View Full Version : What is it REALLY about bamboo for you?

11-11-2009, 09:24 AM
I've had a dozen or so bamboo rods and innumerable composite ones. I currently have two bamboo rods, one of which is for sale. I've scaled my graphite down to half a dozen rods.

I get that bamboo has some nostalgia and a handmade cool factor. The old rods evoke a warm fuzzy link to the past, and the customs from the many contemporary makers are just that, custom. It's like my custom knives, or the custom pen in my pocket. You pay dearly for both modern bamboo and custom knives, or custom anything. The fewer there are, the more valuable, of course, but that's market economics. But there has to be more to it, right?

I believe that John Gierach is in good part responsible for the surge in re-popularity of bamboo in fly fishing, not unlike how A River Runs Through It can be linked to a surge in the endeavor in general. I believe that bamboo has become "cool." I'm trying to discover for myself what more there is beyond the cool factor and the unique collector factor, which I understand...

The fishing rod is of singular fundamental purpose... to assist in catching fish. The pen in my pocket that is made for the singular purpose of writing. It's one of fifty pens like it that will ever be made, but the bottom line is the pen doesn't write any better than a Fisher Space Pen. A custom Ernie Emerson knife likely cuts as well as a similarly bladed and sharpened production blade... A McGizmo flashlight shines much like a Surefire... the list is infinite... But does a bamboo rod catch fish better than a contemporary graphite rod?

Owning what will be my single bamboo rod when the other sells is about personal connection. The one rod I am keeping to fish was made by a friend, a person I care about on a deep personal level. There is an identical rod to it owned my a man I would call my mentor. There is a single difference in the two rods, the reel seat material. We each chose materials that meant something to us. Mine is made of olive wood from the area near Gethsemane.

So for me, bamboo is about a special connection on an exponential level. It's not about fishing. My bamboo does not perform as well as my modern graphite, but I have no expectations that it will. When I fish, 90% or more of the time it's not with bamboo, primarily due to the fact that there is no warranty, and I have to treat it special. Can't just toss it in my trunk on a 105/40 degree day. I fish that bamboo because it is personal.

I know there are many bamboo believers here. I'm interested in "why?" What is it about bamboo for you?

11-11-2009, 10:39 AM
I'm not sure I can explain exactly why bamboo does it for me but I'll try.I started fishing with bamboo at the age of 16.The beauty of the rod was the first thing that caught my eye.This was in 1964.A lot of fiberglass rods were still pretty garish looking in the late 50's early 60's although they were the rage and the choice for probably 75% or more of the fishing public at that time.Graphite if it existed at this time surely hadn't even been considered as a material for fishing rods.Once past the beauty,it was the sensitivity of bamboo that was the next factor for me.It transmitted the feel of what the line was doing,what the rod was doing(the loading and unloading of it's power) and most of all it transmitted the feel of what the fish was doing after hook up much better than even the best fiberglass rods of the time.During this time I was still baitfishing with salmon eggs,small garden hackle and even small minnows or the single best lure I ever used for trout,a fly rod sized frog colored Helene(sp) flatfish and small gold or silver Colorado spinners.
At the age of 22 and freshly back home from SE Asia,I started fly fishing as a way of relaxing and I think a big part of going back to bamboo was that it took me back to an age of naive innocence.An innocence that I had lost completely while in Vietnam.During this time I also started to acquire some of the new and more sophisticated fiberglass rods.The original Fenwicks that were an olive tinted gold and then I bought a 4 pc 7' Fenwick pack rod when the chocolate brown rods first made their appearance.Mostly though,it was still bamboo that was my no.1 choice.It was also at this time that I started aquiring more and more bamboo rods as they could be picked up for the proverbial "dime a dozen".I started to restore and refinish bamboo rods at this time as many of them had fallen into disrepair.I was at a fly fishing outing in Pa. when Hoagy Carmichael was the guest speaker and showed the documentary film that he had made on Everett Garrison(The book had not yet been released).As soon as the book came out I got a copy and since I had always thought about how "neat" it would be to actually make a bamboo fly rod,I was going to do it.Like a lot of the original book purchasers I was a bit put off by Garrisons' engineering explanations and since I didn't know where to get planing forms,didn't know any rodmakers or even if any existed within 100 miles of me,it remained nothing but a dream for the next 30 couple years.Because I still mainly fished bamboo and was doing a lot of repair and restoration work( word had gotten around and my hobby started to produce extra income as well) the dream of making one was still ever present in the back of my mind.During this time I bought the only graphite rod that I have ever owned.I bought an Exxon blank when Leonard changed to a different blank maker.Exxon dumped all their blanks on the market and a good friend of mine who owned a fly shop insisted that I had to try one.At $26 dollars for the blank I figured I couldn't lose so I bought one and had another fishing friend build it out for me.I had a total of $40 wrapped up in a rod that Leonard had been selling for $225.Graphite though,just never "did it" for me.In fact the only other graphite I ever considered buying was an Orvis 7'9" far and fine 5wt right after they first came on the market.These were the rough textured unsanded rods that are still sought after today.Then one day at the age of 53 I stumbled onto the rodmakers listserve on the internet.Lurked for around 2 months with great fascination at all these guys from around the world sharing techniques about making bamboo rods.One day I got up enough nerve to make a post inquiring about how to get started and I was contacted off list by a wonderful guy from Vernon,Texas named Darrol Groth who answered all my newbie questions and gently gave me guidance and steered me in the right directions.I acquired a used set of planing forms some bamboo and the tools and at the age of 54 realized a lifelong dream come to fruition.I cannot begin to express the immense satisfaction I got doing something that had been only a fantasy for over 30 years.Now 2 dozen fly rods and 7 baitcasters later my love affair with bamboo has only gotten stronger.It's like you said,the same can be said of holding a Moran damascus blade knife or an early Randall(both of which I own) in my hand.Maybe a new knife would cut as well or better but they wouldn't give me the same sense of satisfaction.That is what is really about bamboo for me.A lifelong passion that maybe can't be fully explained because of all the intangibles.
But hey,I tried :D and sorry it took me so long to do it.

