curve. On a Torrix 3 1/4, 50's are our most popular option. The rod feels right with a 50m ring set, it was designed for it, and it casts smoothly and a long distance. On a 3lb Torrix, I personally would choose a 40mm ring set. Less than 3lb, my advice is steer clear of 50mm's. Planet Carp is one dealer who usually keeps both options in stock. Why not pay them a visit.
Wednesday 26th November 2008
I have written before on the limitations of test curve as measure of rod performance. Without going into detail, there are several reasons why test curve is limited in use.
First, there is no standard way to measure it, so it is estimated in different ways by different companies.
Second, the test curve is a measure of tip angle under load and this is effected by the speed of taper of the rod as much as its power so that test curve does not reflect accurately either casting power or fish playing power across a range of different rod actions.
Third, the measurement of test curve is based on bending the rod tip to ninety degrees, by pulling line at ninety degrees. If you pull at ninety degrees the rod tip will never reach that angle. It will approach it, but as the tip comes closer to ninety degrees, the load required to make the tip change angle becomes increasingly large, making it impossible to reach ninety degrees. The whole concept is flawed.
There are similar issues with fly rods which are traditionally measured using the AFTM scale. An interesting paper on measuring fly rod action can be found here I don't agree with everything in this paper but I do think it gets to the crux of the issue and moves forward the question of rod measurement for fly fishing.
The things we can measure accurately in a fishing rod, things which actually mean something, are the deflection from a straight line of the tip, and the force acting on the tip which reflects the tension in the line (and also the force at the hook/lead).
It is also possible to measure the the torque or twisting load you experience at the handle. The relationship between handle torque and load in the line is what we really need to define, and if that can be reduced to a simple number then we would have an excellent figure for measuring rod action. I do not know the answer, but there might be a PhD in there if anyone wanted to try find it.
Tuesday 25th November 2008
Long before I ever started this rod making business I ran a tackle shop with my mother. In fact it was my Dad's shop, but we kept it on after he died with a heart attack. These short cold days running up to Christmas were a challenge, business could be a fraction of what we would take in the summer. The rod business is quite different. We are already starting to see a seasonal increase in business as people buy rods now, and trade customers buy blanks to build for next season. Because some of our customers plan a long way ahead, the business we are seeing now is an early indicator on the optimism for next season. I am pleased to say that although everyone in business may have been through a few tricky weeks recently, there are at last a few signs for optimism.
One thing confuses me though. The government thinks inflation is beaten and deflation is the new fear. I just do not see it. So much of what we buy in the shops and raw materials we use for production is imported that the weak pound has to influence prices in the shops. Here is an example. We buy Owner hooks from Japan and pay in yen. Not so long ago we were getting 220 yen to the pound. Now its around 150. A 2 million yen shipment now costs £13333 as opposed to £9090. That is a 46% rise. No one can absorb increase like that and stay in business. I would anticipate a lot of Japanese goods, motorcycles and electrical etc. will have to rise substantially next year. I am also anticipating that Fuji components will go up in the new year.
The impact of the dollar/pound exchange rate is less dramatic, but in the same direction. All goods leaving China are priced in dollars, so that cheap imported rods are set to rise in price, but there may also be an impact on carbon fibre for better rods, which is priced in dollars. All in all, I expect that rod and most tackle prices will have to rise in 2009. We do not yet have figures for how much, but I predict about 5% for our UK made rods and 10% for imported rods.
So what impact does that have on Harrison Advanced Rods? It is good news actually. We are confident our new year price rises will be less than those of the Far East, making a hand made British rod the best value ever. With the drop in VAT rates next week, I would say that now is a really good time to buy. Why don't you talk your wife or girl friend through the economics of this, and maybe you will get something nice for Christmas.
Monday 24th November 2008
As forecasted it was a wild weekend with snow and winds reaching severe gale force. I was away at a family event, my mother in laws 80th birthday, and had to travel up up and down the A49 past some good fishing without chance to even stop and look. The first job this morning is to inspect a very large tube we have made for a telescope, and I am about to go and oversee removal of the mandrel. This morning's blog will be consequently short. However, to keep you on your toes, I will send free of charge an Owner cap to the next ten people to add their names to our mailing list. To do this, send me an email with "Mailing list" as the title and put your name and address in the message.
Don't worry, you will not get bombarded with mail, just the occasional bit of news and offers.
