The Thomas & Thomas company celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2019, celebrating five decades of producing classic fly rods for discriminating anglers. I have been a fan for many years.
From their beginnings as two professors in College Park, Maryland, Thomas Dorsey and the late Thomas Maxwell demonstrated an uncanny talent for crafting bamboo rods with exquisite actions, capable of presenting a dry fly to the most particular trout. As graphite began to catch some wind as the new magic material in fly rods, T&T developed rods crafted with the synthetic materials with the same commitment to perfection, while steadfastly maintaining their leadership in bamboo.
My first Thomas & Thomas fly rod was the 9′ four weight Paradigm pictured at the top of the photo. I bought it with an eye toward fishing the challenging crystal clear waters of Massachusetts’ Deerfield River, finding the Paradigm ideally suited to the small flies and long casts required on that hazardously difficult to wade tailwater. The Deerfield had been my grandfather’s river, and I felt the connection there each time I laid eyes upon it. Sadly the flow regime changed drastically after I acquired my rod, making it nearly impossible to plan a trip with any certainty of finding wadable flows. I have not fished the Deerfield since.
The Paradigm has performed for me many times on our Catskill rivers, and saw considerable action last summer when my carpal tunnel reared its ugly head again. The light weight of the graphite rod and its smooth, classic action was gentle on my wrist and my presentation, and the fine old rod accounted for many trophies including a gorgeous, heavy bodied brown in excess of 24 inches.
The older gentleman pictured was the fulfilment of decades of dreaming. This beautiful early 1970’s vintage 8′ 2/2 Paradigm was made for a DT6 line which it paints on the water with my fly of choice. We opened my Catskill season together a few years ago with a pair of wild, recalcitrant 20 inch Beaverkill River brown trout I coaxed to the surface with a classic Hendrickson dry fly, the only trout to rise for me that day. The Hardy Perfect sang as sweetly as she did in 1929 when she was a newborn!
If you have the chance to see Tin Boat Productions’ wonderful film “Chasing The Taper” you will appreciate the influence the two Toms have had on bamboo rod making. Of the 6 master rodmakers profiled, some of the best in the world, half can trace their roots to Thomas & Thomas. Mark Aroner began his career as a rodmaker and apprentice under the guidance of Maxwell and Dorsey. The venerable Bob Taylor spent five years in Massachusetts with T&T after the closing of the H.L. Leonard Rod Company, before starting his own R.D. Taylor Rod Company. Virginia maker Rick Robbins warmly related the tale of his 25 year friendship with Tom Maxwell, who mentored him in roadmaking.
Several years ago my friend Wyatt Dietrich offered me the opportunity to fish a special early Thomas & Thomas rod with a Chambersburg history. The 6 1/2′ rod for a 5 weight line was inscribed with the name of a lady fly fisher, and the date of ’72. We guessed the angler may have been a Cumberland Valley resident but the mystery was never solved.
I fished the rod on the perfect water, Western Maryland’s Big Hunting Creek, finding it ideally suited to this small, steep mountain stream. A tight budget forced me to decline Wyatt’s kind offer to purchase the rod, and I have ever regretted missing the chance to own it!
We both wondered as to the location the rod was made. We knew that the two Toms had started in College Park in 1969, then moved their rod making to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania the following year. They crafted their lovely bamboo rods there until buying out rodmaker Sewell Dunton’s Massachusetts factory and moving north in 1973. We talked to all of the native Chambersburg anglers and people from the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum, following every lead with no results.
Finally, I corresponded with Thomas Dorsey. Tom related that he had rented a house on a creek somewhere north of town, and that was where they located their rod shop for those three years. Sadly the only record of an address remaining was a long defunct rural route number. I often wondered if those early Thomas & Thomas rods were made somewhere along the Conococheague Creek, within walking distance of the Chambersburg home I occupied for 23 years. It seems that location will remain a mystery.
I will always wonder about the origin of my own classic Paradigm. The company no longer has all of the oldest records, but they answered my inquiry by telling me that my rod is believed to date from the early 1970’s, so it very well may have been crafted in Chambersburg. My curiosity remains.
Each time I take the rod from its tube and affix the reel I think of the legacy of Thomas & Thomas, and I am thankful to be able to so thoroughly enjoy the fruits of their passion for fly fishing perfection!