bamboo fly rod
Front Matter/Back Story: Jason Zicha, master rod builder at Fall River Fly Rods, fashioned a custom bamboo rod especially for a promotional tour courtesy of the Outdoor Blogger Network. Accompanying the rod is a Madison II Reel by Montana Fly Company spooled with a Trout LT DT5F fly line by Rio. Fifteen blogger/anglers were chosen to spend a couple of weeks each with the outfit before passing it along to the next person. After a cross country trip that will have endured more than half a year, the outfit will conclude its journey by permanently going home with one lucky angler/blogger. I was one of the fortunate folks chosen to spend time with this outfit during its journey.
I knew it was coming as far back as last April. I knew it wouldn’t be getting to me until Fall, hopefully in time for some Autumn baetis action on the Yakima River. Fall River Fly Rods, aptly named it would seem. I envisioned myself presenting tiny mayfly patterns to wary fish. Delicate delivery would be the ticket, and armed with a custom bamboo fly rod I would be up to the task, or at least the rod would be.
As the months droned on I grew increasingly Worried (yes, with a capital W). Having a last name that begins with the letter “W” I’m no stranger to being at the end of the list: all during my school years I got one of the last picks of a desk in the classroom (which usually meant right by the teacher’s desk); when it came time for class registration I got the leftovers. Nor am I unaccustomed to being one of the last ones chosen during kickball team selection, but that had little to do with alphabetical order. This time, however, I cannot blame my forefathers because the schedule for this travelling rod was not based on last names. I thought per chance the schedule was based on the alphabetical listing of the host states because, after all, the first visit along its journey took the rod to Arizona. But then it skipped ahead to New Mexico so that blows my theory out of the water. All I know is that the package didn’t arrive at my home in Washington until November and unfortunately that was too late for me. Certainly there are still trout fishermen out plying the frigid waters this time of year, but with no available weekends until after Thanksgiving I simply ran out of time. The rod was on a schedule: it had places to go; people to see.
And so here this beautiful rod arrives after all these months of waiting and anticipating, and because of bad timing I don’t even get to fish it. I reckon this was my destiny—the ultimate angling unaccomplishment.
Knowing that I would not be able to give this rod its due, I gave it what I was able. I sat with it, fondling and admiring the rod. The experience began with the shipping tube, which resembled the barrel of a bazooka in both size and weight. This monstrous PVC fortress was created with protection in mind and for good reason: inside were valuable contents. More than just a shipping tube, the Bazooka itself tells the story of cross-country travel as it was slathered with stickers of all sorts, and enough Priority Mail tape to span from one coast to the next, from border to border. Following directions, I opened the end labeled, “Open This End.” It took me a while to cut through all the clear tape.
The first item to emerge was a small aluminum box containing a few flies that the blogger/anglers had donated. I contributed to the collection but won’t tell you what I offered up (it wouldn’t earn me any respect or gratitude). Next up was the neoprene pouch containing the Madison II reel from Montana Fly Company, emblazoned in their river rock pattern. Last to emerge was a hand-made oak case containing the rod (the case is a functional work of art in and of itself). Once I had extracted the goods, I got down to the business of looking at it. In a discussion over at the Facebook place, Poppy Cummins of the Red Shed Fly Shop was quoted as saying:
“Playing with cane is like looking over the back fence at the naked neighbor lady. Once you start you can’t stop.”
I will say that over the next week and a half I did an awful lot of looking, and it was hard to divert my gaze. Though I enjoyed the scenery, guilt gnawed at my gut, slowly eating away at me. The burning in my belly was a reminder that as beautiful as it is, this is a rod to be used; not just ogled over. I wished like hell I could have fished it. I read through the journal that accompanied the outfit along it’s journey: no one else prior to me had mentioned not fishing the rod.
I know next to nothing about bamboo rods. In my ignorance I always assumed all were delicate, flimsy noodles: either antique collector’s items or modern showpieces. But the rod’s designer states very clearly that this rod is not your grandfather’s bamboo rod, and I will echo that sentiment. I have an old bamboo rod that belonged to my grandfather and it would be accurate to describe it as a whispy piece of grass. I’ve never fished it; never wanted to after wiggling it—I mean, who has 5 minutes to wait between forward and back casts? I do remember a tip my grandfather gave me many years ago which I was prepared to employ with the Fall River rod until I read the directions from Jason Zicha that were included in the Bazooka: “Do not apply any oil or nose grease to the ferrule.” So much for my grandfather’s advice.
After a lengthy lawn casting session with the Fall River rod (during which I did not rise a single Lawn Trout), I can tell you that it is no limp-wristed wussy. It does have ample flex, but it is not a slow-action rod. I was able to quickly adapt to the rod’s action and get casts out to around 40 feet with ease. I was surprised, and then I read the description of the South Fork on the Fall River website:
“The South Fork model was designed with a new generation of anglers in mind. It’s moderate/fast action has a more familiar feel to today’s modern angler who has grown accustomed to the feel of graphite fly rods. 8’ in length, it’s powerful spine has the power needed to fish our large, open, windy Western Rivers. The smooth action has been refined to throw anything from a midge to streamers.”
With the delicate tip—not delicate so much in construction but rather in feel—I could unfold a cast and lay the tippet onto the grass with a certain finesse that is difficult with my graphite rods. In the time I spent on the lawn with the rod, I did notice that it’s heavier than my graphite sticks, but that’s to be expected. The action of the rod felt remarkably familiar and was not what I expected. I’ve become so accustomed to the uber-light, nimble ways of my fast-action arsenal of graphite rods that I’ve also become disconnected to the casting experience that only slowing down can bring back. Getting into the slower rhythm of this rod had a sort of soothing effect— even if I was standing in my front yard as school buses drove past and the neighbor’s dog barked from behind its fence. A bubbling mountain stream would have been a more suitable setting in which to cast this rod. A suburban lawn just seemed wrong—an injustice. Again, my destiny.
The nickel silver stripping guide is inlayed with a natural agate that is saw-cut, drilled, polished and then set into the frame. Fall River Fly Rods buys these pre-made, because as Jason Zicha says, “It is an art form of its own.” Everything about this rod is beautiful in it’s craftsmanship, but it’s no showboat. Again, the South Fork is built to fish.
I begrudgingly place the rod, reel and box of flies into the shipping tube and sealed it closed with a pound of strapping tape. I slapped on an Unaccomplished Angler sticker and drove to the post office. Next destination, Spokane WA. I hope Josh Mills has an opportunity to fish it. I know the weather in Spokane is colder than it is on my side of the state and trout fishing may be a bit out of season.
If the rod could speak, its parting words for me would surely have been, “Good riddance.”