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Bamboo Bonzai

The Classic Fly Rod
by Ralph W. Moon

June 1st, 1998

Fourty-five years ago, I purchased for 25 cents a little book by George Leonard Herter about building bamboo rods. Excited about what seemed to me to be a most interesting activity, I decided on the spot to build a bamboo rod. Immediate I ran into a myriad of stumbling blocks.

Where do I buy bamboo, particularly Arundinaria amabilis Mcclure? Where can I find a planning form and the other specialized tools I need? To whom can I turn to help? These were all but insurmountable questions that took about 25 years for me to solve. Other rod builders were not only not interested in helping me learn, but almost actively reluctant to give me any information. I had no idea even how to identify bamboo let alone know where to find it. Libraries offered little or nothing in the way of informational or instructional books.

I shelved my ambition, but never forgot it, until one day I was in Bud Lilly's Trout Shop in West Yellowstone, Mont. There behind the counter, I saw three pieces of bamboo. "Bud," I exclaimed, "is that Tonkin Cane? And if it is will you sell it?" Bud said yes to both questions, and for the grand price of $5, I walked out of his shop with three 6-foot culms of cane.

With a couple of 3/4-inch lengths of maple in which were routed some 60 degree tapered grooves, a two-inch exacto plane and a micrometer I set out to build my first rod. I quite frankly pirated the dimensions of the butt section of a rod that appeared in a photograph by Bill Fink in the Flyfisher magazine and interpolated some guessed-at dimension for the tip. I made a binding machine of wood and built my first rod. It was very crude looking, but it was a superb fishing rod and I love to use it to this day.

During the ensuing two decades, the problems of building a bamboo rod have largely dissipated. Tonkin Cane is available from several sources. Tools, equipement and supplies are easily found. There has been a resurgence of books and articles about bamboo. The Internet has a number of web pages available for the rod builder and information is freely disseminated by a large and growing number of excellent rod makers.

Interest in bamboo rods and rod making is at an all-time high, yet there are many who are experiencing many of the same problems that beset my beginning rod making days. To help address this need, the Federation of Fly Fishers has announced a new feature of its annual Conclave and Fly Fishing Show. At the FFF Conclave in Idaho Falls, August 3-8, a Bamboo Rod Symposium will be held.

The Symposium will be a free, all day affair on Wednesday, August 5. There will be a large number of expert and amateur rod builders and bamboo rod lovers who will be available to advise, consult, exhibit and demonstrate virtually any and all phases of bamboo rods.

At a panel discussion forum various experts from rod builders to lovers of bamboo will explore The Mystique of the Cane Rod and the audience will be invited to participate with questions and observations. Most of the different steps of building cane rods will be explained and demonstrated, and exhibits of old and rare rods, the historical development of bamboo rods and resources and literature will be available.

This event will allow those who know and love bamboo, as well as those who have only recently gained an interest, to mingle with acknowledged experts in the field.

One special feature of the Symposium will provide those attending an opportunity to bring a rod for evaluation and identification. While identifying old rods is sometimes almost impossible, the combined expertise of those at the Symposium will most likely be able to add some new and interesting information about your rod.

If you are a rod builder, or if you want to be; if you love to fish with bamboo rods, or just collect them; or if you would like to know more about grandpa's old rod, you are invited to attend this event.

~Ralph W. Moon




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