Bamboo fly rods; Worth the Cost?
Bamboo; Worth the Cost?
Those of you with a bit of experience with the sport of fly fishing are probably aware that modern fly rods are available in either fiberglass, graphite, or bamboo However, I am often asked why bamboo fly rods cost so much? Well, the answer to that question is that manufacturing a bamboo fly rod requires an exotic material and a lot of intensive and highly skilled manual labor and thus they cannot be mass produced the way that fiberglass and graphite rods are.
In addition, the process of designing and producing a bamboo fly rod is technically demanding and requires special equipment as well as special skills. To start with, all high quality bamboo fly rods are made from Tonkin cane which is a particular species of bamboo that only grows in one area of China. Thus, the cane must be harvested, dried, and shipped to the craftsman before the building process can even begin. Then, once the craftsman has the proper type of cane in hand, he must decide what length and line weight the rod is to be designed for and then he must develop a taper that delivers the desired action. Once the specifications have been determined, the cane is split and the nodes are steamed and pressed and then the bamboo is hand planed into the shape of a precisely tapered triangle. Then, the craftsman selects six of the finished, tapered, triangle pieces and glues them together in the shape of a hexagon to form a completed bamboo fly rod blank.
Once the finished rod blank is created, it is passed along to a rod builder who then assembles the various components to create a finished fly rod. In order to do this, the rod builder must plane the edges of a small section of the blank at the appropriate ends and then fit and attach the metal, male and female ferrules that connect the pieces together. Next, the rod builder assembles the sections of the blank and determines how far in front of the grip he wants to place the stripping guide. Then, he measures the distance from the stripping guide to the tip of the rod and uses a formula based upon the distance from the stripping guide to the tip of the rod blank and the total number of guides to be applied to determine the exact placement of each guide. Next, the rod builder starts with the tip section of the rod and proceeds to precisely place each guide in the correct position along the blank and then uses either masking tape or hot melt glue or both to temporarily hold the guide in place. Once all of the guides are correctly placed along the length of blank and temporarily secured, the rod builder performs a "static deflection test" to be certain that the each guide is placed correctly. To perform this static deflection test, the assembled sections of the blank are placed into a jig which holds the blank upright and leaning at an angle so that a piece of string can be ran through all of the guides and then pulled tight; thus causing the rod to bend as it would when an angler is fighting a fish. This allows the rod builder to note any sections of the blank where the rod is not bending smoothly and to adjust the placement of the guides accordingly to correct the problem. Once the placement of the guides has been tested and adjusted if need be, the blank is then placed in a special rod wrapping jig and the guide's feet are secured by wrapping a special type of thread around both them and the blank to hold them in place.
Once all of the guides on the top sections of the rod have been wrapped in place, work can begin on the bottom section of the blank. The first step in assembling the bottom section of the rod is to attach the reel seat. In order to do this, the diameter of the blank must first be built up to match the inside diameter of the reel seat. Thus, an arbor is secured to the blank which can be made of graphite, cork, or masking tape rings. Then the reel seat is slid onto the arbor and left in place temporarily. Next, a cork grip is selected and, using a special tapered reamer, the hole through the center of the grip is reamed out to match the size of the bank onto which it is being fitted so that it will fit tightly when slide down the blank and over the end of the reel seat. Then, the stripping guide is wrapped into place in the correct position. After the stripping guide is secured to the blank, the reel seat is removed, epoxy is applied to the arbor and the section of the blank where the grip is to be placed and the reel seat is slid back onto the arbor and rotated so that it matches up with the stripping guide. Then the grip is slid back down the blank and over the end of the reel seat and the epoxy is allowed to cure.
Once the bottom section of the rod is assembled and all of the guides are wrapped into place, the rod builder next applies a coat of special epoxy to the wraps on each of the guides and allows it to cure thus finishing the rod. Last, the length of the rod and line weight it is designed for are marked on the blank between the grip and the stripping guide and a coat of epoxy is applied over these markings and allowed to cure. Once this last step is complete, the rod is ready for the fisherman to use.
Thus, in answer to our original question of why a bamboo fly rod is so expensive, the answer is the cost of harvesting, transportation, and importation combined with the need for highly skilled manual labor and highly specialized equipment resulting in a product that cannot be mass produced. Therefore, owning a fine bamboo fly rod displays a certain amount of appreciation for fine craftsmanship and a carries a certain amount of prestige as well.
Guide & Instructor
Harper Creek Fly Fishing Company