Over the past couple of decades, I have collected antique bamboo fly rods. Contrary to popular belief, not all bamboo rods are valuable. Prior to World War 2, almost all rods were made of split bamboo. Some were excellent and costly, some were good medium priced rods, and some were cheap junk. South Bend, Heddon, and Montague were all rods that were comparable to Fords or Chevrolets. They were good serviceable rods manufactured and priced to sell to the multitudes. Lousy rods were usually made in Japan and carried no manufacturer’s name at all, while great rods were individually hand-made and always carried the name of the man who made them. Rods by Payne, Granger, and Powell were akin to paintings by Rembrandt, Van Gough, and Monet.
Recently I have done some research on the Internet and also contacted several purveyors of classic rods in an effort to stay abreast of antique rod prices. The classic bamboo rod is almost always hand-made in a most meticulous process. First the maker selects sections of bamboo that was harvested in the Gulf of Tonkin, cut into convenient length pieces, and then set aside to cure for a dozen or more years. Apparently, the ferocity of the typhoons in the Tonkin Gulf makes the bamboo there really tough, yet still flexible. After proper curing the bamboo sections are cut into carefully milled segments that are then glued into a rod that is hollow, light, and very strong. Depending on the rod maker, rods are made with either five or six segments glued together around a hollow core. The final product is a rod that feels as if it were alive when you cast it.
While the high-tech fiberglass or graphite rods are great, the bamboo purists will swear that there is no substitute for the feel of a classic bamboo rod as you cast it. As a result, really well made rods are like fine wines or paintings by the masters. A rod made by Hiram Leonard, Fred Thomas, or Everett Garrison could well cost $8, 000 to $10,000. If you’re not a millionaire, don’t despair. There are hand-made bamboo rods available out there for less than $300, while I have heard of collectors who have purchased brand new bamboo rods and then never ever fished with them. While I truly appreciate the collectible value of classic rods, it’s my belief that they are first and foremost fishing implements and only secondarily are they works of art. If it were up to me, fishing rods are meant to be fished with. Oh, well, to each his own I guess.
Pursuing that theory further I have decided to sell a couple of my classic rods so that others can experience the feel of catching and releasing a wild fish with a work of art. I’ll be contacting some of the art auction houses like the Keno Brothers and passing on some uniquely American treasures to others. If you happen to be interested in acquiring a classic bamboo rod, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week,