Monthly Archives: June 2011

Fly-fishing: Catskill Center offers opportunity to make quality bamboo rod

First published in The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y., June 2 2011

Status symbol. Talisman. Objet d’art. A relic of a more innocent time.

A bamboo fly rod can be any or all of these things to its owner. You could add investment, collectible, exquisite toy and sublime fishing tool to the list.

“For sheer sensuality of casting and for fishing that requires some subtlety, a good bamboo rod is simply the superior inst­rument,” writes John Gierach in “Even Brook Trout Get the Blues.” “So it doesn’t really bother me that it costs several times what a graphite does, because it’s several times better.”

That kind of devotion to the split-cane rod will be on display this summer in a couple of interesting events at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor.

The first is the center’s 2011 Cane Rod Makers School, set to run June 24-29.

Tuition is $1,400, which is a bargain in the sense that a new bamboo rod can cost twice that much. Tuition also includes accommodations at the center’s bunkhouse and breakfast and lunch each day. Museum members receive a $200 discount.

Making a bamboo fly rod is craftsmanship of a very high order. Just being able to lash together a bundle of six triangular strips of bamboo to form a hexagonal fishing rod seems like sorcery to me. Imagine shaving the strips to exactly the shape that will give the rod the taper it needs to perform properly, not to mention varnishing it and adding guides, a handle and a reel seat.

This is the sort of thing where learning in person could save years of frustrating trial and error.

Once you’ve built your bamboo rod (unless you’re like me — willing to leave that job to the experts), you can use it in the center’s inaugural bamboo rod-casting contest.

The inaugural Hardy Bros. Cup casting competition will be held Aug. 6, at the same time as the center’s Summerfest and Angler’s Market. It’s open to all, and the only requirement is that you use a bamboo rod no more than nine feet long.

Competitors will be judged on two distance casts and one accuracy cast. Rods under eight feet will benefit from hand­icaps. Ties will be decided in favor of the older rod. The organizers say you should be able to cast a fly at least 50 feet, using a 7 1⁄2-foot leader.

For a competition with no entry fee, this one has one heck of a nice grand prize: a 100th anniversary edition Hardy Gladstone C.C. deFrance bamboo rod, which retails for well over $2,000. The winner’s name will be engraved on a very classy looking, Tiffany-designed Hardy Bros. Cup, which will be displayed at the CFFCM.

Second and third place winners will receive classic Hardy reels. An awards ceremony will take place that evening, at a complimentary barbecue.

I’m lucky enough to own a bamboo rod — a seven-foot, two-inch Orvis Battenkill that my dad ordered as a kit back in the 1960s. He had a local expert put it together for him. It’s a sweet, lively rod, and casting it does inspire some devotion. I’m not even sure I can cast it 50 feet, but I seldom need to.

More information on the Catskill Center events can be found at

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at

How I Learned to Relax and Love Tenkara Flies

I admit it: As much as I like the whole tenkara thing, I’ve never had much confidence in the flies. But that is starting to change.

Embracing tenkara fishing – Japanese-style, fixed-line, 12-foot telescoping rod fly-fishing – requires accepting things that strike American anglers as odd.

The lack of a reel is the strangest thing, and it does take some getting used to. Your left hand keeps reaching for line that’s not there. Your whole line, all 15 feet of it, tippet included, is attached to the rod tip.

But I’ve gotten used to using my left hand to hold my wading staff, or a cigar, while snapping crisp, tight-looped casts with my right. I no longer mind collapsing the rod and winding up the line when moving from spot to spot. I’ve gotten pretty good at playing and landing fish despite the lack of a reel, and I strive with Zen-like focus to make my casts land fly-first – or, for true enlightenment (and superb presentation), fly-only.

Tenkara flies, however, have always struck me as odd. I’ve been fishing with wet flies whose hackles lean back toward the tail of the fly for nearly 30 years. These tenkara flies – sakasa kebari, they are called – with the hackles leaning forward, over the eye of the hook, never looked right to me.

It may be because when a natural mayfly or caddis fly is drifting or swimming underwater, its legs and antennae tend to hang rearward. But the more likely explanation is that western wet flies have always been made this way and I’m just used to it.

Of course, the advantage of forward-leaning hackles is that when the fly is given a little pull, or when it is swinging below the angler against the current, the hackle fibers will move and wiggle but will not fold down over the body and practically disappear, the way they do on western-style soft hackle wets. The fly’s helpless, frantic limb-waving remains plainly visible and, presumably, signals “easy meal” to trout.

I’ve given sakasa kebari the occasional try, but have usually given up quickly and gone back to my western flies. Then I saw one tied by a Scotsman, Davie McPhail, that gave me the confidence to tie it on and leave it on all day. And leaving your fly on, instead of compulsively changing to other patterns, is the difference between tenkara fishing and western-style fishing with a tenkara rod.

McPhail’s fly has a body of turkey biot, which gives a beautifully segmented look, and a small thorax of dubbing just aft of the forward-leaning hackle. I think he used furnace hackle for his fly, but I use grizzly hackles from a low-grade cape, which are stiff enough to stick out but still soft enough to wiggle. The grizzly feather looks good with the grey biots I use.

I write this a few hours after fishing the whole day with this fly on my tippet. I caught four trout, which isn’t bad for me, especially when the fishing is slow, as it was today. And today was not the first time I’ve caught fish on this pattern. It’s earned a spot in my starting rotation.

First published in The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y., May 19 2011.