Bamboo is being Rediscovered

Rod blanks rolled from this cutting-edge material set forth a standard that would change the face of fly rod construction for decades to come, and the material was universally accepted because it decreased vibration, added greater hoop strength, and increased energy transfer. It was the end of an era, and marquee names like Ed and Jim Payne, Pinky Gillum, Everett Garrison, Gene Edwards, Hiram Leonard, Paul Young, and Wes Jordan were replaced by new names. Before fiberglass, the expanding recreational fishing industry needed cane rods, and lots of ’em. Some blanks offered a darker color made from flaming bamboo while classically dried and finished rods yielded a luxurious light tan coloration. The market for used cane classics is bullish, and more than that, a number of craftsmen are making new bamboo rods to support current demand. Many fly rodders are experiencing cane for the first time, and they know what many of us have known for quite a while: cane rods feel even better than they look, and boy do they look good. Perhaps the greatest compliment a cane rod maker can receive comes from knowing a rod he made is an angler’s first choice when he goes fishing. “Cane rods are different. They enhance our fishing experiences because they connect us to the roots of a tradition, which run incredibly deep.

Once overshadowed by modern rod materials, the essence of bamboo is being rediscovered by contemporary anglers.

[by Tom Keer]

An ad on page 37 of my March 1974 issue of Field & Stream promotes the new Fenwick HMG fly rod. This rod was 25 percent lighter than fiberglass and 40 percent lighter than cane. The blank was constructed from a new material called graphite that was invented in 1965 by William Watt of the Royal Aircraft Establishment. Rod blanks rolled from this cutting-edge material set forth a standard that would change the face of fly rod construction for decades to come, and the material was universally accepted because it decreased vibration, added greater hoop strength, and increased energy transfer.

“We expect imitators,” the visionary advertising copy stated. “Many graphite rods will appear in the years ahead, but there will be only one HMG, then as now.”

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, many cane rods were hung by the loops in their cloth sacks in a first-floor closet, the preferred way to keep wooden tips from getting a curve caused from leaning against a wall (known as a set). It was the end of an era, and marquee names like Ed and Jim Payne, Pinky Gillum, Everett Garrison, Gene Edwards, Hiram Leonard, Paul Young, and Wes Jordan were replaced by new names.

But recently, cane experienced somewhat of a resurrection, giving credence to the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

From Tonkin cane culms, to slender, tapered pieces of a hexagonal puzzle (below), to the water, bamboo rods are forever linked to the sport of fly fishing, no matter what rod-manufacturing technologies emerge. (photo by Tim Romano)
Boutique versus Production Construction

Back in the day, some companies mass-produced bamboo rods in an assembly-line fashion. Theirs was a smart move. Before fiberglass, the expanding recreational fishing industry needed cane rods, and lots of ’em. Some were used for surf casting with squidding line and level-winding reels, others were used offshore, and still others found themselves in a rod holder in the stern of a boat for trolling. As fly fishing gained traction throughout the 1900s, more and more rods were built to meet the expanding demand, one that was filled by manufacturing companies.

But cane fly rods also spurred a cottage industry, one that was boutique in nature, and one that is growing today. The old-school boutique rods attracted the most attention, mostly because each was produced by either one or a few…

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