Fishing Lines: Rust turns to gold in the reel world

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The Independent Online

Tell people that you have an interest in old fishing tackle and their eyes glaze over. My calling as writer/designer/editor of a magazine devoted to ancient reels and cased fish seems to provoke even stronger reactions. People suddenly spot someone on the other side of the room that they've been desperately waiting to see, or say: "Then you must meet..." and leave you with someone who bores for Britain.

But we hoarders of battered rods and rusty reels may have the last laugh. Next week, the upmarket tackle company Farlows are starting to sell vintage tackle at their flagship London headquarters in Pall Mall, while in the US, manufacturers with turnover in the billions are looking to do the same. Suddenly, old tackle is sexy.

Farlows have been going since 1840 and boast a clientele of politicians, actors, musicians and royalty. Far from being a fuddy-duddy sepia store with ageing retainers dribbling on the counter, they have just won the best non-fashion and best overall retail design categories at the Retail Design & Equipment awards. Next week, at an exclusive little soirée to which my invitation seems to have been lost in the post, they officially announce their classic tackle corner.

I can't tell you much about the US development yet. It's one of those "reliable source" stories so beloved by journalists. But by all accounts, this conglomerate believe that there's money in those old tackle boxes. Heavy investment in the antique tackle scene is being approved by the board at the moment, so I'm told. Remember, you read it here first.

My first reaction to these developments was that I had discovered the secret of alchemy. The old junk that clutters most of my rooms had suddenly been touched by a fairy's wand and transformed into a dazzling collection of classic fishing tackle. But it's not quite that simple. As Neil Freeman, who runs Angling Auctions, organisers of probably the biggest sales of fishing tackle, warned me: "If you buy junk, in 10 years' time it's still junk. Buy a £300, or better, a £1,000 reel. It won't lose its value, and in a few years it could be worth treble that or even more." But did I listen?

Collecting fishing tackle is still a new business. In the 1960s and 1970s, nobody wanted to know. Early collectors tell me that they would pick up rare reels for £5. One started his collection of cased fish from a sale where the auctioneer said in frustration: "Somebody give me £1 for these two stuffed fish." He bought them both.

Afterwards, the auctioneer said: "Pity you weren't here last month. We had a load of these, and ended up smashing them all." Each of those first two cases he bought is now worth over £1,000.

On the other hand, the amount of old tackle is finite. At the moment, bottom dwellers like me can buy our £5 books and £10 reels and feel mighty pleased. But when Farlows and other big players move in, this could all change. We could be priced out of the market. Maybe, after all, boring is best.

The National Vintage Tackle Fishing Fair is at Farnborough Sixth Form College, Surrey, on 27 November from 9am-3pm