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

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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12 thoughts on “Caring for Bamboo Fly Rods

  1. Agree with almost everything except the Camilla oil on ferrules. A well-fit set of ferrules need NO lubrication. A Q-tip and alcohol will suffice to make sure the female and male are clean; then, “hands together” to fit them straight in and “hands apart” to separate. Of course there are the soap people, the nose people, the camilla oil people, the WD-40 people and probably peanut butter (creamy only) people who will chime in saying “I’ve never had a problem”. Ask Bailey Woods or Tony Larson or M. Tiernan what they do and you’ll have your answer. Like almost everything your mileage may vary. Go fish and Peace. ~ Mark

    • You and I will have to agree to disagree on this. Lumping camellia oil,with peanut butter and WD-40 is a,very unfair comparison. The oil,is not for the fit. It’s to prevent wear and corrosion. Bravado aside, it’s a good practice.

  2. Don’t drop your rod into the tube – that’s the best way to damage your blanks where it meets the ferrule
    Don’t high stick
    Don’t yank on the rod when you snag on the bottom or the far side (you don’t snag on the bottom or the far side? – must be just me then!)
    Last but not least, disassemble and pack your rod when you get back to the car – BEFORE you do anything else – nothing worse than accidentally stepping on or driving over a rod that “shouldn’t be there”

  3. Just looking for advice on the correct way to attach ferrules on both my fly and spinning cane rods. Some advise a twisting at a degree of 45 and others just push straight together. If someone could advise me please.

  4. Great post. I absolutely love fishing with bamboo fly rods, its the feeling of the craftsmanship of that went into these rods that really makes the difference. Thanks for the information

  5. I have a post WW!! split bamboo combo set, in the box from my Uncle, I have had these rods since the late 1940’s. A 9 1/2 ‘ fly rod 3 piece and a 7’ spinning rod 2 piece. Spinning rod is “as new”, never used it. Fly rod I have used, now, has the cork reel seat is becoming loose. As is the middle furrule., the male part now sticks in the female part. The bamboo rod section comes out when pulling it apart (gently). Perfect condition the unvarnished rod butt for that section.No splinters, no damage of any kind.

    How do I “glue both; the cork butt to the rod where it is loose. and the ferrule to the rod butt insert on the second section?
    I do not have any experience, but I am mechanical and do some woodwork, this is not a big ..job just a touch up repair I believe.
    Please any advice would be helpful

  6. Great article. Once your rod is dry, clean and in the tube for safe keeping, what is the best way to store the rod, vertical (like leaning the rod tube in the corner) or horizontal (such as laying the tube on the mantle or table). Or, possibly the storage method doesn’t make a difference? Just wondering if one way may cause a warp in the rod.

  7. If you have a bamboo rod inherited from your father, which he probably bought before WWII (he was in the service, and had it in an old heavy canvas gun barrel case), how should I care for it before using it?

  8. yes…. Almost about prevent wet stockage…
    To adjust two pieces with ferrules, there’s a traditional way for that : scratch your head with the male ferrule. Threre’s always some grease product, even you hair is clean!
    That tip is useful for engagé and also put out the 2 or 3 pieces…
    This way in France is a sign of fly anglers with bamboo rods!
    G. Baudin from France (Normandy)

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