Noob bamboo vs graphite question

silver creek

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How can bamboo rods be consistent in their casting characteristics? If one tries a bamboo rod from an established maker and really likes the action, how can that person be assured they will get the same action and feel from another of his bamboo rods? Being a natural material, there must has to be variations from one piece of bamboo to another, that could take many forms. How is that controlled? With graphite a known and repeatable formula is used to make each rod nearly identical. I know the easy answer is, "That is what gives bamboo its personality - each rod is different." But isn't that just a cop out when you are paying a minimum of a four figure price tag and you feel the action is different than the rod that influenced you in the first place?
Interesting question.

I guess one could say the same thing about flies. Each is hand made of both natural and manmade materials. (wink)

I'm no bamboo expert but I think the rod maker selects the seasoned culm to be consistent and then shaves that down to the thousandths of an inch tolerance.

It comes down to how fine a proprioception the angler has. Could I tell the difference between two bamboo rods that are identical models from the same builder. Probably not. Could a bamboo rod owner tell his personal rod from an identical model? Maybe so maybe not. I really don't know.

I'd like to hear from bamboo owners.

I'd also like to add a second question. I am going to turn your question on it's head in that I believe your question contains a presupposition that if the rods are not identical, then they are somehow less valuable or less useful than a "consistent" graphite rod. Therefore, I am going to ask whether it even matters if they are not "identical"? What I mean by that is, if there is a slight difference, then each rod is unique in itself and does that not also have some value?
 

redietz

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... you are paying a minimum of a four figure price tag ...
You could pay that much, but of 30 or cane rods I own, I only paid four figures for one them. The one I use the most, and which is my favorite of all the rods I own regardless of material, cost me less that $400. And I bought it from a contemporary builder. You can get very good cane rods for less than the price of a top end graphite rod.

The process for building cane rods is repeatable, and a good builder knows what constitutes good raw material.

I've cast quite a few Garrison taper rods from different builders, for example, and they all feel similar. Likewise, all my vintage Heddons in the 8 1/2 foot 2f configuration feel the same.
 

LOC

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How can bamboo rods be consistent in their casting characteristics? If one tries a bamboo rod from an established maker and really likes the action, how can that person be assured they will get the same action and feel from another of his bamboo rods? Being a natural material, there must has to be variations from one piece of bamboo to another, that could take many forms. How is that controlled? With graphite a known and repeatable formula is used to make each rod nearly identical. I know the easy answer is, "That is what gives bamboo its personality - each rod is different." But isn't that just a cop out when you are paying a minimum of a four figure price tag and you feel the action is different than the rod that influenced you in the first place?
Good observation, what you have brought up is very similar to surfboard design. You could have two boards that are identical in specs but surf differently because of the variation in surfboard blank materials and finishing. The tolerances are getting closer with modern day machining but a pro surfer will go through a stack of identical boards and pick out the magic one. I would think there are lots of natural influences too that could have a affect how a finished bamboo rod would cast depending on how the materials were dried and varnished.

That said, I also feel if you are into the bamboo game you would understand the variances of something that's hand made and you would take it into consideration or even embrace it to find the magic bamboo rod.

As a quick fix if you cast a bamboo rod from a rod builder and like it, ask to buy the floor model. : ]
 

LePetomane

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But isn't that just a cop out when you are paying a minimum of a four figure price tag and you feel the action is different than the rod that influenced you in the first place?
You pose an interesting question. I have been fishing cane for about 15 years, my wife has fished it a little longer. One of my rods is a 5 weight from a midwest maker. My wife has the same rod but purchased it 3 years earlier so there is no way the rods were made from the same culm. I can't detect any difference when casting. She is a better caster than I am and can't tell any difference either. It must be the strict adherence to the taper by the maker that makes them (almost) identical.

For me, bamboo is better in certain situations, namely dry fly fishing. I don't like fishing weighted flies or streamers with bamboo. For a setup that requires a strike indicator I will use graphite. For fishing from a drift boat I prefer graphite. Not because I'm afraid of breaking a cane rod. I just think it is a better material for the purpose. Some cane aficionados consider their graphites to be "beater" rods. Not me. The rod I would most hate to break is a Winston pre IM6 from the 80's.

