July 21, 2010

Sorry about the radio silence this past week. I wanted to get this post up sooner but a few things managed to get in the way. Hopefully I’ll be putting them up with a  bit more regularity going forward. I hope everyone is doing well.

When it comes to collecting, fishing, and otherwise enjoying bamboo fly rods, one thing that I always recommend to people is to get their hands on a lot of different rods and cast them, ideally all together at the same time. Of course this is often easier said than done. Not too many of us have a lot of different bamboo rods lying around (though our wives and significant others would probably disagree) so being able to try rods from several dozen makers can be tough. It’s not like you can just waltz into the American Museum of Fly Fishing, start pulling exhibits of the walls and take them out onto the lawn to cast them, at least not without lining up some good legal representation beforehand. In the end your best bet is probably to get together with a bunch of people who have different rods, maybe at a show or a bamboo rod event, and do it then.

The reason this is on my mind is that I was recently thinking back about doing this at Leonard and realizing just how pivotal it was to my “bamboo education.” At the shop there were rods from a number of different makers and periodically, Tom Maxwell, Myself, Ron Kusse, and Bobby Taylor would drag a bunch of them out into the parking lot or the nearby lawn and take an hour or so to cast them all. My memory is a bit foggy but being the professor that he was I suspect that it had been Tom’s idea initially, though the rest of us quickly grew to like the custom.

We did this not just to loaf off of course, but also for practical purposes, to step back a bit from the day-to-day task of building rods and get a better sense of what made them perform and why. In addition to our own rods we also had some from a number of other different makers–Payne, FE Thomas, T&T, Constable, Hardy, Pezon et Michel, etc., — and so this gave us a chance to compare our own work with that of others.

The point of having them all there at once was that it was easier to compare the rods, a point which probably seems a little obvious but which is probably worth emphasizing a bit. It’s one thing to say, Well, I thought so-and-so’s rod was a bit slow when I got to cast it up on the Beaverkill, not like what’s-his-name’s that I tried on the Hoosatonic a few springs ago. If you’re anything like me, you don’t have the memory for that sort of thing and having all of the rods right there made the differences between them really stand out. This was critical to us since in the end performance is the real bread-and-butter of our craft.

I even remember Tom walking out one afternoon with a handkerchief in one hand. He wanted us to cast the rods blindfolded to see if we could tell which was which. Now, I’m not sure I’d recommend this for everyone (it’s a lot harder than you think to cast well without being able to see) but it was an interesting exercise nonetheless, one that certainly made us pay better attention to the intricacies of each rod’s action.

Another interesting part to this was that the four of us all had somewhat different tastes in rods which made our comparisons more helpful in many ways. Ron liked really fast rods, Tom and I liked them pretty fast, and Bobby Taylor liked them a bit more on the slower side. It was helpful because in a way, each of us sort of represented the tastes of different fly casters and what they were looking for in a rod. I think it probably also made us all a bit more attentive in terms of knowing what people really mean when they say “I like medium-slow actions” and so forth, since that’s the sort of thing that can vary a bit from person to person.

If You Can, Try all of Them…

Probably the best way to do this sort of thing these days — unless you’re a collector or really have a lot of different rods on hand — is to go to a show or a bamboo rod get-together. There have been a bunch of them that have cropped up over the last few years, often on a nice river somewhere, and there, if you ask politely, you’ll often get the chance to cast a lot of the rods that people bring. These events are often posted on things like the Classic Fly Rod Forum , or, as with much in the bamboo rod world, passed along by word of mouth so if you keep your eyes and ears open you’ll often see them come up. About the only downside to doing it this way is that it can sometimes feel a bit too commercial, since people often go to these things to try and sell their rods — something I certainly don’t blame them for — but which can still give it a kind of different vibe. Ultimately it sort of depends on the nature of the venue.

Sadly, I don’t do this sort of thing much these days since I tend not to have the time, but I still think it’s a great exercise for those who are interested in bamboo and want to really be able to discern the nuances that come with each rod. When you have cast, say, fifty or a hundred different rods, and then come back and recast them and been able to closely compare them, only then do you really start to notice subtle differences in performance, far beyond the generic “okay this is fast” or more commonly “hmm, this feels like a slug.”

In the end, I think it’s the best way to not only figure out what you like, but also figure out which rods really have that special something. After all, that special something is ultimately why we fish bamboo rods in the first place.

-Marc


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