The Art of Bamboo

Tools of the trade

My earliest exposure to flyfishing came at the age of 5, watching my grandfather cast his big bamboo rod in the yard in Maryland. He showed me how, but it was too much for my little hands and arms at that age, though a seed was planted.

Decades later my Uncle Al passed Pap’s rod down to me. It had languished in a closet for ages, so I found a gunmaker who had a talent for restoring old rods, and eventually fished it on the Deerfield River where Pap had angled. The Royal Coachman was his favorite dry fly, so I tied a few in size 18, using them to take trout on the rod from the riffles of his Deerfield.

After moving to Chambersburg in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley I met Wyatt Dietrich and was immediately enamored with his hand crafted Dreamcatcher rods. I recall meeting along the Falling Spring and casting several of his rods to choose the taper for my very own custom Dreamcatcher. That rod was my first bamboo rod to be fished in the Catskills. Upon taking the cap from its tube the fragrance of varnish brings a flood of memories.

My interest in fishing bamboo continued to grow when I met Tom Smithwick at my fly shop. We bartered and I became the caretaker of a magical 5 1/2′ one piece rod that saw action on the Falling Spring and local brook trout streams. Tom earned a nickname with me as “The Taper Wizard” thanks to his alchemy with cane. Over the years I have cast many Smithwick rods and been amazed by all of them.

Eventually I developed a casual interest in classic rods, delayed when my first impulsive attempt at purchasing one went somewhat awry. I made some contacts after that experience and began to learn about Goodwin Granger and his classic Colorado flyrods. Conversing with author Michael Sinclair, and studying his wonderful book tracing the history of Goodwin Granger and his company, left me wanting even more to fish a Granger rod.

During the frigid winter of 2014, I made good on a second attempt to acquire a fishable Granger. That rod opened me to the added dimension of history, and the delicious excitement of angling with tackle older than myself, wondering with each cast which rivers my rod and reel may have visited. That Granger Victory accompanied me to the Catskills and was duly baptized on the storied Neversink. We have taken many fine browns since that day.

During the summer of 2018 I had the opportunity to refresh a friendship from the past. John and I had lost touch for more than 20 years after meeting and fishing together at my little fly shop in the Cumberland Valley. From that first renewing handshake beside the East Branch, our friendship has continued as if those intervening decades had been moments, and last spring I passed that Granger rod on to him. May it create new stories in his capable hands!

I bought a second Granger from a friend at West Branch Angler. A rod bag was needed, and Ben put me in touch with Dennis Menscer here in Hancock. Dennis is a miraculous rod maker, one of the very few who crafts the entire rod. Not only is he a wizard with cane, his metalworking ability shines in his hand wrought reel seats and ferrules. I have missed many hours on the river during my Catskill fishing trips since our meeting, sitting in his rod shop or his kitchen talking of bamboo as interwoven through the history of Catskill fly fishing.

My Dennis Menscer 8 foot Hollowbuilt, and a memorable Delaware morning

Being fortunate to meet and come to know such talented rod makers as Wyatt, Tom and Dennis has enhanced my love of fishing cane, and thus my love of fishing and life itself. It is difficult to describe the magical connection between angler and trout as transmitted through an arch of polished bamboo!

The sheer pleasure of casting a bamboo fly rod must be experienced to be fully appreciated. There is a liveliness and a smoothness not present in the stiff synthetic rods so common today. At the strike, the wild energy of the trout passes along that arc of cane and through the heart of the angler creating one living being!

Each time I walk along the river the rod maker walks with me, so too the spirits of any who have angled with that particular rod in the past. Classic cane fished upon classic rivers connects us through time.

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