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Is The Modern Bamboo Fly Rod's Biggest Enemy The Modern Bamboo Fly Rod Buyer? (An Underground Semi-Rant)

Posted by Tom Chandler 3/26/2010

If we really needed further proof that bamboo rod makers are borderline OCD sufferers technically insane, we bring you YouTube video of Chris Raine's new computer-controlled, wholly hand-machined, completely over-the-top bamboo fly rod mill - in its first pass (at this point, it's shaping the delrin cutting bed).



I've been watching this beast take shape for upwards of a year in Chris' shop.

Frankly, I'm a little afraid of the thing; I stand in the other corner when I visit.

If you know Raine, you know he's a lifetime member of the Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing School of Insane Behavior, and this is only the latest manifestation.

It's likely his bamboo rod mill and a handful of cockroaches would be the only thing in Dunsmuir to survive a direct tactical nuclear strike, and yet I've heard him state - without a hint of irony - that he'd really like to beef the thing up.

How do you "beef up" something already more massive than a woolly mammoth?

Raine's continuing to build fly rods the "old fashioned way" (and teach classes) while he puts the finishing touches on The Beast, though he's also building some new style binder that looks like it was stolen from the drive train of an Abrams tank.

(Crazy, it seems, tends to spread quickly over the whole shop.)

The impetus for this rant was an email suggesting a bamboo rod built on a mill wasn't a "real" bamboo fly rod at all.

If it wasn't hand planed, then it just wasn't real.

Hand-planing a rod offers satisfaction and a pleasing connection with the bamboo, but even those that like the process will admit it's hard work and the BFI part of the job (brute force and ignorance).

And yes, the time invested in hand planing a rod makes it hard to experiment with new rod tapers.

And before anybody chimes in to champion the concept of "nostalgia" or "tradition" in connection with hand-planed rods, I'd like to say that almost all the old bamboo rods - including the vaunted Paynes, Leonards, etc - were built on mills of some sort.

I wouldn't hesitate to buy a modern fly rod tapered on a mill, though plenty of bamboo snobs have expressed reservations about that.

It's one of the things that leads me to believe the bamboo fly rod world's biggest enemies are some of the people in the bamboo fly rod world - people who would rather we worshiped bamboo fly rods instead of fished them.

After all, I've seen bamboo rod builders - including Jimmy Reams, whose fly rods should be shot into space so aliens will mistakenly believe we're a tasteful, elegant species - accused of "not being 'real' bamboo rod builders" because they don't fab their own ferrules or reel seats.

That's like suggesting I'm not a "real" writer because I didn't code my text processor (Komodo Edit).

The case for "real" lies in the words or the fly rods, not in the tools, and while fly fishermen have a deserved reputation for being insufferable snots (me included), reality probably really has to kick in at some point.

I could also rant on about those who insist a bamboo rod isn't really a bamboo rod if its wraps are nylon instead of silk; its guides are ceramic instead of agate; or the rod bag wasn't sewn by a virgin (a hard thing in California).

But I won't.

I will, however, offer a rare celebrity endorsement of my position; in an interview with John Gierach, he told me he still fishes bamboo about 85% of the time, but has drifted away from the bamboo rod scene largely because of the people who populate it.

"I'd go to a gathering and see these guys bragging about their $3000 fly rods, but I couldn't help but notice most couldn't actually cast the things, let alone fish them."

Frankly, I'd love to see a machine-planed fly rod brand created in the image of Bill Phillipson's rods - excellent fishing tools that didn't cost the arm you cast them with.

Given the high-dollar prices charged for mass-produced graphite, I wonder if the time isn't right for a new mass-produced bamboo rod. After all, almost nothing fishes smaller streams better than bamboo, and enough people are fishing small streams that I'm using psuedonyms instead of stream names.

It's likely that investment in machinery would never be repaid, but if you can't wish for the impossible, well hell - there's little reason to write your own fly fishing blog.

Viva the Modern Bamboo Fly Rod - no matter how it's built.

