A Choice: Fly Rod Building or Fly Rod Making

fly on a bamboo rodGuest Blogger: Scott Nilsson, High Desert Bamboo Fly Rods

Anyone want to make fly rods, instead of build or assemble them? Both endeavors are rewarding and a lot of fun. I decided to make fly rods using bamboo. Give it a try.

My name is Scott Nilsson and I have fly fished since 1972. As many of you, know, this sport can reward an individual in a variety of ways. As does a river, the rewards of fly fishing change in many ways over the years and always offer different opportunities.

my mushroom seat design for bamboo

my mushroom seat design for bamboo

In my case, this sport gave it’s greatest gift by allowing me to make new friends and offering me the opportunity to grow through experimentation. I no longer center my attention on catching the biggest fish or the most fish, nor anymore, do I frequently visit blue ribbon waters. I have decided that I do not want to be somewhere doing something I love and having it ruined competing with hundreds of people who subscribe to dozens of fly fishing magazines and buy nearly every item advertised within them that claim to employ the latest technology that will help catch fish. This includes fly rods.

evolution of a bamboo rod

evolution of a bamboo rod

I enjoy enticing trout with new fly patterns, studying special circumstances which make trout take a fly and most importantly, maximizing my pleasure while out on the water. That’s where my discovery of the bamboo fly rod has been the most pleasurable event in fly my fishing life, scenery not withstanding. It was this discovery that led me to build bamboo fly rods.

traditional cap & band for bamboo

traditional cap & band for bamboo

I graduated from the University of California with a degree in economics in 1970. I had never been satisfied working in the corporate world. I sought a more meaningful contribution that would leave a legacy on my behalf to others. This would satisfy my desire to fulfill the long burning creative desire I had within me.

I now make bamboo fly rods. Thanks to the encouragement of a retired fish biologist friend of mine, I pursued this endeavor. I also owe many thanks to the encouraging and non selfish help that I received from numerous bamboo fly rod craftsmen that have already achieved the fame that I will someday have.

A bamboo rod I made for myself

A bamboo rod I made for myself

I have concentrated on making bamboo fly rods, that first of all, are pleasures to cast, and can be proud to be owned by their recipients. Cosmetically my rods are excellent, but I do not concentrate on cosmetic appointments such as engravings, inlays and the like. I feel that these appointments, although having superb aesthetic value, tend to create a fear within their owner to put such a fly rod to practical use. I want my bamboo rods to be used and enjoyed!

NOTE from J. Stockard: You can see Scott’s impressive bamboo rods @ highdesertflyrods.com. Contact Scott directly if you want to owe one of his fabulous creations.

5 thoughts on “A Choice: Fly Rod Building or Fly Rod Making

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. You mention the event of your discovery of the bamboo fly rod being the most pleasurable aspect of fly fishing life. Can you describe what that discovery was, in terms of attributes, capabilities and feel of the bamboo rod? Having never used one, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on their specific advantages.

    Thanks,
    Mike

    Reply
  2. Mike Cline

    Although I am not into bamboo, it just doesn’t suit my preferred style of fishing, I do appreciate Scott’s observation about building versus making a fly rod. Over the years I’ve built (assembled) dozens of fly and spinning rods for self and friends. It was mostly for the economy of it. You could almost replicate a factory rod for less than a 1/3rd of the retail price and in some case actually upgrade the quality of components over that of the factory rods, especially if you can obtain components at wholesale prices. Assembling a rod from glass or graphite blanks and other components is not a complex task. Even wrapping guides isn’t difficult with the right tools. However, over the years I discovered I just wasn’t the “Craftsman” I needed to be so assembling rods to make money wasn’t in the cards. I eventually passed through my rod building stage but still have many of the rods I assembled in the past. Even use a few at times. Once Clemens went out of business and Loomis stopped wholesaling their blanks, assembling rods just wasn’t the same. All that said, I do appreciate anyone like Scott who can craft a fine rod out of any material. As he implies in his post, when you fish with something you built or built by a fine craftsman like Scott, it brings another dimension to the experience. Best of luck with the High Desert Fly Rod enterprise.