11-11-2009, 10:49 AM
That's what I'm talkin' bout. :bigthumb: More! More!

11-11-2009, 01:05 PM
There are a couple of 9ft + boos in the tackle store,not seen the light of day for a decade or so , modern stuff coes it so much better inabove say 8 foot.
The cane that does get used is a cheapo Aggutters 6.6 which with the #5 Thebault and a short furled leader and fine tippet does me well under the trees on small streams.
As it is a cheap rod with not a lot of class it is another tool but no more than that.
Does a fine job,
perhaps on day will find a new or used cane similar that was made with love and that could be the one!

11-12-2009, 12:07 PM
This is a cultural thing for me.

My grandparents were immigrants and small farmers. They succeeded when many did not. In their time they moved from working with horse drawn equipment to tractors and pickup trucks, from hard physical labor to mechanized farming. My father’s father reinvented himself from subsistence farmer, to blacksmith, to well driller over his working lifetime. My grandparents had no money for extras, but they wanted good tools that would make their lives easier. My grandparents made many of their tools.

In my father’s generation the men were blue collar craftsmen, farmers and laborers. They were practical and inventive people. They borrowed from the new technology, bought what they had to and built what they could, adopting a practical and economical course. I was taught that good tools and good equipment are important, and homemade stuff, built just for the purpose, is best.

I have several graphite rods, all assembled by me from blanks. I sold or gave away the ones that didn’t appeal to me.

I have about a dozen cane rods. A few are excellent in every way. The rest are sound, serviceable fishing tools. I didn’t pay retail for any of them. Four were made by professional or accomplished amateur rod makers. The others were used rods produced by local hobbyist makers, and I restored or remodeled them, or I put them together by matching parts of different broken or distressed rods.

I have high praise for those who can make a good blank from the culm. I have never invested in the equipment or the time to do it myself.

Good cane blanks are easy to form into something that will work, when they are finished they are beautiful, and they are relatively easy to repair. With graphite blanks, you can only do so much. With graphite, the factory determines what the rod will be like. If you want something different, you buy a different rod, and if you break it, you send it in or throw it away.

From gstrand’s post: “But does a bamboo rod catch fish better than a contemporary graphite rod?” My cane rods are chosen or tailored for my needs for my trout fishing in Midwestern small and medium sized streams. I couldn’t find graphite rods to do the same work as well and as economically.

