There was recently a quite passionate discussion on a well know mailing list that most of us belong to. Well I thought that rather than get into a debate on that mailing list I would try to do an unbiased review on the subject. The topic was about “Breaking From Tradition!” I will try to look at this in both pros and cons if I may. First I must say that I am a very much traditional kind of builder, and I have my reasons and beliefs but I will try not to let this skew my thoughts here! So here we go:
First off lets talk about why we love our bamboo fly rods! The reasons are many! Once you can get away from all the hype about the ’44 million modulus graphite with carbon twill’ in the newest generation of carbon fiber rods, and are no longer swayed by the millions of dollars the big boys put into marketing, you are on your way! Granted it is tempting when you look at all those ads in the fly fishing and just plain sporting magazines. Then you get together with the boys for a fishing trip and you don’t have the latest and greatest gear, well…you don’t even have anything to talk about! Or do you?
OK so let’s talk ‘Custom Handmade Fine Bamboo Fly Rods!’ Well like it or not you are taking a step back into a more traditional piece of equipment! It takes a while of casting bamboo to get over the graphite method of casting which…OK I’m not gonna go there! Once you start to feel the cane rod load and start getting a nice tight loop and just realize that ‘this here stick feel really nice’ you’d better watch out, maybe it’s too late for you! If you get hooked ‘there is no known cure to man’ you will just have to live with it and treat the symptoms! (Buy another cane rod, build a cane rod, and fish bamboo…) well one thing is for sure your fly fishing skills will improve but more important you will enjoy it much more! And about having something to talk about…well just attend one of the many bamboo gatherings that are becoming more common every day, and you will see! Here makers, collectors, fishermen and just people who are interested, don’t stop ‘talking Cane’ … Back to that ‘breaking from tradition’:
Let’s talk in the sense of building rods! Do you do it the traditional way? Or do you break from tradition and go more of a modern way of doing things? First and most important question is why you are doing what you are doing! Is it that you feel there is a better way? Or are you trying to simply make things easier so you can make more money? Well in my opinion, the first reason is the only one that should be taken into account, although the second reason is why many ‘break from tradition’ and use all kinds of methods and materials.
First order of business…do you hand plane or use a machine? Even a CNC machine? And why? Not much to say about this other than many of the old companies did use a machines, both rough beveling and finish milling machines to make their blanks. But these were production rods! Your choice here? I think either one is OK, CNC is of course less traditional simply ’cause they didn’t have computers back in the day! Talk about taking the time to make a piece of equipment! If you want truly custom rods, well maybe hand planing is the choice!
It is well know that buying all of your hardware is much easier and cost effective than making it. It is much easier to simply assemble a rod from parts made by someone else. Now that being said, there are a number of companies and individuals making some really nice hardware. If you do not have the equipment or skills to make all or some of your own hardware you only have one choice, but your rods may look like most rods out there! Now if you have taken the time to acquire or make the tooling to deep draw your own reel seat hardware and ferrules, make your own agate stripping guides, make your own reel seat fillers, or even twist your own snake guides, you are in complete control over how these parts are made and you are not hostage to whatever is available. Most of the old companies made their own hardware simply because that was the only way to get it! As far as the material to use, nickle silver is the traditional material to use for ferrules and reel seat hardware. Precision hard drawn tubing is very expensive to acquire and making or buying dies to deep draw from flat stock is also quite involved, although in my opinion produces the best ferrules and reel seats that can be made! Hardware machined on a CNC just doesn’t look right on a custom bamboo rod. Many builders break from tradition here by using different materials (IE. aluminum, duronze, brass, or even bamboo) now the people doing this will justify and argue all day long that this is a better way! Is it? Or is it that these materials are simply easier to get? Or does this fall into that second reason?
Now how about adhesives no lets call it glue! Here is an area that I believe that most builders use what they think is the best for various reasons, I don’t think that any builder uses a glue that is less expensive just for that reason. I don’t think that anyone makes a decision here based on availability either as I have heard of the trouble many go through to get the glue they want to use. I have also seen guys use stuff that if you are not careful you can end up poisoning the pets and small children or at least gluing them to the work bench! Not to speak of the mess. As far as glues go I think just about anything available today is much better than the hide glue of day gone by. This is probably the best area to break from traditional materials.
How about the stripping guides and snake guides? Boat guides and Mildrum SRMC guides were very commonly used, as well as agate stripping guides. When I started making rods, agate guides were as rare as hens teeth! I took a class is lapidary and jewelry making so I could make my own agate stripping guides! Many have heard me comment about my $600.00 stripping guides! I called them that because if I could have charged even a modest minimum wage for the time spent to make them, that is what I would have had to get for them! Today I have found a supplier of agate rings (which is the hardest part of making agate strippers) so I make some pretty nice ones. I know of several people who are at least attempting to make agate stripping guides, some are doing a very nice job of it. If nothing else they are readily available. The making of snake guides is less common but I like to do it because it gives me control over what I use, I can make them in the color I want (silver, bronze, black) and the style (american or reverse english) they don’t look like the ones every one else is using!
Well I have touched on many methods both traditional and modern. You as a rod maker have to choose what best suites you. You may be motivated by money or you may want to make the best rod you possible can. You may simply want to make a rod as quickly and easily as possible or you may be sicker than most and really get into doing something different. You may want to follow in the footsteps of your favorite rod builders of day gone by. Most builders make at least some of their stuff, at least reel seat fillers. A select few make most if not all their parts!
Well to sum up this rather lengthy rant, this has not been a complete view of the topic but it should give you some food for thought! I hope I was able to stay somewhat unbiased, I think as builders we should always strive to make the best ‘Fine Bamboo Fly Rod’ we can. And if you are totally motivated by money…well, such is life!
If you have managed to read all of this, you are probably addicted… you are not alone, there are many support groups out there, this is one of them, good luck!
For treatment to your addiction click this link and call me in the morning!
Joe E. Arguello