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How to Choose a Bamboo Rod

by Philip Monahan

Have a question you want answered? Email it to us at ask@midcurrent.com.

Question: I need to get a bamboo rod, but a couple hours of Internet research has left me as confused as when I started. How do you know which one to get?

Joe F., Los Angeles, CA

Answer: First of all, whom are you kidding? You don’t need a bamboo rod; you want a bamboo rod. I’m not your wife, man, so you don’t need to convince me. I completely understand why you’d want to treat yourself to a fine cane fishing tool.

That said, the process of choosing a bamboo fly rod can seem way more complex than picking from among the hundreds of graphite options on the market. And there aren’t 1,000 reviews of each bamboo rod online for you to convince yourself you’re making the right decision. Here are a few questions to help guide you through the process:

  1. How much are you willing to spend? Your answer to this question might cut your options in half. A vintage rod by a famous maker—such as this 1950 Dickerson—can cost as much as a car, whereas a mass-produced overseas model might cost less than a high-end graphite rod.
  2. Does the name or brand matter? Some guys have always dreamed of owning a Winston or an Orvis cane rod because Grandad had one. Or maybe you crave a William Oyster or Rolf Baginski. Perhaps there’s a nearby maker who isn’t well-known, but you like the idea of buying local. There are basically three kinds of bamboo-rod makers: traditional rod shops (Winston, Orvis, Thomas & Thomas, Hardy, etc.), custom makers, and offshore companies (who produce less-expensive cane rods overseas).
  3. Do you want a piece of art or a fishing tool? Bamboo rod makers often go to great lengths to provide one-of-a-kind pieces of impressive artistry and craftsmanship, but they can also create utilitarian fishing rods without the frills. Those exotic-wood reel seat, fancy guide wraps, and agate guides drive up the price, but they sure are beautiful.
  4. How will you use it? There are so many different lengths, actions, and designs available that you’ll need to do some research, talking to the rod maker or manufacturer. Will you use it for all kinds of fishing or just dry flies? You can’t just say “medium-action three-weight” because there may be five different models that fit that description. Most custom craftsmen make rods with very specific, often quirky actions, so you’ll need to cast several rods to determine which is right for your needs.

Zach Matthews’s article “Choosing Cane” goes into much greater detail on all these topics, but choosing a bamboo rod is ultimately a very personal decision. When you buy any Sage or Orvis or Loomis rod, you’re getting the same thing as any other guy who buys that model. But when you buy bamboo, you’re often getting a one-of-a-kind product or at least one that appeals to a much smaller group of anglers. So take your time, cast plenty of rods, and get yourself the one that best fits your needs and desires.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at OrvisNews.com.
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  • Harry Merritt

    Dear Phil, 

    There is another way to obtain a good bamboo fly rod; build your own.There is a wonderful maker of fly rods that teaches a workshop at the John C. Campbell School of Folk Arts in Brasstown, NC.His name is Doug Hall and he teaches 2 classes a year. You can spend a week at the School, stay in a comfortable cabin, Eat 3 great meals a day, and get 6 days of hands on instruction and all the material needed to build your own rod, for less than half the price of a store bought or custom built bamboo rod. Plus you get to meet some great fly fishers. Who the hell builds their own bamboo rod except special fly fishers?I built my own bamboo rod there several years ago and I would not sell it for $5000.00. I am not a gifted craftsman but with Doug’s instruction my rod turned out to be beautiful (or at least beautiful to me)It is a lovely reed and the smallmouth bass at Grand Lake Stream, Maine test it all summer.By the way,we have a common friend in Macaulay Lord, he thinks a great deal of you.Harry Merritt – FFF CI

  • Michael Fasold

    I purchased an Oyster rod last yr 4# 8′ – full flex and it’s more accurate like anything I have used before. No problems with mid speed winds casting. Oyster also runs a weeklong course and you build your own rod. He runs several courses per year.

  • Russ Shields

    I attended Bill Oyster’s class and built a 7 1/2 ft  5wt rod that turned out beautifully. Bill’s patience and skill are incredible. I liked the class so much that I went back the next year and built an 8 ft 6wt rod that has become my “go to” all around trout rod. I cannot recommend Bill Oyster highly enough. You will love the class and enjoy the small town of Blue Ridge Ga. as well. The course last a week and is well worth the cost. You will leave with a beautiful Tonkin Cane rod that will become an heirloom.