Bamboo Bonzai

Bamboo Chat, now an hour earlier! - Host RON KUSSE - Thurs. 5-8 p.m. PST (8-11 EST)

By Art Carter, Publisher Sporting Classics Magazine

I'd like to share some good tiding with you. It's not really breaking news, because this is a story that has been developing for fifty-two years - which is how long Ron Kusse of Washingtonville, New York, has been crafting some of the finest split-bamboo flyrods ever made. A youthful 66, Ron is as good a rodmaker as anyone who has ever put plane to cane - past, present or into the foreseeable future.

That's bold testimony to be sure, but I feel somewhat qualified to make such a statement since I have examined, cast and fished a goodly number of cane rods by recognized master craftsmen. They came from men who were magicians in the art of splitting a Tonkin bamboo stalk from faraway China and fashioning it into an angling treasure. Ron Kusse is one of them.

More good news. Remember those old bamboo baitcasting rods that your grandfather used, with their delightful flowing actions? If you've never fished with one, you've missed something truly special. In fact, casting a bass plug with a bamboo rod on a lazy summer afternoon is a pursuit that will surely lower your blood pressure.

A thing of the past, I thought, until Ron told me that he also makes split-cane casting rods. I tried one this past summer in Canada on a pike-fishing trip. A six foot rod for up to ten-pound line, it had a delicate tip, yet was powerful, ultra-smooth and incredibly accurate. It handled pike up to ten pounds with ease.

Kusse Casting Rod

Here's another, even bolder, statement. It is, by far, the most enjoyable baitcasting rod I've ever held in my hands, and that includes graphite, fiberglass, kevlar, boron or whatever. It's not as rocket fast as the latest high-modulus graphite super-sticks, but that unique bamboo feel and the efficiency of the material itself make it comfortable to cast all day long. The rod seems to do all the work - propelling the lure with an effortless grace.

Like most of Ron's flyrods, the baitcaster is hexagonal with six opposing bamboo strips (he also makes four-sided, quaddrate flyrods), features a classic, swelled-butt construction, and can be ordered in blond, natural cane color or open-flamed to a deep brown with amber nodes (rings on the bamboo that are filed down). All parts of the rods are handcrafted, including the guides and ferrules, and the varnish is flawlessly applied.

Ron makes four casting rods: one 5- footer and the others at 6 feet. They can be ordered either as one -or two-piece with a nickel silver ferrule, which has Ron's "Kusse" logo stamped in a tiny oval. The rod grip can either be offset like those found on modern synthetic rods or a classic, nickel-plated brass straight grip with a trigger-style finger loop (my favorite).

Ron is a traditionalist, but he's very progressive when it comes to rod design. "You shouldn't make old-fashioned (slow-action) rods," he asserts. "I spend a considerable amount of time on tapers and make a lot of fast, quick rods that cast as well or even better than graphite."

Even though he also produces his own line of graphite flyrods, Ron has strong feelings about rod materials. "Graphite is good for casting long, but not so good at casting short," he says. "I like rods that will cast well at eight feet, but will carry thirty-five feet of line in the air and then, with a double haul, will shoot it another seventy feet. It's a good rod when you can do that."

Kusse Cane Salmon Rods Ron currently makes twenty-one different cane flyrods from six to eight feet in length for one - to six-weight line in one -, two- and three-piece models. In addition, he also produces a few rods on special order for salmon, bass and saltwater in eight - to nine-foot lengths for seven - to nine-weight lines. All have two tips that are mirrored - with node placement exactly the same in each tip. Of special note is his Baby Catskill, a one-weight six-footer modeled after a famous rod from the Leonard shop. That delicate little wand makes a ten-inch trout feel like a tuna.

If you have ever caught a bass on a wooden lure, you know they sometimes work better than plastic. I have always thought they make a sexier splash when they hit the water, especially topwater models.

Ron currently handcrafts about a dozen different lures with names lake Bass Baby, Bass King, Surface Sputterer and K Tango from birch, maple and basswood (topwater). I'm sure walleyes and pike love them, too. He shapes the lures on a lathe, then soaks them in a vat of impregnation fluid for four days. After five days of drying at 100 degrees F., the lures are airbrushed with five to seven coats of mirror finish. Collectible and imminently fishable, these lures are real beauties.

Ron began his five-decade love affair with bamboo rods in 1947 when his father took him to dinner in honor of famed fishing writer A.J. McClane. The teenager was already a fly-tier and enjoyed refinishing cane rods. When Mc Clane learned of the boy's pastime, he suggested that Ron make some rods from scratch and proceeded to draw plans for planing forms on the back of a dinner menu. Ron's dad had a machinist friend make the forms, and for the next twenty years the young man used them to build rods as a hobby.

During that time, Ron frequently drove down from his home in Rochester to pick the brains of famous Catskill rodmakers Pinky Gillum and Jim Payne. He also became acquainted with other respected bamboo artisans, such as Wes Jordan and Everett Garrison.

In 1972 Ron became vice president of the well-known H.L. Leonard Rod Company, where over the years he worked with Hap Mills, Ted Simroe, Marc Aroner and Tom Maxwell (co-founder of Thomas and Thomas Rodmakers). He stayed with the firm until 1982 when he began to produce rods under his own name.

Sporting Classics Magazine

Following the lead of the revered rodmakers that came before him, Ron Kusse has always tried to produce the very best product he can. "I never rush them. They will stand the test of time," he says proudly.

Contact Ron at 914-496-7187 or at ~ Art Carter

2000 Sporting Classics Magazine, we thank them for sharing this article on Ron Kusse with us!

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