There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding cane rods. You'll hear that they are heavier, slower, more delicate. Some feel that they should only be fished with double taper lines. Some feel it is blasphemy to put one of the newer skeleton type reels on them.

I do like bamboo rods in lengths from 7'6" to 8'3" in 4 and 5 weights. For me it is a better material for rods in these weights. Anything longer than that, I'll take graphite. Cane rods that are hollowed give the feeling of being lighter in the hand even though not much actual weight is being removed. The removal of excess material actually helps in the performance of the rod.

It is nice that we can have this discussion here.
 
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jwbowen

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Most assuredly all cane rods are not created equal. I too believed a 7'6 3wt would be a dream rod in smaller streams. I seldom
use it for several reasons and prefer my 4wt 7'6. I don't own any top tier cane but have several top older Orvis rods and a Critchfield and
a Zietek. I mention these just to compare to the couple of cheaper cane rods I have owned. They are heads and shoulders above
the cheap cane. I can only imagine how much better some of the top tier cane rods cast. I have noticed I can do things with
my new Scott GS 3wt that I can not do as easily with my bamboo. I am glad I have both and both provide a different "fly fishing" feeling.
If I could only have one it would be bamboo for my applications.
 

chris moore

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As a long time user, sometime maker, of bamboo fly rods who has owned glass and graphite rods over roughly the same period, just a few things to add to what has already been said and may be of general interest:

1.) There appear to be roughly 1600 species of bamboo world wide. Not all have been explored for use in rod making, but many have. Only about 10 are currently considered suitable. By far the most popular world wide is colloquially known as Tonkin and comes from a small region in China, though there are some other much smaller sources in Southeast Asia. Most of that Tonkin is supplied to the world's rodmakers by a single family-run business in China. Most of the bamboo used by rodmakers in the US is imported by a different single family-run business out of Montana and Vermont. Second in line is Madake, which comes from Japan. It tends to produce a rod that is 1 line weight lighter and a slightly softer, but more flexible action than Tonkin. It is highly popular in Japan due to the prevalence of high gradient mountain freestone streams populated by smaller salmonids like Yamame and Iwana where shorter 3 and 4wts are typically used. Japanese makers utilize the most diverse number of species for split and glued bamboo rod blanks, 4 or 5 depending on the region of the country, and includes Tonkin imported from China. Some bamboo in other locations can be suitable for certain rod designs.

2.) Split and glued bamboo rods have been around since at least the 1850s. Between about 1900 and 1950, every city slicker or country sport, grandparent or great grandparent of today's fly anglers who fished either used or wanted to use a rod made of bamboo. And every fish species caught (salt or sweet), every world record set or broken, every casting record, every pleasure in fishing was done with a split-bamboo rod. It was absolutely normal to fish bamboo. In fact, there wasn't really anything else for quite some time. Sure, there were some hangers on who insisted on the old wood rods (not that there's anything wrong with that), there was a brief fling with steel, and there were early adopters of fiberglass, but by and large the accepted and best technology of the time was Tonkin bamboo. Bamboo cut the weight of the old rods by probably 30% on average for the same length and strength and ushered in the era of the shorter long rod, in fact really the first decent 9 foot rods were made from bamboo. Just let that sink in for a moment. That's brook trout to large mouth to giant blue fin tuna, everywhere in the world. Graphite rods will be coming up on their 50th anniversary in the next decade depending on when you start counting. Glass rods have had their 50th about 20 years ago.

3.) There are split bamboo rods fished today, and happily so, that exceed 120 years of age and should easily last another 100 if properly taken care of. Most bamboo fly anglers do not reserve their bamboo rods for special occasions...and neither should you. One reason that bamboo rods can and do last so long is that they can be repaired.

