Now that the holidays are over and January is firmly upon us I’m sometimes asked about the best way to store a bamboo fly rod. The obvious answer is that you shouldn’t, you should be out there fishing it, but when life intrudes, or when you’re snowed in and there isn’t a trout in sight, it generally pays to know a thing or two about properly storing your bamboo fly rods.
The Basics: Keep it High and Dry
If you’re putting it away for a season, or if you know you won’t be using it for a long time, then the first order of business is to find a relatively dry, out of the way place. Temperature shouldn’t matter a whole lot except at the very extremes. For most of us who live in standard trout climates – temperate regions with cold dry winters and hot humid summers — most places in an office or spare bedroom or tackle room will suffice as long as it isn’t next to a radiator or other heat source.
More often than not I just leave my rods in their tubes provided that they’re thoroughly dry and that my last trip of the year wasn’t an especially rainy one. I know some others who prefer to take the rod bag out of the tube and hang it up in the back of a closet and I actually recommend that to a lot of people if they have a good spot for it. Just keep in mind that bamboo is a natural material that, even when finished with varnish, will tend to want to reach equilibrium with the humidity level around it so you’re best to search for a place where that humidity is likely to be nice and low.
I also know a few people who have display cases for their rods where they can show off the better models in their collection. Some of those cases are works of art in their own right, as you can see from these photos that a customer recently sent me. If you have something like this, then you’re way ahead of the game.
Know thine enemies: Heat and Humidity
What happens if you don’t keep a rod dry or if you leave it in a place that’s too hot? A number of things, and none of them good. If a rod is left in an area that’s too hot the varnish will often “alligator” and depending on how bad it is the rod might have to be completely refinished. I’ve sometimes seen this happen with rods that were left in an attic for a sustained period of time where temperatures can get pretty high.
If a rod gets left in an area with too much humidity, the moisture can often be quite damaging especially if it’s an older rod that was bound up with hide glue. Often the varnish will get gummy and can stick to the inside of the rod bag, and occasionally the guides–typically made of high-speed steel–will rust. In some cases it’s possible to fix this but often it’s a real mess. Even when you do everything right and take some precautions, you can sometimes still find evidence of humidity, most often with a ring that won’t slide on a wooden reel seat spacer that has swollen. This will usually go away with time but, as always, it’s best not to have it happen in the first place if you can help it.
The Final Checkup Before Hibernation
Before I put a rod away for the season I also like to give it a quick checkup. For me, it’s a good way to see if there’s anything on the rod that might need a little maintenance. A set, for example, where the rod has acquired a slight bend in it from use (more on these some other time). I also like to check the state of the ferrules, and will often give them a good cleaning. And finally, I’ll also go over the rod to check up on the varnish and to make sure there are no things like hook digs and so forth. Unless I’ve had a particularly busy fishing year these things are generally fine, though I still tend to check them out of habit anyway, on the principle that a fisherman ought to take good care of his tools. Once that’s done I know I can confidently hit the tying bench, ready to wait out the winter until spring when the rods come out again.
So at the end of the day, the takeaways here aren’t exactly rocket science. At home, keep it dry and out of the way. At the end of the year go over it with some care just to make sure that it’s ready to be put to bed for a few months. Other than that you shouldn’t have too much to worry about provided you have some basic common sense.