I have also made a number of wood rods. These are cheap, effective, and nice looking. I split my stream fishing between the cane and wood rods. I use graphites in the fall when I fish ponds and small lakes.

There are a lot of good graphite rods, and I have no quarrel with those who favor them. But I was taught that it’s better to make my own stuff, inexpensively, tailored to the purpose. And cane (and wood) does this better for me than graphite.

11-12-2009, 06:11 PM

Graphite rods came after bamboo.

The performance is not all that different.

Bamboo by far is way more beautiful in hand and the way it sends a loop and "speaks" to you. My time on stream is limited. I want to enhance the experience as much as possible. The fact that I can make a bamboo rod is far more appealing than building a graphite rod. I have helped roll my own one weight graphite rod and at one point, almost chose to make my own graphite rods but between the two, I chose to learn how to make a bamboo rod from a culm.

The bottom line though, there is very little difference in a small stream rod, graphite to bamboo performance wise. A modern bamboo rod costs more however, I can actually do the math and understand why it costs what it does. Take a 700$ graphite rod, break down the cost, how much of that is advertisement and overhead cost? I know what guides, thread and cork cost, I have a good idea what graphite cloth costs, a mandrel yadda yadda yadda...

The whole economics and beauty of bamboo is easily digestable.

Besides, the first rod I fished as a child was a bamboo cane pole.

11-18-2009, 12:04 PM
There is nothing else like catching a wild trout on your own hand tied fly at the end of one of your own hand made bamboo rods. As a maker, that is the best thing about it. Then again, you could put on your own hand made reel and self braided silk line, but that is beyond my capability!

When fishing classic bamboo rods paired with a classic reel, it just feels right. Like a tradition, or maybe just traditional. Hnadcrafted anything seems to carry with it more personality, character, not to mention mojo. I just dont feel the magic in graphite. The natural feel of bamboo is just plain natural to me. Maybe therin lies the magic.

11-18-2009, 02:11 PM
Nicely put.

I'm pretty sure if you put your mind to it, you could braid a line.

John Betts

You probably know who this guy is, he can teach you if you want to know. He is very open to helping people realize that they can do the things they want to...

Nice to read you here, I mean that.

11-19-2009, 11:13 AM
Not fishing bamboo myself, but I'm intruqied by Ernest's remark about wood rods. What is such a thing?


11-19-2009, 02:41 PM
http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/sm_images/Rods/Betts/a.JPG (http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/images/Rods/Betts/a.JPG) http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/sm_images/Rods/Betts/b.JPG (http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/images/Rods/Betts/b.JPG) http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/sm_images/Rods/Betts/c.JPG (http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/images/Rods/Betts/c.JPG) http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/sm_images/Rods/Betts/d.JPG (http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/images/Rods/Betts/d.JPG) http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/sm_images/Rods/Betts/e.JPG (http://www.grassart.net/CRR/08/images/Rods/Betts/e.JPG)

John Betts, Ernest and others make and fish wood rods.

11-19-2009, 03:47 PM

Short pm sent today.


12-02-2009, 04:56 AM
A friend said "bamboo is the meaning of life" but I won´t go that far. I´ll just stick to "Bamboo is the sh-it"..

My father fished split bamboo. My fist fishing pole was bamboo. My neighbor from my childhood days, who was my fishing hero and was considered one of the best trout fishermen in the county, fished split bamboo. My son´s first pole was bamboo and my first split bamboo rod I made I gave to him and he loves it. I have fished split bamboo for about 30 years by now and I still don´t think I can put my finger on it after all these years. I just like them. I can sit down on a rock by the river and just look at the rod. If it´s a rod I´ve made myself, I look at the node work and so on and maybe I remember a sequence in the shop from when I made it.
And I often find myself putting on a smile when casting a bamboo fly rod.

What is it REALLY about bamboo for me? Well, I gusss I just freaking love it for the natural and down to earth thing it is...


