Tight Lines: Fishing with a work of art
by Don Moyer
Sep 16, 2011 | 1987 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Over the past couple decades, I have collected antique bamboo fly rods. Contrary to popular belief, not all bamboo rods are valuable. Prior to World War II, 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 name at all, while great rods were individually handmade 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 handmade 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, 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’s 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 is 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 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 handmade 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 fished with them, and I truly appreciate the collectible value of classic rods, it’s my belief that they are first and foremost fishing implements and only secondarily works of art. In my opinion, 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 don.moyer@gmail.com.

Until next week, tight lines.

Don Moyer is president and CEO of a consulting firm and has more than 20 years’ experience working with the outdoor recreation community, including anglers, hunters, backpackers, environmental groups and the public. He can be reached at don.moyer@gmail.com.

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