The Lost World of Mr. Hardy
Review by Mark Hume
Almost everyone who is into quality fly fishing gear has a Hardy somewhere in their collection. I have a cane C.C. de France rod which is about 100 years old and is still beautiful, and recently gave to my grown daughter a fiberglass rod that is 50 years old.
I doubt that the carbon graphite rods I mostly use will be passed on in half a century.
The Hardy reels are all chipped, worn down by getting banged around in boats, on beaches and by countless fish. But those reels and still have a rich, rackety drag the likes of which has never been matched by any other tackle maker.
Now I know why this equipment has lasted me so long, thanks to ‘The Lost World of Mr. Hardy’, a lovely film by Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier.
The documentary explores the history of the fabled House of Hardy, which over 130 years ago began to give the world a treasure of beautiful tackle, and which is still turning out some of the best gear there is.
The fascinating film, which is beautifully shot and proceeds with a calm pace that matches the measured pace of the storytellers, explains, mostly through the words of Jim Hardy some of his former employees, how and why the House of Hardy rose to such greatness.
The business dealings aren’t delved into in any detail, nor are they of that great an interest, although the tale of how the Hardy’s lost a chance to patent the carbon fibre technique is telling.
What is really interesting about this story is hearing from the former “factory” workers. I say factory because the company was organized to mass produce rods, reels and flies. But listening to these retired workers speak, you realize that it was more of a craftsmen’s studio to them, and that without the great pride they had in their work, Hardy would never have climbed to the heights it did.
“They were passionate workers,” said former salmon dresser Ken Middlemist. “It had to be done right.”
He was the last fly tier the Hardy’s had on staff, and he worked without a vice. While he’s talking about the history of the House, he ties a stunningly beautiful fly, holding it in one hand, tying with the other.
“I always said dressing salmon flies, not tying salmon flies,” he explains, his finished fly resting on the desk, a small, exquisite work of art.
The rods and reels were made that way too. With an intense dedication to quality. And it is clear that the film makers felt they had to honour their subjects with the same quality of work. And they have.
In the 60’s the Hardy operation struggled financially as other tackle manufacturers upped their game, and as the competition began to increasingly have their manufacturing work done much more cheaply off shore.
The House of Hardy resisted, but in the end global financial pressures took their toll. Now only a small amount of the tackle is made in the Hardy plant. The high standards of quality may still apply, but the film makes it clear that something very precious has been lost.
“There’s nothing there now I’d like to make,” says one old worker, reflecting on how the Hardy production plant has changed.
Chris Lythe, a British reel maker, talks about how well produced the Hardy gear was, including the Perfect, which is still regarded as one of the best fly reels ever made. He and other craftsmen marvel at how Hardy has managed to make so much tackle at such a high standard.
If you love the old (or new) Hardy gear you have in your collection, this is a fascinating film, which will add to your appreciation of the tackle.
I now know, for example, that the old cane rod I had was made for a club in France, which had floating targets tucked under over hanging bushes on their casting pond. They needed a perfect little rod that could throw deadly tight loops. So the Hardy’s built a model just for them. I will fish with one of them this summer. It will cast like a dream and I will be thinking of the old factory where it was built, by craftsmen who gave it a soul, because they poured their own into it.
The trailer from The Lost World of Mr. Hardy