A Two-Hearted Tradition Comes to Maine

December 11, 2023 By: Bob Romano

Western Maine is a land of deep forests, mysterious bogs, and wide lakes, with moods that can change as quickly as a salmon slips a hook.

Its rivers are unrestrained, as wild as the moose along their shores, with rapids willing to sweep an unsuspecting angler off his or her feet. Dark pools hold char, commonly known as brook trout, called speckled trout or squaretails by old-timers, fish so large they’ll steal an angler’s breath away.

Palm-sized brook trout, as bright as a handful of marbles and as pugnacious as a prize-fighter striding into the ring, can be found in smaller streams. Native to the region, these fish are the progeny of fish found by the ancestors of the Wabanaki when they followed the woolly mammoths across what the Paleolithic people called the “Land of the Dawn.”

But there is something more, something intangible, but enduring wading through the free-running rivers and paddling across the wind-swept lakes. For this is a region steeped in sporting history. A tradition of self-reliance, yet one willing to offer a helping-hand, rooted in hook and bullet. A tradition handed down from guide to sport and from father to son, generation after generation.

It has been more than forty years since my wife and I purchased a camp overlooking a quiet cove where each spring loons return to raise their young. During that time, I’ve grown to appreciate this tradition. Perhaps that is why my eye was drawn to an advertisement for The Two-Hearted Fly-Rod Case found while I perused Trout Magazine.

Painted with an antique black paint and re-varnished, this wooden case was advertised to contain either a two-weight or four-weight, 7 ½’ graphite fly rod, a reel loaded with a double taper line, and a pearl maple fly box. The ad also stated the box had additional compartments to keep other fly-fishing essentials.

It didn’t take long for me to dial the number and within a few minutes I was speaking with Andy Mitchell, founder of J.A. Henry Rod & Reel Co. (His company is named after his two sons, Jack and Andrew, and the family’s yellow Lab, Henry.) Andy explained how he handcrafts each case in his shop located in Cannonsburg, Michigan. The case is named after his favorite stream–The Two-Hearted River, which is located in the State’s Upper Peninsula, country similar in many respects, with that of western Maine.

Although it was the craftmanship of the case that caught my eye, Andy explained, the rod it houses was designed specifically for targeting brook trout in streams and small rivers. Having built rods for more than twenty years, he decided to design his own fly rod–a seven-foot, six inch, two-weight matched with a reel and line to complement the fast action of the rod. After three years and multiple prototypes, the Michigan woodworker feels he’s perfected a fast-action, carbon fiber blank weighing only 2.8 ounces. Andy says he “can’t think of anything better than chasing brook trout with an ultra-light fly rod.”

But back to that wooden case! Handcrafted from solid white pine salvaged and planed from a nineteenth-century barn, it measures 27.5″L x 9.75w x 3.5″h and weighs 11.8 lbs, including the rod, reel and maple fly box. The interior contains beveled compartments with hardware including non-mortise hinges. The leather handles are handmade and secured with antique trunk handle caps. Although truly a sporting work of art, the case is quite sturdy, meant to travel into those wild places preferred by brook trout.

What appeals to me most is the top of the fly rod case. Andy can burn a design of your choice to create a personalized heirloom to be proudly handed down through the generations. In my case, I chose an engraving of the Magalloway River watershed stretching through the Parmachenee Tract not far from where my cabin is located.

Whether you’re a veteran of Upper Dam, Maine or Michigan’s Fox River, or anywhere in between, I encourage you to check out Andy’s website jahenryusa.com for not only his rods, reels, and the Two Hearted Fly Rod Case, but other items handcrafted by this angling artisan.