Publisher's Note: The following article was prompted by a
previous article, Traditional Rod Making? also published here.
Why Roll Your Own?
By Harry Boyd
The best fly rods ever made are being made today, bar
none. Modern materials and manufacturing methods allow
today's rod makers to produce casting instruments capable of
precisely placing a fly in a teacup at amazing distances.
Mention building one's own rod in a crowded fly shop and
those who overhear immediately think about buying a graphite
blank and adding components. I've put together several
graphite rods, but never considered building my own graphite
blanks. Only a few small graphite rod companies make their
own blanks. Most custom rod builders who work with graphite
offer rods on the vast array of commercially available
Graphite rod companies produce some amazing tapers, far
more user friendly than those of only half a dozen years
ago. Not only do their rods cast well, they also fish
well. Some of today's best graphite rods seem to mimic the
best bamboo fly rod actions of days gone by.
Bamboo readily offers one the chance to make his own
blanks. Potential rod actions are limited only by the
maker's creativity and imagination. I have built fast
action two weights for bluegills, and hollow, heavy 9
weights for King Salmon. Anything in between is possible.
Only the individual maker decides what is desirable.
Bamboo fly rods, because of their pleasant actions and
"castability," are enjoying a pronounced resurgence in
today's fly fishing world. That resurgence has come largely
at the hands of hundreds, maybe thousands, of small time rod
makers from Australia to Alaska. Through their efforts,
high quality bamboo rods are more readily available today
than ever. Integrity and ethics must govern our actions
though. No rod maker should consciously seek to deceive
others by representing himself, or his rods, as something
other than what they are.
While making a bamboo rod isn't particularly difficult,
there is a rather steep learning curve. With a hint of
mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity - and healthy doses
of patience and persistence - you can build a workable rod.
While your first few dozen rods will certainly not be the
equal of those who have built several hundred, chances are
they will be beautiful - - to you and to your friends.
By far the largest number of bamboo rods built in the last
century were poorly constructed, mass-produced abominations
produced by high volume, low quality shops for hardware
stores and discount chains. Thousands and thousands of
really bad bamboo rods rolled off the production lines in
American, British, and post World War II Japanese factories.
Too many people automatically associate bamboo rods with
those old poorly made, heavy, slow action rods from years
gone by. Relatively few fisherman have seen or cast a high
quality bamboo rod. They were even more rare 50 years ago
than today. Most fishermen today associate bamboo rods with
Montague's, not Payne's. The contrast is marked.
Today's rods present a vastly different picture. When the
bamboo embargo of the 1950's, along with the advent of man
made materials signaled the beginning of the end for mass
produced bamboo rods and the companies that trained the rod
makers, the door was opened for a new breed of makers of
fine fly rods.
Only a handful of those highly skilled, impeccably trained
artisans from the days when bamboo rods were the only game
in town are still producing rods, and their work is above
reproach. Past masters still making shavings every day are
cherished as treasures by the part-timers and amateurs who
have largely taken over the production of bamboo rods.
Those past masters' willingness to share skills, insights,
and experiences fuels today's renaissance in bamboo. Not
all those old masters are close-lipped curmudgeons! Those
whom this author knows are cherished friends and mentors.
Production bamboo bevellers are largely a thing of the
past, perhaps because producing graphite rods is more
economically viable. The machines themselves, and the
skills to operate them, are quickly slipping away from us.
No rod is better than the person who builds it, whether that
person uses a $50,000 machine or simple hand tools. Quality
comes from the hands and heart of those who build the rod,
not the tools themselves. Some of the worst rods ever made
- - and some of the best - - were built with expensive
equipment. The reverse is also true, both good and bad rods
can be made with hand tools.
Many of today's best known professional rod makers, and
almost all amateur and part-time bamboo artisans, use simple
hand and machine tools. In the right hands those tools
produce amazingly precise work. Perhaps because society
today offers us unprecedented leisure time, we can choose to
spend that time "messing about in our workshops." Making
bamboo fly rods is fun. It offers one the sense of
satisfaction that comes only from doing a difficult thing
well. If the potential rod maker is willing to make some of
his own tools, he can build several nice rods for the price
of a top-of-the-line graphite blank. And there is powerful
medicine in standing in a stream holding a rod of one's own
Spending hours pouring over every inch of the bamboo lends
itself to a sense of pride and achievement. The fellow who
makes rods by hand knows every obstacle and every hurdle
introduced to the process through the vagaries of working
with a natural material. Readily available tapers of
classic rods offer the home craftsman a huge advantage in
learning to make usable rods early in the learning process.
As his experience and expertise grows he often creates his
own tapers and aesthetic.
Keeping one's goals in mind is important. Making a fly rod
enables us to produce an instrument capable of presenting a
relatively weightless fly via a weighted line. No matter
how pretty or perfect or innovative that rod is, if it
doesn't cast well it is next to useless no matter who made
it nor how he chose to do so.
Should you choose to make your own bamboo fly rods, read
through the "With Bamboo" archives on this site. Study the
resources available in print and on the web. Honor those
who have come before by building on their work to advance
the craft of making rods to even higher levels, so that
tomorrow's rod will be even better than today's, or
One final note... bamboo rod makers today form a close knit
fraternity. Gatherings across the globe attract rod makers
and "wannabe's" from all over. Almost without exception, we
are great friends. Split a little cane, and join us for
some priceless camaraderie. ~ Harry Boyd
About Harry Boyd:
The author is Pastor of First Baptist Church in Winnsboro,
Louisiana. He is a Louisiana native with a passion for cold
water fishing and making bamboo fly rods. His interest in
fly fishing began over thirty years ago on family trips to
Roaring River State Park in Missouri. He has been making
bamboo fly rods for six years, and is the founder of the
Southern Rodmakers Gathering held in Mountain Home, Arkansas
each October. You can reach Harry through his website
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