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The Old Rod

By James Castwell


Sounds like the title of a great story. Wish that it was so, but it is just about an old cane rod I bought a few days ago. I still am not quite sure why I bought it. Something just told me that, "Hey, you ought to have that rod. It's kind of like one you used to have years and years ago." So I contacted the fellow on our bulletin board and for a hundred bucks it's mine now. He only had it a few days having bought it from a traveling 'flea market' chap down in Texas. Where this rod has been before that is anyone's guess. But, I have it now. And I like it.

I had one almost exactly like it back when I was in the honeymoon stage of fly fishing. Back when everything I learned was the end to it all. Every time I learned a new thing I thought I had it figured out only to realize the next time I was on the stream there was more to it. Oh for those days again but they can not be regained. One can never really go back. The days of mystery and delight. Of learn and reward. Of trying a new fly because someone said it was a great fly and it would "really get 'em." And I would pound up a foam over the trout until at least one took it out of pity or just to get me off the stream and have me quit pestering him. Many was the time I would make cast after cast without checking my fly. Only after having a few hits which produced nothing would I find out that the last log snag had removed the bend of my hook completely. It was things like that which gave rise to, "Wow, he actually broke my hook right off!" Was that yesterday, or does it only seem so?

Rods were cheap then, during the late forties and early fifties. A few bucks and you were in business. Oh sure, there were high priced cane rods, but the average guy could not begin to afford one. Nope, these production bamboo rods were the 'work-horses' of the sport. They were not the 'state-of-the-art,' far from it, but they were the rods which made fly fishing what it is today. It was the mass production of cheap but very serviceable cane rods which allowed the average Joe like me to be on the stream or lake with a reasonable chance of catching something on a fly.

The rod would often raise a blister or two. The action was mostly slow and somewhat wobbly but they would cast or lob a fly out there and that is all that counted. Not many realized they were rather poor casting tools. They were what they were. Bamboo fly rods. What's the big deal. With nothing to compare them to and a low cost there was no thought as to how well they performed for most of us. They cast and that was that. They performed; what more was there to ask?

Sometimes they got broken, usually a few inches off of the tip. Many are the rods which had some 'issue' about three or four inches down from the tip. No problem. Heat up the tip, slide it off and jam it down on the shortened tip section. There was usually enough glue left in the tip to hold it just fine. You might need to whittle the tip just a tad but maybe not. Probably improved the casting anyhow. And it was not a big deal or a thing of shame to have one with that 'modification' either. At least if it was, I sure didn't know of it and didn't know anyone who did either.

The war was over and things were booming on all fronts including recreation. Materials became available again, new things were developed and on the market, rods were mass produced at reasonable prices and so it was that fly fishing made it's biggest jump in the history of the sport. New fly lines were indicated and that need was the 'mother of invention.' Silk lines gave way to plastic coated ones with air bubbles which helped them float. The beginner was off and running. Flies were tied, books were written, rods and lines and reels were produced as fast as they could be. It was impossible to screw up a fly fishing company. Fame and fortune awaited all who ventured forth.

Not so today, but that is how it is with capitalism and the law of supply and demand. Throw in a few international conflicts and you are in today's society. Now our gear is almost bullet-proof, in fact the guarantees are. Not so in the past. "You buy it; you bought it." Many rods for a few bucks more came with two tips, they (and you) knew you were going to bust at least one of them. The main argument of the day was should you rotate the use of the two tips or not. I don't think that one was ever solved by the way.

The cane was cheap and the rods worked. Fly fishing was available to the average man and he took to it with a passion. One of the main companies was Montague Rod & Reel of MA. They made several models and anyone who owned one would refer to them as, "Oh, it's a Montague Sunbeam" or such.

I am not going to fix it up or fish it. I am not sure if it would stand the pressure of even one cast any more. Probably would but I am not interested in even finding out. It is old and it is retired now. It shows signs of having served it's masters well and faithfully for many seasons. The owners who fished, and there may have been only one, did not abuse the rod but, it shows many hours of use astream. The varnish is failing some but the wraps are not. The decal is flaking off, but still proudly bears the name of the company. Here are a few pictures this one.


It seems like it might be the 'Clear Lake' model, but that's not important to me. It's a part of the glorious past of fly fishing. It started it, lived through it, for the most part unscathed and lives now over this computer here in my office. Never more to feel the magic of a line flowing through it's guides, the urgent pounding of something alive on it's power fibers, the gentle wipe of a handkerchief by it's master at the end of a day on the water.

It's job is done. It had a duty to perform and did it faithfully and well. And now it rests. Just an old rod now. Fate has brought it home to me. I will care for it well.

There is no particular relevance to these pictures. They are what they are. Just pictures of an old rod. I hope you enjoy them. I am tempted to name the rod. I may. After all, it was one of it's brothers who got me into all of this in the first place. ~ JC


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