What is the attraction of a fine bamboo rod? The history? Family heirloom? The pleasing rod action? I have to confess that my fascination began with a more base motive. I saw the Thomas & Thomas rod catalogs of the 1980’s and was left breathless by the beauty of the Individualist rods. Here is a taste. See what I mean?
It was decided right then and there that I would need a bamboo rod. The prices for the Individualist rods did not mesh well with my budget at the time. My first taste was an AJ Thramer-made 7’ 3/2 4wgt with full-flex action. I purchased this rod in the early '90s.
This rod saw plenty of action in the Mountain streams of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, and later in Colorado and Montana. But it wasn't enough. I wanted more rods. I wanted rods that looked closer to the T & T rods. I was also enthralled with the look of the Granger Special rods and picked up a 9050 refurbished by Dave Collyer.
These rods “bracketed” my typical fishing, but I had still not hit the sweet spot for daily use. I decided that I needed to make my own rods for my personal use. But, how to go about it? I obtained a copy of the “Bible” — A Master’s Guide to Building A Bamboo Fly Rod by Garrison/Carmichael. Like most, I found it extremely useful, but a bit overwhelming with unending specialized equipment requirements. It was a start, but not enough to get me really started.
Then, I somehow stumbled upon the Rodmakers List listserve sometime in 1998. Wow, here conversations about bamboo rod making, between both experienced and new makers, occurred every day. I read and read and read, but did not join or post right away. So much to absorb. Quite the treasure trove.
One participant was referred to by others as the “Bamboo Buddha” in deference to his knowledge and contributions to the craft. They were referring to Wayne Cattanach of Michigan.
It turned out that Wayne had written a rod making book that was a modern and more straightforward take on the subject — Handcrafting Bamboo Fly Rods (copyright 1992).
I obtained a copy and devoured it. I was impressed. Impressed enough that I decided to attend one of Wayne’s hands-on 6-day classes in 1999. I came away with friends and a completed blank. Off to the races.
Shown below are Wayne’s updated 2000 hardback and my original well-worn, 1992 3-ring binder version.
Wayne was intimately involved with the Grayrock Gathering held in June of each year in Grayling, Michigan. The 2000 gathering was my first rod-making gathering. I also made the 2001 gathering and maybe one or two more. Memory fails me.
The class blank was finished up at home after yet more gearing up. Rods and gatherings followed. I was hooked.
I was able to attend the well-established Southern Rod Gathering in 2001 for the first time. What a class event. In the spring 2002, I was lucky enough to attend the one and only “Real Southern Rod Gathering” in Nelson, New Zealand, along with my wife Diane. Bob Nunley flew down with us and suffered a fishing injury, as is his custom…Presented below are a few moments.
I travelled to SRG 2002 with Dave Collyer. We were so impressed with the gathering that we started thinking that a gathering close to home in Colorado would be a great thing. Soon, a site was selected, a committee formed and the Colorado Rodmakers Reunion was born in July 2003. In 2016, the 14th edition will take place.
My rod making fell off for a period due to professional demands, but is now back in full swing. Glad to be back. Mortised rods are on the agenda for this winter.
In the end, it turns out that both making and fishing bamboo rods over the past 17 years exceed the beauty that was the genesis of my interest.