Friday November 21st
I mentioned yesterday that I ride a motorcycle. Motorcyclists are prone to something called target fixation. It was first observed in pilots who would mysteriously dive their planes into the ground. Today it is more of a problem with bikes. Let me explain, steering a bike is much more subtle than steering a car. You start any turn by counter-steering, pushing the bars the opposite way to where you want to go. The bike reacts by tipping into a turn in the right direction and we then continue through the curve according to how far we lean over. This all happens so naturally and automatically that bikers tend to find it hard to describe the exact movement when asked to, though we turn safely, day in day out. In practice we tend to go were we look, and it is vital to look on through a bend to where you want to go. Occasionally we get distracted, maybe by a car, or maybe by a tree or pot hole, and once that "target" has your attention it tends to suck you off line towards it. It can be a killer. Many motorcycle accidents happen on clear days with no other traffic and are often due to target fixation.
So what has this got to do with fishing? Well .. we often tend to get target fixation with fishing don't we? People are so often "carp anglers" or "fly fisherman" or "match anglers". This position seems to be reinforced by an angling press that is incredibly focussed, often on a single species, such as the carp.
I think that if you suffer from target fixation, then you may be missing out. I have just joined Prince Albert Angling Society, after being on the waiting list for about three years. They have a massive range of waters covering just about all UK freshwater fishing. At the first meeting we were asked to raise our hands according to whether we were coarse anglers, game anglers or both. It did not surprise me to find the majority considered themselves one or the other. But why not do both? Why not go sea fishing when the cod are running, go to French carp lake for your holidays and explore the smaller rivers as the days shorten? For freshwater anglers that don't normally sea fish, mullet fishing is the perfect crossover point. You can use your freshwater rod and reel, and it can be as much fun as stalking carp. There are plenty of Mullet fishing round our coast. Look for small boats, the mullet wont be far away.
The bass, the one we have swimming around the coast in the UK, is as challenging and rewarding as any fish and has the bonus of being great eating, the technique may be to use live bait, but it can just as easily be fly or plug.
I personally prefer my fishing wild, whether it be sea lake or river. I like it best when I think I am standing somewhere that has not been fished for a long time. Very hard to do in the UK, but not impossible if you are prepared to walk and climb a little. But this summer I did enjoy my share of fun days on small commercials.
This weekend, the weather forecast looks pretty grim for spending a night in a bivy, so why not try something completely different. The cod are a bit sparse here on the Mersey this year, but you have a good chance of catching dabs and whiting and a chance to practice your distance casting. It is often overlooked (probably our own fault) that we make rods for a wide variety of fishing applications, and if you would like to try something new, give us a ring and ask for Mike for advice. 0151 709 5981
Thursday November 20th
This crowded island(s) that is the United Kingdom, sometimes seems to be one big traffic jam. This year, 2008, Liverpool has been European Capital of culture and as result has been the focus for developers who have gone into a construction frenzy, whilst the Council has tried to improve infrastructure by something which became known as "The Big Dig". With all the extra tourists, central Liverpool ground to a halt. Our factory is just a mile form the main tourist attractions and was the victim of daily congestion in a way we had not known before. Commuting became a daily nightmare. It is mostly completed now and if I am honest, it has all been worth the pain with some great new buildings, a new waterfront canal, and a state of the art waterfront arena. Even the traffic flows again.
And there is another useful spin off from the development. The daily traffic jams forced me back on a motorcycle. I had forgotten how much fun I used to have riding, and just how easy it is to go fishing on a bike. We all take too much gear we never use when we go fishing. Going on a bike makes you plan ahead and organise yourself better. It also makes the journey fun. As a sixteen year old angler, I travelled much further to fish on my old British bikes than any of my mates ever did. Today as a born again, fishing biker I am having even more fun. I take one or two rods, a couple of small boxes, a folding stool and a shoulder bag with my reels and bait and I can adapt that to anything from rock hopping to tench fishing.
I have a couple of different set ups depending on where I am going, but carrying a rod can be easy. Below is one example. The rod is a Mike Ladle 4 Sure Spin that I designed for sea specialists Veals mail order. It is available only direct from them. I can get everything else in the Givi 35 litre panniers.
Wednesday November 19th
Although our main business is making fishing rods we have a few unique skills that transfer into other products. Most days we are also make canoe paddle shafts which end up in the paddles of top sportsmen. Today we are making a very big tube for a telescope. Carbon fibre composites do not expand with heat as much as aluminium and it makes them ideal for telescopes, making it easier to keep in focus over long exposures.
