The Fire is Back
Today seems a bit of a letdown, ladies and gentlemen.
Why? Oh, the weather's great, the fishing would be good if it
wasn't the weekend and I wouldn't have to shoot or cut my way
into the river, but fishing isn't what's on my mind.
By Bob Nunley
I remember a few months back there was a some talk among a
few cane rodmakers about burnout. What do you do when you
get burned out a bit. Well, usually I fish, or I read, or I just step
back and think about why I started doing this to begin with and
the "fire" comes back.
Yesterday, I found an entirely new cure for mild burnout. Troy M.,
a young man who has aspirations of being a cane rodmaker, came
up from Houston to visit my shop and see exactly what goes on
around this place in a normal day. I hope he wasn't too
When you walk in the front door of the house, you
are immediately greeted by a Gray Wolf/Siberian Husky Hybrid
who runs straight at you, not viciously, but thinking that all
humans have one purpose on earth, and that is to love her!
Immediately after that, met by a 6'4" man with a pony tail and a
fresh lathe dent on his forehead, (the result of an accident a
couple of weeks ago, never look directly at a pressed in shaft
when you have a gear puller attached to it).
When you look around the first room in the house, there's no
doubt you're in a flyfishers/rodmakers house. Rodmaking books
covered in dust in a makeshift bookshelf setting next to a fly
tying table, a round rack with 10 or 12 cane rods in it, flyfishing,
fly tying books laying on every table, a Mounted Whitetail deer's
head on the wall, with more cane rods hanging across the
antlers. Several taper sheets laying on top of the entertainment
center, flanked by little flyfishing collectables. Tapered strips of
cane lean against the wall by my recliner, micrometers and
calipers laying on the table beside my coffee cup.
Going into the kitchen from that room, you'll see a rack full of rod
tubes, with new tubes, old tubes, classic rods, etc., in it. The
first thing you see in the kitchen table is a glass topped table.
Oh, I don't eat there, the big maroon leather recliner is better
suited for that. The glass top table is where I sharpen plane
blades and wrap my rods. The kitchen itself? One cabinet is
nothing but flyfishing pictures, silk thread, special items people
have given me related to cane rods or flyfishing, and the
biggie, you absolutely CANNOT miss the 40" x 50" Michael
Simons work of art "The Brown Trout" that is the centerpiece of
my living room.
On the far end of the kitchen is a door that leads out to the
shop. The shop itself is nothing fancy. Nasty, disorganized,
bamboo shavings and dust everywhere. The famous mankiller
lathe on a bench, boxes hanging on the wall with unfinished reel
seat hardware, the Harley sitting between the shop fridge and
the heat treating oven, pontoon boat stored in disarray on top of
the table saw (also a mankiller, have scars to prove it). Typical
of what a small town looks like after a tornado.
Ok, got the picture? You see what this young man sees when
he walks through the door. NOT what you might call a "habitat"
for a normal human being, but the ideal habitat for an old balding
biker that happens to make a few dozen fly rods a year.
Troy came with the impression that we'd talk a little cane, plane
on a strip or two to test out the plane blades he made (quite a
fine job, I must say) and maybe break for lunch, talk some more.
Well, the best laid plans of mice and men, blah, blah, blah. He
rolled in at about 9:30 or so and the talking part only lasted
about an hour, and I just couldn't stand it anymore. To see
someone excited about cane rods as he was, fueled something
inside of me that I haven't felt in awhile. Don't get me wrong, I
love making cane rods, but that "tingle" disappears sometimes,
and this visit proved shortly that the tingle was still lurking deep
I couldn't stand it anymore. Out to the shop we went. I showed
him splitting, straightening, pressing. I didn't just show him, I
guess I should say, I showed him HOW, and let him take my spot
at the workbench and get a feel for what he's about to jump into.
At first, I thought, "We'll press and straighten a couple of strips
and you can get the feel of working the cane a little bit..."
The next thing I know, we have 6 strips laying on the bench,
straightened, pressed, roughed and ready to bind for heat
treating. What the heck, let's fire up the heat treating oven. A
little more talk about cane, it's properties, the planing forms and
flyfishing in general, took up the time needed for the cane to
cool. We unbound it and were off to the races. If our constant
wandering talk of flyfishing hadn't interfered with our rodmaking
endeavor, we would have had that butt section glued up. Of
course, the only breaks were for talk and for sharpening those
new plane irons he brought. Noo breakfast, no lunch, and it was
well after dark when we turned off the shop lights and went to
the Fish Camp to eat our first meal of the day. Coffee kept me
going, soft drinks kept him going and that's just what we did,
kept going on that ugly chunk of imported grass until we nearly
had a beautiful rod section made.
After we got back from the Fish Camp, our bellies full, we sat at
the Wrapping table (aka the kitchen table) and talked fly rods,
tapers, mechanics of tapers. You should have heard this!
Two engineers sitting analyizing bending moments on tapered
beams, loading and unloading properties, why rods cast the way
they do. Had you closed your eyes, you probably would have
envisioned two nerds in black horn rimmed glasses with pocket
protector full of pens and pencils with a slide rule sticking out of
the middle of them. Open your eyes, and you see a couple of
scruffy looking flyfishers who didn't care that they had bamboo
shavings stuck to the seat of their pants at the restaurant. Even
dinner was rod talk. Between bites of catfish and shrimp, we'd
speak of cane, of classic makers, of contemporary makers, and of
the pure pleasure of seeing a trout rise in a still pool.
The waitresses were gathered at the register when we left and
listening intently as we discussed the mechanics of casting from
an engineering standpoint on the way out the front door of the
restaurant. Him in a flannel shirt and jeans, me wearing my
Southern Rodmakers Gathering Hat, my hair in a pony tail.
My lady Billie of course, dressed nicely so it would look
like she had picked up two homeless people and was treating
them to a meal. I think the waitresses were amazed that these two
guys with the funny looking wood shavings stuck to their
clothes could know words with more than two syllables.
Troy expressed his gratitude as he left late last night, but I didn't
I went out with Billie for a couple of drinks after he
left, and all I could think about was "I gotta get more rods
made... wonder what this would look like... wonder how I could
make a reel seat out of that..."
Everything in our local watering hole, to me, looked
like something that could either be used in the shop
or made into something for a fly rod. This visit fanned
an ember that has always burned inside, into the fire to get in
that shop and make rods for fun, the way it used to be.
For that... THANKS, TROY! Thanks for reigniting that
fire, and for reminding me why I love being a rodmaker,
and you're welcome in this old man's shop, anytime.
Off to ferrule a rod, yep, working on Sunday! Why?
Because a young man, aspiring to be what I am, reminded
me that I do this because I love it.
~ RL (Bob) Nunley, Rodmaker
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