Bamboo Bonzai


By Jeffrey D. Wagner

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At a recent show, I was approached by a shopper who was somewhat bewildered after noticing that there were cane rods offered for sale at vastly different prices. Essentially, he wanted to know what separates an $800 cane rod from one selling for much more. I wish I could have offered a quick and pithy response, but the reality is the answer can be very complex.

First, he noticed there are vintage cane rods by the past masters that sometimes fetch almost unbelievable prices. In my opinion, this can lead people to believe that all vintage cane rods are worth a lot of money or that collectible rod prices are in and among themselves a reflection of quality. This is not always true because vintage rod prices are based to some degree upon the relative rarity of a particular maker's work and not strictly on quality. Like artwork, prices demanded for a rodbuilder's work can climb steeply upon their death. Too bad they are not around to see the windfall.

Leaving aside the work of makers not fortunate enough to still be with us, that leads us to discuss contemporary builders. In general, prices for rods reflect the old adage: There's no such thing as a free lunch. In most cases what you are paying for is the sum total of the maker's skill, experience, time and materials. From time to time you may be able to find a maker's work that is vastly underpriced considering the above factors, as well as some that might be considered overpriced given these guidelines. Generally the makers who have been at it the longest and who have trained for years to reach the pinnacle of the craft, price their work accordingly and justifiably so. Even the highest priced of these rods still represent an extraordinary value given the amount of time it takes to make a fine rod, the cost of materials and maintaining a shop, and the years of experience invested in dedication to the craft.

As an aside, some part time builders can and do produce good work. Their pricing philosophy may reflect the fact that building rods can be an enjoyable way to spend their free time. Because they may not be subject to the same economic pressures that a full time builder has, they may be able to set their prices a bit lower. On the other hand, experience is gained by doing the work over and over again on a regular basis with an eye toward constant improvement. Practice makes perfect.

Many people who believe that cane rod prices are too high have no comprehension of the costs associated with building rods as a profession. In addition, people may have a mental picture of the cane rodbuilder as a lone craftsman, laboring quietly in their shop and living the life of a solitary artisan. The reality is that rodbuilding is subject to all the economic laws of any business. It is just as likely when visiting a rodbuilder to find them attending to mundane chores or filling out tax forms then working at the bench.

Few fishermen realize that 10% of the wholesale cost of any piece of their fishing equipment goes directly to the Federal government. This excise tax is collected and reallocated back to the states for conservation. In addition there are all the other typical taxes: Federal, State and Local Income taxes; Federal and State Unemployment taxes; Corporate Income taxes; Social Security and Medicare taxes; State Worker's Compensation taxes; Personal Property taxes; and State Sales taxes. When one takes into account all of the other costs associated with running a rodbuilding business(advertising, materials and equipment, shop overhead, etc.) it is a wonder that contemporary cane rodbuilders even exist! Cane rodbuilders who have survived these economic realities have not only paid their share of taxes, they have paid their dues.

Time and materials are money! It is simply not possible to make a high quality rod cheaply or quickly. Notice that I didn't say that a functional cane fishing tool can not be made at a reasonable price. Many people are of the school that a fishing rod is a fishing rod, and they get no argument from me. After all, before cane rods became elevated into an art form, they were first and foremost a tool to fish with.

Painstaking attention to details and careful workmanship takes time. And time is money. Our philosophy is this: if we are going to spend forty or more hours of our lives building a rod, why not do the best we can with the finest materials we can find? We believe this guiding philosophy helps us to build an outstanding product. ~ Jeff Wagner

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