If we really needed further proof that bamboo rod makers are borderline OCD sufferers technically insane, we bring you YouTube video of Chris Raine’s new computer-controlled, wholly hand-machined, completely over-the-top bamboo fly rod mill – in its first pass (at this point, it’s shaping the delrin cutting bed).
I’ve been watching this beast take shape for upwards of a year in Chris’ shop.
Frankly, I’m a little afraid of the thing; I stand in the other corner when I visit.
If you know Raine, you know he’s a lifetime member of the Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing School of Insane Behavior, and this is only the latest manifestation.
It’s likely his bamboo rod mill and a handful of cockroaches would be the only thing in Dunsmuir to survive a direct tactical nuclear strike, and yet I’ve heard him state – without a hint of irony – that he’d really like to beef the thing up.
How do you “beef up” something already more massive than a woolly mammoth?
Raine’s continuing to build fly rods the “old fashioned way” (and teach classes) while he puts the finishing touches on The Beast, though he’s also building some new style binder that looks like it was stolen from the drive train of an Abrams tank.
(Crazy, it seems, tends to spread quickly over the whole shop.)
The impetus for this rant was an email suggesting a bamboo rod built on a mill wasn’t a “real” bamboo fly rod at all.
If it wasn’t hand planed, then it just wasn’t real.
Hand-planing a rod offers satisfaction and a pleasing connection with the bamboo, but even those that like the process will admit it’s hard work and the BFI part of the job (brute force and ignorance).
And yes, the time invested in hand planing a rod makes it hard to experiment with new rod tapers.
And before anybody chimes in to champion the concept of “nostalgia” or “tradition” in connection with hand-planed rods, I’d like to say that almost all the old bamboo rods – including the vaunted Paynes, Leonards, etc – were built on mills of some sort.
I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a modern fly rod tapered on a mill, though plenty of bamboo snobs have expressed reservations about that.
It’s one of the things that leads me to believe the bamboo fly rod world’s biggest enemies are some of the people in the bamboo fly rod world – people who would rather we worshiped bamboo fly rods instead of fished them.
After all, I’ve seen bamboo rod builders – including Jimmy Reams, whose fly rods should be shot into space so aliens will mistakenly believe we’re a tasteful, elegant species – accused of “not being ‘real’ bamboo rod builders” because they don’t fab their own ferrules or reel seats.
That’s like suggesting I’m not a “real” writer because I didn’t code my text processor (Komodo Edit).
The case for “real” lies in the words or the fly rods, not in the tools, and while fly fishermen have a deserved reputation for being insufferable snots (me included), reality probably really has to kick in at some point.
I could also rant on about those who insist a bamboo rod isn’t really a bamboo rod if its wraps are nylon instead of silk; its guides are ceramic instead of agate; or the rod bag wasn’t sewn by a virgin (a hard thing in California).
But I won’t.
I will, however, offer a rare celebrity endorsement of my position; in an interview with John Gierach, he told me he still fishes bamboo about 85% of the time, but has drifted away from the bamboo rod scene largely because of the people who populate it.
“I’d go to a gathering and see these guys bragging about their $3000 fly rods, but I couldn’t help but notice most couldn’t actually cast the things, let alone fish them.”
Frankly, I’d love to see a machine-planed fly rod brand created in the image of Bill Phillipson’s rods – excellent fishing tools that didn’t cost the arm you cast them with.
Given the high-dollar prices charged for mass-produced graphite, I wonder if the time isn’t right for a new mass-produced bamboo rod. After all, almost nothing fishes smaller streams better than bamboo, and enough people are fishing small streams that I’m using psuedonyms instead of stream names.
It’s likely that investment in machinery would never be repaid, but if you can’t wish for the impossible, well hell – there’s little reason to write your own fly fishing blog.
Viva the Modern Bamboo Fly Rod – no matter how it’s built.