The BC Flyfishers gathered on Thursday, December 17th for their last monthly chapter meeting of 2015. Approximately 30 people showed up to learn about bamboo fly rod making from a true craftsman and BCFF member.
The meeting started off with the usual fly tying demonstration, this time conducted by chapter Vice President, Gary Romanic. Gary tied a variety of streamer patterns, suitable for trout, steelhead, salmon, and bass.
General chapter announcements were made following the fly tying demo, including the following:
- The chapter will hold a fly rod building class. Class dates will be announced but classes will be held in February and March.
- Fly tying classes are scheduled to commence in January. Classes are $15 each or all four for $50. Contact John Trainor if interested – there’s still room in some of the classes.
- A new mission statement was issued by National IFFF.
- The chapter has developed a new website that will launch at the end of January.
- The BCFF IFFF chapter is the 2nd largest chapter in the Northeast Waters council.
After general chapter announcements, Joe Swam, the featured guest speaker, took center stage and gave an informative presentation on building bamboo fly rods. Joe is no stranger to bamboo. He recently moved from the south to live in the Southern Tier and is building bamboo fly rods as well as providing instruction on the process to others interested in the craft. He’s been perfecting the craft since 1991. His journey to becoming a rod maker began when a family friend gave him an 8 and a half foot Montague bamboo fly rod.
Joe initially started building rods using Maryland bamboo and surprisingly, the cane performed well. In fact, Swam brought one of his favorite “sleeper” rods – built with the Maryland cane and using inexpensive but functional components – to the BCFF’s fly casting clinic in July and it turned many who tried it into believers. While Swam still builds rods with USA cane, his main material is Tonkin cane for his hex (6 sided) rods. Tonkin bamboo comes from the Tonkin region of China – an 80 square mile area subjected to such weather extremes, that the outer enamel develops into the hardest part of the bamboo.
Swam had samples of bamboo rods in various stages of assembly. During his presentation, he reviewed each step of the rod making process and reviewed the tools required such as block planes and gages. There are a lot of splitting and planing sequences throughout the manufacturing process as the cane is honed to form for the particular length and taper desired, along with gluing, heat setting, sanding, and various treatment steps of the cane. All of this processing takes time – some 40+ hours – which is a big part of the higher costs of bamboo fly rods.
Some other noteworthy points made in Swam’s presentation include:
- While equipping a shop for rod making can be expensive, Swam showed how he has improvised, including the making of his own convection oven that is used to bake out moisture from the cane.
- Weight in bamboo rod making is an important consideration. In his presentation, Swam noted that rod components like nickel silver hardware, while beautiful, add significant weight. Additionally, where a faster action rod is desired, more material is needed, increasing rod weight. All of this added weight can fatigue a fly fisher more quickly than lighter graphite rods during a long day on the water.
- 2 tips for bamboo fly rods are not as necessary any more due to the use of better glues.
- Most bamboo fly rods are slow to moderate in action in comparison to the move of most graphite rod makers to fast and even ultra-fast actions.
- Swam prefers what many would consider a relatively short rod at 7 to 7.5 feet, again due to weight considerations. A longer rod is heavier and is a bigger lever to move!
- Joe currently makes custom bamboo fly rods to order but does not consider himself a production builder in the true sense of the word. He sells his higher-end Tonkin rods for $500, dependent on the design and grade of components. He also makes rods with “Maryland” cane and lower end components for roughly half that price. Joe can be contacted at email@example.com or at 443-945-7065.