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Saturday, March 6. 2010
Re-posted from a couple of years ago -
(Trout season around
“Fishing Bamboo” is the name of a wonderful book by John Gierach, a veritable fishing curmudgeon of the old school.
In reviewing the book, W. D. Wetherell said, “The split bamboo fly rod and the mystique that goes with it is a subject that deserves just the right mix of skepticism and reverence, and John Gierach is just the writer to supply this, in a fascinating book that explains what the excitement is all about.”
Yet like many wonderful things of the past, the bamboo rod is close to being on the endangered list. I took one of my late father’s wonderful E.C. Powell rods to Montana to fish the Bighorn (hated it – we were trolling downstream from a boat with the fly being swept ahead of us by the current). As I assembled the rod, the 20ish guide said “It just don’t look right, being yellow.” He had never seen a rod that wasn’t molded from green or brown-dyed synthetic petroleum by-products reverently referred to as “graphite”. A professional fishing guide, on the Bighorn, and he had never seen a bamboo rod.
Well, I have to wonder why not, and deal with the conclusions. Those of us who use bamboo are probably using our father’s or grandfather’s rods, because the values of these rods have gone from high to stupid. I lost my mother’s 2½ oz. 7-foot “baby Powell” on a transcontinental flight, and after two years of mourning and being unable even to contemplating fishing, I felt morally obligated to replace it. The 2½ oz. 7-foot Leonard “Fairy Catskill” I found on eBay cost me $3,600, and I fish it often, refusing to be terrified. It’s just Ma’s rod reborn, and it is meant to fish the 7”-9” wild trout we find where I fish in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The tip, maybe one millimeter thick, is still composed of six long, incredibly slender, patiently-planed pieces of Tonkin cane spliced together, tied with dark red thread and then lacquered. There are precious few people alive today who can replicate or repair such artistry.
Orvis still sells bamboo, and there are still some fabulous rodmakers working today, like my friend Jim in Florida, a retired USAF Master Sergeant, who not only makes amazing bamboo rods, he also make all his own machine tools for the bamboo and also the metal fittings.
Well, where are the rods? I fear they have fallen into the hands of “collectors”, look-but-don’t-touch people with a lot of money and minimal fishing skills – much like Purdey shotguns. Have you ever seen a Purdey in the field in the US where it can get dinged on stone walls, fall in the mud, and run over by SUVs (except for those fancy-ass Hudson Valley corporate clubs).
I have several old bamboo rods and may add one of Jim’s quad rods to my arsenal, and I have some English shotguns, but I follow – and leave the gentle reader with – my partner Tom’s advice. Be sure you can say that you have caught a fish with every rod you own, and that you have taken a bird with every shotgun; only then do you honor the rare skill of the maker.
(Image is an old Heddon 7-8 wt. 9' rod, for big fish - salmon and salt-water fishies. I never thought I'd see it, but salt-water fly-fishing has become all the rage these days.)
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We're trying to do our part as well as hundreds of cottage shops throughout the country to keep the bamboo rod from going extinct.
Fishing bamboo; Have come across "very old" bamboo rod that has 3 main pieces and extra tip section with slightly different eye than other tip piece. It appears to have initials AM scratched on side of main piece and finding difference in that butt cork section has small 1/2 inch metal section followed by 4 inch cork section followed by exact 4 in metal part with old grooves for reel. This entre 4 section rod is encased in velvatene enlay case with two ties. The ties are very unique, in that one of tip pieces has a"red" wrap section as compared to other tip piece with green wrap section. Have done many fine hours with my passed father on streams, and this flyrod appears to either been a "personal rod" or experimental early rod of AM ( Montaque ? ) Would enjoy reading your reply as to what or who you think this "old masters" rod could have belonged to!! Thank You, In Service Major Bill Evans
Three sons came back to the old family place after a long absence of 20 years or so. Two had acquired doctorates and one a Masters, they had all acquired top of the line SAGE rods/reels. The creek that runs past the front of the house feeds into a river that is very famous.
Three sons take their new equipment to the big river, promising to return home with enough Trout to feed the family. After several hours of morning fishing, we could see them walking back from the river each was lost in his own silence and without a fish. Late afternoon the old lady took down her short rod which had been purchased 20 years earlier at the "old Woolworth store", stepped to the side of the creek and began to fish. One by one each of the sons found a place close to her chosen spot. Before dinnertime she stepped up onto the old porch and declared "damned its getting crowded down there!" In spite of that she had enough trout to feed everyone. The boys on the other hand--well let's just say there was not a lot of conversation that evening!!