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

22 comments
Turns out Raine leaves his shop from time to time to climb to a secret cave on the mountain, where he dons a goatskin loincloth and levitates 3.1416 inches above the ground for days a time, pondering tapers.At least that's he tells me. Personally, I think he's off getting drunk.
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I have stopped by Dunsmuir Rod Shop on every trip I've made up there and I've never seen it open. I'm convinced that you guys are all fomenting a fantasy. I know the building exists because I've touched it. I've even knocked on the door and peered in the windows. I see shadowy images that could be the stuff of bamboo rod making, but it could just as easily be the place where the Nimbus 2001 quidditch ... more broomsticks come from. Perhaps the building's enchanted powers include divining whether I have the dough to be an actual customer and it refuses me entry, in the same way that I can't find my way to Platform 9 3/4, or score a reservation at the McCloud conservancy any time I can visit.
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Ultimately, if it catches fish and you like it, what else matters? I love to see any work of art, such as a finely hand built bamboo rod. Having said that, I contend that you can rebuild an 8', fifty year old, Japanese rod, properly balance it, and it will perform splendidly. Just to prove a point to my fellow bamboo afficianados, I cut a stick of bamboo raw and green from a stand here in Florida, ... more cut it to 7', used an old reel seat from a daiwa spinning rod, fashioned the guides from stainless steel wire, formed the grip from scrap cork, and sprayed the rod with canned laquer a few coats.We put a 4wt. line on it and cast it down to the backing. Yes, all 90' of it, beautiful loops, and accurately.
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While it isn't “easy,” it is not difficult, methinks, to buy a really good used cane rod for $600 and some less. I bought one of my favorites, a 1936 Granger, fully restored for $200. One possible key is to save your money and cruise the makers for a used rod before Christmas clearly stating your budget. Today's used rod market has become more reasonable since the big crash (saw a Phillipson 8.5 ... more Paramount on Codella's rod list for $425), but I've bought enough clunker used rods to be very leery of the process, and downright hostile to the idea for those without some expertise. One highly recognizable rod dealer sold me a "pristine" Orvis rod with corroded guides and clunking ferrules. A famous rodmaker sold me a Phillipson whose ferrules were worn but waxed (I learned they were loose when I deprived them of their wax, and tips would simply spin in the female ferrules). And that's without even diving into the horrors of eBay (I still wake up screaming sometimes). Often it works, but buying used bamboo is a bit tougher than buying used graphite...
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Thanks Tom. Great topic. So much to say, so few brains to figure out how to say it. While it isn't "easy," it is not difficult, methinks, to buy a really good used cane rod for $600 and some less. I bought one of my favorites, a 1936 Granger, fully restored for $200. One possible key is to save your money and cruise the makers for a used rod before Christmas clearly stating your budget. Yes, I can ... more see Jerry in the corner. Love the Guy. We were very worried the year he didn't show at the Metolius Fair. He always brings a variety of rods for test casting. You're right, many people, me included, can't feel much difference. Well, I wander, as is my way. So long. As far as machine vs hand planing ..... burp ........... hay, I hand planed off the tip of one of my fingers! Want to see the scar ?
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I would have to agree that there can be a level of snobbery among bamboo flyrod afficionados..especially from an internet perspective which doesn't reveal those who have no need to broadcast their expertise to the less evolved than they. However statements like “I'd go to a gathering and see these guys bragging about their $3000 fly rods, but I couldn't help but notice most couldn't actually cast ... more the things, let alone fish them.” exhibit a convolution of snobbery no different in effect than those being criticized. Owning and collecting and fishing bamboo is more about emotion and art interplay within the activity, and in order to participate at that level money must be spent. Kurt
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Ahh, the old Journey vs. destination dilemma. Ultimately, this could allow bamboo to compete, on merits, vs the glass and graphite rods in the broader market.
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Ditto Philip's last paragraph. I own one bamboo rod. I doubt that I will own any more. As far as my experience indicates, they are best used as a small stream rod. Since I get into arguments with rattlesnakes in order to fish one of those, I do use the bamboo several times a year. But I guess I'm too old and tired to stay in the "purist" mold that I used to aspire to. I just fish what I think will ... more work for the situation. That said, there is no question that a lovingly made bamboo rod is a work of craftsmanship that compels real admiration. Say Hi to the Wonder Dog.
