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Revival

By Roger Stouff


In reading the FAOL bulletin board, I notice there is often interest in bamboo rods.

This always pleases me. It's good to know that other folks besides myself are fond of, or at least curious about, cane rods. Over the past year, I've reduced my graphite collection down to two rods, and increased my cane collection up to five. This has been part of a conscious effort to move away from graphite and into cane. The two plastic rods I have left, a 5/6-wt and an 8-wt, are backup rods, in case I need to loan one to somebody, or if I'm going to be fishing some place especially treacherous.

There are many fantastic modern cane rod makers out there. It's been said, and it is likely true, that today's bamboo rods are superior to those of the "golden age" in most ways. Yet these rods cost anywhere from $600 and up, beyond the means of many of us. Ebay lurkers such as myself can sometimes find great deals on classic cane, but there has been a surge of interest - and bidding! - on bamboo over the last year or so.

My solution might work for others: Cane revival.

I've never built a graphite rod. But I've learned a lot about cane revival. It's rewarding, it's fun, and it results in a fishable, satisfying rod that won't break the bank, and won't hurt my heart as bad if something happens to it.

My last project was a Montague at seven-foot ten-inches, a thee-piece, two-tip rod that I like with a five-weight line. I got it from Mike Longuil stripped, straightened, ferrules reset, with decent cork and reel seat. The tip tops were already on, all I had to do was get guides and wrap it, then apply the finish of my choice. I ended up with a great little rod for about $100.

before

Now, most of us who piddle with cane know a Montague was a mid-grade rod, and among its offerings were models both low-end and high-end. I don't know what model this little rod was originally, but it has a swelled butt and casts well, so I suspect it was medium or high grade. The point is, I'm not expecting to find and rebuild Orvis, Granger or Leonard rods, nor do I want to. I want a fishable, enjoyable cane rod that I can use and not fret over.

before

Of course, there's more to it than that. You probably already suspected that, if you've read Native Waters any length of time at all.

It means something to me to take an old rod and bring it back to life. A friend of mine's father owned a sporting goods store here in town. My friend recalled that when the demise of cane rods came at the onslaught of fiberglass, his father hauled many dozens of brand-new bamboo rods from the shelves and threw them away, eating his cost because nobody wanted them anymore. Breaks the heart.

after

But while I dream about coming across a Granger with the shrink wrap still on the cork, the tube unopened since sealed at the factory, reviving used rods rings with more satisfaction. The little Monty, for example. Someone fished it, somewhere. Perhaps on the Battenkill, or some nameless creek in Maine. Sometimes I let my mind imagine that Harry Middleton might have fished one of my previously-owned cane rods, though I know it's practically impossible. Doesn't really matter. Someone, somewhere, held that rod in their hands and felt the same thrill of a fish on, the same satisfaction of a good cast, the same admiration for the fit and finish.

A good bamboo fly rod is like a good wooden boat: It dies if it is ignored. Like an old house, where the doors must be opened and closed, the floors walked on, the windows raised and lowered. Nothing causes a house to die more readily than being unlived in. Bamboo rods are the same way. They must feel the bend of a tip, the flex of line shooting through guides. Otherwise, they're only so much wood. They cannot be neglected. If so, they wither and pass utterly.

Imagine the attachment some of us have to our rods, no matter the material. Someone else probably felt that way about the little Monty I just rebuilt. It's got a satin luster with new varnish, red wraps with black tipping securing new single-foot guides. The label was long since gone, so I marked it, "7'10" #4/5, REStouff '05, Montague." This was done not only for my own records, but just in case some day, some other angler holds that rod in his hand he'll know what I do not: Who held it before, when they held it, and that they thought enough of it to keep it from dying, ignored. Flakes of their skin, oils, are still in the cork. A part of them stands at the edge of the water with me. Nameless, faceless, probably gone from this earth by now, but in a way, still a part of an old bamboo fly rod.

after

Yes, perhaps I'm too sentimental. I probably try too hard to glean resonance from things old, attempt too vigorously to glean some glimpse of its history. But now and then I build a piece of furniture in my woodshop, and I wonder where it will go, how many homes it will stand watch in, if it will decades from now end up in a landfill or still be valued by someone. I worry who will care for my father's wooden bateau when I am gone, who will care enough for it to tend to its needs, fret over it, fuss and nit-pick over it.

If you're interested in cane, maybe try a revival. Like a good ol' fashioned travelling salvation show. A little research to discern the dud rods from the acceptable is all it takes to pick up a piece of classic cane suffering from being ignored. Chances are, with just a little money and a little effort, you'll end up with a rod that's fun, satisfying and meaningful. And as a bonus, you might just also feel some resonances. Some hint of appreciation from the past. ~ Roger Stouff


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