[If this turns out to be a duplicate, I'm sorry, and unclear on what happened to the first attempt.]
I hate to do this, since we are talking about one of my favorite parts of the planet, but since accuracy is a part of what seems to be important here.....
Please, please, please. "Sierra Nevada", or "Nevada Mountains". NOT "Sierra Nevada Mountains" or "Nevada Mountains Mountains", or "Sierra Sierra Nevada".
Quite fair critique. I suspect Gwynnie was just trying to be ultra clear. His family has owned a very large spread up there for three generations.
I just dug out my father's bamboo fly rod (circa 1910)....I thought it might be a Heddon but it turns out to be a 66-9' South Bend Bait Company model. I still have a box of Heddon lures that were sold at the Knoepfli Inn, Magnetawan, Ontario, Canada (which my Grandfather built in 1926). The price, on the lures, is 25 cents!
Keep the lures. Use the rod, and commune with your grampa's fishin' spirit. Assuming it hasn't gone brittle, which they can if they do not like the way they have been stored. (I had a bad experience of that.)
I agree with your comments. The rods have been stored in a cool basement with reasonable humidity. I also have a 4 pc fly rod (label, although worn says "B B B" with "BROW_ --AUTY" underneath. I believe it's a "BROWN BEAUTY". Ever heard of it? The final 2 rods are steel casting rods (one hardly ever used)...HEDDON "PAL". One (obviously my Dad's favourite) has been well used but the 2nd is in pristine condition. The original case and registration card are like new. The rod is "No. 3151 Length 5 Action Lt". These are written in ink on the label on the flap. The address on the registration card is: "James Heddon's Sons, Box 120, Dowagiac, Michigan". Take care.
The case you describe is exactly the same as the "BROWN BEAUTY" described below. The rod, itself is slightly different. Plse see #7.1 Best regards.
There is a Heddon Black Beauty, but I don't know much about cane rods.
This guy has some Heddons for sale so you can see their value: http://mysite.verizon.net/vze1wz7o/bamboomike1.html
I have one nice old inherited cane rod and three English shotguns (for a poor man's tip-- think hammers and Damascus). I use them all, but get tired of the reaction "you HUNT (fish) with those?! Everybody seems to think that I should spend some more money for a Mossberg pump and leave them home...
Life is too short. They were made for use!
You mentioned your grandfather built Knoephli Inn, my husband's uncle owned it the early 50's, I am wondering if you might have some photographs on the original inn??
I recently found a Heddon Rod with #3151 5 M on the rod. There is also a 2-7 marked on the rod. Any idea the year this was made? It is in very good shape. Beautiful actually!!!
I also found a Heddon Rod #3151-5-M also marked 1-9 on the rod.It looks like bamboo,and in good shape.
I learned to fly cast on fiberglass(true temper) the action of graphite seems too fast for me to get comfortable. Bamboo suites me. Gierach suites me also.
New and used bamboo is not hard to find, and you don't have to spend over $2k and get a Leonard. Len Codella at codella.com is one source, also see Coldwater Collectibles on the net, and ricksrods.com, as well as Bob Corsetti's Rods And Reels, which I think is paper catalog only.
I fish almost exclusively with bamboo, and my mainstay is a Granger Aristocrat 8 1/2' 3-piece 2-tip rod for 5 or 6 wt. line. Cost me $500. Old Grangers, Wright & McGills, Phillipsons, Orvis are all good rods.
The contemporary "cross-over" alternative between hollow tubular graphite fly rods is called Hexagraph ... our customer's testimonials are superb ... a wonderful, delicate, precise .... and strong ..... option that delivers the joy of fishing traditional actions in a modern material. check us out. (Despite my commercial interest in this venue, blatant "advertising" is not my intent with this note - it is merely to note the serenity of the soul that comes with fishing in the past - much like the comments already onsite regarding glass rods - apologies if implied otherwise).
I only noticed your reply when the repost appeared. If you see it, I do have some shots of the original Inn. I was there this past Aug 2008. Also I believe there might be a Brockville connection as well with the Thompson's? (I lived there 1963-68).
Is there any way to get an e-mail to this poster? I recognise the last name and her husband's Uncle's name is Lorne (same as my Dad's) and he purchased the Inn, in 1947, from my Grandfather.
Shenna & Freddie,
I checked my 2 rods and the Model #'s match: 3151. The 5 M indicates the Length (5') and the Action: M (medium). Mine show 5 L (Light action).