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Great post Tom Its writing like this that brings me back, to peek into a mysterious world where people CHOOSE how the y CATCH FISH. SBW
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Since I know almost nothing about the minutiae of rod building, I may be all wet here; but this reminds me of the snob-appeal controversy over fine shotguns. The great English guns (of which I have a few) have far more hand work in them than the great Spanish and Italian guns. Ergo, the English guns are even more expensive, and rightly so, since there are fewer of them. But on objective levels, either ... more method can produce guns with excellent engraving, wood-to-metal fit, balance and function. For that matter, you can but a factory made gun from Cabellas that will provide a lifetime of satisfaction. Everything about fly fishing is irrational, which is why it is so essential to our sanity. I doubt that one caster in ten thousand could tell the difference between a hand planed and machine planed rod. Any technology that helps put more well-designed cane rods in the hands of anglers is wonderful. Cane is an antidote to the "second place is the first loser" attitude that makes its way from the basketball courts to our streams sometimes.
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He isn't building with the mill yet, so your rod must be real. Still, I think you found the name for a new series ofRaine mill-built rods: iRods...
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There's no denying it now - I'm an uber dork. That machine is cool as shit.
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Yeah so that video is crazy. I couldn't quite see how it was working but it looks pretty rad. I too would have a hard time paying that much to fish w/bamboo. I do not see the value it creates? Maybe it is for the purists. Maybe someday I will only be guiding Utah's waters with bamboo rods, that will be my new marketing pitch...ha ha?
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TC, you left out Jerry Foster sitting in the corner egging Chris on...those two in the same room with electronics and computers...I'm amazed the world did not stop spinning.
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I have one of his Quad Rods. It never occurred to me it might not be real. So a Raine's bamboo rod must = i. ????
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A truth that many hand-planing cane rodmakers won't admit is that it is impossible to replicate the tapers of an F.E. Thomas, Leonard, or Payne rod made on a beveler, with the relatively inelastic steel of a planing form. The bevelers allow minute adjustments while also permitting extreme drops in the taper. Also, unlike planing forms, they didn't build rods on 5" (what a stupid dimension to use) ... more centers -- they didn't need to compute centers. You should see some of the old machines that turned out the superb rods of Carlson and Thomas. These machines were made with massive wooden underpinnings and handcranks to advance the cutters, yet the strips came out pure and true. Sam had a wrapping machine made of 2x4s, iron plumbing pipe, and old clothesline pulleys - but it did the job.
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I LOVE over-engineering! Damn the torpedoes Chris, full speed ahead! This thing was over engineered before he started over-engineering it.
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I LOVE over-engineering! Damn the torpedoes Chris, full speed ahead!
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See, I don't even know what you're saying here. When is Google going to create a Singlebarbed to Human translator?
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As an admitted graphite or glass snob, I was incensed to read that the rod industry was refining nozzle apartures to change the sound a new rod makes when shat onto waxed paper a bird call - versus the flatulent noise of pent-up injected molded perfection. While I might buy one of these "tweet" rods for a child, I'd never consider such an obviously inferior rod for my arsenal.
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It's hard to imagine a really good bamboo fly rod going for much less than $600. As for why you'd spend that on bamboo and not graphite, well, nobody can answer that for you. You probably won't. I have, and probably will again; bamboo (and fiberglass) feel exactly like a fly rod's supposed to feel (to me at least). I believe that's the essence of modern economics (I buy it because I want to and can), ... more though after "Too Big to Fail" my faith in economics has been shaken some.
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Yep. The main reason I haven't bought a bamboo rod is cost. Yes plenty of people have said: you can get a good bamboo rod for $600-$700. I won't spend that on a graphite rod, why should I spend it on a bamboo rod? If someone wants to spend $1500-$3000 on a rod, well good for them. Side note:In Jackson WY I saw a very nice, and expensive bamboo rod, built by someone in my home state, New Jersey. Don't ... more they have rod builders in WY???
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