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Vince Marinaro on Bamboo Rods:

from Ring of the Rise

Part 1
(January 5th, 1998)
Our last article on bamboo rods (by Ralph Moon) quoted Vince Marinaro, with his comments th at bamboo rods are the natural and logical match for fly fishing. What follows is Part One of Vince's dissertation on bamboo rods, taken from Ring of the Rise published by Crown books in 1976. This book is out of print, but may be found in a used book store or one of the quality suppliers of fishing literature such as Armchair Angler in Hillburn, NY. (Phone 914-357-7846)

"In my own practice, not only have I limited the number of reels that I need but the lines as well. Accordingly, I have designed all my trout ro ds to carry only one weight of line, a 5 weight. A 6 weight system would probably work just as well on the theory that these two weights are the most efficient of all sizes: they will return greater dividends to the caster in terms of delicacy of deliver y, wind-bucking qualities, length of cast, and the use of lighter rods. All my trout rods from six to nine feet handle only one reel and line size. It has been an entirely satisfactory system.

I have mentioned that old saw about "letting the rod do the work." That idea still prevails. The rod cannot make a cast any more than a baseball bat can hit a home run by itse lf. The rod, because of it's small mass in cross section, cannot store up and release enough energy to make any kind of a cast. Robert Crompton once conducted a public experiment in which an ultrastiff rod was anchored upright in a vise, then the line w as drawn backward to create maximum bend in the rod. On being released the line was dragged forward a short distance but could not get past the rod.

These are interesting and significant aspects in rod function and all fly-rod fishermen should be concerned with them.

My own interest eventually went further than these subsidiary matters for I was finally, some forty-five years ago, induced to become an amateur rod-builder. Actually, it was so mething that I undertook under a kind of duress.

I had become enamored of the dry fly very early in life, but it was a time when very little was known about it. It was only a few short years before my own involvement that the books of Gill, La Branche, and Rhead had been published. They were helpful but I did not realize how very much they were limited until later years, when in the light of my own experience I was able to overcome many difficulties, mostly on my own initiati ve.

Perhaps the most severe limitation placed on all of us at that time was in the matter of tackle, in just about every department, particularly, proper dry-fly rods. The rods avai lable in those days were long - nine feet or more, heavy, very slow to respond and extremely tiresome under the burden of numerous false casts that a dry-fly fisherman must make in a long fishing day. It was a lucky thing for me that I did not have acces s to the English dry-fly books in that period else I might have started my career with some frightful instrument anywhere from eleven to fifteen feet long. So my impatience with existing and available rods induced me to try my hand at rod building.

I started with solid wood - greenheart hickory, lemonwood. These were comparatively easy to work; planing, rounding, and tapering presented no great problem since I had some ski ll and experience as an amateur woodworker. Eventually, I had to abandon these woods because they were unsatisfactory on many counts. The experience was valuable. I learned a great deal about rod action. Without training as an engineer, the knowledge acquired is gained through the empirical process. It is a matter of trial and error: sensing and feeling the changes needed, requiring, of course, the ability to execute those changes in order to improve each new model.

I learned two important things in those days. The length of rod had to held within proper bounds and a suitable material must be used. There is a third most important lesson th at I shall discuss later in this chapter. It was apparent to me that the only suitable material was bamboo. Accordingly, I made the giant leap into the making of split-bamboo fly rods.

I will not bore the reader with all my trials and tribulations in that endeavor; I will say only briefly that such a task is a huge undertaking, full of disappointments and many frustra tions. And if you are a perfectionist, it might be many years before you achieve a satisfactory product. Getting the right tools is a big hurdle in itself, including a split steel planing mold and a glueing machine, which I had to make for myself as a t een-age boy. With those trying days in mind, I shudder inside a little when I am approached by individuals expressing a desire to make split-bamboo fly rods.

Now let us consider one of the three important considerations in the manufacture of fly rods - the material. It is common knowledge that manufacturers of fly rods are still deeply con cerned with the problem of finding suitable rod material. We have been through a long history of searching, involving exotic and native woods, whalebone, bamboo, steel, glass, and now graphite. Bamboo is still the great standard against which all other materials are measured. At its best it makes a magnificent weapon. It lost ground for a time because being a natural product, it lacks uniformity, is incapably of being mass-produced for quality, and is costly to manufacture - but then no one would say that Stradivarius violins can't be mass-produced either. Rods made of synthesized materials were and are a great boon to fishermen because of durability, uniformity, and cheaper manufacturer. But strange to relate there are fishermen who would rather fis h with a second-rate bamboo than with the best rod of any other materials just as there are gunners who won't shoot with any design except the traditional and aristocratic double gun.

Bamboo, being a natural product, like flesh and blood, can establish a greater affinity with its owner than with any other material. There can be a powerful personal bond between them, and identification, that lets the caster feel the rod is an extension of his own personality. It goes beyond mere pride of ownership." - VM

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