    Mike Cline
    Bozeman, Montana

    Reply
  3. Michael Vorhis

    Myself, I’ve built only two, bot from graphite blanks. One had cool wrappings and grip but was overall horrible, action-wise, because I was young, broke, and impatient, and elected to use a pack-rod spinning rod blank. It was a poor fly rod, and I loved it.

    The other was very recently, made from a truly fine fly rod blank, and it’s wonderful, and I love it.

    As Scott and Mike both suggest, I can stand out there for hours and get nary a take, and still have a most excellent day; the joy of using one’s own handiwork, including rod and flies, is priceless and doesn’t fade.

    I once dared to suggest on a rod-building forum that 90% of the genius in the creation of a graphite rod is already done by the thermoplastic engineers and taper designers; I got boo’d out of the place by all the guys who want to believe otherwise, yet still I know it’s true. A bamboo rod, on the other hand, I think allows (and requires) the creator to personally bring so much of its individual character to life.

    But I’ve never had the pleasure of using bamboo, and have often wondered how it feels. Thanks again Scott for the article; I’d still love to hear your take on the characteristics of a fine bamboo rod.

    – Mike

    Reply
  4. Scott Nilsson

    Mike… Your question is difficult to answer because many of the attributes of bamboo fly rods are subjective and subtle. Many folks who have only fished with carbon fiber rods base their attitudes of bamboo rods on experiences with an old rod which a relative owned. An example of such a rod would be a South Bend or like manufacture. Another example would be a custom rod made by someone who had a taper which resulted in a casting experience which did not suit it’s user. A 7 ft. 5 wt. made by one maker can act very differently than one of the same length and weight made by someone else.

    More objective pleasures, at least for me, are the aesthetics of the bamboo rod vs. carbon fiber. You can Google Wabi Sabi. This refers to beauty perceived due to slight imperfections and then beauty created after the object acquires a patina of use. Another objective fact is that it gives great pleasure to fish with something that you have created. This is why I offer rod making classes.

    Once I developed a taper that pleased me, I noticed much more feeling when the rod loaded. I also found that playing fish was more fun due to the fact that the tip section had more flexibility over it’s length. I experienced losing less fish during the fight.

    In conclusion then, one must appreciate things made by hand. One must be a person who notices and appreciates subtle differences and one must realize that bamboo fly rods can have a wide variety of casting actions. I consider my rods as having a faster action than most bamboo rods. They have a butt section that provides a lot of power (very minimal oscillation) to a flexible tip. I have converted many skeptics to appreciate the pleasure of a fine bamboo fly rod.

    You may consider buying the DVD “Trout Grass” and the book “Casting A Spell” by George Black for further information.

    Reply
  5. Jaime Chriswisser

    I can attest for everything Scott has said. I got the bamboo ‘itch’ several years back, when I bought an old, beaten up South Bend 359-9 bamboo rod. At the time, I figured it would just look cool hanging on the wall in my shop. Then I got curious about it and decided to rebuild it. Not to fish, but to make it look ‘pretty’. I joined a bamboo forum (classicflyrodforum.com ) and learned enough to get started. About half way through the process, I ended up meeting Scott (who used to live here in Boise) and decided to take his class and build a rod. It was one of the most unique and educational experiences of my life. I’ve fished that rod almost exclusively ever since, with the exception being my grand father’s Heddon glass that I use for steelhead.

    As far as explaining what fishing bamboo is like, well, I don’t think it can be put into words. It really needs to be experienced. As far as explaining the action and feel, I can say that it is far more similar to vintage glass rods than graphite. In fact, I can no longer even cast a graphite rod any more. I don’t like the action of graphite, nor do I like the feel.

    Scott’s also right on the subject of bamboo rod makers. You can cast a rod with the same taper made by two different makers and they will feel/fish completely different from each other. It’s even true that every rod will be slightly different from the *same* maker, as it is not only made from a natural fiber (bamboo) that has natural variations (power fibers, nodes, etc.), but it is hand crafted, as opposed to being made by a machine. This just adds to the allure for bamboo enthusiasts, because the rod in your hand is unique unto itself, and has no equal.

    Jaime

    Reply

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