Outdoor Writers Association of America
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

December 11th, 2000


One of the inevitable things about life is change. Our aging of course, gaining of knowledge, sharpened insights, improvements in technology and communication all impact on us.

The computer technology age brings us access to information our fathers (much less grandfathers) could not imagine. We can connect with the most distant parts of the world in a few keystrokes. Shopping on line is becoming a 'normal' part of life for many.

Changes too in fly fishing are inevitable. But there are some things which could be considered 'retro'. Ponder this one. More and more folks are finding and fishing cane rods. Bamboo rods have been around a long time. Some made during the 40's were marketed out of barrels in the local hardware store. Cheap, and accessible for most everyone who had an interest.

My first experience with fly fishing was after begging, literally, my grandfather to teach me. His rod was an 'improvement' over the cane rods. It was STEEL, telescopic, and an improvement over previous steel rods. The early ones were round, and as they were cast they twisted. The line ended up going around the rod - sometimes many times! The new improved versions were (as I recall) octagonal or perhaps square and did not twist. I can't imagine fishing one of those now. But I would like to cast one again.

The next big improvement was the use of fiberglass, developed during World War II, as a material for rods. Casting rods were the first to use it, and eventually the new technology came to fly rods. The white Shakespear Wonder Rod is probably the best known of those.

The best of the bamboo rods became the models for the new fiberglass rods. Some of those early fiberglass rods are extremely fine casting rods! The Scientific Anglers System rods come to mind. Interestingly, they weighed a bit less than the cane rods, and were considered a real improvement by some.

Today we look at the graphite rods, again lighter in hand than the fiberglass rods, and marvel at the huge 'improvements.'

Somewhere along all this, the rod manufacturers (at least a large share of them) embarked on a direction of so-called fast rods. The development of the then new plastic fly lines may also have had an influence on this too. These rods are not particularly designed to cast at short distances, and the game of the day is how far they will cast - not how well they will fish. Parking-lot casting seems to be more important.

The fast graphite rods also require a rather precise casting motion and form to achieve the long line casts the buyer is told they will preform. Indeed, many new to fly fishing are intimidated by not being able to cast that far immediately. Gone is the emphasis on short, normal, fishing distances, sensitivity of the rod, and pure joy from fishing. Something which the person new to fly fishing could enjoy on his first day years ago!

Amazing as it may seem, some in the fly fishing community have decided on their own they really don't like these 'fast' rods. They really prefer to fish something not as demanding. Something more forgiving to cast. Something which they find more relaxed and natural. It may be a cane rod, although many of those are now being configured to be more like the 'fast' rods; again influenced by the modern large diameter fly lines.

There is developing a huge following for the old cane rods, and even the silk lines which required a great deal of care and maintenance. Not just a yearning for the traditional method of old, but a desire to put individual personal pleasure on the water first. That is your right!

Change continues! In this case it may not be to more and more technology, but back to one which served the fly fisher of the past very well. ~ LadyFisher

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