My obsession with bamboo began on the Sand River in the middle of black-fly infested Ontario almost fifty years ago. Canoeing the drainage – seemingly more root-choked portage than flowing water – with my father and his fellow lawyer buddy, we covered a lot of miles and managed to catch eleven brook trout between us in seven days. Wild, pristine country filled with moose, eagles, and freedom.
The highlight for me was casting my father’s friend’s Payne 8-0, five-weight. There was wonder, arcane magic in the rod far beyond whatever I felt casting my Fenwick red glass item (that I must admit served my neophyte efforts with good grace and silence as I clunked my way towards mediocrity as a caster). Since that time I’ve owned a lot of bamboo rods. When my VW Squareback caught fire outside of Mitchell, South Dakota in 1975 I lost a dozen rods in the blaze – three Leonards, a Payne, Garrison, Granger, and others imbued with lovely memories on Montana’s waters. Heart broken I turned to graphite vowing never to be hurt like this again, but the passion has returned and I’m up to nineteen cane rods with a couple more on the way.
The photo above shows five that represent this resurfaced madness: the top one is a 7-9, four-weight Leonard formerly owned by Sir Richard Fairey who founded Fairey Aviation Company in 1915. This rod cast line over the venerable Test River; The next down is a circa 1890 9-0 four-weight Leonard stunningly restored by a Skowhegan, Maine artisan of other-worldly talent. I consider this guy so good that I’ve purchased three other of his restorations all between 5-10 and 6-0 intwo- to four-weight; the third is an Orvis 7-9, five-weight Wes Jordan made for me by that company, and paid for by my father in 1977 when he learned that I’d actually found a job in Missoula – this time around as a cook at the Spaghetti Station; the next is a 9-6, five weight Palakona made by Malcolm Greys of Greys of Alnick before the concern was absorbed by Hardy maybe ninety years ago; the bottom item is one that touches my heart as a derelict writer – a 8-6, five-weight Tarryall 2510 made for Dave Cooks sporting goods store in Denver decades ago by Fred DeBell rod. Fred made an abundance of rods for Cooks and Garts (another area sporting goods outfit).
At one time, Fred’s contract with Cook was so bad that the more rods he made the more money he lost. Sounds like the book biz to me. I gleaned the following information while searching The Classic Fly Rod Forum: “From the 1939 Dave Cook’s fishing catalog pg 42:” ‘Tarryall’ 8 1/2′, 9′ or 9 1/2′, 4 7/8oz, 5 1/2oz or 6oz, 3/2 agate guide on butt section, browntone bamboo, 4 steel snake guides on each section, cloth bag, 1 tip ‘cystal agatine, 1 tip metal top, wrapped in 6 contrasting colors”. Oh yeah, priced at only $4.95!”
Like these five, my other bamboo rods have their own stories to tell. All of them cast with a gentle assertiveness clearly reminiscent of times gone by. Jack Howell’s remarkable book The Lovely Reed goes into detail concerning the intrinsic wonder of bamboo fly rods, and like Howell, I love them all, even the ones I haven’t discovered yet.