‘Priceless’ hand-made Dick Walker reel found

An antique tackle collector has accidentally bought one of the rarest items of fishing equipment in existence via an internet auction site – a reel hand-made by the legendary Richard Walker.

Original split cane rods built by the man known as the ‘godfather of modern angling’ are some of the most valuable items of vintage tackle, changing hands for up to £4,000 apiece.

A celebrated author, Angling Times contributor and innovater of fishing techniques and tackle, Richard not only used his incredible engineering skills to craft the infamous Dick Walker MK IV rods. He also made a pair of one-off centrepin reels that were believed to date from the late 1940s and early 1950s.

So when John Nightingale paid just £130 for a reel on the popular internet auction site eBay, he thought it was a replica of one of the pair – now known as the ‘BB’ reel – that ‘Dick’ made  for fanatical angler and celebrated author Denys Watkins-Pitchford, otherwise known as ‘BB’.

What he actually bought was the other original centrepin that Dick made for himself and later presented to former Angling Times editor Jack Thorndike.

And its whereabouts has been unknown for decades... until now.

“I still can’t believe that I’ve just bought Dick Walker’s very own reel for £130. It doesn’t get any better than this – what a find,” said John, who comes from Essex.

“A man called Barry Grantham made 70 copies of the legendary Richard Walker ‘BB reel’ and this is what I thought I’d bought, but after contacting Barry I discovered this wasn’t the case.

“I then emailed another legendary angler, Len Arbery, who owns the original centrepin Richard made for ‘BB’ and he told me about the second reel that Dick made for his own use.

“You can clearly see the reel in the black and white picture of the man himself sat in his workshop and this is the reel I’ve just bought.

“I’ve been collecting antique tackle for more than 15 years, with upwards of 200 centrepin reels to my name, but nothing could have prepared me for this.”

The discovery of the lost reel has understandably caused huge interest within antique tackle circles, as well as among the thousands of anglers who have been inspired by Richard Walker and his contribution to fishing.

Chris Sandford is one of the sport’s best known antique tackle enthusiasts who has been collecting for over 30 years and owns the Dick Walker MKIV rod that the man himself used to land the British record carp named Clarissa, weighing 44lb and caught from Redmire Pool in 1952.

“This is a remarkable find and I’m very pleased for John because this is a one-off item and extremely valuable,” said Chris.

“It’s so hard to hazard a guess at the value of something like this because it’s worth as much as two people are willing to bid for it – but put it this way, nothing would surprise me.

“I have the famous ‘Clarissa’ MkIV and also the rod that Dick presented to ‘BB’, and both these are right up there with the very best of what I have in my extensive collection.

“If John ever decided to sell I would be bidding like mad, but I know I wouldn’t be alone,” he added.

The finding is as amazing as it is timely, since the Walker family are currently working through Dick’s old archives to preserve and digitalise them. They are also researching hundreds of articles, letters and numerous other items of interest in order help to build up a clearer picture of the past.

“I heard the exciting news last week, and while I knew about this and the reel given to ‘BB’, I had assumed it was somewhere in safe keeping with the Thorndike family,” said Richard’s son Rob.

“However, I heard from Len Arbery that he had tried to track down this second reel and he told me that he’d spoken to Jack in the late 1980s, adding that Jack had no recollection of it. So it seems there’s a mystery here – where has it been all these years?

“Having seen numerous photographs and compared them to the few we have of the original, it certainly looks the part. I guess it’s over to the experts.”