Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do Bamboo Fly Rods Live Upto All The Hype Or Are They Just Over Priced Status Symbols??


I admire bamboo fly rods created by exceptional craftsmen of yesterday and today. I have owned some and coveted more. But, I think it is time to tell the truth about bamboo fly rods.

Photo Trophy Rainbow Trout Caught Near Tooele County
Using A Composite Fly Rod

Oooooops, The Bamboo Fly Rod Bent...Permanently

Recently, I happened to run across two articles about bamboo fly rods; the first described how to “straighten” a bent bamboo rod and the second rhapsodized about the joy of fishing with the “Stradivarius” of fly rods.

If You Like Your Fly Rod To Function Like A Wet Noodle Then Bamboo Is For You

There is a very good reason why many fisherman of my generation do not fly fish: Bamboo Fly Rods. Back in my youth, just about every store sold these contraptions. They usually came in a fancy case or bag. They were anywhere from 12’ – 16’ long and were little more than a long noodle. Like lures designed to catch fishermen rather than fish, these rods were designed more to be sold, rather than actually fished.

Casting A Bamboo Fly Rod Was Torture, Unless Your Were The Marquis De Sade

Photo Nice Big Rainbow Trout Caught In Winter Near
Salt Lake City Without A Bamboo Rod

Casting with one was something less than the sublime joy and subtle presentation so valued today. We used to joke about making your back cast and having time enough to light up a cigar waiting for the line to straighten out behind you, before starting your forward stroke. The vaunted delicate presentation resulted from the rods being light and long. So little actual force was transmitted to the line and fly that; when your fly - after drifting down like an inebriated dandelion seed – touched down on the water, it was with such a light impact that even the meniscus didn’t notice. In the meantime, if you hadn’t dozed off waiting for it to alight, you were generally so distracted that when and if a fish actually took your dry fly, you struck. Several seconds later, the force of your strike actually moved your fly and jerked it a few micro millimeters; long after the fish had disappeared forever.

The Crook In My Bamboo Gives It Character

Another significant feature of bamboo rods is their tendency to ”set” aka “bent rod” The author of the aforementioned article listed several ways of straightening bamboo using a combination of steam and voodoo. He then made the interesting claim that a bent rod he once owned had a crook in it which allowed him to make the equivalent of a reach cast. Nothing was mentioned of what he would do if the rod was bent the “wrong” way. It is noteworthy that this idea never became the new wave of fly rod making; imagine if it had:
Photo Fat Rainbow Trout Caught Near Park City Utah
With A Modern Fly Rod
“Yep that is a nice bamboo rod you got there, Retro.”

“Yep, it’s a 13’ - 4 weight with a right hand pre-bend of 42 degrees of arc. I’m going to use it when I can only fish up stream on the east bank or the Moochanooga…”

…..and so goes the conversation.

I even watched a well know Colorado rod maker point out the proper way to use a bamboo rod to play a large fish is to "turn the rod upside down (Eyes Facing Down) , so you don't stress the bamboo"! This statement is both absurd & ridiculous!!! Thank goodness the age of bamboo Rods is in the past.

Over Priced Is An Understatement When It Comes To Bamboo Fly Rods

Photo Cutthroat Trout Caught With A Composite
Fly Rod At Strawberry Reservoir In Utah
Today’s bamboo rods are a significant improvement over the products of the past and some are truly exceptional and they usually come with a truly exceptional price. And I am not knocking them in any way. However, I think a good question to ask is “why” one actually uses a bamboo rod. Is it because like John Gierach; you just like them or is it a sentimental reason (which I would never gainsay) or is it because it is a status symbol?

Back In The Day Bamboo Rods Were Lousy Too, But The Only Thing That Was Available For Most People

Some say using a bamboo fly rod takes us back to a simpler and more pleasant time – and I suppose that might be a good thing, however; one also might want to give up your car for a wagon, fishing rods for willow sticks and while we are at it, give up all the modern conveniences that we have spent so much of our hard earned dollars on.

Photo Rainbow Caught While Still Water Fly
Fishing Near Tooele
As for me, I like a good rod, well priced, that performs as I want it to. To me the warranty is far more important than all other secondary considerations. And; when I have fished with it for a while, it becomes mine in a more real sense than most of the things I own; it becomes more than an implement or tool – it becomes my fly rod. I would like to leave my cherished rod to my kids and have it be something they can really use; without intense frustration or worry that breaking the tip or creating a permanent bend in the rod ruins their next trip to Antiques Roadshow.
I should add that there are many bamboo rod builders creating absolutely wonderful rods. Be prepared to pay from just under $1000 to several thousand. Are they worth it? Well, certainly they fish well, are hand crafted and often exceptionally beautiful but once again, you are getting an incremental increase in performance for something quite a bit more than an incremental price!
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