You mention 2-7 & 1-9 on the rod; mine show 4-7 & H-6. These #'s might indicate a date of manufacture. The latter is a much older rod than the former. Do either show "PAL" ? I believe yours are casting rods and made of tubular steel not bamboo (if yours are the same as those I have).
I did some research and found the Heddon company is no longer and only a small, privately run museum exists in Dowagiac, MI.
I have a bamboo steelhead fly rod, big sucker. To tell the truth, the choice between bamboo and some other type doesn't mean much to me. Knowing your river means everything.
Just back from my native Golden State, and completely agree with you that "Sierra Nevada" (meaning "snowy mountain range") is correct. However, in dealing with non-Hispanophones, I usually throw in the redundant "mountains" or the equally redundant "range" as do many geographers. If you have not read it, I highly recommend John McPhee's "Assembling California", a geologic history ot the Sierra (never "Sierras") http://us.macmillan.com/assemblingcalifornia.
Hi Major, I have a similar red velvet case for one of my grandfather's old Leonards (with dangling guides). I have fished with it but it is a "noodle" as it has lost a lot of its stiffness, and so I have retired it rather than risk a rebuild.
All the best, (Lt. Commander) Gwynnie
Good afternoon Gwynne,
Please refer to #6.1.1 (abv) and see if you might help. You would have access to my e-mail and can contact me there.
I've got lines wet from Key West to Barter Island, Alaska, on the Northern edge of the continent and a lot of places in between, but....
Spend over $3k for a fishing rod? Heck no! I guess I'm just not a 'real' fisherman.
The irony of this post is that bamboo is making a huge comeback in a number of areas. High end bicycle makers have found bamboo to be a useful frame material, it's a sustainable crop that can be made into nice cabinetry and flooring, and I've got some delightfully comfortable bamboo thread blend socks from Johnston & Murphy. I'm a plug/live bait bass fisherman myself, but if bamboo is this good for fly/trout, bamboo's increasing ubiquity means it'll be back.
Well, here I go again. I own several fine old bamboo rods - couple made by Orvis (7') and two I inherited from my maternal Grandfather, a 7'6" Leonard and a Horrocks-Ibbotson 8' Presidential. I've had the Leonard restored and the HI still fishes great.
Having said that, they flat out do not compare to modern rods and technology. While the old bamboo rods present lures and line properly (and admittedly they look great), they are no where near as sensitive as modern graphite or the newer carbon fiber rods with modern titanium or polished high strength steel guides. The attraction of bamboo is more of nostalgia than actual fishability. A modern rod/reel combination with proper presentation and lure selection will fish better than a bamboo rig all things being equal.
I'm probably going to be thrown into the "nutcase" bin, but that's the way I see it.
Well, I'll say this - bamboo is a sustainable product which has some significant advantages over other natural materials, but like in all things, you have to pick and choose which are appropriate. Personally, I'm waiting to get a first hand look at a bamboo veneer cold molded boat in the next few weeks. I've been invited to see this boat in the final stages of the hull build out - looking forward to it. The builders are claiming 50% reduction in manufacturing costs using this technique. I have my suspicions. :>)
Then again, I was dead set against Ropelene boat hulls, but they seem to be holding up well over time - I'm man enough to admit that I MIGHT have been wrong. :>)
But so what if they fish better?
My pals could kill deer better with a rifle, but they use a bow.
It's about the experience! Tradition! Beauty! All that...
I'm hoping Deborah Thompson (or someone who knows her) might read this. Please refer to #6 above (my comment) of 2007-03-24/15:17. Deborah's reply (#6.1)arrived 2007-03-24/21:27.
I, unfortunately, missed that request and didn't see it until this was reposted in 2009. My comment (#6.1.1) attempted to establish contact to say I do have an original photo (ca 1940's) of Knoepfli Inn (Magnetawan, Ontario) available.
Built in 1926, by my Grandfather, the Knoepfli Inn was sold to Ralph Lorne Thompson (Deborah's relative) in 1947 and he continued to run the Inn until 1971. The Thompson family resided in Brockville, Ontario.
Can anyone help? All I need is an e-mail address.
Gierach is a hack.
He casts worse than he writes.
If it weren't for friends like AJ talking him up, he'd be another nobody.
I loathe the cabal of quirky fly-fishing writers he hangs with.
Bamboo is a great way to spend your waning years on a small creek.
I don't have time for the stuff.
