For over a decade, I observed as my husband crafted the bamboo fly rods I so much love to fish. This winter I embarked on a pursuit to craft my own bamboo fly rod. Oh my goodness!
I had no idea how much fun it would be and how much intricacy there was to building a bamboo fly rod. Beginning on this page and for the next few pages you will be taken on a photo essay of my bamboo rod building pursuit. And, of course, my first fishing pursuit with my new rod in hand. I can only hope that my words and pictures give you a sampling of how intriguing and rewarding this pursuit was for me personally.
Selecting and Cutting the Bamboo Culm
Who would have thought picking out a couple of pieces of bamboo would be so perplexing, but it was important to choose two pieces with minimal blemishes and with a similar color tone. The first step serves as the foundation for the overall look of the rod.
Splitting the Bamboo into Strips
Precision was necessary to determine “where” to start the split. Bonk! Bonk! Bonk! – nothing gentle about starting the split. Once the split was started it was a gentle push to encourage the bamboo to split along its natural fibers. Like managing a drift boat floating with the current, an occasional nudge to the left or right was necessary.
Heat Treating and Sanding
Now this step was intimidating. The intent is to heat up the bamboo strips to remove any residual moisture. All I could think of was lighting a strip on fire! My fear, although real, was unfounded. The strips heated up nicely and stiffened up the bamboo.
Straightening and Beveling Strips
Wow, the whir and buzz of the beveller was thrilling. I now get the high from hearing the noise of shop tools. Yes, sound muffs were necessary. Each pass shaved off 0.024 inch. Amazing transformation from rough bamboo strips to a precise triangular shape ready for planing.
Planing Bamboo Strips
While planing I discovered a new depth of my obsessive compulsive nature. I made sure each strip was planed to perfect dimensions. I loved the precision and mechanical nature of setting the depth of the planing form. The hand planing; who would have thought it was a form of meditation. Which each swipe a 0.001 inch of material was removed. After many hours of meditative hand planing, I was disappointed that I was finished!
So much for meditation. Gluing up the separate pieces into distinct butt and tip sections was intense. First, the glue needed to be applied quickly but not too thick or thin. Then these sticky & gluey pieces had to be rolled into their final hexagonal shape. Lastly, quick work was required to send each piece though the binder. Whew, I was glad when that was done. After drying overnight, it was back to the meditative aspects of removing the bindings and residual glue.
Fitting and attaching the ferrules
What a complex set of steps to put two ferrules on! I now have a new appreciation for the complexity of those two metal pieces that make my butt and tip section one.
Building and installing the cork grip
Back to the workshop and the lathe to rough and finely sand the cork grip. Looking like a bamboo fly rod that will fit perfectly in my hand.
Finishing the rod sections and attaching the guides
Wow, now this was a moment to take a deep breath… as I watched Dave inscribe my name, Mary Ann Dozer, as the maker for the rod. Deep breath, a sense of pride and accomplishment! With each application of a rub-on varnish I found myself getting impatient wanting to forge ahead. Why? Because my rod was really looking like a rod and I wanted to fish it.
Wrapping the guides produced two diametrically opposed emotions. One emotion was the meditative process of five wraps and then pack… five wraps and then pack. The other emotion was the pressure of ensuring each wrap was perfect, as I know all rod makers check the quality of the wraps. And yes, another opportunity for my obsessive compulsive side to emerge. I lost count on the number of re-wraps.
Final Polishing of the rod
WOW, almost unbelievable. A final polish to spiff up the rod and it’s finished, ready for the water. What a pursuit! So many emotions; fun, intimidating, energizing, meditative, impatience, patience, and lastly pride. Voila! Let me introduce to you “My Bamboo Rod”, and I emphasize the “My”.
Fishing My New Bamboo Rod
Anglers talk about the joy of fishing the flies they tie and catching fish. Let me double that. Fishing my own crafted bamboo fly rod with a fly I tied. How cool is that?!
I started building my own build fly rod in December. In mid-February I landed my first fish with my “My Bamboo Rod”. This entire pursuit, over many days and numerous hours, was a huge accomplishment and my heart is full of pride and joy. Never would I have guessed how much I enjoyed running the workshop tools and the fine hand work of planing and wrapping the bamboo rod. A fine tribute to the old adage, it’s always important to challenge yourself and try new things. Some may dream and longt for that week on a warm and sunny beach. Not me, I long and dream of building my next bamboo fly rod. Till then – I will relish every moment I fish it.