The magic of bamboo enthralls me, old or new, there is life in these sticks!

My friend JA, meticulous craftsman and artist that he is, called me the other evening with an interesting offer. He would be planing the strips for the butt of the new fly rod he is building at the Catskill Rod Maker’s Class on Sunday and thought I might enjoy stopping by and planing a bit myself. Devious character that guy, for he knows full well that I couldn’t resist that!

JA knows I would love to be right there in the class beside him, building my very own bamboo fly rod, but for the fear that my forty year old arthritis would prevent me from completing the work. The class is interesting and well run, taught for several years by David VanBurgel and wife Kathy Scott, who journey from the wilds of Maine each summer to help initiates bring out the life in a few select stalks of grass. Planned and executed over the course of five days, the pace is intense, and I fear that two or more days of planing bamboo strips would set my neck and shoulders on fire, easily as much as the experience of making my own rod sets my thoughts aflame. Still the temptation is there; now even more tangible as I have enjoyed the chance to chase the curl.

The thin curl of bamboo rises from the plane as I work my way down the length of the strip. JA swore I could not mess up his rod, as this was the rough planing, not the fine, final planing that removes those last critical thousandths of an inch that create the designed taper, a Garrison 209 in this case. (Photo courtesy JA)

The environs are inspiring in and of themselves, as the class convenes in the bamboo rod shop at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, using, and surrounded by exhibits of the tools and machines of some of history’s most revered rod makers. JA will bind the strips after gluing on the late Everett Garrison’s hand made binder. There is plenty of inspiration in the room. In a display cabinet along the wall rests an actual Garrison 209 fly rod, made by the hands of the master himself!

Garrison rods are collector’s dreams, as the stately engineer was the man behind the book rod makers call “the bible”. Garrison befriended a young man taken with the magic of the bamboo flyrod and it’s makings, one Hoagy Carmichael. They discussed collaborating on a book to preserve “Garry’s” methods and insights. Sadly Everett Garrison passed during the project’s infancy, and Carmichael had to soldier on. He sought and received help from other rod makers so he could understand Garrison’s notes and taper designs, the late Dave Brandt even volunteered to do the illustrations and technical drawings. The book has since guided thousands into the alchemy of bamboo fly rods.

I own and fish a copy of Garrison’s Model 206, a two piece seven and one half foot rod that casts a three or four weight line smoothly and with remarkable accuracy. Pennsylvania rod maker Jim Downes made that rod, and I enjoy fishing it each summer when low, clear flows demand a lighter touch. I have seen actual Garrison 206 rods for sale a couple of times, at asking prices of $11,000.00! The master was not a volume rod maker, and historians debate totals in the vicinity of two or three hundred fly rods that Garrison made during his lifetime.

I introduced my Jim Downes Garrison 206 to the West Branch Delaware on a stormy morning in late June 2015. The river was high and rising, and I was drenched by the downpours. The only hint of rising trout were minor disturbances that hugged the bank, and the fly had to all but touch the overhanging vegetation to elicit a take. I quickly learned to admire the rod’s remarkable accuracy, when this twenty inch wild brown intercepted my isonychia emerger within an inch of the river bank!

So thanks to JA, I can honestly say that I helped plane a strip for his “Garrison” rod. Yes, the fever to try building my own burns a bit brighter this morning, but I take comfort in the fact that there are more skilled hands like his to do that for me!

Chasing the curl! (JA Photo)

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