Fishing lines: A rod for the other bank

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The Independent Online
It was our first Christmas together, and I wanted to buy my new wife something really special as a present. But nothing seemed quite right. Then, one evening, Riva was driving across the Fens when she ran over an owl.

Actually, she just clipped it, because when she brought it home, the bird was only stunned, and a vet confirmed that nothing was broken. We kept it in a parrot cage for a couple of days to ensure it was all right.

Now owls are very territorial, and releasing it in our back garden would have been a death sentence, because the local tawny owls would have killed it. So we drove back at dusk to where it had come to grief. The owl sat on a fence post for a couple of minutes, looked at us as if to say "Thanks!" then drifted off silently into the night.

It was a beautiful moment and Riva was in tears. At that moment, inspiration struck me. I phoned my friend Chris the Stuffer to see if he had any owls in stock. (He has a network of people who collect road kills for him.) "Can you do me one on a branch, looking wistful, by 25 December?" I asked. With only a few weeks to Christmas, it was a tough demand. But Chris promised to do his best.

On Christmas Eve, he phoned and said it was ready. The owl was everything I wanted. No lifeless bundle of feathers in a glass case, this. It was sitting on a gnarled piece of bark, its wings opening as if it was about to take off. The bird had been brought back to life.

I wrapped it up carefully, put it under the Christmas tree, and waited for the next day and her admiring remarks about my forethought, compassion and sheer inspiration of the idea.

It didn't work out that way. She opened it, said "Oh!" and went to phone her mother. I overheard the conversation. She said: "Keith's just given me a dead bird on a stick."

Rather missed the point of it, I feel, but I suspect the recipient of a fishing rod that comes up for auction next Saturday probably felt very much the same way. The auction catalogue lists it as "a unique silver- mounted Scottish presentation salmon fly rod, hallmarked Thomas Aitcheson, 1859-60".

It's not just another fishing rod. But better that the catalogue tells it. "The exceptionally impressive butt section of tapered form with ivory handle mounted with a heavily engraved silver reels seat, decorated with acanthus banding and sliding reel locking collar, inset with six cabochon garnets... the whole terminating in a silver collard butt cap adorned with four engraved vignettes of angling scenes, above a further band of six inset cabochon garnets." In other words, a fishing rod which is inset with jewels, with silver and ivory fittings.

It had been sitting unwanted in a tackle shop for nearly 50 years. The auctioneer Neil Freeman, who knows his stuff when it comes to old tackle, was astonished when it came to light. He says the 1851 British Exhibition included several similar rods decorated with ivory and silver, but none so ornate. As such, it is expected to fetch at least pounds 15,000, but it could be as much as pounds 25,000, which would be a world record for an item of tackle.

Freeman has been unable to find out much more about it, however. It carries a monogram - SFD - but that merely adds to the mystery. "I would have thought it was built for a wealthy angler as a presentation piece," he said. His theory is that it would have come from an adoring wife or a grateful client - "but it would never have been used by the angler as a piece of fishing tackle", he says.

The rod, built of greenheart and whole cane, is heavy enough at 14ft 6in without silver, ivory and sundry jewels. "But I can't help thinking that the angler who got it would much rather have had a decent reel, or a rod he could actually fish with," says Freeman.

A bit like my owl, really. Very nice, but what the hell am I going to do with it?

The rod comes up for sale at Angling Auctions on Saturday 5 April at Chiswick Town Hall, London. The auction starts at 1pm. Details from 0181- 749 4175.