We also supply a lot of smaller firms with carbon fibre. The type of material we use is not readily available in smaller quantities so it makes it difficult to obtain for the small producer. A typical roll of carbon costs from £1000 upwards, so we offer smaller producers materials by the metre from our store. This then goes into products as diverse as metal detectors and model planes. Another use is repairing pole sections. Before you all start emailing me, you cannot just take a piece of carbon and repair your own pole. You need an oven big enough to take the part, and a method of applying pressure to heat the resin to flow and consolidate. How you do this is not public domain, and we are not giving away trade secrets, but if you do know how to do it, we will supply you carbon prepreg.
The purpose of any blog is hard to pin down, but clearly one aim of this is to let you know a bit more about me and my staff, and how our rods are made, so that we hope you will choose a Harrison product over a mass produced product. To help us keep closer in touch I am starting a mailing list. We won't bombard you with emails or give your address to anyone else, but if you would like to be on our list for the occasional mailing please send an email with the subject "Mailing list" and I will add you.
Tuesday November 18th
We don't get many visitors to the factory, but when we do they always take an interest in the materials we use. They seem to expect that the carbon fibre we use will be all woven fabric, a patterned cloth. It usually comes as a surprise to find that most of what we use is uni-directional prepreg. So here is an explanation of what that means and what goes into a rod.
First, a reminder that there are lots of different "flavours" of carbon fibre. Some are stronger than others, some have higher modulus which means they make stiffer rods. But there is a trade off, stiffer fibres are also usually less strong. There are several different makers of carbon fibre and each produces a family of fibres with different properties. Two well known big companies are Toray and Mitsubishi. We use fibres from both.
A block of cast metal or plastic may be have properties that are identical in every direction. Many engineering materials are like this. Carbon fibre composites are quite different. The direction of the carbon fibres defines the property of the part as much as the type of fibre. In a fishing rod we want nearly all the fibres running along the length of the rod for maximum stiffness per unit weight. Fibre are then put around the tube to hold it together and stop the tube failing under load. Balancing the quantities of these fibres to produce a strong well balanced rod is the skill of the designer and he achieves this by using unidirectional carbon fibre prepreg along the length of the rod and a choice of filament winding or carbon and glass scrims, woven fabrics etc which have fibres that will wrap around the rod blank. There are inexpensive glass scrims and very expensive woven fabrics. There is variable weight filament winding and lightweight carbon veils, and finally , ultra light weight unidirectional carbon scrims. Cost varies dramatically, but the choice is critical to performance and balance.
Here in our factory we have a cold room with a selection of the best materials from makers around the world. One of the factors which sets Torrix and Lorhic apart from the opposition is the way in which we put that off-axis reinforcement into the blank. I am not saying how we do it, but I will say that the process uses less material by weight because we can lay it smoother and more uniformly at very low weights. Its an expensice way of doing things, but its these subtle differences that make the difference between a £100 carp rod and a premium rod. Its up to you the customer to decide which you want.
November 17th 2008
In a perfect world I would balance my time between designing fishing rods and testing them fishing. Monday mornings are rarely perfect, and today is no exception. The difference between making rods as we do, and shifting boxes bought in from other factories, as most other rod brands do, is enormous. That is why so many brands out source from the Far East. Anyway, we have not taken that route, so this morning has been a hectic start reviewing some experiments that I started on Friday and tweaking some designs we are launching for 2009, in between dealing with a surprisingly large number of phone enquiries. (Todays hot products seem to be Owner treble hooks and Torrix P3 Beachcasters.)
Some of the experiments we do have to remain confidential as they be subject to patent, but I can tell you that we are currently evaluating some new matt finishes. We will be shortly announcing a new Torrix Carp range in Matt finish with a 3k woven fabric finsih and we are just at the stage when we have to make the decision on which particular finish to use. We should be in production very shortly as the first batches of blank are now being made. We intend to make these with the option of Kigan rings or Fuji Sic. The Kigan ring option will retail just under £200 and Fuji Sic about £235 for a 12' 3 1/4lb.
For Europe we will soon complete the 13' model and hope to be in production in Early December.
November 13th 2008
The weather has been really awful lately. We get the odd sunny day then another area of low pressure comes in from the west and the next wet and windy period begins. It's fine if you are retired and just go fishing when the weather is right, but if you are restricted to doing things at weekends like me it is hard to plan ahead and be confident of a good day out. I have started to commute on a motorcycle to avoid the traffic, and it seems like nearly every day is wet at some time. Its not a great time to plan a weekend in a bivvy. That said that makes it an excellent time to try something different. For us here in Liverpool, it is the time to go sea fishing.