4.) There are somewhere between 1000 and 3000 bamboo rodmakers on Earth today. Definitely more than one in every state in the USA. Most of them live in the North America, Europe, and Japan, but there are highly talented split bamboo rodmakers in South Africa, Argentina, Singapore, South Korea, Russia, Chile and many other locations to name just a few. Lots of the tools and bamboo stored away by rodmakers all over the world gets passed along to new rodmakers over time. These connections to the past, often mentors, friends, places or family legacies, are extremely important to most rodmakers. Most of these makers create rods for themselves and friends for the pleasure. Probably half ask for their materials costs to be covered. Maybe 25% charge a modest fee beyond costs. Probably well under 5% actually eke out a full time living and most of these live in rural areas so that they can do so. Some of these rodmakers cannot afford to keep more than one of their own rods. The old saw in bamboo rodmaking is, "If you want to be a millionaire rodmaker, start with $2 million."

5.) The essential high quality tools to make a high quality bamboo rod by hand in the traditional solid built hexagonal format run in the neighborhood of $1000. It can be done cheaper. This tooling allows a rodmaker to make a huge number of possible tapers. Machines and other kinds of manual tools allow this to be done faster or in different geometries, including hollow building, adding to the possible number of variations of bamboo rods. A famous guy once said variety is the spice of life. If you thought you had too many choice in glass or graphite, you ain't seen nothing. And the chase is half the fun, seeking out that "It rod".

6.) It is standard fare in the cane world to find a rodmaker who will work with you to get just the rod you want, a relationship that often results in repeat business and long lasting relationships. After all, when totaled up, you are buying approximately 1-2 weeks of the rodmakers life along with your new rod. High quality components and raw materials work out to between $100 and $200 depending, sometimes more, plus overhead, fees and taxes. 40 hours is the often cited number for an average rodmaker making an average product, i.e. no marketing hype, no special features, but still excellent quality. On a $1000, 40-hour rod with $200 of total costs, that's about $20 and hour. It's quite easy to find brand new hand made rods made in the USA and quite good where the maker is clocking $5-10/hr. Of course, it is also possible to spend $50-100/hr, too, about what your plumber or car dealer charges. The average cost of an average newly built rod hasn't changed much in about a century: a month's wages of an average earner. When you consider how long this may last you, your kids, and your grandkids, it's not that much. And, if you do your homework and shop carefully, there is absolutely no reason you couldn't get all of your money back if and when it comes time to sell. That is for CUSTOM work that by definition looks and functions exactly how you want, crafted with the sole purpose to enhance your fishing experience and a lifetime of pleasure. Small price to pay, IMHO.

7.) If you prefer to fish a classic rod there are literally thousands available on the secondary market. Excellent casters and some dogs, too, just like modern rods. Sometimes in immaculate condition for a fraction of the price of new bamboo...or graphite for that matter. Sometimes condition needs help and that opens up a whole other world of restoration. More people to meet, more fun to have.

8.) Graphite, glass and bamboo are all composites. Graphite and glass are both denser than bamboo (Tonkin). Crafted with the same dimensions, they would be even heavier. But, they have much higher stiffness per weight and it is this that allows for a longer, lighter rod. I haven't compared glass lately, but to give you an idea, a typical graphite tip section is 1/2 to 1/3 the weight of a similar length and line weight bamboo rod with guides and finish applied. We're talking about 1/3 of an ounce. Much of that difference can be chalked up to the nickel silver ferrules. And in fact, bamboo rodmakers have been exploring the limits of weight reduction for a long time, especially the last 20 years. We now use ferrules made of, yes, nickel silver, but also aluminum bronze, titanium, bamboo, fiberglass and even graphite spigot ferrules. The bottom half of a hollowbuilt bamboo rod is often quite similar in weight to the bottom half of a modern graphite rod. That small bit of extra weight in the tip can make a modern bamboo rod feel a bit tip heavy, but this is easily offset in casting experience by adding a little weight in the reel. Luckily, there are TONS of excellent reels, new and classic, that fit the bill. That is a whole other addiction.

