Trust The Boo

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My 7′ 4 Weight, My Favorite Rod Photo by Louis Cahill

I’ve fished bamboo rods my whole life and I’ve made my own for the last twelve years or so.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I was afraid to fight big fish on a bamboo rod. The answer is no. I’ve broken my share of rods but only once did I break one fighting a fish and that was totally my fault. I’ve landed more fish over twenty inches on bamboo than I can count, a few pushing thirty. The two fish pictured were both landed on a seven foot four weight. The tip on that rod measures only thirty thousandths of an inch in diameter but it handled those monsters just fine.

A 27″ Hen and a 28″ Male Both Landed on the 4 Weight

Bamboo is a remarkable material. When properly heat treated it has amazing strength. Traditional Japanese carpenters use bamboo nails cooked in a wok and high rise construction all over Asia is done on bamboo scaffolding. Do bamboo rods break? Of course they do but a well made rod is much stronger than you would guess and if properly handled and cared for it will take whatever a fish can dish out. I’ve heard it said that fisherman break rods, not fish, and I think that’s true. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to keep that cane rod fishing for many years.

• Treat it right. Bamboo doesn’t take a lot of maintenance but there are some things you should think about. Rot is a death sentence for a cane rod. Rod makers spend a lot of time on their finish and it can last a lifetime but it’s not bulletproof. Never put a rod away wet. This is the most common mistake guys make with their rods. When you put a rod in a tube with an o ring seal any moisture on that rod or it’s sock is in there until you open the tube again. That gives moisture plenty of time to work through the finish and into the wood. I set mine out on the mantle in the sock overnight before storing them. The second big finish mistake is leaving the rod in a hot car. If you leave that rod tube in the sun in a hot car the finish will bubble and no longer protect the cane. If you have to leave a rod in the car keep it in the shade and take the cap off for ventilation.

• Ovoid physical traumas. A bamboo rod will bend like grass in the wind. What will break it is sudden physical trauma. For example, trying to rip a fly out of tree leaves with a brisk casting stroke, as I watched a good friend do with my rod once, works every time. Running the tip headlong into a tree while hiking in doesn’t help. Hitting the rod with a heavy fly during the cast can nick the cane. Anything that breaks any fibers in the cane will eventually lead to a break. Often the rod seems to have broken over something minor when, in fact, the damage may have been done much earlier. I think this contributes to the idea that bamboo rods are delicate.

• Play your fish smart. I’ve heard people suggest that rolling a rod over during a fight so that it bends the other way will keep the rod from taking a set. This is a bad idea. Reorienting the fibers quickly while the rod is under stress will frequently break the rod. Never move your hand up the rod to support it past the grip. Taking the flex out of the butt section puts stress on the ferrule station which is the weakest spot on the rod. Use tippet that is appropriate for the rod. Don’t fish 3X and streamers with your three weight.

Bamboo rods are remarkable tools that are largely misunderstood. They will do some things that graphite can not. There are also applications where graphite is superior. But those cane rods are made to fish and land fish. Generations of anglers put them to good use before graphite came around. If you been considering getting into bamboo or if you already have a cane rod holding down some space in your closet don’t let the fear of breaking it keep you from fishing it. Some of them are works of art but they are all made to fish and enjoy and there’s nothing you can break that can’t be repaired so get that came out and fish it.

Putting ‘Em In The Net Photo by Dan Flynn

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline

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8 thoughts on “Trust The Boo

  1. Truly appreciate this jump start to reality !! Several years ago, a friend gifted me a nice Heddon rod, previously part of the friend’s late father’s bamboo rod collection. I was honored to own the rod, but never got up the courage to use it. Last year, on an annual trip thru New England, I decided to take the rod, and have it examined and evaluated at a rather well known store. Turns out the rod is sound and perfect.

  2. Thank you so much for the tips on caring for and using a bamboo fly rod. I just won one in the bucket raffle at our TU chapter’s fund raiser that was built by one of my neighbors. Your tips will help me enjoy the rod for many years to come. I’ve got 2 places in mind to fish soft hackles and BWO dries this spring-can’t wait.

  3. Pingback: Bam or Boo – Gold Rush Chapter – Trout Unlimited

  4. Great article, and spot on! Bamboo rods really are made to fish, not just to admire. I fish them, love the action, and have taken some really nice fish on the ones I have. Broke one once, but that was by slipping on rocks heading down into a fairly steep bank, climbing one minute then flying down the back the next. Of course, I landed on the rod… The great thing about cane rods is they can usually be fixed. Mine was repaired and unless you look really carefully, you can’t find where it was broken. The action of the rod before and after the repair is really unchanged. So, go fish ’em!

  5. Louis, I would like to learn the art of bamboo rod making. Can you recommend a good starting point. Books and a mentor?

    I would also like to get in touch with Ken Nichols if you could pass him my name and email.

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