Gathering Along the Willow

A bit of fishing on the Willowemoc, September 2021

Relaxing this morning as I wait to see if the storm clouds will part to allow some fishing. I am catching up with things, sending a few messages to folks that enhanced my enjoyment of my first Catskill Rodmakers Gathering this past weekend. I had nearly attended last year, and in 2019, but figured with much of the focus being technical aspects of the craft, I would have a lot of down time. This year’s Gathering had a strong focus upon casting and enjoying the various cane rods sprung from the participants’ benches, so I found myself happily in the midst of my element!

Though I harbor the dream of making my own bamboo flyrod, age and arthritis have been the sobering thoughts that quell those fascinations. There are several classes available, though by necessity they condense the process into a handful of days, and my old body would not handle two or three days of steady planing. Yes, should I stumble across the opportunity to putz around in a suitable rod shop for a day here and there over several months, I would likely be able to live that dream, but that is an unlikely scenario. Happily, my concession is that I remain condemned to fish the marvelous creations of talented makers on our beautiful Catskill rivers.

Playing a trophy brown on a vintage Thomas & Thomas rod… complete perfection!

Among the dozens of original rods I cast this weekend, I had another little dream come true. A friend was kind enough to bring his vintage Leonard 50 DF along for me to cast. That model is the most famous and revered rod ever produced by the H. L. Leonard Rod Company and I learned that such status is well deserved. The rod’s feel, action and delivery were flawless! Smooth and controlled, the 50 DF has found a place on my wish list.

Before the glow of the Leonard had diminished, that friend produced a vintage Payne 102H and placed it in my hand. If someone stood before me and offered me either of these classic masterworks, it would be nearly impossible to choose. I have a modern rod made to that taper, a collaboration between the late George Guba and Pittsburgh rodmaker Tim Zietak. I have always enjoyed that rod immensely, and though it is impossible to compare two rods without a side-by-side casting session, my sense of feel satisfied me that my copy is similar in it’s casting rhythms.

While I was impressed with the craftsmanship of many rods I enjoyed at this year’s Gathering, I found that my favorites have not changed. I still prefer the marvelous rods currently made by Dennis Menscer, Tom Smithwick and Tom Whittle. Their remarkable performance suits the challenges of my style of angling. In terms of vintage rods, classic Thomas & Thomas Paradigms remain at the summit of my world, and my Grangers still retain their status. Leonard indeed produced some marvelous rods, and being prolific, they are thankfully obtainable. The rods of Jim Payne find themselves on the top of many angler’s pedestals, and thus remain unobtainable for those of us with common means. Of course, dreaming doesn’t cost a thing!

My Guba/Zietak Payne 102H has conquered many large Catskill brownies.
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