12-02-2009, 10:00 AM
Each Boo Rod has a special personality to it. One thing that was special to me when I fished pairs of Wet Flies and Nymphs was that you could feel every nuance; the lightest take or nibble. same with fishing dries !!! There are many fishermen who feel they need to use strike indicators !!! I can easily say that with a good Boo Rod, there is no need !!! Yoy feel everything !!!! I love the smoothness of presentation with a good silk line, and how the dry fly even smoothly lands. The cast on a good Boo and Silk line is a thing of beauty and art all in one !!!! Fighting a fish on one is even better; again you feel everything all the way up your arm and throught your body !!! :thumbup:

12-19-2009, 10:38 AM
backbone and unrelenting power

that's all

01-28-2010, 05:37 PM
My first bamboo fly rod was an impregnated Scottie by Sharpes of England in the mid 1970s, since then, I've owned Leonards, Orvis bamboo and several others. Right now, my favorite bamboo is one made by Bob Lancaster of Maryland, based on a Paul Young Para 15 taper. Bamboo has a special feel that makes casting an extension of my arm, and to me, nothing defines what a flyrod should be better than bamboo. I still fish graphite and glass rods, but bamboo has a feel that only bamboo can have.

01-28-2010, 08:39 PM
At first, I just thought it would be great to own one because there are nice looking. I fell in lust with a three weight in Chris Raines' shop in Dunsmuir several years back. It was gone when I went back.

When I did finally get one (Matt Schliske's) I started to 'get it'. I slow everything down when I fish my bamboo rod, starting at the trunk of the car and stringing the silk through the guides. I'm more deliberate, careful, patient, and if I get a take, happier, as it seems I worked a little more for it. I cannot be in a hurry when I cast with it. If I'm nice and easy, she is nice and easy too. And, it doesn't hurt that she is beautiful. When I fish with it, I FEEL cool - which is pride talking - but its true even when nobody is around. When I am around others, it has proven to be an interesting conversation starter. Lots of people like bamboo rods - they love to look at them.

A side benefit that I had not anticipated, was that I became acquainted with the maker. I got his idea of what a good rod should do (personality) which is great, and I've gotten to fish with him since delivery, something I wouldn't have done had I not made the bamboo connection.

I use my beater of an Orvis 5wt. mostly, but when I go smallstream, my 3 wt. bamboo is my companion.


01-28-2010, 08:47 PM
I haven't answered this since I don't really know. from the first time i fished bamboo (also a schliske) there was no looking back. it feels right. and while we and others tend to dwell on the appearance of bamboo rods (gorgeous), we also tend to neglect how ell they perform their job. there is nothing like fishing bamboo. from the effortless cast to the rod coming alive in yer hand while fighting a fish. the whole damn thing is electric for lack of a better word. bamboo looks better, it casts better and it fishes better. I just love it. everything about it.

01-28-2010, 10:07 PM
I wrote a book on EW Edwards. That was after fishing with graphite rods for over 20 years. One day I wandered into a fly shop in Vermont & ran into a guide I knew. For some reason he grabbed me and said, "I gotta show you a rod. Let's cast it!" and proceeded to drag me out to the casting pond. The rod was a mid-1920s Edwards, and casting it was a small revelation. I'd never cast anything like it. Power, smoothness, reach.

I was so blown away that I started a lengthy process of researching cane rods. Lo and behold, I found that almost all modern tapers are a variant of classic cane rod tapers--stuff that was fine-tuned 50-80 years ago. My opinion--although I still fish graphite (but only in Spey rods)--was that there was something magical in the finer cane rods that still hasn't been duplicated w/ modern plastic rods. As Will wrote earlier, there's an aesthetic issue, certainly. And a romance. But if you start doing some blindfolded casting using both cane and graphite, you'll walk away a believer. The graphite is adequate: The cane sings.

After becoming a believer for the last decade & a half, I can't imagine not going to cane first when I go out to my favorite stream.

01-28-2010, 10:38 PM
I just started messing around with bamboo 2 year ago. I had strip an old shakespeare. I kept the original cork and reel seat. I put new guides on it and went fishing. It's a 7' and I used a 6wt. line on it. I caught fish on it for first time in probably 40 or 50 years. Been messing with bamboo ever since. I just got done building a 8' 5wt. garrison taper I've cast it in the parking lot. Can't wait to get it on water. Like the way it casts. I also have a 7' 6" hardy and my next project is going to be a 7' 4wt. granger. I don't know how to post pictures or I would take some and post them. I've been hook ever since. I still use my TMF and a 7'10" 3wt scott & 7' 4wt TL Johnson fiberglass that I have but it sure is nice fishing bamboo. :)

01-29-2010, 04:38 AM
Hi Guys

We are having a similar discussion on a local forum here in South Africa. Seems I am in a minority when it comes to using a bamboo rod. The emphasis here seems to be on long graphite rods (for high sticking etc). Fast actions. You guys know the drill.