I have a friend who builds some beautiful modern Bamboo rods that can actually cast well, but they are no match for Western winds and sizeable fish.
Romantic, sure. But a monumental bore on the water.
Traditional Hunting still kills.
Fishing Bamboo, especially undersized Bamboo (most antique boo is this due to age, alone.) leads to an increase of (inadvertant) mortality rate.
Fish are played too long by many fisherman to begin with. On Bamboo, the trend increases.
Overplaying has a greater affect on Mortality than Barbed Hooks.
There, I made the argument.
Sorry, James. Don't get involved in the internal workings of the blog. I assume you have Googled her and Ralph Lorne , etc.?
First, wow, I wish Garrett had written his comment in capital letters. READ COMMENT #19.1.2 EVERYONE!! I like light tackle, whether it is small bamboo, my Sage Zero-Weight, or the light spinning set I use for stripers and blues in salt water. I have read somewhere that the fish mortality rate of catch-and-release approaches 50%. If you're not going to eat a fish, get it in, get it off and get it back. No out-of-the-water photos either!
As I say, I like the feel you get through light, well made bamboo. I can't stand my father's Heddon; Grandfather's old Leonard is a noodle and my 5-wt Hardy is rebar, but my 3-wt Leonard and my 5-wt E.C. Powell are wonderful for casting, catching and releasing.
As to BD's smart comment, I am forced to say that I like hunting with my muzzleloader as much as my Remington 700 in .270.
Thanks. I hate seeing fish overhandled on the line or in the hand...I guided for a while out here in Mt. and I have to say that a large number of fisherman just do not know the proper methods for ensuring a successful catch and release.
It starts the minute you hook a fish and ends only when the fish is rested and ready to return to the river.
Even doing so, fish are robbed of essential stores when taxed in a fight and can suffer cruel fates at the claws, jaws beaks and teeth of Predators once relieved of their energy/stamina.
Love my Bow, Love my Model 70, Love my Shotguns and wish I had my grandfather's Purdey instead of his 1924 Catalog Side by Side...I think my uncle pawned the Purdey for coke.
I've fished bamboo in Montana and done fine. No question that there are times and places where graphite is the better choice, especially for long casts in wind. Then again, it's best to use the shortest cast you can, by finding a position which permits it. That's how many of the old bamboo fishermen worked.
Many of the old bamboo rods I've cast had lost their zip, and I think that contributes to a false impression of bamboo. I have a newly built Orvis Adirondack which is quite zippy. Another thing that distorts is the fad for very short rods. I find that a very short rod just isn't very useful, although fashionable. My ideal bamboo is 8 1/2' long and throws a 5 or 6 line, and it's unusual to find myself in a spot where that's not enough rod.
Point is well taken about killing fish with light tackle/long fights. But that's not a matter of bamboo; all my bamboos have the stuff to handle fish with authority if you do your part.
Fishing is not supposed to be about efficiency or production or we'd all use dynamite or nets. To each his own, and if you get delight and sport from graphite, have at it. I enjoy my Sage very much in its place, and my bamboo in other places.
BTW, Garrett, I think you meant AK, as in AK Best.
AK Best, yes. I edit well.
I have spent many an hour chasing fish for clients with under-sized Bamboo. Typicaly, they are not an effective Boat Rod.
Great for wading and fishing methodically in un-pressured waters. Where those are anymore is your best guess.
Lorne & Helen Thompson who bought Knoepfli in in 1947 lived in Kitchener, ON. (not Brockville) I worked at the Inn in the summers of 1969, 1970 & 1971. Their daughters were Lois, Donna, Sally and Brenda. I was friends with Sally. From May until the end of June we went up to Knoepfli every weekend and then spent the summer there and then went up weekends again until Thanksgiving. We all went to Eastwood Collegiate in Kitchener.
Lorne T is deceased and Helen lives on Queen St in Kitchener.
I'm replying to your post in a faint hope that you might return to it and see this. I missed it until I recently returned looking to see if Deborah Thompson had done the same. Here goes.
Please contact me at email@example.com should you read this. I have early pictures and history of Knoepfli Inn and Magnetawan I could share if you wished. As I'm deeply into genealogy research on my family, of which Knoepfli Inn plays a large part, you might be able to fill in some of the middle history for me, if you did't mind. I've been in contact with the current owner (whose family bought it from the Thompsons) a number of times and have been back 4 times in the past 6 years. The building still stands and functions as a summertime destination, for those who know its history and love the area.
Here's hoping. Cheers.