9.) It is not too much trouble to find bamboo rods that can cast 100'. Or 10'. Salt water, fresh water, steelhead, single hand, two hand salmon rods, 2 wt to 12 wt. Flamed, blonde, brown, checker board, tiger stripe, dyed any color you want, fancy wraps, engraved, you name it. 3 sides to 8 sides and some truly unusual geometries that you've probably never imagined. It's all part of the fun.

10.) Some of the bamboo community's best makers are now offering amazing rod making classes all around the country. Each is different, of course, but in general, it's a 1 week course with classmates in a supportive and fun environment during the day with nearby fishing in the evenings or on weekends. Add another week of fishing or other activities before or after and you have just a terrific experience and come away with usually a 2pc, 1 tip rod and the experience to keep going if you like. Couples (spouse, grandparent / grandchild, parent / child, buddies, whatever) can do this. Cost depends on the class and included amenities, but generally runs $1000-2000.

11.) All of the current rod making materials have different characteristics. Rather than try to decide which is best, consider exploring the possibilities of each and see if there is an application that brings you some stream side happiness. If you would like a brief introduction to the what's and why's beyond this forum thread, I recommend finding a copy of John Gierach's "Fishing Bamboo" or George Black's "Casting a Spell". Bamboo is just another opportunity for learning and fun for anyone who loves flyfishing. Give it a try. So much history. If you hanker for something visual, I strongly encourage you to head over to Vimeo and drop a few bucks on a film called "Chasing the Taper". Or chase down "The Lost World of Mr. Hardy"; I think it is on YouTube now and maybe Amazon. You won't regret either one. (No financial interest).
 
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Hayden Creek

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How can bamboo rods be consistent in their casting characteristics? If one tries a bamboo rod from an established maker and really likes the action, how can that person be assured they will get the same action and feel from another of his bamboo rods? Being a natural material, there must has to be variations from one piece of bamboo to another, that could take many forms. How is that controlled? With graphite a known and repeatable formula is used to make each rod nearly identical. I know the easy answer is, "That is what gives bamboo its personality - each rod is different." But isn't that just a cop out when you are paying a minimum of a four figure price tag and you feel the action is different than the rod that influenced you in the first place?
I play a lot of guitar. Mostly acoustic and still own my first that is now 50 years old. Parents bought it at Montgomery Wards for $29. Because of the aging of the woods and the woods used it is the guitar everyone wants to play when we get together. Because it speaks to them.
One of those friends had the same guitar but 16 years younger.
they are nothing alike although the same woods were used.
It also speaks to some but they come back to mine.
Of the 6 acoustics I own all reached out and grabbed me. Even after playing a few of the same make/model. Each one is unique if you have the ear. Since an electric guitar is built like a graphite rod consistency is easier, but character between same make/ model is nonexistent. You either dig the rod/guitar or not. It grabs you or it doesn't.
Last year I treated myself to a custom acoustic. Spoke extensively with the luthier about what I wanted. Same when I have a bamboo rod made.
I don't want the guitars to feel the same. Not my rods either. Each guitar fills a niche. Rods are no different. Perfect consistency is the realm of the industrial world, Unique,quirky differences the realm of the artist and craftsman.
 

Ard

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Since your original question has been covered really well I'll say some stuff completely out of left field. Weight? Until you spend a few years, actually more like a bunch of years fishing a 14' Hardy Salmon FLy (weight 14.7 ounces) with a 4 1/4" Hardy Perfect reel mounted to the rod (weight right around 16 oz) and the reel has an 850 grain Mid Spey line with 45 foot of vinyl runner (weight approximately 2.04 ounces)

Until you've cast that outfit long days for years you've never handled a heavy fishing rod. That beauty totals out right around 2.06 pounds of pure joy, wanna talk 'Swing Weight'?

Now if I just want to go grayling fishing? Well then one of these things is actually so pretty that I don't notice weight at all.



That one is an 8 foot six weight with a Hardy Princess that is the mate. I have a little 6'6" three weight with a Hardy Featherweight that you have to hold onto or it could float away. Yeah they are a little heavier than graphite but for certain applications they are about perfect and the aesthetics of a set like the one pictured are hard to beat.
 
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