Bamboo Bonzai

A Little Flattery

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'Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery's the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit. J. Swift

If you are anything like myself, from time to time you get the dreaded phone call or knock at the door. You know what I mean. You find it hard to say no anyway, and here's a person with this great cause asking you for your investment of time and maybe some money to boot. The person doing the asking is a seasoned pro at this. Like a fisherman who will stand for hours trying to catch that difficult fish, they will consider various approaches, keep changing flies and tactics, adapt to all the variables. Sooner or later they hook you, just like the fish.

Such was the case when Fly Angler's OnLine asked me to author a biweekly column on cane rods. Like almost everyone, my time is precious. But what an opportunity, and for one heck of a good cause! LadyFisher made one good cast after another, then threw in a little flattery and a promise of carte blanche for the column. So here we are, ready to embark on a new adventure.

At this point it might be good to introduce myself. My name is Jeff Wagner and I'm the owner of the J.D. Wagner Rod Company. Our small operation consists of my wife Casimira, myself, and one large shopcat named Geezerman. We're still unsure of just what Geezerman does.

We make bamboo flyrods as a full-time occupation. I took up rodbuilding as a 'career' about three years ago after building rods on a part time basis for several years. Casimira came aboard last year. As far as I know, she is the only female cane rodbuilder (working as a full-time professional), anywhere in the world.

How I got into cane rodbuilding provides a startling example of what can happen to a person who is obsessive-compulsive by nature. When Casimira and I met she introduced me to birdwatching. I laughed at the birdwatchers, compulsively making lists of all the birds they have seen. If you want to see a group more obsessive then flyfishers, hang around some bird watchers! They travel all over the world just to see some exotic new species to add to their lists. They'll stand for hours in the rain, snow and cold. They spend oodles of money in their pursuit. Sound familiar?

At any rate, I began to make birdhouses from scrap wood to use around the house and give away as gifts. At the time I was using a handsaw and made an offhand remark to Casimira that if I had a tablesaw I could really crank out birdhouses. That Christmas she gave me a tablesaw and videotape that included instructions on how to build a wood rodcase. So I made a couple rodcases and word got around…. next thing I knew I was selling them to area flyshops. One day while delivering some rodcases to a flyshop I saw a book about cane rodbuilding, became intrigued, and set about learning how to build cane rods.

I can't explain why I had always been fascinated by cane flyrods. There's just something special about them, and I've found that people that get into them really get into them. I became obsessed with building my first rod. All told, it took almost a year between first deciding to try it and finally finishing the first rod. Today, we build about 70 rods a year and supplement our income by providing rodbuilding tools and classes to others that have become similarly fixated with cane rodbuilding. As of this writing, I've yet to make a single birdhouse using that tablesaw that started this whole adventure.

What I hope to achieve with this column is to educate and inform readers about all aspects of cane rods: their history, how they're built, and their mystique. I'd also like to introduce you to some of my friends and rodbuilding icons because the people that craft these beautiful and utile objects inspired me, and in some cases guided me, to build them myself. We'll debunk some myths and slay some sacred cows. I'll occasionally rant about something or other, just for the hell of it. I hope you'll be educated and entertained, but most of all I would like you to develop a greater appreciation for cane rods and their place in our angling heritage. ~ J.D. Wagner

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