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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 blanks.

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 making.

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 yesterday's.

Harry Boyd

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 at

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