Thought this article might make a good conversation piece ... It's fun!
Fly Fishing with Doug Macnair
“Fly Fishing Bamboo: A Few Thoughts”©
A couple of years ago, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the Forum. I was on a ladder, it slipped, and I became another accident statistic. The fall was only about three feet but it resulted in a bad dislocation and a severe break to my left shoulder. Sad to say I'm a lefty, so my casting for the time was reduced to zilch. Et Te Brutus? With the surgery long behind me, I've been able to restore about 90 percent of the motion. For that, I am very thankful! However, rest assured that I fly fish with pain. It's hell to be old!
During the period of restoring motion, I couldn't help but think of other old things worthy of restoration -- such as a good bamboo fly rod. I thought many of you might be interested a few of my thoughts regarding the affordability of a bamboo fly rod. It seems to me that a Lot of fly fishers, especially those who have fly fished for a time, hanker for a bamboo fly rod but are scared off by the high prices charged these days by the few good makers that remain. Of course, it's sort of hard to fork over a thousand dollars for a bamboo fly rod, especially if you expect plumbing problems. If you do, save you money -- you are going to need it! If I had it to do it all over again, I, too, would be a plumber! Hell, being a plumber is better than being a doctor. Just think, more money and no malpractice.
The problem for most of us who hanker for a classic bamboo rod is a simple one: after paying the plumber's bill, a pile of hundred dollar bills is apt not to be around. If you happen to be one of those I count as "us," this article is for you.
Not so long ago, a client asked me a question regarding an obsolete IM-6 fly rod he owned. Fortunately, I happened to listening closely and caught the word "obsolete!" The truth is there is no such thing as an obsolete fly rod, whether made of IM-6 or fiberglass. If it works for you, and you like it, fish it. Being new is not necessarily better than old!
I mention this because ever so many folks think an older bamboo rod suffers from the same obsolete malady. They reason that an older rod cannot possibly work as good as one that's brand new out of the box. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, an older fly rod may actually be the preferred stick for you or me, in both quality and affordability. Older sticks don't wear out; to the contrary, with a little bit of care they just get better. If you can buy an older bamboo stick in good shape for reasonable money, do it.
There are, however, a few things to beware of, else you run the chance of getting stuck. It is easy for a ferrule not to fit quite right, or the wrappings can be beyond salvage and, of course, the guides can be shot. Some bamboo rods take on a cast or bend if not stored correctly. Of course, any and all of these conditions can be fixed, but if you aren't skilled in rod repair, it means more money out of your pocket.
There is another way to buy an older rod with confidence. As I write this article, I'm looking at Heritage Sporting Collectibles' Catalog. Heritage is owned by Len Codella, a man who has spent a lifetime involved in fly fishing. For seventeen years he was the president and owner of Thomas & Thomas, a firm renowned for quality fly rods. Suffice to say when Len recommends a fly rod, bank money on his appraisal. His descriptions of the bamboo rods available through Heritage are thorough and complete. I cannot think of a better way to find a used bamboo fly rod in the length and weight desired. It would more than meet your expectations, and do it at a reasonable price.
Making a graphite rod is pure science; making a bamboo rod is pure art. If a new bamboo is in order, count on Len to refer you to a heady list of the remaining makers, and do it based on your description of the action sought. In fact, Len carries new rods by many of the makers noted in his catalog.
Those of you who are more talented than I am might be interested in the bamboo blanks built by the Orion Rod Company and carried by Heritage. I must tell you that a 6-foot, 6-inch bamboo blank rated for a 4-weight at $300.00 is a bargain. That price is in the range of many graphite blanks. In case you are wondering, Len features handmade reel seats by Terry Ackland to match the blank at a more than reasonable price of $38.00
So much for the smoke about not being able to afford the experience of fly fishing bamboo. And I confess to the belief there is nothing quite like fishing bamboo, especially for trout, panfish, and smallmouth bass in close tight waters. To me, that is what fly fishing is all about.
Some years ago, I was given a little 2-piece, 6-foot bamboo rod in somewhat poor condition. The rod had taken a slight cast, the ferrule was loose, and the tube and sock were missing. Still, the little rod felt good in my hand, although I correctly guessed the tip was missing the first three inches. (The first three inches seems to be the breakpoint for most broken bamboo fly rods.)
I asked Len for his opinion about the rod. When I described its markings, he immediately told me the rod's maker, its vintage, and in this case, when it was imported into the States. Even missing the first three inches of the tip, he suggested it might be worth the effort of restoration. Len recommended Steve Blake in Sisters, Oregon. When we subsequently talked, I took an immediate liking to Steve. Suffice to say the rod was entrusted into his care. Back came the rod some months later just before the accident. Just how Steve did what he did remains a mystery to me. Totally restored, the rod is beautiful. Even lacking the perfect tip, it has a lovely parabolic action and is delightful with a DT 4-weight line. Steve even managed to find a sock and tube that looks like it came with the rod.
The bottom line is simply this -- if you really have a hankering for the bamboo experience, there are all sorts of alternatives available. Whether or not it is a new or older bamboo rod; whether or not repair or restoration is required; whether or not you go the route of the bamboo blank, an affordable solution is within everyone's reach. Just remember that the craftsmen who practice the art form of making or repairing bamboo fly rods are gentlemen. They have little patience with hi-tech genius or an attitude that suggests "speed is of the essence." It Isn't!
Fly fishing bamboo is an experience -- an experience to be savored in reflective thought of days long past. To fly fish bamboo is to fly fish a fishing heritage, a heritage to be past down from one generation to another. And don't forget to pass along the stories ... They are an important part of the rod's history. That's important! Good luck!
Heritage Sporting Collectibles can be reached at 2201 South Carnegie Drive, Inverness, Florida 34450. Telephone: 1-(352)-637-5454; Fax: 1-(352)-637-5420. Steve Blake can be reached at 756 South Pine, Sisters, Oregon 97759. Telephone: 1-(541)-549-0110.
© Copyright: Douglas G. Macnair, 1999.