The factory is just a short distance from the River Mersey and right next to Liverpool marina. This time of year the sea fishing starts to improve and the charter boats move from North Wales to Liverpool to make the most of it. But there is loads of free fishing off the wall. You can't guarantee the fishing, but most winters there are enough codling and whiting to attract anglers from all over the country to the matches and keep the locals busy pleasure fishing. For all the latest information on the Mersey fishing, take a look here http://www.castandcatch.com/index.htm .
You might wonder why I am recommending sea fishing? Well first of all most of us here at Harrisons love sea fishing. "Tis" Thistlewood is always off out in a boat, and the Welsh Bass live in fear of Mike Helliwell. Dave Owens (who rolls a lot of your blanks) and I used to fish every winter off the Liverpool sea wall and even on the coldest night we managed to keep spirits up with lots of bites, some fish and plenty of hot soup. So last year we decided to start making our own beach rods.
In fact the Torrix beach rods started life about five years earlier. We had been experimenting for a long time with different tapers and materials and had our own rods in use to prove the technology, but the big breakthrough came when we adapted the Torrix carp rod technology to a beach rod blank. The result is a range of three 14' rods Torrix P1, P2 and P3, that have broken records on the casting field and are well balanced rods to fish with. Like everything we make, they are rare beasts and hard to find, but for more information on how to get your hands on one, give us a ring on 0151 709 5981 and ask for Mike.
November 11th 2008
At the weekend I found myself in the Amorous Cat second hand bookshop in Lark Lane, Liverpool. I know the owners, but had not been in the shop for ages. Despite them telling me they had no good angling books, I discovered two I wanted to buy. Both I have read before, but they are the sort of books you want to go back to, and anyway I cant help collecting stuff I don't need, so I bought them.
One of them was Arthur Ransome's "Rod and Line". Ransome is best known for Swallows and Amazons which has been made into films and TV adaptations. Less well known is that he was a passionate angler. Rod and Line is a collection of articles that he wrote over his career as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. Some of the stories are just as fresh today, others give a charming insight into a more gentle, slower time when all fish were wild and all anglers "gentlemen". One of my favourite pieces is his article on Tackle Shops. Let me quote:
"The pleasures of fishing are chiefly to be found in rivers, lakes and tackle shops and of the three, the last are the least effected by the weather. The sight of rods in a window brings a fisherman to a full stop as surely as the sight of a bridge."
He goes on to talk about long-gone tackle shops in the Manchester area and the help and friendship he found in those shops. He makes the point:
"It is as mistaken to think that we go to tackle shops only because we need tackle as it is to think that we go fishing only because we want to eat fish."
But the small tackle shop of Arthur Ransome is having a hard time of it. Many are gone, others are likely to go. Right now, many of us are feeling the psychological bite of the spectre of recession, but in reality have not been hit yet, nor will be hit by the current economic downturn. The small tackle dealer is however suffering from a real downturn in trade as the non essential purchases are cut back by the cautious angler. And what is more "discretionary", more non-essential, than a new rod?
The internet has given us ever wider choice, but it has also led us to focus on price rather than value. Small (and big ) tackle shops don't always offer the best price you can get, compared to an internet discounter, but they can still offer better value because of the service and advice both before and after buying. So like Arthur Ransome, if the weathers bad this weekend, why not wander into that tackle shop and talk to them about some new rods for Christmas. Even better if they are Torrix rods made by us!
November 10th 2008
On Friday I was saying that there are not that many rod builders around, so it is good timing that Ian Tucker emailed me to ask to be added to our list of custom builders. Ian has dealt with us quite a while but has been ramping up his business in 2008 and tells me that despite the credit crunch business is growing well. Take a look at his website here. He is based in Kent and very experienced in barbel and specialist rods.
Also in Kent, are Bruce Ashby and Nick Buss. So it got me thinking, where are all the Northern rod builders?
There is Malcolm Grey up in Alnwick, Northumberland, who started Greys of Alnwick, now owned by Hardys. Nearer to here, is Kevin Baynes at the Anglers Workshop in Newcastle Under Lyme. Kevin stands out as one of the most technically minded rod builders, his knowledge of how rods work is staggering and he takes many standard blanks and adapts them to new applications. There is also Dave Lumb. If Pike's your game, Dave's your man. His interesting website also has some hard to find accessories. I found his long nose pliers useful on my motorcycle! For game fishing as well as carp and barbel, there is Colin Leatherbarrow in Manchester who lists micro chipping as an option on his website. Now I know I will have forgotten someone, so if I have, drop me an email and I will give you a mention another day.
