Talking with my friend Dennis Menscer at the West Branch Festival yesterday, he mentioned that he had finished the repair on my Orvis Battenkill fly rod. Anxious for a return bout with a certain brown trout, I sent him a quick text early this morning to inquire as to a good time to retrieve it, and so it goes that I ended up sitting in the master rod maker’s West Branch shop this afternoon. I ended up flanked by Dennis and Jed Dempsey, and that’s a lot of Catskill bamboo rod making talent to share a room with.
Telling me my tube was behind me against the wall, Dennis told me I had better check it out to make sure it’s right. I told him I didn’t need to because I knew it was right. He insisted, and when I slid the repaired tip out of the bag I understood why: a shiny new male ferrule gleamed in the shop’s light. He wasn’t satisfied with the fit and condition of the original ferrule, so he expertly crafted a new one in order to make a better repair. The Battenkill is ready to stand up to that Neversink soaker and any trout that swims in a Catskill river!
The talk settled into the goings on at the weekend festival, a first for host John Shaner at his Laurel Bank Farm in nearby Stilesville, New York. Jed and Dennis had stopped in again today, saying the light rain held down the crowd, but we all agreed yesterday’s gorgeous weather and a well organized event brought out a very good crowd. All in all the first festival was a success.
I checked out a pair of George Halstead rods Dennis is preparing for restoration. The three of us smiled knowingly at the amount of history right there in my hands. Many fly fishers are fortunate that Dennis has both the expertise and the interest in restoring these Catskill classics for his customers, even during the midst of a very busy rod making season.
I mentioned the new 8’6″ four weight rod Dennis had designed, and asked that he let me know when it was ready for casting. He promptly reached onto the bench by the front window and picked up the two long, lithe sections of beautifully flamed bamboo, telling me it was varnished and I was more than welcome to take it outside on this misty afternoon. No one ever has to ask me twice if I want to cast a new bamboo rod, especially a D. W. Menscer rod!
“Did you hollow the butt?”, I asked. “Hollowed in the butt and the tips’, he replied, handing me the assembled prototype while he reached into a cabinet for an LRH sporting a four weight line. The rod felt very light and quite delicate, flexing progressively deep into the butt. I couldn’t wait to see what she would do!
Lined up in the yard the rod felt extremely smooth, delicate but sure, turning over a loop beautifully with no effort. A very gentle wrist stroke sent fifty feet of line out perfectly and dropped the tip of the leader right on the spot I aimed for. There is no need to power this girl for distance, the rod builds power smoothly throughout it’s length, laying the “fly” down softly regardless of the range. Dennis designed the taper for a customer bound for Idaho’s legendary Silver Creek, and though I have never fished that big western spring creek, I could picture the work this rod would do on similar water that I have angled, the Railroad Ranch of the Henry’s Fork. The longer length and smoothness this rod exhibits will be perfect for flat water fishing on the Delaware system, making it easy to reach trout from long distance and still make a perfect presentation.
Rod making is alive and well in the Catskills, with a very bright spot right here in Hancock, New York!