It was announced today a start-up company has begun
manufacture of a combination not seen in decades. The
concept revolves around the creation of a cane (bamboo)
fly rod specifically designed to properly cast a silk
fly line, sold with the line as a unit, and priced economically.
I wish that were true, but indeed it is not.
In the earlier part of the nineteen-hundreds cane rods
and silk lines were, due to mass production, relatively
inexpensive and well within the reach of anyone even
remotely serious about the sport.
The invention of plastic coated lines spelled
the doom of an age old method of fishing. Gone were
the days of dressing lines, storing them during the
off season and tolerating their general inconvenience.
The advent of fiberglass and graphite rods sealed
their fate. Fly fishing switched from inexpensive to
moderately expensive with the new rods and plastic
During this time, of course, there were higher priced
cane rods available, just as there are high-end graphite
and cane rods now. But, one can no longer procure a
cane rod and silk fly line for a small fee.
Those cane rods were produced to a 'taper,' as it is
called, the exact dimensions of the diameters and
lengths and how they interacted with each other
to cast a particular way. These 'tapers' were
developed for silk lines; there were
no other fly lines yet invented.
These cane rods were made solid enough not to
be fragile, but light enough to be comfortable
in hand. The more expensive rods tended to be made
of a higher quality material and cast more smoothly.
Often they were appointed with higher
quality reel seats and findings. These rods were a
joy to cast and fish, delicately presenting a tiny
dry fly, to pounding out a long cast with the unique deep loading
characteristics of quality cane.
Less expensive rods did the same thing, just not
as well. As the new plastic fly lines came out, they
were tried on these same cane rods and found wanting.
The illusion was, the cane rods were soft and not
good, when in fact it was the fault of the fly lines.
They were thirty percent larger in diameter causing
more contact with the rod guides and offered far more
wind resistance. Hence, they did not shoot from the
rods without great casting effort. The market
quickly sought a faster, stiffer fly rod that could
handle the less friendly lines, the new technology
was more than happy to fulfil that demand.
We now have very fast, inexpensive to make, light in hand rods which will
propel plastic lines properly. Here is what we have lost. A graphite fly
rod with today's best fly lines can not begin to compare to a cane rod of
earlier years and a well dressed silk line. We have also lost the ability for
most to ever own such a combination.
An entry level cane rod will start at $500 for
one produced by hand planing and three times that
for one made by milling. Silk lines are about $250.
Today's cane rods are for the most part redesigned
'tapers' from the old ones created for silk lines.
These new rods must be more powerful, stiff and a
tad heavier in hand so they can pitch the new plastic
I made a survey of the major cane rod sellers and
none offer a rod specifically for silk lines even
though a silk handles and casts far differently
from a plastic line. None of them sell silk
fly lines either, which was not a surprise.
Can this be turned around? Could a company produce a
respectable cane rod for $150 and a silk line for $50? Can the
average fly fisher once again enjoy fly fishing as
it was meant to be? Return to the times of 'you
bought it, you own it?' To times when you had
to take the care and responsibility for your
gear? Take the time to clean and dress a fly line? And the
guarantee only covers materials and workmanship, not
Should we be interested in a fly line that will
knife through the air fifty percent easier, float much higher
on the water, pick up with much less disturbance
and effort, last three times as long, have two
ends so it can be reversed, be dressed to
become a sinking tip easily when desired, and a
full intermediate line when the need demands and
cut through the water with far less resistance
when a fish is stripping line from the reel?
I think we should be.
Will a silk line work on a graphite fly rod?
Certainly, but remember the rod was designed to
push the big fluffy plastic fly lines. The market
needs a good moderately priced cane rod and a
decent silk fly line. The major rod makers will
not offer one, graphite is too easy and
cheap with too high a profit margin to stray
from. That has nearly shut down silk line
production. The only ones who may recommend
a silk line are the small custom rod makers
and they must also recommend that the rods
they produce will work equally well with
either type of fly line, or they will be out
At the least, will some major fly rod manufacturer
tune up the bamboo rod room and produce just one
cane rod made on the old tapers and supply a silk
fly line with it at any price? Perhaps a six and
a half foot four weight. Only make one model. But,
make it lighter and tapered for a DT silk line,
not beefed up for the plastic stuff. Enough
progress already! Let's go back to...quality, and
even so far as 'tradition?'
Oh yes, can you make it at a price most of us can
afford please? ~ J. Castwell
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