February 18th, 2002

By James Castwell

"You never miss what you never had." Bull! My main problem was I didn't know what I was missing, while I was missing it. I was living life, enjoying things, learning, fly-fishing, meeting a few people of note and making my way in the fly-fishing world. Now I miss a lot of things I didn't do and places I didn't go to. If you have as many moons behind you as I, you may understand, if not, you may be able to benefit.

Oh yes, I could go to some of the rivers I didn't get to in the past, but, they all have changed today. The folks who were fishing them and writing about them then are gone now. The attitudes have changed too. The attitudes about fly rods, reels, lines and fly-fishing in general. An era is gone and I only lived on the edge of it. Kind of like peeking through the window, watching it go by.

We are in a new era, it's going on right now, all around us. One which touts the high tech rods, large arbor reels, synthetic fly lines, catch and release and planted fish. Contrast that to my learning years. Inexpensive cane rods, single-action reels, silk fly lines, catch and cook and wild trout.

The revolution came with fiberglass developed for radio antennas for the second world war and then evolving into fishing rods. Most who spent much time fly-fishing used cane rods of varying value, some costing a couple hours pay, some a weeks pay. The advent of graphite brought with it fly rods that were mass produced and the masses were gobbling them up.

The era of cane for the average Joe was doomed. It's death struggles can be seen a bit yet today, but it is doomed. And it can never be born again. Just as our society evolves, so does our recreation. We move on, on from walking to horses to cars to Leer jets; from sticks to split-bamboo to fiberglass to graphite.

I lived during the transition, it was magnificent. And a funny thing about it. When the new graphite rods came out many folks bought and used them. They were, as I said, all mass produced, all that is except from a guy in California (there may have been others, but he became famous), Russ Peak. He made his own rod blanks and designed the shape of the materials that went into them, they were wonderful. One person continues his legacy only, C.F. Burkheimer of Washuagal, Washington. In the 'hey-day' of the galloping-graphite, Russ alone stood out as having something different, something better, something to possess if you could. Anyone who owned one was held in respect, both for having the rod and knowing the difference.

His rods were respected, he was respected. Today we are offered great casting tools, technology has produced the finest fly rods ever in the history of the sport. How are we supposed to become emotional about a graphite rod? Who made it? Did Wes Jordan select it from hundreds produced because it just seemed a little bit better than the 'run of the mill'? Who really designed the taper? An adaptation from some other rod, by whom, when, why, on a computer?

I like my fly rods, but I have no emotional involvement with any of them. If they break, I can get another one just like it. If I (had) a Ron Kusse cane rod and broke it, could I get another one 'exactly' like it? Darn close, but, it would not be the same. All cane rods are one of a kind; I can get involved with something like that.

I (my wife included) were some of the last to convert from cane to graphite. We went kicking and screaming all the way, swearing that we would "never fish a fly rod that not been alive." But, she was given a rod by Don Owens of Orvis, a 'Far and Fine' 5wt. We never looked back.

During that time our friends were using, Paynes, Leonards, Powells and Youngs. We used Orvis Battenkills, twin 5 wts, consecutive serial numbers. I never owned an Payne, Leonard, Powell or a Young, I wish I had. I miss not owning one then and fishing it then; that's point, fishing it then. In time we did acquire a couple of Charlie Ritz rods, nice but a bit odd casting, eventually sold the things. No, I miss going thru the transition and not becoming as much a part of it as I should have. I didn't have it, and I miss it. Some of the richness of the era escaped us.

So, what now? Well, we are faced with a sport that demands a fly rod be guaranteed against everything. If you break it, so what, they send you a new one, free. With one of these I no longer am responsible for what may happen to it, Not my fault, it must be the companies. How in hell am I supposed to respect a rod like that? Right now I am having a rod custom made and I can tell you this, if I break it, I pay for a new one. Sure it is covered for material and workmanship, but, if I didn't figure that the workmanship and material were top notch, I wouldn't be ordering it in the first place.

Will it have the same value as a classic cane heirloom hand forged by someone like Ron Kusse? Of course not. But it will be one damn fine stick and I will take excellent care of it and be proud to show it to anyone who would like to see it. It will have a 'history' built into it, one forged by those who developed the tapers and designed the materials. Not exactly as cane, but, unique to its own style. It will be a Burkheimer and to me that means plenty.

Is there yet time for me? I think so, I suppose I have a few more years to fly fish and I also think I would like to sport a good cane for some of it too, maybe wear a tie and argyle socks, perhaps I may, who knows. I still prefer single action reels and silk lines, I have not gone all the way towards bad, only part way. I still like a dry fly tied sparse and fished upstream, and good rods too. ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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