Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Short History of Bamboo Fly Rods

A Condensed History of Bamboo Fly Rods

Ever wondered just how we ended up fishing with these things! Custom bamboo fly rods have been around for a while, but they weren't always the finely crafted tools that they are today. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive guide to the life and times of split cane bamboo fly rods, but it should give you an idea of how they came to be.

The Early Days of Split Cane Rods

bamboo fly rods
The bamboo rod as you know it began to take shape around two hundred years ago. Back then,  fly rods were made of  woods like ash and hazel. The standard lengths were between nine and twelve feet. Not a very elegant fishing pole, to be sure. These rods were very hard to use because it meant you had to be really strong and have a high endurance level in order to fish with them. Also, the joint methods were not very reliable and prone to snapping off. All of these factors combined for a less than satisfactory trout fishing experience.
By the 1850's, rod builders had begun to use bamboo because of its high strength yet light weight. They also began to make them smaller, with fewer joints. These joints were made from brass, and were long lasting.  Also, according to Wikipedia, "it is believed that in 1846 Samuel Phillipe, a gunsmith from Pennsylvania, made the first six strips designed tip.” It's his innovation - the hexagon strips glued together - that's still in use today.

Politics and The Near Extinction of the Bamboo Rod Builder

Unfortunately, in the 50's President Truman's trade embargo with China made it impossible to import Tonkin cane. Companies were already experimenting with fiberglass, and soon began to look at graphite as an alternative as well. The mass produced fly rod was born. Although inferior to the bamboo fly rod, it was available and inexpensive. All these factors combined to lead to the loss of interest in bamboo rods. Only a handful of builders remained, and they were generally the people with a stock of pre-embargo cane. These few were the only ones who kept the art from dying out completely.

Looking Up and Ahead

bamboo fly rods
Fortunately, all was not lost and it was only a temporary downswing. By the 1970's with the lifting of the embargo, there was a renewed interest in trout fishing with bamboo fly rods.A new generation of builders was studying the works of the old master, duplicating their building techniques and rod specifications. These custom fly rod builders began to offer split cane rods built to the same tapers and the favorites of a previous generation.

The progress has continued to this day. Modern builders have combined skill with technology. New innovations, such as the parabolic scalloped rod, are taking the bamboo fly rod to new directions, and providing fisherman with levels of control and touch previously unavailable. These days you can have a rod made to your exact specifications by a variety of qualified builders.