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Why Bamboo?
By Bob Nunley

In the world of flyfishing there are so many choices in rods, that it absolutely staggers the mind. I, of course, fish bamboo exclusively, but many times, find myself justifying my preference to other people.

I thought long and hard over the past few weeks about exactly why I fish cane rods and prefer them over graphite. I asked other rodmakers and other bamboo enthusiasts and thought I'd put the reasons on paper so others could understand our addiction to split cane fly rods.

Before I go into the reasons, there are a few things that need to be cleared up. There is a vast difference between what are called production or "trade" rods and a true custom cane rod. Even among the custom rods, the actions are as diverse as are the actions among the composite rods. The trade rods are generally cheaply made and cheaply outfitted compared to the custom rods. Many flyfishers have formed opinions about bamboo rods based on their experience with the trade rods. Purchasing a trade rod, like a Horricks-Ibottson, Montague, J.C. Higgins, etc. and forming opinions on cane rods, is much like purchasing a discount store composite rod and drawing conclusions on the attributes of a higher end composite rods. The comparison just isn't fair, to either the custom cane rods or to the composite rods. Likewise, comparing custom cane to composite is much like comparing apples and oranges. They are two different animals, or fruits, with completely different characteristics. Each having their positive points. Another thing I need to do before I go further is to dispel a couple of myths about bamboo fly rods.

Myth #1:

"Bamboo Rods are too heavy." This is another of those myths that was born of flyfishers experiences with the Trade Rods of the past. Todays Bamboo rods, along with the fine custom cane rods of the past, aren't heavy at all. Many who pick up a custom cane rod for the first time are surprised at how light they really are. I can't count the times I've heard people say "Wow, this is really light. I have an old rod of my Grandfathers that weighs twice what this does . . . a Monta-something or another. . ."

Myth #2:

"Bamboo Rods are really slow." Again, a myth born of the trade rods of the past. Today's Custom Bamboo rods are as diverse in action as the composite rods. Depending on a flyfishers preference, there are contemporary makers in the market who make rods in about any action you want. You can get rods that are slow, medium fast, fast action, whatever you prefer!

Myth #3:

"Bamboo Rods don't hold up to fishing very well." Again, a myth born of experiences with the cheap trade rods. A well built, well cared for custom cane rod will outlive it's owner. The key is taking proper care of the rod. Any rod, whether it be cane or composite, will suffer if it's owner doesn't care for it properly, but proper care and proper use will insure that your custom cane rod will last a lifetime, and probably the lifetime of your son or daughter.

Now that I have a few of the myths dispelled, let's talk about why people prefer to fish cane rods. First, presentation . . . not how the rod looks, but of the fly. A well built, well designed cane rod will lay a fly on the water like a feather floating from the sky. Like I said, I won't compare cane to composite, and I'm sure there are many out there who can lay a fly on the water just as delicately with a composite rod as I can with a cane rod, but I'm just not one of them.

Second, the "feel." A good custom cane rod has a feel in casting and when "playing" a fish that is unparalleled. It's hard to describe, but with a good cane rod, you can feel every move a fish makes at the end of the line, right down into the handle of the rod.

Third, accuracy. When I'm fishing, the most important aspect of a rod is it's ability to put a fly exactly where I want it. I've never found any rod that was as capable of that as a properly designed custom cane. Not only that, but the ability of a cane rod to throw curve casts, puddle casts, tuck casts, and other "mend" casts is fantastic.

Fourth, durability. Cane rods, if properly cared for, will virtually last a lifetime. I have rods in my collection that are twice my age, and just as fishable as they were the day they were built. Not only that, but if you do break a cane rod, you don't have to give up the rod you loved fishing so much for a replacement that may not even be the same model as the one you have. The maker, assuming he is still living, can either repair the rod or can replace the broken section, making your rod exactly as it was before. If the maker has gone on to the great trout streams in the sky (which I believe are filled with wild brookies), then a reputable contemporary maker can restore or repair the damage to the rod, again, making it exactly as it was before it was damaged. Actually, the only repairs I have ever made to cane rods, were due to abuse by the user, not due to failure because it was a cane rod. No rod, whether it be cane, graphite or even titanium, can hold up to being slammed in a car door, or stepped on when left laying in the living room floor.

Finally, investment. Now earlier I said I wouldn't compare composite to cane because it was like comparing apples to oranges, but this is one area where I will make a comparison, because price definitely becomes a factor in owning a cane rod. There are composite rods on the market today that come very close to the cost of a cane rod. However, what will that composite rod be worth in 10 years or even 20 years down the road? Honestly, not much. You'll be lucky, if you choose to sell your composite rod in 10 years to get a tenth of what it sold for new. This just isn't true of a good custom cane rod. If you buy a cane rod from a reputable maker, yes, the price may drop for the first 3 to 5 years on that rod, but as the rod ages, it will continue to appreciate in price, quickly becoming worth more than the price you paid for it originally.

Without using any contemporary makers as examples, take for instance a Payne rod. Payne rods that sold new for $200 years ago are easily commanding prices in excess of $2500 in today's market. Less extreme examples, like Leonard rods, Paul Young rods, Thomas, Howells and many others, are easily worth 5 to 10 times their original selling price. You just simply can't go wrong, as far as investment, buying a good custom cane flyrod. I've had many wonderful old bamboo rods brought to me that someone would proudly hold them out and say, "This was my Dad's favorite rod that he left to me!" I've never had anyone bring a composite rod of any kind to me with the same pride of ownership that you see in the face of a cane rod owner.

I could go on and on for hours about reasons I love cane . . . the sheer beauty of one that can't be compared, the relaxing way a good cane rod casts, the way it feels when someone on the river you've never met comes up and wants to see your cane rod (I never run out of people to talk to on the rivers), or a desire to own only the best, but those are personal reasons, and honestly, it would take hours for me to list all the personal reasons I fish bamboo. I think I've laid out the practical reasons for fishing bamboo: Presentation, Feel, Accuracy, Durability and Investment. Of course, these are only my opinions, and I'll never use them to try to persuade someone to change from composite to bamboo. The kind of rod you fish and enjoy is a personal choice, and one that shouldn't be influenced by me or anyone else. The most important thing is you enjoy the sport of flyfishing and you're comfortable with the rods you fish. For me, flyfishing is a lifestyle, and the only rods are Split Cane. ~ RL (Bob) Nunley, Rodmaker

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