I’ve been fishing almost since I was old enough to hold a rod, over 40 years or so, and in that time I’ve acquired a lot of special memories. From landing my very first fish as a youngster, right through to seeing each of my three kids make their very own first captures.
As I’ve got a bit older, I’ve come to realise that it isn’t always the fish captures themselves that make those memories so special. Instead, it’s the people you spend time with and the friendships you make along the way that have the greatest impact on you.
Having lived in Wagga Wagga and Albury Wodonga during what I consider to be the ‘heydays’ of Australian Lure making, I was lucky enough to know and occasionally fish with guys who could be regarded as true lure making legends of the time. Guys like John Ellis (StumpJumpers), John Bennett (Bennett McGrath lures), Wayne Lennon (Oar-Gee lures), Graeme Clark (Legend Lures) and Rod Cockburn and Steve Kovacs (Custom Crafted Lures). I was also privileged to have known one of the true icons of Aussie lure making in Ken Hendry, who up until his untimely passing, made one of the least pretty but ruggedly effective native fish lures of all time under the banner of Seeker Lures.
For those of you not old enough to have known Ken, or been lucky enough to get hold of one of his tough-as-guts cod lures, let me tell you the guy and his lures had a lot in common. Ken was a great old bloke with a simple philosophy on life. There were no airs and graces with Ken and he didn’t believe in being flashy or having the latest and greatest gear. He was just a fair dinkum fisherman and he was the sort of true blue bushie you can still occasionally run into if you stop for a drink at the right sort of outback pub.
As for his lures, Ken carved them out of old bits of timber (sometimes obtained from the strangest places) and his bibs were literally screwed into the bodies with a self tapper right under the chin. They were however, almost indestructible and I’ve seen him take one, lay it on the ground, belt it a few times with a dirty great hammer and even though it picked up a few dints, he’d just clip it onto his line and caught a fish with it. The bloody things just worked and were built to take anything the biggest Murray cod could possibly throw at them.
Now the reason I mention my old mate Ken, is that I recently caught up with another fair dinkum Australian bush character and genuine fisho in Les Barlow. At the time, I was doing what I always do when I drive through Stanthorpe, which is to call into Les’ workshop to purchase a couple of his lures. While we were talking about fish and fishing in general, I couldn’t help but think how much Les and his lures reminded me of old Ken and his Seekers. The strange thing is that despite living a couple of thousand kilometres apart and spending their time fishing in two very different environments, both guys have developed the same sort of respect for our most iconic freshwater fish the Murray cod. They also have such a similar attitude towards lure making that it’s almost uncanny.
I first met Les almost 10 years ago while on holidays. At the time, I had stopped for lunch in the main street of Stanthorpe, when I noticed a flyer on a community notice board advertising hand-made lures for sale. Naturally, I just had to check them out so I followed the directions to his place. What I found then is pretty much the same as the situation is today. Les was busy in his back shed making basic looking hardbodied lures with paintjobs that could be described as rudimentary but hardwearing.
Having just been less than flattering about Les’ paintjobs, I suppose I should explain that I am actually a huge fan of his lures. Sure they don’t look all that flash when you compare them to high-end imported lures but as soon as you swim one, you can’t help but fall in love with their classical action. Les Barlow lures transform from an ugly duckling out of the water to graceful swans as soon as you start to retrieve them.
That should hardly be surprising knowing Les. At almost 80 years of age, he’s one of the last real old-time fishos. Les has been making lures since 1987 and puts it quite bluntly when he explains that he sees no reason to waste time with fancy paintjobs as the fish, “Are not art critics.” It’s the action he believes which is essential for getting the fish’s attention. He also explained that he doesn’t give colour much of a thought and that he rarely bothers to change lures during the course of a day’s fishing. He simply ties one of his lures on at the start of the day and only puts a new one on if he gets snagged or busted off!
Despite not being a slave to the latest lure fishing trends, Les still catches a few fish on his lures, mostly cod, goldens and the occasional eel-tailed catfish. He mainly fishes the rivers and creeks around the border region of Queensland and Northern New South Wales and while he no longer has his old 4WD, he loves nothing better than getting into those out-of-the-way holes which are rarely fished by anyone else. He has assured me that he’s managed to catch and released several individual fish a couple of times over.
Talking to Les it’s easy to see how much he respects his quarry. He clearly has a real connection with these border river Murray cod. Like a lot of the old-timers, he has a few fish heads mounted on boards in his workshop but he almost wept when he explained to me the sad circumstances which lead to the last one going up on his wall. That unfortunate fish had to be killed because it swallowed his lure so far down it couldn’t be revived. He didn’t mount its head as a trophy, but so he could pay his respects to it every time he goes into his workshop.
I guess that should give you some idea of what a genuine bloke Les is. He probably gives away more lures than he sells, and I’m inclined to think that he only keeps making lures so that a constant stream of anglers will call into his place to talk fishing with him! Even today, he still sells his lures for just $5 each, so he couldn’t possibly be making much out of it. If that’s the case I hope he keeps making lures until he turns 100 because I’ll still be calling in and buying them every time I’m in Stanthorpe.
Spending time yarning with Les about cod fishing has actually inspired me to set a new personal goal, which is to catch a decent cod on one of his lures. Of course, that’s a bit of a problem as just about the only Murray cod anywhere around Bundy is the one swimming in the fish tank in my living room. So I’ll have to go for a bit of a drive to fulfil my dream. I reckon it will be worth it though, as I’ll get quite a kick out of catching a cod on a lure made by one of the last old-time cod fishos.
As I’ve already said, I’m pretty sure Les isn’t trying to make a fortune out of his lures but if you’re keen to get a couple to fish with, you could give him a call on (07) 4681 2080. Oh, and if you’re ever in Stanthorpe, be sure to call in and buy a couple and have a chat about the fishing.Reads: 3251