Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

February 20th, 2005

The Boyd Rod

I often wondered what the people who were recipients of my father's crafts thought to themselves. How they felt, what they perceived, where their thoughts found a quiet corner to contemplate.

My father was a boat builder, jewelry maker, woodworker and woodcarver, among many things. From a battered old shop with a dirt floor in the backyard, magic flowed in a ceaseless stream, most to be sold in the craft shop my grandparents ran out of a room of this old house I live in now. I would sit with him in that old shop, watch the boat or the watchband or bolo tie come together, see it leave, but I could not comprehend what the customer who might wander into the crafts shop at my grandparents' might feel, think, see there.

Even in my later years when, sadly, after my father's death I found the drive to build on my own was overwhelming, I could not imagine what really lurked behind the praise for a curly maple armoire, a bookshelf, a dresser of drawers.

Perhaps I am beginning to understand it, as I grow older, as I perceive from my own quite corner at the side-edge of a life.

It was nearly a year ago that arrangements were made with Harry Boyd for a rod. Harry is a bamboo rodmaker who hails from Louisiana, so a Boyd Rod Co. model would be a natural for me. I had only met Harry once, briefly, at a club conclave in Lafayette, but we had corresponded by email many times. I was thinking of a bass rod, something at eight feet, and Harry suggested a seven weight based on the Dickerson Guide Special taper, hollow built. He even suggested it would be suitable for marsh redfish and speckled trout. Sounded like a winner to me and so I agreed.

As most of you kind folks know, it was quite a busy year for me: Two television programs on Fly Fishing America, two hurricanes and all that. The time passed quickly with all the excitement down here, and before I knew it, Harry was telling me the rod was ready. He would have been happy to mail it to me, but I insisted on driving to Winnsboro, Louisiana to pick it up. On the one hand I couldn't bear the thought of entrusting it to the mail, though rodmakers do so all the time, but also, I felt like it was the right thing to do, since Harry and I had only briefly had time to talk face-to-face.

I had only been exposed to a few cane rods, but loved them greatly. Of the bunch my favorite was a nine-foot Granger Victory, pre-Wright and McGill takeover vintage. A medium-action rod, the Victory was nonetheless my "go to" rod for bass fishing around here.

The first trip was a bust due to bad weather, but the following weekend a buddy of mine and I took to the road for the four-hour trip to Winnsboro. Upon arriving, I had written down Harry's directions to his house: Turn here. Then turn there. One driveway, I counted aloud, second driveway...

"Maybe it's the one with that guy casting a fly rod in the driveway," my pal said. Sure enough, there was Harry, and there was an awful lot of line out in front on him as I turned in. Quick introductions and Harry said, "This isn't your rod. I decided to build one for myself, too," and then ushered us inside where we met Harry's wife and, without a lot of fanfare but a broad grin, Harry put a tube in my hand. "Here's your rod," he said.

I used to wonder what people felt and thought and perceived when they took delivery of one of my father's wooden bateaus or calumets; one of my grandparents river cane baskets or one of my piddlings in the woodshop. I used to guess at the emotions, thoughts. Now I think I know.

As the top came off and the rod bag came out the tube, then the butt and two tips of the rod emerged, I knew what it was like. The burl reel seat insert, the fine, bright reel seat, green wraps, black tipping, and oh, the cane. Glowing, it was, speaking, too. He had inscribed "Native Waters" on one flat and I felt myself flush with pride.

What I have long loved about antique firearms, handmade furniture, bamboo rods, many such things was the mark of the craftsman. Men like my father, like my grandfather, but they were always detached. Distant. I didn't know the name or the face behind the Granger, the old Damascus twist double-barrel that had been in the family for generations, the Edison Amberola in the den. Certainly I knew my father and grandfather and grandmother, but the detachment was still there, somehow. From the inside, looking out I still couldn't perceive the entirety of it.

But as Harry led us back outside and I strung up the rod and before I knew it, threw an awful lot of line out - more than I had ever cast before with any rod - I saw from the corner of my eye Harry beaming like a proud parent. Like the way my father would grin widely when a boat left on a shiny galvanized trailer, or a violin cradled in the crook of an arm, or a turquoise and silver band on a wrist. I understood at last that the beauty of the craft is only half the story: The other half is that it moved directly from the maker's hand to the user's, the wearer's.

I think I said something like, "It's exquisite," but Harry will have to tell you for sure, because I was in awe of the perfectly balanced and extraordinarily powerful rod in my hand, conjuring line behind and in front of me. I've never felt such wonder in a fly rod, and sometimes when I'm casting it in the yard these days, waiting for spring to actually get it out on the water, I wonder if I ever will again.

"You weren't even using a haul," Harry observed, and I timidly admitted I am terrible at the fabled double-haul, but with that rod, I hardly needed it, even into the wind as I was casting.

We spent a couple hours with Harry in his rod making shop, a tour which was nothing short of fascinating and added so much more depth and perception to the rod in the tube that would be going home with me. As the son and grandson of craftsmen, I found myself within shops past and present, and the vision of the craftsman huddled over his work, satisfied only with the very best he could muster, unwilling to put his name on anything else, ran as true in my memories as it did that day standing there with Harry Boyd.

Then it was time to be off. Harry had a speaking engagement and we had that four-hour ride back. We shook hands and Harry said he wanted pictures of me and the first fish caught with the rod. He said if I had any problems whatsoever with it he'd take care of it. I thanked him again and pointed the hood of the truck towards home.

I still haven't gotten it wet. The weather's just not cooperating here, the water is high and muddy even when temperatures are passable. But spring's just around the corner, and Harry will get his picture. I take it out in the yard often, and grow more enamored of it each time. That's what it's all about, holding the work of a true craftsman, who put it from his or her hand to yours, no matter if it's a fly rod or something else. True craftsmen let a little part of themselves go out with each piece.

The picture's coming Harry. It's going to be a great spring!

Boyd Rod Company can be reached at ~ Roger

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