Bamboo Bonzai

Cane Karma

By Bill Walters

A new rod was the furthest thing from my mind when I walked into the flyshop that day. I was just anxious for the new season to start and hanging around the shop was a good diversion. Checking out the flytying materials I didn't notice anything I just couldn't live without.

Then, looking over the rod rack I noticed what had to be a brand new bamboo rod. When I was a young kid this wouldn't even have raised an eyebrow, but now we were firmly fixed in the age of graphite. A little surprised, since I had never seen a bamboo flyrod in a shop before, I started to lift the rod out of the rack, admiring the way the hunter green wraps stood out against the flamed cane. Trying to read the inscription on the shaft, I narrowly missed clipping off the rod-tip in the overhead fan. At the same time I heard behind me, "hold on sport, I'll help you with that". Helping me get the rod taken down so that I might test cast it, he handed me the rod and a took out a reel loaded with that bright orange line I've seen in many a flyshop since. Watching him as he checked out the line for snarls I noticed that he had a curiously smug smile.

Outside, as I hefted the rod to line it, I noticed the solid feel of it in my hand. Unfurling some line I went into my backcast, good so far, but as I came forward with my usual power the line almost collapsed on itself. I tried a slower cast on the next try and voila', it worked like a charm. The rod was telling me what to do. I could feel the rod load in a way that graphite had never done. The solid feel was telegraphing more to my hand so that I could feel the rod load all through the stroke instead of just at the end like graphite usually does. I also noticed that this softer action wouldn't launch line the way a graphite stick does but lofted it. At the time the only drawback I could sense was the evidently shorter casting reach, but most of my fishing is on small streams anyway.

I liked that rod, liked it a lot. It was while the shop owner was putting the price tag back on that I noticed it was a 7'6" rated for a 4 wt. line, I also noticed the price. Eight-hundred dollars? You're kidding, right? Disheartened, I put it back and said, maybe some day. Then some years later, it happened, a twist of fate delivered the means.

It all began when my father-in-law, knowing about my obsession with flyfishing, gave me a 9-foot Montague Kingfisher that badly needed a redo to be fishable. Knowing next to nothing about cane flyrods I started looking into what it would take to fix it up. Talking to a Pennsylvania flyshop owner one day I found out that he knew quite a bit about bamboo and the Montague was the equivalent of that two-by-four that a lot of us started flyfishing with. However, not to discourage me, he mentioned the Stuart Kirkfield book- A Fine Bamboo Flyrod, and that he still had two copies on sale. He suggested I could use the information to practice restoration techniques.

Disappointed, I started looking for something useful to do with the rod, when I found out about banty rods (created from the tip and midsection of longer cane rods) and the possibility of using the top two sections of the Montague to create one. So, I started looking around for some old hardware and other old rods that I might turn into Banty rods. Now, I was firmly bitten by the cane rod bug.

One weekend at a fishing tackle flea market I met a fellow from Virginia that had been collecting bamboo flyrods for 4 or 5 years and has amassed quite a collection. At the time he was selling a couple of South Bend and Montague bamboo rods. Talking to him he seemed to be very knowledgeable.Befriending him, I was able to learn quite a bit about bamboo rods and when I called him up one weekend and casually asked him if he had any project rods he could part with, maybe an 8 or 8-1/2 footer, he replied that he had an 8-foot, two-piece, two-tip rod that was in pretty poor shape. He told me that it was starting to come unglued and that the second tip was considerably short. Well, I thought if the price was right I could use it to practice my restoration techniques. He said he could let me have it for 30 dollars. I hastily replied, "I'm sending the check right now."

When I got the rod and looked at it, the condition was just as he said it was. However, the rod measured 45 inches per section and looked to be a light-line rod. Astonished, I remeasured it probably a dozen times to be sure and then called the collector and casually asked during the course of our conversation about certain other characteristics of the rod, to be sure that he had sent me the right one. Sure enough it was the right rod. I had my 7 1/2 foot, 4 weight in my hands.With growing excitement, I asked him if there was anyone he could recommend for redoing (as opposed to restoring) this rod. He told me about a rod builder in Michigan named Wesley Cooper that might be able to squeeze it in. I didn't trust myself to attempt a restroration with such a find. Even though the rod is a Montague Rapidan it felt good in my hands right from the start, poor condition and all.

As it turned out, Mr. Cooper did a superb job of redoing the rod, even of rebuilding (scarfing) the one tip that was 9 inches short. Also, he lengthened the grip for me after I sent it back, because it was just a little too short for my hand.

When I fished it for the first time I was more than pleased. The rod lived up to all my expectations. I'm not a great caster but the rod gave me smooth casts, easy hookups, and just felt great in the hand, like the rod was built for me.

As for what it cost, let's just say that my initial investment added to what the redo cost brought the total outlay to what the rod is worth. It's not exactly the Green River bamboo I handled that day in the flyshop but this rod will probably always be priceless to me because it was my first bamboo. ~ Bill

About Bill Walters:

I'm 38 years old. I've been flyfishing for 8 years (converted spin fisherman). I fish the eastern half of Pennsylvania and live in Delaware. I have a little girl that likes to go fishing with her Dad and an infant son who's world revolves around his mom and big sister but I hope to interest him in the world of nature and the big outdoors.

My favorite flys are the Wulff series of dries, a wooly bugger in any color and a weighted soft hackle wet. Love to fish to native brookies in the few places in PA that you can still find them and I love to build flyrods from blanks but my time to do that right now is limited, as you can well imagine. ~ Bill

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