Gin clear, slow moving, spring creek water. Birds singing in the background. I am casting, squatted down far from the bank so as not to scare the spooky fish. I can barely see the spot where I know there’s gotta be a fish. False cast a few times to get enough line out to hit my target. My #10 black leech lands spot on. I am mixing it up - slow retrieve, long pause, fast retrieve, pause – a subtle pull back, I set the hook.
Darn, missed the fish!
Cast again – hit my target - mix up the retrieves again – a subtle pull back - raise the rod tip - feel the weight of the fish. Yes, Fish On! I have lots of line out – strip quickly to gain control of the fish. I can feel the fish pull as I tighten up my grip on the cork. I see the rod bend to the cork grip and the rod tip dampening out the head shakes! I have control - I can now get the line on the reel!
Let the fish take line - then reel it back in - let the fish take line - then reel it back in.
I love this part of fishing, “the Tango Dance” with my fish. I can tell by the feel of the rod’s softening bend that my fish is tiring! Time to net the fish - argh, my net is a little too small! Reach out - lift the net up - success – fish in the net! Quickly remove the hook - grab a quick “grip & grin” shot - release the fish back for another day! Once again, my trusty 8’ 5 wt bamboo fly rod delivers!
It is amazing how your mind’s eye can replay Great Fish Tangos.
My husband has been building custom bamboo fly rods for many years, thus, since I’m married to my bamboo rod maker, I have seven different bamboo fly rods that I fish, and I fish bamboo almost exclusively.
I met a fellow angler on the river who was out for the first time with a new bamboo rod. When I asked him how he liked it, he replied, “It’s great, I love how it feels and it helps me slow down and enjoy my fishing experience a whole lot more.” I agree wholeheartedly; fishing and casting with a bamboo rod takes you to a different place than with graphite. Calmness, quietness, and a closer connection to the river comes to mind.
I am frequently asked why I fish bamboo. Well, besides the Cool Factor, I fish bamboo because there is so much more feel and responsiveness in a bamboo rod over a graphite rod. When I cast with graphite, I feel that moment when the rod unloads, but that is all. With bamboo, I can feel the entire loading and unloading of the rod all the way down into the cork grip and my hand.
I feel the rod bend as soon as I begin my cast, and I can feel it straighten as I pause for the line to respond.
I’ve also found that bamboo is far superior for managing line. Because of the responsiveness of bamboo, I can mend line more effectively and my mends disturb the water less.
Playing a fish with bamboo intensifies the experience: from the hook set, to the play, to the landing of the fish. Given bamboo’s softer action, it is harder for a fish to break off with a head shake.
What creates the enhanced feel in a bamboo fly rod is that you are fishing with a natural piece of material. The strength in bamboo comes from fibers, which run the length of the bamboo. While these fibers add strength, they also transmit energy entirely through the rod from the tiptop all the way to the cork grip.
A bamboo rod, given its natural softer action over graphite, requires you to adjust your cast. With short casts, less than 25 feet, all you really need to think about is “slow it down.” A slight decrease in your tempo is sufficient! As you go to longer casts, you’ll need to be more conscious about adjusting your cast. You won’t be able to apply a lot more power like you might naturally do with graphite.Rather, your casting stroke length will need to be increased. In other words, the distance you move your hand between the stops will need to be longer. You will need to pause longer and you will need to be more precise about the pause. Too little pause and the rod’s tip won’t get a chance to dampen out. Too long of a pause and you’ll have too much slack to remove.
The error most anglers make with bamboo is the application of too much power. Too much power and speed doesn’t give the bamboo a chance to respond. You can get away with adding more power with graphite, especially with faster action rods. Too much application of power or too fast a tempo with bamboo will result in a tangled mess of line from a classic tailing loop.
By learning to cast bamboo you will naturally become a more precise and fluid caster for any action rod. And, when you pick up that graphite rod, you’ll be amazed how different it feels with your new slower paced tempo, assuming you would ever want to fish graphite again!
No doubt it is an expensive proposition to purchase a high quality bamboo fly rod. The price for a quality bamboo rod can range from $1000 to $4000 depending on the reputation of the rod maker. Yes, “ouch” to the pocket book. However, realize that a high quality bamboo rod is hand built one at a time and has required a significant tool investment for the rod maker. No mass production steps! Most rod makers invest 40 to 100 hours of effort to craft a custom bamboo fly rod. And yes, the more hours spent on the rod, the better the quality and appearance of your rod. When you purchase a custom made bamboo fly rod, you will have the maker’s heart, soul and energy in the rod.
My best advice on buying a bamboo rod is talk to the rod maker! Learn about their rod building philosophy. Find out how much craftsmanship they put into the rod and what is unique about their building process.
Lastly, any good rod maker won’t just sell you a rod. A good rod maker will spend time learning about how and where you fish, your personality and what makes you tick! By all means cast a few of their custom built rods if possible and ask to meet the rod maker on the river with a few of their rods to try out different actions.
One of the great things about bamboo fly rods is the wide variety of options for different fishing conditions. Small, light weight rods for tiny creeks, more traditional 4, 5, and 6 weight rods for medium to larger rivers and even two-handed switch and spey rods for swinging streamers for larger trout and steelhead. There are even some brave anglers who take heavier bamboo rods out in the salt. After all, before there were graphite and fiberglass rods, everything was bamboo. And, there is a very broad variety of different actions available in bamboo fly rods, much more so than with graphite rods.
Before I let you go, I just gotta tell one more story about my surprise Bull Trout on The Yankee Fork.
Nothing is coming up for my #16 Parachute Adams. No action, not even a look. I need to try something different. What the heck, I’ll put a #6 weighted streamer on my 7’ 4 weight bamboo. Cast to the opposite bank 20 feet away. Cast is clunky and ugly! The streamer is way too big for this rod. But, just as my fly goes subsurface – a huge tug on my line. In a nanosecond I feel the weight of something big - the rod bends to cork! Never before I have seen this rod bend so deeply - Game – on! I am seriously under-gunned on this fish. It’s gotta be a bull trout! ”Mr. Bull Trout, please don’t break my rod - I’ll land you as quickly as I can and let you go”. Darn - No Net! I am going to need help landing this one. Chaos ensues – let it run - bring it in - let it run - bring it in. After an untold number of tangos I have the fish to shore. A quick photo and my bull trout is safely released back into the water. Time to take a breath and relish that experience.