Bamboo Bonzai

Ron Kusse
51 Years Making Split Cane Rods

Ron Kusse at work

"To me, rod-making comes from the heart more than from the hands..."

Ron Kusse was born in 1934 in Rochester, New York. Shortly after he was born his family moved to the suburbs north of Rochester. His father began teaching Ron how to tie flies and cast a flyrod at the age of four. On Ron's fifth birthday he received a Tonka Prince Flyrod, a Pflueger Medalist Reel, and a King Eider silk flyline. He also received a Thompson flytying vice, hackle pliers, and scissors from Germany. This was the best birthday Ron ever had.

From that point on Ron tied flies, helped his father make wooden bass lures, and refinished split cane rods all winter. Summers were spent fishing the two streams by his home everyday the season was open.

When Ron was 13 years old his father, who was the president of a fishing club in Rochester, New York, took him to a dinner for A.J. McClane, a prominent author of trout fishing books and magazine articles. Mr. McClane was in town to give a demonstration of fishing for rainbow trout that would migrate out of Seneca Lake into Saint Catherine's Creek each spring. This was, at the time, an important and nationally known fishery. At the McClane banquet Ron's father mentioned to Mr. McClane that his son tied flies and refinished rods. Mr. McClane said, "Why don't he make some rods?"

Mr. McClane drew plans for planning forms on the back of a supper menu. Ron's father had one of his machinist friends make the metal planning forms. Ron used these forms to make rods for a paying hobby for the next 20 years. During these years he became established as a maker of very high quality rods even though it was not his main occupation. A half dozen times a year Ron would drive down and visit Pinky Gillum, The H.L. Leonard Rod Shop and the E.F. Payne Shop. Ron got to know these craftsmen very well and would learn from them.

In 1972 the H.L. Leonard Rod Company decided to expand. Ted Simroe and Hap Mills contacted Ron and offered him a Vice Presidency of the H.L. Leonard Rod Company along with stock options. He happily accepted and his career with H.L. Leonard started. Shortly thereafter, H.L. Leonard was sold to University Society and then sold again to Johnson Wax Company of Racine, Wisconsin. Ron remained with Leonard as both his friends Hap Mills and Ted Simroe were terminated. Another friend, Tom Maxwell, was hired and stayed about a year and was also terminated in early 1981. Ron decided that the H.L.Leonard Rod Company was headed in the wrong direction for him and quit the company in March of 1981, to again make rods under his own name.

A small portion of the Ron 
Kusse Rod Shop.  Both cane and metal working machines are 
represented here.

Ron has enjoyed much success as a rod maker. He has made rods for many prominent fishermen, Art Flick, Harry Darby, Vince Marinaro and others. In June of 1987 the prestigious New Yorker magazine did a 9,000 word profile on him and a year later in April 1988, NBC featured a nationwide segment on Ron's rods on the Sunday Morning Today Program.

Ron's hat or label pin The International Game Fish Association has 15 cane flyrods on display in their new Fort Lauderdale Museum showing the evolution of rods over the last hundred years. Ron's Beaverkill Special Rod is the only one on display by a living rod maker. Ron is now offering a few products on his website that he hopes you will find interesting.

Publishers note: Ron is alive and well in Washingtonville N.Y. Watch for up-coming articles from him here in With Bamboo - you can also find him in the Chat Room as "QC." ~DB

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