Bamboo fly rod
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A bamboo fly rod or a split cane rod is a fly fishing rod that is made from bamboo, also referred to as cane. With more than 1,000 different bamboo species and nearly a hundred different kinds, Tonkin Cane (Arundinaria amabilis or Pseudosasa amabilis) is most often used for fishing rods; Calcutta cane has also been used extensively.
This bamboo species originally grew on only approximately 190 km² (48,000 acres) up the Sui River in the Tonkin Gulf region of Guangdong Province in China. It is said to be one of the strongest bamboo species because of its high density of fibers. This high density is what the bamboo fly rod maker is after because this gives the rod its strength and flexibility. This, however, is not the only reason that bamboo rod builders use this species. It also is selected because of its straightness, and well-spaced nodes.
In order to make this type of fishing rod, the bamboo culms are split and then split again into smaller and smaller strips, which are then planed and glued together to form a blank. This process, together with the wrapping of the guides with very fine silk thread, varnishing and making of the cork grip and wooden reel seat, can easily take up to more than 100 hours. It is for this reason that some of the contemporary artisans charge more than $2,500 for their rods today. Collectors of bamboo rods are known to pay more than $15,000 for mint condition antiques.
Fishing with a fly rod the way we know it today started between 1790 and 1845. Many bamboo and wood species were used as a building material before and during that period but bamboo soon became the popular and preferred material to use. It is believed that in 1846 Samuel Phillipe, a gunsmith from Easton, Pennsylvania made the first 6 strips designed tip from Calcutta Cane and that his son, Solon, built the first complete hexagonal rod from Calcutta cane in 1859.. Although that assertion has come under fire recently, with the publication of Split & Glued By Vincent C. Marinaro (2007). The two authors, Bill Harms and Tom Whittle, dispute Samuel Phillipe as the first to use six strip design to build bamboo rods. According to their research Charles Murphy and others began building six-strip bamboo rods at least five years earlier.
As bamboo popularity increased, the H.L. Leonard rod company  started making machinery to produce cane/ bamboo fly rods. The first fly fishing rods were made from ash and lancewood, but in 1874 H.L. Leonard started to make bamboo rods exclusively until his death in 1907. The company would continue to make rods for almost eight decades under various ownership, including surviving a fire in 1964 which virtually destroyed the shop. In 1984, it eventually went bankrupt. The machinery from the Leonard shop, including the beveler, was purchased at auction by Marc Aroner who continues to make rods under his own name.
Square or Quadrate rods were the first rods Leonard made because his belief was that these performed much better but he eventually started making 6 strip or hexagonal rods because of commercial reasons. At that time good quality cane was hard to find. What was available was often full of scorch marks and insect damage. For this reason it was easier to acquire six strips of good quality cane than 4 wider strips for the Quadrate rod. The hexagonal version was easier to produce and soon became the standard. Bill Edwards, Sam Carlson and Ebenezer Green produced Quadrate rods and others even made bamboo rods which had pentagonal and octagonal cross-sections.
Bamboo soon became the preferred material for all fishing rods with Tonkin cane being prized above other species. This continued to 1950 when a trade embargo was imposed on Chinese goods. Due to the resultant shortage of quality bamboo and the concurrent development of synthetic fibers the fabrication of bamboo rods nearly stopped. By the time the embargo ended in the early seventies only a handful of craftsmen were still making bamboo rods. The main reason for bamboo rods regaining their popularity was a result of Everett Garrison together with Hoagy Carmichael publishing bamboo rod building ‘secrets’ in their book A Masters guide to building a bamboo fly rod.
In modern fishing
Bamboo rods are somewhat susceptible to damage and warpage if stored incorrectly. The varnish finish can nick or become checked from too much sunlight over the years or too much heat. Despite all the extra care required to maintain these natural fiber sporting goods, they are still valued by many anglers today, because of the way they cast. Quality bamboo fly rods and their rod tubes were made by highly skilled craftsmen using the best quality canes, reel seats, nickel silver fittings and cork. These rods often maintain good condition even after decades of use if stored correctly.
Bamboo rods produce a smooth, fluid backcast which provides its own 'damping' effect at the end of the backcast. The forward cast accelerates the line throw through the air with the same 'damping' effect at the beginning of the cast, and then again at the end of the cast as the caster lays the line out over the target water—generally with smooth, precise placement. The synthetics can produce a somewhat similar powerful backcast and forward cast, but they lack the subtle 'damping' effect consistently produced by the bamboo rod in the hands of a skilled caster.
- Black, George (2006). Casting a Spell: The Bamboo Fly Rod and the American Pursuit of Perfection. Random House.
- Campbell, A.J. (1997). Classic and Antique Fly-Fishing Tackle. Lyons & Burford.
- Garrison, Everett (1977). A master's Guide to Building a bamboo fly rod. Nick Lyons Books.
- Phillips, Don (2000). The Technology of fly rods. Frank Amato Publications, Inc.
- Homel, Daniel (1997). Antique and Collectible fishing rods. Forrest Park Publishers.
- Gierach, John (1997). Fishing Bamboo-One Man's Love Affair with Bamboo Fly Rods. New York: Lyons and Burford. ISBN 1-55821-591-3.
- Bamboo fly rod care
- Making a bamboo fly rod
- More on bamboo fly rod manufacturing
- Node design
- Old Bamboo Rods
- A Brief history of British bamboo rod making