Fishing vintage bamboo is an expansive pursuit. There are many historic rods out there that have escaped the fate of being displayed in a trophy cabinet, never to see the water again. Paynes, Leonards, Thomases, Edwardses, all of those founding classics are still available to anglers who live to fish the tackle of the past. But our fly fishing history is not stagnant. The craft of tackle making continues through several eras including our present one.
New generations of rodmakers and reelmakers have followed the artistry of the founding masters. The bamboo embargo and the emergence of fiberglass fly rods dealt a difficult blow to the bamboo rod industry, though many small rodmaker’s shops and some of the larger companies survived. During the 1960’s and 1970’s some of today’s best-known makers learned their craft at the classic rod companies like Leonard and Payne.
The continuing interest in bamboo rods spawned new companies like Thomas & Thomas who carried on the traditions of excellence, and still do so today. T&T passed on the knowledge as had their predecessors. Bob Taylor and Marc Aroner worked for both Leonard and Thomas & Thomas, eventually founding their own rod shops.
The second coming of great rodmakers advanced the craft by teaching others, apprentices and even hobbyists, through articles and gatherings.
One of the most interesting paths was followed by Dennis Menscer. Having no direct mentor when he developed an interest in bamboo, Dennis learned by studying the old, classic rods he was asked to repair, literally taking them apart and putting them back together. Developing skills as a machinist as well as mastering the intricacies of working the cane led to him becoming a true, complete master rodmaker, fashioning every part of the rod save the silks and varnish. He maintained his interest in classic rods as his own shop grew, restoring many fine classics, and continuing to learn the nuances of their construction.
Recently I visited Dennis at his rod shop along the West Branch, watching him repairing a bent ferrule, and crafting a replacement reel seat ring for an 1870’s Leonard. It is the kind of repair and restoration work that is vital to the continuance of these historic rods, work few rodmakers are willing or able to perform. He still has a visible fondness for the history, for that history served as the foundation and inspiration for the wonderful hollow-built bamboo fly rods he makes today.
Is it any wonder that a Menscer, Aroner or Taylor rod brings that vintage feel to the caster’s hand?