Sunday Classic / Caring for Bamboo Fly Rods

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This Beautiful rod was made by Gary Lacey  Photo by Louis Cahill

This Beautiful rod was made by Gary Lacey Photo by Louis Cahill

I’ve had several folks request some content on making simple repairs to bamboo fly rods. I fully intend to to that for you, but it means that I have to find the time to get in the shop. That seems unreasonably difficult these days. Before I get into doing repairs, I thought it would be prudent to write about caring for that bamboo rod and maybe avoid some repairs all together.

Bamboo is not as finicky as most people think. In fact it’s remarkably tough but there are some basic rules for handling and storing rods that will add to their longevity significantly. Unfortunately, too many guys end up with a nice bamboo rod before they know how to care for it and learn the hard way.

Most guys start out with graphite rods and assume that you treat a bamboo rod the same way. It’s a fly rod, right? Yes, but the materials are very different and some very common practices that are fine with a graphite rod will do serious harm to the boo.

General Care

I’ll start with the simplest and most common thing boo nubes do to their rods. You know that little string on your rod sock? Why this thing exists, I’ll never know. I’ve never had a rod so eager to hit the river that I had to tie it down but a lot of guys tie that string around the disassembled rod, I guess because it’s there. Do that to your bamboo rod and next time you take it out to fish there will be a little dog leg in the tip, just where that string falls. Cut that string off and throw it away.

One of the most damaging things to a bamboo rod is, ironically, water. Of course, it doesn’t hurt your rod to get it wet. What hurts it is to stay wet. The absolute worst thing you can do to a bamboo rod it to seal it up in a rod tub wet. Any amount of water trapped in an air tight tube with your rod will cause serious damage. The best you could come away with is mildew in the varnish but things will likely be worse. Once the moisture penetrates the finish it will start to rot the cane. Once that happens the rod is done. Many bamboo rods that seem to have broken for no reason were put away wet. Leave the rod out in its sock for a day or two before putting it back in the tube. I set mine on the mantle. After sixteen years my wife doesn’t even see them there anymore.

The varnish on your bamboo rod is a vital barrier that protects the cane. It is pretty resilient but there are a couple of easy ways to screw it up. Never leave it in the hot car, especially in a tube lying in the sun. The heat will bubble the finish and cause it to separate from the cane. The entire rod will need to be refinished. Never use solvents on the rod. Even rubbing alcohol will damage the varnish.

Keeping you rod clean is a good practice. Not only does it look better but it assures that no harmful chemicals or mildew get left on the finish. Don’t over think it and start using harsh cleaning products on your rod. Soap and warm water is the best thing. You can use a soft vegetable brush on the cork and a tooth brush on the guides and hardware. Dry it thoroughly and oil the ferrules when you’re done.

This really applies to any rod but I’m still shocked when I see guys do it. Never stick a hook in your cork. If you’re older than six you have no excuse for doing that.

Ferrule Care

The quickest way to ruin a rod, almost beyond repair, is by twisting the ferrules. It’s a common practice to twist ferrules on a graphite rod to seat or unseat them but that simple motion will will gall the metal ferrules on a bamboo rod. The ferrules will start to twist during fishing and eventually become too loose to stay together. The only solution is new ferrules and that’s a risky proposition no rod maker wants to take on.

Never put your rod together while the ferrules are wet. Moisture inside the assembled ferrules will cause corrosion and the ferrules will stick. You’ll risk breaking the rod getting them apart and once the corrosion is buffed down they wont fit as well. If you do have stuck ferrules read my post on getting them apart safely. Here

Never leave a bamboo rod together over night. It’s tempting on a multi-day trip to leave the rod strung up but again the ferrules will stick and you’ll be in a pickle. Take the time to break the rod down and dry it every night.

Keep your ferrules clean and lightly oiled. A Q-Tip works well for cleaning the inside of the female ferrules and the best thing to clean and oil them with is camilla oil. You can get it from a good woodworking supply. It’s the oil of the camilla flower. It’s completely inert and does not get rancid with time. For the ferrule at the top of the mid on a three piece rod you will need to pinch some of the cotton off of the Q-Tip. It’s best to store your rod with ferrule plugs in the female ferrules but if you don’t have them put the rod in its sock with the female ferrules facing down to keep grit out of them. Check them before assembling the rod to be sure they are clean. Don’t wax your ferrules. Some people will disagree with me but the wax builds up and gets nasty. Camilla oil is better.

If your ferrules are bright, meaning not blued, whipped or finished, you can buff them with never dull to keep them looking good. Just put a bit of masking tape over the varnish where the bamboo meets the ferrule to keep from dulling the finish.

When putting a rod together you will often see folks rub the male ferrule against their nose. It’s not a good idea. There’s not only oil on your nose, there’s salt too. Salt can cause corrosion on the ferrule. Some folks have body chemistry that’s worse than others. You see the same thing on guitar strings. I can play a set for a year but I have friends who have to change every two weeks. Again, use camilla oil.

Bamboo rods are great fishing tools and a joy to own and fish. There’s no need to be afraid of them. Follow those simple rules and that new bamboo rod will last a whole lot longer and look like new for years to come.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline 
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2 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Caring for Bamboo Fly Rods

  1. Sure enough, I am treating my bamboo rod nearly the same as my graphites. Luckily, I knew not to twist the ferrules and I will begin using camilla oil on them. What about the varnish? Besides proper cleaning, is there anything to protect and preserve it? Renaissance Wax, maybe? Also, when my OCD is running full-blower, I wax my guides. Are there any risks related to that character flaw?

  2. Good article, but I would also recommend that you overwinter in a cool dark room rather than a place with central heating.

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