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Captain Tommy Edwards - 16/09/10

Tommy Edwards was born in May 1885, the eldest son of the owner of a coach building business in Torquay, Devon, and part of a large family of fifteen sons and two daughters. A keen fisherman, he caught his first salmon of 7lb at an age of 11 years.

He was a superb all-round athlete and played both rugby and cricket for Devon, but his skills were many fold and he raced at Brooklands and also won the Russian Grand Prix, having his trophy presented by the Csar. By the age of 27 he was managing the car sales for Daimler in Coventry.

He served in the Royal Flying Corps. (before it became the RAF) and also represented Great Britain in clay pigeon shooting.

His first experience of tournament casting was when he was a spectator at the event in 1920 held at Crystal Palace, but he was unimpressed by the performance of the competitors. He went away and practised and the following year entered his first tournament competing in all ten categories, and won every one. Shortly afterwards he joined Hardy Brothers as their professional instructor.

By then he was a living legend, probably the best casting expert the world have ever known, and was the top professional teacher of casting techniques, but also remained a character known for his colourful vocabulary, regardless of company.

He married Belle, a well known diving champion who had competed in three successive Olympic games (including the now infamous pre-war Munich Games) winning a silver and a bronze medal, but they had no children.

In 1946, Barrie Welham had just purchased a Pfluger Supreme (probably the premuim casting reel together with the Hardy Elarex) and wondered why he couldn't cast as far as the anglers who featured in the Fishing Gazette, and wrote in asking why. He received a letter back from Tommy Edwards saying if he visited him, he would give him a lesson.

On arriving at Tommy's flat by bus and introducing himself, Tommy took Barrie to an open area and gave him his first lesson. There started a life-changing experience for Barrie, and Tommy quickly became his mentor. Barrie was invited to stay for dinner, and for a second lesson in the following week and from then onwards he was a regular guest at the Edward's home and became a casting prodigy.

Tommy quickly encouraged Barrie to enter a tournament and by the age of 17, had set a European casting record. Over the next ten years, Barrie went on to break more than 30 British, European and World casting records.

They shared many memorable experiences together over the coming years. On returning from Barrie's first visit to an overseas casting tournament, they were on the Ostend to Dover ferry and the ship hit a wartime mine. It was a sunny day in June, flat calm and in sight of the French coast at Dunkirk. Lifeboats were quickly lowered. one going into the water end on throwing the passengers into the sea. Complete chaos ensued with people jumping overboard and others climbing back on again. Tommy watched the confusion and said that there was no way he was getting into a lifeboat without his tackle and ventured to the bar. Eventually, two tugs arrived and by then the ferry had sunk so low that the deck was now level with the low-lying tugs and he and the British team, including a worried Welham, simply walked across with their tackle, everything remaining perfectly dry. As Tommy stepped onto the tug, case in one hand, rods in the other,the Purser tripped and fell between the ferry and the tug. Tommy put down his luggage, went onto one knee, grasped the Purser's jacker and pulled him onto the deck, the simply picked up his luggage and carried onto the rescue tug. The ferry, the Princess Astrid, sank and the tips of the masts were visible when they crossed the following year. The rescued purser was on that new ferry, quickly spotted Tommy, and extended his grattude for his life being saved with the customary drinks.

Tommy was exceptionally meticulous in preparation for a tournament or fishing trip. Everything was checked from the splice with the backing to the ring on every rod. Used flies were steamed and tidied with new varnish on the head if it had become worn, spinner mounts were checked and re-whipped or discarded; nothing was left to chance.

As an illustration of his attention to detail, this is what is involved in producing a tournament salmon distance fly line. nowadays with plastic lines, simply programming the computer can produce any length, size of taper the angler desires. This wasn't the case then. Standard production fly lines were tapered by adding or subtracting threads on the braiding machines that produce the tapered core line. A one-off tournament line line did not justify this and so all tournament lines were made by hand. Designed on a sheet of graph paper, and made up from lengths of parallel silk line in 0.005" diameter steps. There would be, perhaps 35 sections, with many just 5" long, to form the tapers. The belly diameter was around 0.140" and the tip some 0.045" The front and rear tapers, plus some 50 feet of belly made up the line.

Sketch of ATS spliceThen came the carry line, secured by an extra long ATS splice that took the strain (see sketch). To this was joined the shooting line. Each section had to be teased out, cut and spliced to its neighbour; this would mean about 35 spliced joints. The whole thing was then dressed in liquid graphite, which made it slippery in the extreme. Tommy built different lines to use in adverse or helpful wind conditions, or flat calm. Tommy had this ability to design the equipment and build items that exactly suited his casting style. It was this talent, coupled with his perfect casting technique and faultless timing that made him so outstanding.

Tommy was a born leader with an impish sense of humour who people readily followed. Barrie travelled with Tommy in his car down from Grantown following a four week fishing course. The roof rack was loaded with several heavy cases which overloaded and unbalanced the car. Coming down the A road Tommy hit the kerb and turned the car onto its side. Neither was hurt, and quickly collected the luggage at the roadside. Several cars slowed to look at the car on its side and drove on, much to Tommy's embarrassment. One sports car then stopped and enquired if he could be of any help."No thanks said Tommy, we've just stopped for a bite of lunch".

Another example of his humour was the time he was fishing at Castle Connell on the Spey. Lee Wulff, the American angler had come to the UK to see if his dry fly techniques would work for Atlantic salmon. As Tommy had caught some fish, a friend asked if Lee could try and fish the pool with a dry fly. Tammy graciously gave his approval, but was not initially impressed by Wulff, he thought his rod was too short which required overwading.

After a while Wulff rose and hooked a fish of around 8lb. He was wading deeply and, rather than come ashore, hand tailed the fish in mid-river, tucked his rod down the front of his waders, still holding the fish by its wrist unhooked it and released it. After dinner that evening, Tommy was asked about Lee's visit. "I was quite impressed" he conceded, "He came and fished with us, he has this tame fish with him which he catches and then releases."

On another occasion, Barrie was having dinner with Tommy and Belle when the telephone rang, and a voice said "Is that captain Edwards who gives casting lessons?" "Yes" answered Tommy and the conversation shortly ended. A minute or so later the telephone rang again and the same voice said "I forgot to ask how much they would cost?" Tommy said "Two guineas each of five for 11 guineas." Again the conversation ended. Tommy returned to the table and the telephone rang a third time. "Why are your costs higher than a golf professional?" Tommy retorted "If you want to play golf I would suggest that you go to him" and put the telephone down and returned to the table again. A few moments later the telephone rang yet again and the same voice said"I've thought about it and decided that I would like to have lessons with you." "And I've thought about it and decided that I don't want to ******* teach you, Goobye" replied Tommy.

As the late Terry Thomas said when writing about Tommy Edwards, "He left his stamp on fishermen everywhere. His style was perfect with every type of rod; double of single handed, fly or bait. We will never see his like again - if for no other reason than the sport is now so specialised that no man will ever be so good at so many".

Tommy Edwards last competed in the 1966 BCA Tournament which was the 46th consecutive year of his involvement in tournament casting.

He died in 1968 aged 84. On the day of his funeral it was wet with heavy cloud. As the congregation left the church there was a loud clap of heavy thunder and Mrs. Edwards looked up and said "Sounds like he's arrived safely".

This work was largely taken from Barrie Welham's notes. Below are some pictures of the rods that Tommy used now on loan to Angling Heritage.
Rods Tommy Edwards used