By TONY BONAVIST
I take great pride in my ability to make fishing rods. By “making”, I don’t really mean making the rod blank itself, but making the cork handles, installing the reel holders, and fixing and varnishing the guides. Manufacturing rod blanks from today’s synthetic materials, such as graphite, carbon fiber, and fiberglass, are manufacturing processes best left to companies that have the technology to. do it.
Building blanks of bamboo rods (cane) is an entirely different exercise. Although I am quite comfortable with the tools, I never even thought about roughing a bamboo rod. Nonetheless, it can be accomplished by almost anyone who has infinite patience and a fair amount of skill with tools like planes, small saws, lathes, drills, etc.
This doesn’t mean that making a bamboo fly rod blank is easy; far from there. The people who decide to get involved in all the steps necessary to complete a rod fly rod are usually fly fishermen who have fished with it and have a great affection for bamboo. Sometimes, but not always, people interested in making bamboo fly rods will do an apprenticeship or take a course from other bamboo fishing rod manufacturers. Some are completely self-taught. And then, of course, there are videos on YouTube and other media that have all types of self-help / teaching aids available these days.
According to the literature, bamboo became the material of choice for making fishing rods, including fly rods, when Solon Philips made the first six-bladed hexagonal rod from Calcutta rod in 1859. Then, in 1874, the HL Leonard Rod Company began manufacturing fly rods. exclusively cane. The company continued to make bamboo fly rods, under various names, until a fire destroyed the store in 1964.
Around the same time, rod manufacturers like Jim Payne and FE Thomas were making hundreds, if not thousands, of premium bamboo fly rods, some of which sold for thousands of dollars. Other manufacturers, such as Horrocks-Ibbotson, Heddon and Montague, mass-produced fly rods. Orvis joined the ranks around 1850 and still makes bamboo fly rods.
Over time, manufacturers like Carpenter, Dickerson, Gillum, Winston, Brandon, Thomas and Thomas, Howells, Garrison, Powell, Aroner, Young and Ramanauskas have joined the ranks of quality rod makers. Some of these men and companies continue to manufacture very high quality rods today.
While graphite and even fiberglass have been the most used materials for rods over the past 30 years, there has been a resurgence of bamboo rods. Over the past 15 or 20 years, several new builders have joined the ranks of high quality rod makers. While I’m not familiar with them all, the list includes Chris Raine, James Reams, Dennis Menscer, and others.
I have two Raine canes, one eight foot three and one eight foot six. When I found Chris Raine, I asked him if his rods would handle big trout. He assured me they would and provided me with a video of a fisherman landing a very large rainbow trout on one of his rods. I have been sold. Chris’ premium rods are hollow construction and perfectly crafted, with premium varnish work, windings and grips. His rods are true works of fly fishing art, and I think he is one of the best rod makers of this era.
So what does it take to make a bamboo fly rod from scratch?
First, you will need a source of bamboo. Although Calcutta rod has been used, it is widely accepted by fishing rod makers that Tonkin rod is the best bamboo available for making fly rods. There was an embargo on this material from 1950 to 1971. Since the end of the embargo, many fishing rod manufacturers believe that the âpre-embargoâ Tonkin rod is the superior bamboo. Bamboo is available from several sources, Demarest being probably the best known.
Once a manufacturer has a supply of rod, called a “stubble,” the bamboo should be aged, divided into desired lengths and widths, based on the cones, which will define a particular fly rod. This process is done by hand. Then the sections are hand planed or machine beveled to the required taper, with tolerances as small as 1 / 1000th of an inch. The tapered sections are then glued into a six-sided blank, which is wrapped in twine for easy drying. When the glue has set, the knots are sanded or planed smooth. The sections are then heat treated to provide the desired level of stiffness or action. The metal ferrules that connect the sections together for fishing are then pinned or glued in place. The cork handle and the real seat are added and the blank treated with several coats of varnish. Finally, the guides are spaced, wound with wire, then they are varnished. After all these steps, the rod is finished and set aside for the varnish to dry completely and harden.
I’m told it takes around 40 hours of painstaking effort to make a bamboo fly rod! Many cane makers charge around $ 2,500 for one of their rods, which sounds like a lot, but it comes down to around $ 60 an hour. Not a lot, considering today’s salaries and the skills involved.
Compared to bamboo, graphite rods, while being superb fishing implements, are lifeless, mass-produced and efficient tools. Bamboo rods are true works of fly fishing art, beautifully crafted with the finest hardware and handles. They reflect the heart, soul and personality of every fishing rod maker and feel alive in the hand. While most anglers today use graphite rods, there is a group of anglers who prefer bamboo. I know what my preference is!