My fascination with bamboo developed in the early 1970's when I was at university. I went down to a local lake one day, with my only flyrod at the time, a 8' glassfibre, the name of which i cannot remember. As I walked over the crest of a hill, I came across a young boy of about 13 or 14 casting a bamboo rod. I had never seen beautiful casting before and the image of the him standing on a rock with the line looped into the sky will remain in my memory forever.

Fast forward. About 4 years ago I purchased a knockoff bamboo rod from an online shop in the USA. Also bought a JP Thebault silk line and knockoff Vom Hofe. I fish this outfit from time to time as a flirtation with the traditional side of flyfishing and I love it! Although I do not own a "name" rod, my setup casts perfectly and roll casts like no other graphite I own. The "live" feel of a fish on the line is difficult to describe but surpasses any feedback I get from my ZXL's etc.

I've read Carmichael's book and was totally absorbed. One day I will import a planing form or two and build my own.

Till then I will fish my bamboo rod on special occassions and continue enjoying the feedback on this forum.


01-29-2010, 06:47 AM
Neil, that was cool and my experience almost to the t.

I see many of us pitching makers names like that is the important thing.

I think the important thing is the bamboo

I'm having fun with a graphite rod now, much in the same way as you but totally opposite. Switch your bamboo for my graphite and we are one in the same. The Tenkara rod I pull out and it shrinks my age by decades. Some will understand that.

Do you know Robert?

One of Gerard's friends?

Man, you guys from South Africa know your stuff.

I would really like to visit.

01-29-2010, 07:28 AM

I do'nt know Gerhard personally, although I know of him. I am a member of the same Piscatorial society as he is.

You're welcome to visit anytime. As a taster I am attaching a photo of a typical Cape stream


Ok, sorry guys, hijack off - back to bamboo :)

01-29-2010, 10:22 AM
The graphite is adequate: The cane sings.

That is a great quote! Short,sweet and says it all. I'm going to have to remember that.

01-29-2010, 10:31 AM
That is great pic! You guys have some beautiful areas. When Gerard posted some of his areas at Grassart I just had to tell him how stunned I was that SA had trout fishing and such rugged mountainous areas.Like most from the States the only Africa I knew was from documentaries,shows about hunting in Africa and mostly from old Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies.And I never saw Tarzan or Cheeta fishing with anything other than a spear :lol: Thanks for posting that shot and I look forward to seeing more :thumbup:

02-01-2010, 02:41 AM
A couple of pics which emphasize the beauty of bamboo and smallstreams



02-01-2010, 01:52 PM
There is just something special about bamboo rods. I purchased a 7'6" 5-weight Hardy Phantom in the early 1970's when I was stationed in the UK. I have used that rod on many small streams in the UK and here in Utah. I have taken grayling, browns, rainbows and cutthroats with it.

To me fishing with bamboo is the heirarchy of flyfishing, nothing compares. The action is totally different from todays composits. I have semi-retired my Hardy, but still bring it out every couple of years if I am going to baptize a new stream.

I used it on the Green River here in Utah once, but decided I needed something with more reach. And besides, I don't want it damaged - too sentimental I guess.

02-03-2010, 08:41 PM
A good bamboo rod seems almost alive - some might even say they have a spirit. I think the great ones hold a little bit of the makers spirit in them - as they almost seem to speak to you at times.

for me anyway - Rob

02-06-2010, 11:27 PM
What a beautiful picture, don't think there could be a better advertisement for bamboo.

02-09-2010, 09:38 AM
Thank you for the compliment. I took a similar pic with one of my Sage graphite rods which I posted on the previous forum and which I'll take the liberty of posting again. Let's say for comparison :)


The pic of the cane rod definitely appeals to me more

02-09-2010, 08:02 PM
Thanks for pulling that out. I wasn't conscious of it! But in retrospect, a good summation. :)