Although I work with these guys every day, it amazes me that they can put out a full custom built rod with top components for the price they do. The average price for a top of the range build from these craftsmen is no more than a standard shop rod. Compare that to guitars. The gap in price between a standard and custom guitar can be huge. The custom fishing rod is a great bargain. If you are thinking of spending over £150 on a fishing rod, it makes real sense sense to talk to a custom builder, if you are spending £250 plus you would be foolish not to. Mortgage rates are coming down, petrol is already down in price, Christmas is just six weeks off. If you place an order in the next week or two, you should get your rods in time for Santa to deliver them.
Most of these rod builders also offer other makes of blanks besides Harrison.
November 7th 2008
A shortgae of rod builders?
Today Waihai in China is the centre of the global fishing tackle industry with hundreds of companies involved in making everything from nets to rods. Time was the biggest manufacturers in the world were based in the UK, mostly around Redditch. At the start of the 20th century, Allcocks had a huge factory employing nearly a thousand in Redditch, and sent tackle around the world. There are still a few rod builders around who learnt their trade there, like Archy Harrison ( no relation ) who still builds a few rods in Redditch. But the fact is, there are not that many rod builders around, and its my opinion we need more.
There are basically four types of rod builder in the UK today. There are a few who work everyday at factories like Harrisons and Century or Daiwa. There are the high profile crasftmen rodbuilders, the Custom builders, you can go to for that special rod. (some listed here). There are the dedicated trade rod builders who build specifically for big shops and manufacturers, and there are a small number of part-timers who do one off builds and repairs for shops.
My personal experience is that there is now a shortage of rod builders. We used to be able to send our overflow rod production to Redditch or Scotland to be tied by skilled workers. Today, the few rod builders that do production work are all too busy to handle any extra. The craftsmen builders at the top end of the market also have plenty of business, and this is predicted to increase over the next few years as the competitiveness of imported rods decreases in relation to a custom rod made in the UK and as some rod builders retire. This trend in favour of UK production is now well established, as factory gate inflation in China is now far higher than the UK. More about this in the future.
I started out as a rod builder, and you could say, because I own the company, I am still building rods today. It is a rewarding way to make a living, and you meet great people who share your interests. I started out making my own rods and doing repairs, and built that into an international business. I am not sure the conditions are right to do that today, but after a period of increased global competition, things are again moving in the direction of UK production.
I think there is a huge opportunity out there for anyone enterprising to start a small business building rods. You wont get rich but you can work your own hours and do as much or as little as you like. If you are good with your hands and fancy having a go, I am putting together a few kits that you can buy to make a rod for yourself and get some practice. At another level, if you are enterprising, and want to start a bigger business taking British made blanks, getting them built yourself and selling the finished rods direct to the angler there is a workable business model if you can find a niche. It is a long hard road to becoming a top custom rod builder or a rod company, but like Confucius said, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step."
November 6th 2008
The Blog is back.
Ten years ago I used to put a diary on our web site telling our customers what we were up to and talking round a mixture of technical and fishing subjects. The term "Blog", was unknown, but the diary was essentially an early blog. It ran for several years, but eventually it became a bit too much of a commitment to keep up. But times change! Over the last year I have seen the demands of my time reduce so the diary...or should we now call it a blog..is back. Its as much for me as for you, as writing my thoughts down helps me organise them.
Today saw a massive 1.5% interest rate cut from the government.This is a really interesting time for everyone, especially those of us in manufacturing. For some of us the economy is making things really tough, for others it is an opportunity, and for us at Harrisons it is somewhere in between.
What it does do, is make small companies like us work harder to get your business. Here in Liverpool we are working flat out on new product, technical innovation and new manufacturing systems to put us ahead of our competitors. We are rethinking everything we do. This year has already seen us produce some great new product.
The 12'6 TE carp rods developed with casting guru Terry Edmonds have been a big hit. The brief was to build on the success of the Torrix 12' 3 1/4 and produce a rod that could cast a little further, remain as good when playing a fish and retain the slim well balanced feel of the 12' Torrix. To do this we developed some new technology in the tip section combining an additional secret material to the already complicated Torrix tip structure. The result is an awesome rod that delivers all that Terry wanted in casting and can be used with pleasure by the average caster. we are currently evaluating the technology in a 13' rod for the European market. Both of these rods give a level of performance that sets them apart from the crowd, are made here in the UK and at a the time of writing at around £250 are priced similarly to an imported mass produced rod from some of the big brands.
As this years imported "best ever" rod is usually next years "bargain buy" there is an obvious logic in going for a UK rod that holds its value, and of course you do not have to have this rod in the standard factory built specification as our custom rod building partners will at a reasonable price make you whatever you want! Have a look at this page for more information.