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 www.cffcm.net.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.